Addressing the Underlying Problems That Cause us to Drink

I have read a few articles recently saying that there is no point trying to give up an addiction until you address the underlying problems that caused that addiction to take hold in the first place; the loss of a loved one, unemployment, low self-esteem, depression and anxiety, etc.

I think this view is both wrong and dangerous. Let’s look consider it in relation to drinking.

As we know, alcohol is a chemical depressant, when you drink your brain takes various steps to counter the depressive effects of the alcohol. When the alcohol then wears off you are left feeling overly anxious and nervous. Essentially any feeling of comfort, confidence or relaxation you obtain from drinking then has a corresponding feeling of anxiety. This is a feeling of being nervous and afraid, molehills start to look like mountains. It is in essence a feeling of being unable to cope with problems. It is doubt, worry, fear and timidity. The more you drink, the more extreme is this post drinking fear.

It can take several days after your last drink for this feeling of fear to dissipate, but a far quicker way to get rid of it is to drink more. After all, the fear is caused by hypersensitivity that your brain has triggered so that it can work under the depressive effects of the alcohol. More alcohol counters that fear so you go back to feeling normal. This is the main benefit of drinking, it removes fear and anxiety caused by the previous drinking.

Because it takes a few days to fully recover from the post drinking fear, regular drinkers never fully recover from it, the just yo-yo between post-drinking induced fear and relieving that drinking induced fear by drinking more. All the regular drinker knows of life is that life when not drinking is a life of fear, anxiety, timidity, and an inability to cope. Life when drinking is a life of confidence, boldness, spirit and fortitude. It may not be as extreme as this, as mentioned the more you drink the worse the post drinking timidity, but even one glass of wine a night will have this effect, albeit less pronounced than the bottle of spirits a day drinker.

Whatever your problem is, no matter how terrible and overpowering, drinking will stop you dealing with it. When you are drunk you aren’t dealing with it, you are just numbing the effects of it. Like having cancer and taking morphine, the morphine can’t stop the cancer, all it can do is briefly numb the pain it is causing. And when you are in the post drink fear, however bad the problem originally was, it now looks ten times worse. You cannot do anything, you are frozen in fear. All you can do is reach for another drink.

So the first problem with saying that you need to address your underlying problems before you quit drinking is that you cannot effectively address a problem, any problem, when suffering from post-drinking induced fear. Nor can you effectively address a problem when you’re drunk.

Secondly, when you get into the realm of drinking to deal with problems, you drink to deal with all problems. Whatever problems you deal with, new ones pop up to take their place. I don’t care who you are or what you have in life, everyone has their problems. Even if you could deal with every single one of your problems, every day new ones would come along to take their place. Stopping drinking isn’t about first remedying all your underlying problems, it is about learning to deal with, and coping with, all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune without recourse to alcohol. If your sobriety relies on you not having any problems to face then you’re going to drink yourself to death.

The fact of the matter is, whatever problem you are suffering from, it never looks so bad as when you are in the middle of post drinking anxiety. The peace and confidence that comes from long term sobriety is precisely what you need to give you the best chance to start tackling those problems that we all suffer from to a greater or lesser degree.

Alcohol is a drug that erodes our confidence and our ability to deal with day to day life. It then partially restores that ability, thus creating the illusion of being a necessary and crucial part of our lives. It is alcohol that often makes our problems appear insurmountable, and a period of sobriety is often what we need to rediscover the inner strength required to actually properly deal with those issues.

Saying that you need to deal with your underlying issues before you stop drinking is like saying you need to run a marathon then do the training for it. If you need to tackle a challenge, you need to be in your best form to do it. For a physical challenge you need to be at your best physically, for a mental or emotional challenge you need to be at your best mentally and emotionally. You cannot be in this best mental and emotional condition unless you first stop drinking and put an end to the endless rounds of chemically induced highs and consequential lows.

If you have managed to live with a problem that’s effect on you is being constantly warped by the emotional yo-yoing caused by drinking, then you are going to be able to survive it when you have the confidence and emotional stability you get from long term sobriety. Stopping drinking will turn mountains back into molehills, and those few genuine mountains can start to appear less insurmountable.

I once sat in an AA meeting and listened to a lady who was in a car with her husband and two children. They were in a crash, she managed to get out but her husband and two children were trapped inside. The fuel tank caught alight and she watched them burn to death, trying in vain again and again to get them out, and getting horrifically burned herself in the process. She had not only managed to stop drinking, but had also managed to find some degree of peace and hope. How she managed to do that is utterly beyond me, but it demonstrates the ability of human beings to deal with the most horrific things if only we give ourselves the opportunity to, instead of just seeking chemically induced anaesthesia.

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28 Responses

    1. Karlene, the book is brilliant, I have had it for a long time now and still keep it by my bedside with marked passages to refer to.

  1. Thank you William. Again, I begin Day 1 today alcohol free. I went 35 days without alcohol and went on vacation for 3 weeks. For those 3 weeks I drank practically every day. I doubt it made my vacation any better. So I began reading your book last night and will have to get back into the mindset that I’m not giving something good up – I’m just trying to get healthy.

    1. Yes I think that’s the key, recognising that it really doesn’t improve things at all. The last holiday I was on I was running around with my two boys having a high old time of it. I’d never have been doing that if I’d been drinking, I would have been lounging around all day feeling tired and lethargic.

  2. Your book opened my eyes and gave me guidance to stop drinking. I’m a month plus into my sobriety (I actually like saying the word sobriety now) and this article really nails it. A daily drinker I never had the emotional fortitude to get through a day without losing my shit either outwardly or inwardly. I was constantly turning molehills into mountains and never felt like I could cope with life. I had constant feelings of overwhelm. To think today I sit here writing completely blown away at how my life, emotions and abilities to cope with life’s problems has changed. Yup, those problems are still here, go figure. But instead of not being able to deal with them or escaping a little bit during my evening binges, I now see them for what they are, life, life’s problems, my problems, my issues, my solutions, my opportunities to learn and grow and respect myself for dealing with them like an adult. It’s not as painful any longer, doesn’t raise my blood pressure and anger outbursts have dwindled, often times to laughing.
    I like being sober. I’m happier than I can remember and wake up hangover free and excited to have an entire day and night to be me, get shit done, smile and not have to spend so much time trying to get my drink on.

    1. It’s amazing to find out that you are actually a stable, confident and capable human being, and that it was the chemical effects of the alcohol that caused everything to seem so insurmountable.

  3. Another great post which resonates so much with me. I’m at a year and 4 months and I can see how much better I am at coping with problems and seeing that not everything is a mountain!
    The words”long term sobriety” are what stood out for me. I want long term sobriety. The further away I am from that mess of a rollercoaster I was on of daily wine at the end of the day to cope with the stress of the day that was brought on by the wine, the more I know I do not want to go back there and erase all the progress I’ve made. Thank you William!

    1. I agree, the further away you get from it the clearer your perspective is. And well done on a year and 4 months!

  4. Thank you so much. This just brings more and more clarity to my decision to stop drinking. I’ve experienced, like so many, that yo-yoing and don’t want to ever go back. Here’s to a vital, enriched, confident, and emotionally-rich sober life.

  5. These blog posts are massively helpful and inspiring. And your book is the best I’ve read on the subject . Thank you! Really needed to read this tonight.

  6. Thank you Willam. Your posts are the most welcome of any addition to my Inbox. I’m recently retired. And dealing with a family sadness. I notice my drinking, which has always been enthusiastic but never problematic, is beginning to change. The combination of time, money, lack of executive pressure to perform is actually working against my health goals for the longer term. I come from a family of big drinkers. I know the answer to my question. However would greatly value any insights: is it ever “too late” to give up? And can a concerning trend be suffice to impetus? Thank you William.

    1. I can only imagine retirement is a huge accelerator in drinking. I’ve had two periods in my life where I found myself on extended periods of no work, both involved in my mobilisation to Iraq (leave before going out there, and leave on my return). Both of these I ended up drinking virtually all the time because there was nothing to stop me; no work to have to worry about the following day. I think that for. a lot of people work is a brake on their drinking.

      As for it being too late to stop,I don’t think it could ever be too late to improve your life. If you have a thorn in your foot would you ever think it’s too late in life to bother taking it out?

      For me stopping drinking isn’t about giving up something that is good because it also has a long term downside. When you properly understand how it works you start to understand that any benefit it confers is virtually negligible (all the supposed benefits from drinking you can obtain in other ways without having to poison yourself). For me, stopping drinking is about improving the quality of your life immeasurably.

      If you are far happier without something than with it, it can never be too late to remove it from your life, even if today was your last day on earth.

      1. Thank you for your insights and empathy, William. I feel privileged to have received a personal response. Much appreciated.

  7. Thanks William
    I so look forward to your posts.
    They are plain simple English, easy to understand, they make sense of it all.
    I cannot stress enough how amazing I feel not drinking.
    The monster is no more, I am in control. It does not dictate my evenings. My days are vibrant.
    Thank you William, don’t ever stop inspiring us.

  8. Very true. Thank you for putting this view point out there to challenge the notion that people can deal effectively with other issues while still participating in alcoholism. Now that I am free of alcohol I am much better able to deal with problems big and small.
    I always enjoy reading your work ?

  9. What a great post on reaffirming sobriety first and foremost . Thankyou William in again explaining the devestation Alcohol causes to our lives and the piece and happiness we gain without it

  10. This is a great post because it dispels a number of myths regarding alcohol consumption. I’m amazed at the ease at which one can give up alcohol with a mindset that has shaken off these entrenched and unquestioning perceptions regarding this legalized drug. Everyday, I learn something new about myself and others and I find my approach to problems and situations so clear and manageable now. Admittedly, big life changing experiences haven’t presented yet, but the simple day to day ones aren’t building up the anxiety and stress they would have previously.

    The myths are interesting and these come out in people’s responses to the fact that I’ve stopped drinking alcohol (68 days today. ) I get, you must have drank a lot to want to give up totally, I drink because I like wine and drinking wine is part of being social, I can stop at 2 classes per evening and it doesn’t affect me, I can stop when I want to, I need to have a Feb fast and then I’m back to drinking again because I like drinking, I like wine and I can never see myself giving up, I can’t imagine a life without wine, there must be something wrong with you with giving up drinking.

    The other aspect is the minimizing, and I say all these because I did this as well. What I’m noticing with this clarity that’s now setting in, the fog has lifted substantially now that I’m drawing towards 3 months, is how affected people’s lives are even if they are drinking “responsibly” and “functionally.” Last night I went to a dinner party. The host, a relative, knew that I have stopped drinking alcohol. Within minutes when we arrived, she said, I’ve got to have a drink, would you like one now, and of course I said I’d have some water. Oh, you’re not drinking? was the response. And the little subtle hints lasted throughout the night. Even to the point of advising that we should teach our 14 year how to pour wine – couldn’t get to me, so let’s try it on the young one. I responded minimally to each of the comments and counter attacks, but what stood out to me was the mindset and accepted values and norms from which these were coming – it’s anti social to not drink alcohol at a dinner party gathering, drinking breaks down barriers and is a leveller, we will get along if we all drink together, what alternative is there?, we should socialise our children into the norm of drinking alcohol, drinking alcohol unquestionably takes centre stage – please pass the bottle and all drinkers get topped up at the same time, drinking has rituals that we must all be part of, drinking allows me to speak more deeply and profoundly and you’re not speaking as much because you haven’t consumed, when I drink at a dinner party I make absolute sense and I can express myself freely and openly, I’m more controlled in my drinking because I didn’t drink as much as the others did (self loathing stage.)

    The interesting thing for me at the dinner party was the speed at which the stages of consumption took place. I wasn’t bored because I was on top of the conversations, despite being the only person not drinking alcohol apart from my daughter. The empty bottles accumulated quickly, and the focus on alcohol as instricic to the serving of food on the table was pronounced, as if nothing could replace it. I was the only adult person who didn’t degenerate to a state of needing to collapse, and I’m not saying that the party members were rolling drunk, it’s just that they came to a grinding holt in their energy levels – I’m now seeing the pattern from the perspective of a child/teenager. I drove home and was tired but still with a clear mind regarding the events and discussions of the night. The myths regarding alcohol abound – the biggest one being that drinking keeps me on top of my game and I know how to “handle my liquor.”

    1. My apologies if I’m totally off the topic. It’s just an amazing awakening for me right now and when I read profound and insightful commentary, I feel I have so much to say in response to this huge social issue. Thanks William Porter for sharing your ideas.

    2. People are very defensive of their drinking and when you stop they feel vulnerable. Look at all the excuses to drink they listed. You, going out, enjoying yourself, and not drinking has proved wrong every single one of them.

      ‘I can’t imagine a life without wine’ sums it up beautifully. What does that actually mean? That you need wine to enjoy life, without it life is flat and dull and boring. That is the mindset of every addict that drew breath. It’s what keeps the heroin addict injecting and the meth addict inhaling. They have to destroy themselves to live.

      Whereas you are free of the whole filthy nightmare.

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William Porter

William wrote Alcohol Explained to share his approach on recovering from alcohol dependency.

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Alcohol Explained

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