There is a common dynamic when we fall off the wagon after a period of sobriety that is worth bearing in mind.
With regular drinkers, because alcohol is a sedative, and because your brain reacts to it by becoming hypersensitive so that it can work under the sedating effects of the alcohol, we have an unpleasant anxious feeling when the alcohol starts to wear off. For more information on this please see chapter 2 in the first five chapters section of the website, or in the free online course section. So the main benefit for daily drinkers, that wonderful feeling of peace and relaxation they get from their daily drinks, is no more than the relieving of the unpleasant anxious feeling that the previous drinks caused.
Even people who don’t drink every day will have occasions in their life when they’ve been feeling far under par from their previous drinks and they’ve had a drink and it has made them feel a considerable amount better. Again it’s worth mentioning that this improved feeling isn’t actually a gain at all, it is simply the anaesthetising of an unpleasant feeling that alcohol is previously caused. However, we don’t appreciate this at the time. All we know is that we have a drink and we feel far better.
We go from feeling nervous unhappy and timid to feeling calm, confident and resilient. It’s this experience of alcohol that really impact our subconscious.
The problem is that when we fall off the wagon we invariably do so after a period of not drinking. This means that when we quit for a while we don’t have that unpleasant anxious feeling. So actually drinking in this situation does very little for us. All it does is make us feel slightly dulled maybe a bit disorientated. It simply isn’t a pleasant sensation at all. Often falling off the wagon is caused by a specific event. We might have a bad day at work, an argument with our partner, or one of a million stresses and strains that human beings encounter throughout their lives. Our mind immediately jumps to alcohol and we remember how that alcoholic drink used to make us feel so calm and happy and relaxed. What we don’t factor in is that we have no withdrawal to relieve, so actually taking an alcoholic drink will do nothing other than make us feel slightly dulled and disorientated.
So if we do fall off the wagon and have that drink it doesn’t do what we expect it to. We still feel just as miserable afterward, in fact, often we feel even worse because not only do we have the originating event that caused us to want to drink in the first place, but we’ve now compounded our problems by taking a drink when we vowed we weren’t going to. We expected to feel calm confident and happy and we don’t. We still feel miserable. Only now do we feel slightly dulled and miserable. So what do we do? Often we think that either the drink wasn’t strong enough, or that one hasn’t had the desired effect, so we have another one. And another. And another. Pretty soon we’re completely intoxicated yet again.
Remember that alcohol is just a sedative. All it can do is dull you slightly. There are only two situations in which it seems to make us feel really good and both of these are illusionary. One is when we drink when we are still suffering from the effects of the previous drinks because in doing so we can turn an anxious, timid, fearful feeling into a feeling of relaxation, confidence and resilience. But the reason this benefit is an illusion is because all it is doing is removing an unpleasant feeling that it caused in the first place.
The second situation in which alcohol appears to actually benefit us is when we are craving.
If we’re obsessing about alcohol and whether to drink or not then we aren’t going to be able to be engaged in or enjoy what we’re supposed to be doing.
Whether this is being out with friends, a party or even just sitting at home after a hard day but at work enjoying a meal and a bit of downtime. If we are obsessing about alcohol instead of enjoying what we’re supposed to be doing, then taking a drink can appear to confer a benefit but only because it removes the distressing mental conundrum that it caused in the first place. In taking a drink we disengage from that mental ‘should I shouldn’t I’ and then can actually get on with what we were supposed to be doing, be it enjoying our friends’ company or relaxing generally. This is the craving process. For more information on this please see chapter 4 in the first five chapters section of the website.