I was thinking recently about the alcohol withdrawal and why it is so overpowering. Everyone faces problems in their life. Some big. Some small. Some in between. We tend to have more of the smaller ones, and less of the larger ones. Smaller ones might be paying a bill, querying a charge on a credit card bill, completing a tax return. Large ones might be relationship problems, redundancy, financial problems, serious illness, the loss of a loved one. The smaller ones are almost just irritants, annoying little things that have to be done. The larger ones are more overpowering, and by overpowering I mean they can require more energy to deal with, sometimes more energy than we feel we can muster. They tend to be things that we often we feel we can do nothing about.
So we have these problems, ranging from minor, to very serious. Let’s, for the purpose of this article, them give them a scale of 1 – 10, with one being the least serious and 10 being the most serious.
Let’s also assume that a normal mentally and physically healthy person will be able to deal with all the problems up to, say, 8 or 9, with their being unable to cope with only the most serious of problems (which we hope are relatively few and far between).
What the alcohol withdrawal actually does is to prevent us from being able to cope or deal with problems we would otherwise tackle with little or no consternation. The very serious withdrawal of the late stage alcoholic will leave them unable to cope with any problem, right down to severity 1. A more medium withdrawal will leave you unable to cope with say any problem exceeding a 7. All this is arbitrary and for illustrative purposes only but hopefully you are getting the idea.
This was certainly the case for me. When I was drinking I would go into work at the beginning of the week on a Monday or Tuesday (or even a Wednesday after a particularly bad weekend) and I would be incapable of doing anything but the most basic of tasks. For the vast majority of things I had to do I would be like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a car. I was absolutely frozen, I just didn’t feel able to deal with them. However after a few days when the withdrawal had worn off I would be dealing with these tasks without batting an eyelid.
This is why the withdrawal is so powerful; it leaves us feeling unable to cope with life. It is a horrible feeling. But if you then take a drink you negate the withdrawal and again feel like you can deal with all but the most serious of problems. And that is why people with put the drink before family, friends, work, even their very lives. I think it is also worth mentioning here that what alcohol does is make you feel like you COULD deal with your problems, however when you are actually drinking you rarely do actually deal with any of them. It essentially just anaesthetises you to them. You tend to go through alternating states of being so worried by your problems that you feel unable to deal with them, to being ambivalent towards them, but you scarcely ever actually do anything about them, with the result that they tend to accumulate and become even more overpowering; after all even the 1s, 2s and 3s can be overpowering when we are not drinking if we are overwhelmed by the sheer number of them.
Essentially you tend to be either actually drinking in which case you have no interest whatsoever in dealing with any of your problems as the drink has negated your fear of them and hence negated your desire to do anything about them. Alternatively you are hungover in which case you simply don’t feel mentally able to deal with them.
It is also why many people drink heavily on a regular basis seem to have no physical withdrawal; it is not that they don’t have the withdrawal but their lives are such they don’t really have any problems, or to be more accurate all their problems are ones, twos and threes, so even with a severe withdrawal leaving them incapable of dealing with any problem over a 4, there is no practical difference. These tend to be people who are comfortable in their career in that they can do their job standing on their head, it presents them no real challenges (either because it is not challenging or because they have been doing it for so long that there is nothing new for them). They also tend to be fairly happy in both their family and financial situation.
This is also why finally realising and admitting to yourself that you have a problem actually exacerbates the situation. Alcoholism, problem drinking, whatever you call it is a problem 9 or 10 for the vast majority of people. It is bad enough dealing with it when you are at the top of your game but throw in a bout of alcohol withdrawal and it really can be overpowering.
I’m in the last chapters of your book and I just wanted you to know that almost all of it resonated with me. I appreciated your simple yet not condescending approach to explaining things. I’ll probably be referring back to it much in the coming weeks.
Hi Bob, I’m so glad you found it resonated, I hope it helps you.