Falling Off The Wagon

Stressed young man

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.

man Pondering in thought

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.

Distracted man with friends

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.

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16 Responses

  1. As alcohol acts as both a stimulant and a sedative aren’t you underplaying the stimulant element of its use for many people – for many people who are not drinking every day but on occasions and on those occasions it creates mild euphoria which is different to the dulled feeling you outline above?

    1. This is my point, there’s so much confusion. Alcohol isn’t stimulant, it’s a sedative, and it cannot create euphoria. I did a separate article about it appearing to be a stimulant which you read here. People who don’t drink every day can experience euphoria when they drink, but only when they are doing something that would make them feel euphoria anyway (like socialising when the brain releases endorphins). The euphoria isn’t from the alcohol but the event.

      1. Many thanks for replying but I respectfully disagree as think your analysis oversimplifies the effect of alcohol on some people. There are many studies highlighting both the stimulant and sedative effects and whilst it is clear that the sedative effects are stronger and more dominant, I think it is incorrect to assert that the initial stimulant affects felt by many are in all cases only caused by the event/environment. Alcohol can release endorphins in some people – particular those sensitive to dopamine – as part of of its effect. Those individuals are often the ones most likely to form a stronger attachment to alcohol with possible depend you issues later. The below I think provides a useful summary of this


        1. I think we’re talking at cross purposes. That article describes the stimulating effects of alcohol in relation to how your body reacts to it: it releases stimulants to counter the sedating effects of the alcohol. But that isn’t the same as alcohol being a stimulant per se.

  2. Respectfully Mr Porterhouse, Im not understanding what your point is?
    Are you simply taking exception to: Is alcohol also a stimulant vs a sedative, and you feel it’s more of a stimulant than Mr Porter is acknowledging?
    If your point is that Alcohol can also be a stimulant as a benefit, it’s still an illusion as Mr Porter has explained. If its not an illusion, but a fact, then it’s just that much more powerful and addictive (for some). I don’t see what difference it makes. It certainly doesn’t change the need for to get this monkey off ones back, once it starts to destroy you. Im sure you would agree. Brain chemistry is not a 100% fully understood science. I had a nephew that was prescribed Barbiturates to give him energy. Ive also know HDAD children and adults be given amphetamine like stimulants to calm them down. Go figure. Maybe it’s just how we read things. Ive used Mr Porters book to give me principles that I must then apply. I have yet to see anything not true in his writings that pertain to how alcohol plays a Con game on people. Thats the important piece of the puzzle. Whether it’s a stimulant or not is not important (to me). I hope you find success in seeing alcohol for what it really is, especially if its ruining you.. Also, If I completely missed your point, please forgive me.

  3. I keep reading your writing over and over, but keep on with the illusion and wind up with a day lost. Ugh! Seems I can stop for a few days, then I think I can handle it and Nope!

  4. Oh my goodness, William Porter, it seems as though God has come from outer space and traveled through the universe using You as His vessel to deliver this message straight to me just when I so desperately needed to receive it‼️? Thank you Thank you ? ???

  5. Thanks William, I too needed to read exactly this just now. I’m three months alcohol free and am truly amazed at how I’m feeling in myself. The difference is quite incredible. I’m at a stage where the pain of drinking (the fatigue, the regret and depression) are behind me and I’m starting to feel a little FAB. Any tips on how to say a definite goodbye to alcohol and mean it? Thank you for your work, it’s life changing.

    1. Take the online course. It gets deeper into FAB Cravings etc. Also a great section on conguering the sub conscience and it realizing that FAB doesnt work because its a illusion

    2. Well done on 3 months! Just keep working at it, keep reminding yourself what you’re dealing with, don’t let your thoughts drift to the fantasy. Over time this reaction becomes instinctive and easier and easier.

  6. Thanks for writing this, I have in the last week spectacularly fallen off the waggon after 5 months, Including xmas, new year and my 60th birthday and party, I got through all that and slipped up on a tiny issue. God I hate myself for it. You are right, I got seriously anxious about something and couldnt handle the anxiety, so back to my old friend! Ive been at it for a week but resisted the temptation to buy more today, so an alcohol free house.
    I am living in the moment, by asking myself “do I need a drink in this moment, the answer is no. Reading your words helps to get my mind in the right place again. Thankyou for writing these messages.

  7. When I’ve returned to that 1st drink after having months free of alcohol I have noticed that the 1st one does virtually nothing. It feels less effective than when I was regularly drinkeven though I know my tolerance would’ve gone down. So then I have more, and more, and then I feel I need another and when I start feeling I need another then I seem to get that stimulating effect… however I think it might be down to how I’ve rattled my addicted brain again. After however drinking for a few weeks, months that 1st drink will leave me badly craving another and I feel so wrong if I don’t feed it. The stimulating effect doesn’t really happen after a few more, instead I’ll get upset or angry.

  8. Hi I’ve been diagnosed with cerois over a year ago. Slipped up a few times. Lately I’ve been craving it more then befor. Just looking for any type of encouragement. Thankyou A.N.

    1. It’s a ridiculous time of year for drinking, Christmas has been totally alcoholised. Try not to get sucked into the nonsense. What would you get if you drank? A foul taste, a feeling o fullness, all sorts of feeling of regret and worry, then increased anxiety as the drink wore off and a ruined night’s sleep. At some point you need to decide that alcohol has taken enough from you, and you aren’t going to let it take anything else.

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William Porter

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

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