The key to quitting any drug, including alcohol, is to materially change how we perceive that drug. Addiction, any addiction, comes about because a part of the addict believes that they need the drug to fully enjoy, or cope with, life. The drug may be dragging them down, killing them, and ruining their life, but while they believe that they cannot enjoy life or cope with life without it, they will keep being dragged back to it. Every time they feel low, every time something bad happens to them, every time they are in a group and don’t feel part of it, every time they feel like their life has no meaning, they will be dragged back. It is this belief, that they truly need the drug, that is the very essence of addiction. This is why telling people that it is them, not the drug, that is the problem is so damaging. It is not only incorrect, but it instills into them the belief that they are incomplete without their drug.
The problem is exacerbated because of the subconscious. The subconscious is that part of our brain which automates decision making (more information on this aspect can be found in Chapter 3 of Alcohol Explained which can be found here). Often, what we think of as a conscious decision is in fact a subconscious one. To give an example if you have an argument with your partner and storm out of the house, walk the streets, then decide you couldn’t care less and just head to a pub or off-licence, your analysis might be that it was while walking the streets in a rage that you decided to drink. In fact the decision to drink was made by your subconscious right back when the argument was going on, the storming out, and walking the streets thinking was was what I call ‘the search for excuses’. The subconscious made the decision to drink, you conscious mind knows that it’s an irrational decision, so to reconcile this you spend some time searching for excuses to justify the decision.
You should be able to recognise this process when it happens because what is going on is not a rational weighing up of the pros and cons of taking a drink, it is a quick mental jump from one idea to the next, and focussing on any excuse, no matter how superficial or irrational, to take a drink, and disregard immediately anything that goes against the decision. Often it involves laying the blame elsewhere. If we are making a conscious decision we slowly and calmly weigh up each of the pros and cons, the for and against, we think about them all, and add them together to see how they balance out, and on the basis of that we make our decision. However when the decision has been made by the subconscious and we are just trying to justify it, we quickly disregard anything that goes against the decision, we just make a quick list of anything that goes for the decision. If we find anything even remotely substantial that supports the decision we focus in on it and try not to think about anything that might undermine it. As soon as we have a quorum we quickly act on it before rational thinking can undermine it. The act is almost done in a panic. It is the exact opposite of a rationing weighing of all the relevant factors, hence my referring to it as ‘the search for excuses’.
Of course the subconscious can be changed, either over time through repetition, or by one single major event. If you never drink again eventually the subconscious learns that alcohol is no longer available and eventually stops triggering the decision to take a drink. However the subconscious can be changed by single events as well. Radically overhauling how we see a drug can do this. If we can genuinely convince ourselves at a subconscious level that the perceived benefits of a drug are an illusion then we can get the subconscious on board with our decision not to drink again. This is why certainty is also key. If you can convince your subconscious that alcohol is no longer an option, your subconscious no longer triggers the decision to drink.
These factors together are essentially what ‘spontaneous sobriety’ is (where an individual suddenly unlocks the key to the prison of addiction and simply walks free). The key is to totally alter our perception of a drug so that we have absolutely no desire for it again.
This is where books like Alcohol Explained, This Naked Mind, The Sober Diaries, The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober, Alcohol Lied to Me, Kick the Drink Easily, The Easyway to Stop Drinking, and all the other ‘quit-lit’ come in. It can also happen from our own experiences and analysis. All of these thing can cause that seismic change in our perception. We are all individuals and what works for one person may not work for another. Some people also may not manage this and will have to take the long route. But the key is to not to stop trying. One person may just find one day that they no longer want to drink; they’re change of perspective being based entirely on their own experience of drinking. Others may read a book and it is this that tips the scales for them. Another may need to read several books. Others may need to read books, stop drinking and experience sobriety, then return to drinking, then stop again, and need time to compare life drinking with life not drinking, before the scales tip.
Unfortunately we are constantly subject to the lie that we need the drug to enjoy with and cope with life, and this is more the case with alcohol than any other drug. We are constantly being told that we need alcohol to relax, to enjoy social occasions, and to deal with the ups and downs of life. We are told that by other drinkers, by the images of people socialising with alcohol, relaxing with alcohol, and dealing with the tough times with alcohol. This is my main issue with alcohol advertising. For me personally I do not find that adverts for alcohol make me want to drink, but I do think that advertisers should not make false claims about a product. Emphasising the social or relaxing aspects of alcohol is to make false claims about it. Some people cannot relax or enjoy social occasions without alcohol. This doesn’t mean that alcohol assists them relax or socialise, it means the lack of it prevents them from doing so. A subtle difference but a key one.
Fortunately the truth is on our side. The simple fact of the matter is that you are complete without any drug. You can lead a full and happy life without any drug. Its perceived benefits are all an illusion. Once you see through the illusion the bubble is burst. Drugs give, but as your brain readjusts to the effect of them you need the drug to feel normal. In this way their do not truly give, they just take and then partially restore.
Excellent article. Yes, I’ve got there now and I feel that an alcohol-free beer in a pub is what gives me super-powers. I have absolutely no desire to drink anymore. Took me a while and it was exactly as you described it.
Yes, just a shame so many places don’t stock them. I was at a work party last night, free bar, I asked for an orange juice and was told I’d have to pay for it! I could have drunk limitless champagne all night for free but had to pay for orange juice!
Great succinct article. I got to this turning point by seeing that there was no way I could drink in any manner – moderation, occasional ‘letting loose once in a while’ – all very hard and leading to the same aftereffects – but I had to try these things to eliminate them. It just reached a dead end. Now nearly on day 50 – and I have a better ‘whole view’ of the situation, and the bad/aftereffects are the kind of bulk/default.
Yes that is a big one. Once you get the moderation myth firmly ensconced in your mind it can be the turning point. Most people don’t want to get drop down drunk every time they drink and once you understand why that is always the logical outcome you can put that myth to bed once and for all.
This makes total sense. I’m on day 33. It’s amazing how domineering the unconscious mind is….mind so made up one day only for crazy thoughts about why can’t be totally happy without a little alcohol creep in the next. Apparently it takes awhile to convince the unconscious mind that’s it’s the right decision.
Yes it can do. It learns from repetition or from one large impactful event. But often I think even people for whom it just ‘clicks’, there’s been a lot of building up time before they get to that point.
Another great article reinforcing for me why I don’t drink anymore.
Thank you for the article. You describe the experiences I have had with quitting perfectly. I’m the one who resolved to quit, thought I’d try a little alcohol on the weekend, couldn’t moderate, quit again, and so forth. I’m getting there though and I find your articles very motivating and helpful.
For some people the journey is definitely longer, you just need to make sure it is a journey (ie you are progressing) rather than just replaying the same mistakes over and over.
Excellent article William!! Your book was a life changer for me!!!
William, you are the gift that keeps giving. Your explanations continue to well … explain … more clearly with your writing on here. For me, I totally had to prove it to myself. I read your book, tried to moderate … another tick off the list for my subconscious. I then soaked myself in ‘debriefing’ material. Instagram Sober tribe mainly… where all of the above ‘benefits’ of alcohol were debunked and joked about and cried over and factually examined… and imprinted into my new roads of action and thought in my brain and deep into my subconscious and I would say into my unconscious mind also, because even if I test myself now, with a purposeful ‘do you want this’ I don’t even get a chance to feel for a reason not to… I would have to convince myself of a reason TO drink. Being here, connected to your blog has the same affect. The facts cannot lie. I find if I’m on some Facebook groups it is not so clear cut… a lot of people vent about what they miss about alcohol, luckily for me I cannot be tempted by lies and feel empathy and just guide them to your book. I feel those who need that subconscious key to click things into place MUST read the facts and then set about debriefing themselves. Thank you for both
Thank you for your unending support! I’m on Instagram as you know but I struggle with it a bit, I think you need that knack of expressing ideas in images.
Another brilliant article from William. I so look forward to seeing these in my email inbox.
I think William is right we are all different and it’s ok if we don’t get the sobriety straight away. Some of us have to work and work on it until it eventually consolidates and we get it.
I for one am on a very long journey. I read quit lit daily, rarely drink, realise moderation does not work as it sets off the I internal chant to drink nightly. Good quality sleep is more important than the booze. I know I am getting there and am so grateful to every author. I am know fully immersed in all of Janie Lee Graces work.
Please keep posting William, you are one of the best.
Hopefully we’ll meet in Janey’s Sober Club!
Thank you William. In my experience, your article tells it exactly how it is. After 25 years of hard drinking and countless of failed efforts to quit, my subconscious is now on board. It’s been nearly six months without a drink and I honestly don’t give alcohol a thought (except when your email pops up!) For me it took reading Allan Carr’s Easy Way 6 times, and then the light bulb moment finally came after reading Alcohol Explained. Thank you for saving my life.