References in Alcohol Explained

Several times I have been asked about putting references in Alcohol Explained to back up the text itself. Originally I didn’t put references in because I had in mind the readership could include those suffering from severe alcohol withdrawal so didn’t want to clutter the text up. I wanted to keep it as clear, concise and readable as possible.

Having now been asked several times I have considered further but am still disinclined to put references in. Aside from the original reason there are several additional reasons for this.

Firstly while there are many facets to the consumption of, and addiction to, alcohol, and whilst the direct chemical effect is extremely important (indeed without it everything else would fall away – it is if you like the first link in the chain of alcohol addiction, without which all the subsequent links would not exist), the actual science behind it is quite simple. The brain has its own store of drugs and hormones that is uses to keep the body and brain working correctly. Introduce a chemical depressant and it will counter it with a stimulant. I don’t think you would really need a reference to this anyway, we live in the age of the internet, I have just done a Google search on ‘Alcohol Stress Hormones’ which lead to referencing right back to the original research. So whilst I appreciate that I could reference this by directing the reader to several actual scientific research to evidence the position, I am not sure that it is not just as easy for the individual to find this for themselves if they are interested.

Secondly many of the other facets are psychological. Psychological conclusions cannot, by their very nature, be stated to be absolute in the same way that a chemical or mathematical conclusion can be. I am very aware that for every study pointing one way, there is another study pointing another. Referencing something does not make a text any more reliable, it is simply saying that someone previously thought it to be the case. If you were being cynical then you can quite easily see how you   could reference any old nonsense if you were minded to do so.

Thirdly some things cannot be referenced, they are my own ideas. My thesis that the metal relaxation and the physical withdrawal run their course at different times is something I have come up with, and I am not aware of anyone having considered this previously. If they have then no doubt someone will point this out for me, but insofar as I am aware this is a new thesis and therefore cannot be referenced to anything.

Finally and perhaps most importantly the judge for whether this book is correct or not is not that there is a study to back it up, but whether it makes sense to the drinkers themselves. It is the drinkers themselves who are most familiar with the phenomenon of drinking and are therefore best placed to judge if what I am saying is correct or not. For example when I say that the physical intoxication and the mental relaxation run their course at different times, for most drinkers this is a lightbulb moment; a moment when suddenly the whole phenomenon of drinking and the tendency to become intoxicated suddenly makes sense. Or when I say that drinking disrupts sleep, and even one drink will prevent you from sleeping properly, drinkers immediately know this to be the case from their own bitter experience. Do you really need an expert to confirm the scientific basis as to why this is the case? Or can you know immediately that it is the case because it fits exactly to your own experience?

The point is that what we are concerned with here is cause and effect. As an example on the physiological side, the effects of drinking is that each drink creates a feeling of relaxation and confidence, followed by a corresponding feeling of anxiety and worry. Does it make any difference whether the anxious feeling is caused by cortisol, adrenaline, or norepinephrine? Or because “…GABA-A receptors move from the surface of the neuron to the inside of the neuron, where they are degraded…” (

The true judge for Alcohol Explained this is not scientific research but your own experience. Someone recently left a review on the Amazon UK page for Alcohol Explained and said:

“In my opinion it could do with some citations where necessary to back up his ideas but his ideas seem credible despite this omission.”

I think this is the key. Are my ideas credible? If so then I have achieved my objective. Scientific research is evidence and explanation of the workings of a particular phenomenon, but the phenomenon of alcoholism and problem drinking manifests itself in human beings. If the concepts in Alcohol Explained make sense to those human beings then that, to me, is the most important thing.

If you do wish to delve further into the actual science then please do drop me a line and I will be happy to refer you to the various studies etc that I came across, but I am still disinclined to put references in the actual text of the book.

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10 Responses

  1. Hello Mr. Porter
    Thank you for posting this explanation regarding the omission of references in your book, but even more so, thank you for writing ALCOHOL EXPLAINED!
    Personally, I am not interested in potentially time-consuming references, as I would not look them up anyway.
    What grasps me about your book is the ease of reading and understanding the message.
    By the time I was into the 2nd chapter, I decided to buy it.
    And for this, I thank you again…

  2. Any literature that claims to give advice to human beings on how best to deal with, which treatments are available for, and what would be the most effective course of action for a disorder, a very serious neurological disorder, has the responsibility to provide references, scientific references to prove the validity of the statements. Alcohol Use Disorder is a serious disorder that kills many people. There is much literature already that provides pseudo scientific information, and off the cuff advice for alcoholics that is unreliable and sometimes even false.

    If you were writing the same type of literature as advice or information on cancer, in order to be accepted as credible you would definitely be expected to provide scientific references when making medical statements.

    Otherwise please state up front that you and your writings are part of the alternative medicine approach to health. They too make statements about health issues, treatment, physiology and neurology without providing scientific references

    1. But how do I provide a reference for something that has never been dealt with before? I would disagree that problem drinking is a purely neurological disorder, it cannot be compared to something purely physical like cancer. If someone was depressed due, for example, a failing marriage, and I gave them advice how to deal with, accept, and move on from their relationship, with the result that they were no longer depressed, would I need to provide scientific references? Addiction is only partly physical, it is also psychological.

  3. Coming from a scientific background and being pretty familiar with most of the literature and studies on the subject I would appreciate a list of those you consider most relevant. I say this as a recovering alcoholic who has found your book very interesting. I say this also as a reader who has read so much ‘crap’ about alcoholism and psychiatry in general that I am a sceptic. Thank you for your book, though.

    1. I’ve started compiling a list of references and adding them to that section of the website. Any questions / comments please let me know. Glad you found the book interesting!

  4. I’ll start compiling a list and I’ll add it to the website. Please bear with me though it might take some time, I have quite a few things on at the moment.

  5. Psychology is also a science. The various psychological approaches, treatments, and therapies are all based on much research. It is thus possible to provide relvant referencess as to the effectiveness of specific treatment/therapy and life approaches to changing behaviours and attitudes.

    Additionally, there are numerous new scientific studies on Alcohol Use Disorder, genetic, neurological and psychological.

    1. Yes I agree I’m just aware that with psychology you are more likely to be able to find research pointing in different directions. Be that as it may I am going to compile a list of references but for now I think I will put them here on the website rather than in the text of the book.

  6. Hi William, I found your book wonderful. But I was troubled by your statements:

    Do you really need an expert to confirm the scientific basis as to why this is the case? Or can you know immediately that it is the case because it fits exactly to your own experience?
    Finally and perhaps most importantly the judge for whether this book is correct or not is not that there is a study to back it up, but whether it makes sense to the drinkers themselves.

    Yes, I do need an expert or the balance of scientific literature on a particular topic, because individual human experience is completely unreliable. For centuries, everyone (including ‘experts’) knew from their own experience that blood-letting cured whatever ailed them, and that stomach ulcers were caused by stress (not so – they are caused by a bacteria). Individual human experience is not enough to make something true. It matters to me what is true and what is not true. Plenty of things fit my own experience. The earth feels flat in my experience. But I rely on the preponderance of evidence to show me that it is in fact not flat.

    It sounds like you are saying: ‘It feels right, doesn’t it? And a lot of it has been proven. Some of it is just my own ideas – unproven – but you’ll have to go away yourself and check everything if you want to find out which is which. But it doesn’t matter anyway, because it feels true.’

    This came home to me when you talked about sweating out toxins when withdrawing. There is no such thing as sweating out toxins. It got me thinking: ‘Why should I believe anything he says?’ Which is a great shame, because I think so much of what you say and how you say it is fantastic and really helpful.

    I understand your reasons for not wanting to include references, and I don’t think you need to put a footnote to everything, but I think it is important to point out in the text what is unproven and just a hypothesis of your own (nothing wrong with that!), what has a lot of proof behind it and what is still up for debate. I think it is also important to check basic facts. Like that we don’t sweat out toxins. Statements that are untrue just undermine the reader’s trust in your or their relationship to what they are reading and then the reader misses out on all the brilliant stuff in Alcohol Explained. And more than that, if they are not true, then they are unlikely to work in the long run.


    1. Dear Emma,

      Thank you for your comments. Views on this seem to be mixed but enough people have said that they would find references useful to make it worth my while putting them in. Currently I am working on putting them on the website for those who are interested. You will have to bear with me though, my reading into the effects of alcohol took place over many years, and for the majority of this it was just for my own curiosity so I didn’t take any notes at all. When I came to write Alcohol Explained I revisited much of it but again (and foolishly) again didn’t note references. So I am having to do a third sweep to note the specific references. Unfortunately I am struggling a bit time wise at the moment and am also working on an audio version Alcohol Explained, but rest assured the references point is on my to do list!

      I have to put my hands up, sweating out toxins was not something I specifically researched, it was a comment I made having taken the concept for granted. If it is incorrect than I apologise. I always found that a day or two after I finished my last binge I would sweat profusely at night. It clearly wasn’t the immediate effects of the alcohol as it happened too far after. I will look into this point further. Fortunately it is a peripheral point and doesn’t undermine (I hope) the overall picture.

      Kind regards,

      William Porter

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William Porter

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

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