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Discussion Topics => Personal Page => Topic started by: Todd Becker on April 15, 2010, 06:34:52 AM

Title: Cutting back on alcohol
Post by: Todd Becker on April 15, 2010, 06:34:52 AM
As the creator of this blog and forum, I usually find myself in the position of summarizing scientific research, formulating a "position" and giving advice to others. But I think it is good to try heeding one's own advice, so I am going to plunge in here and take a dose of my own medicine.  

I've just posted a piece called "Overcoming Addiction" (http://gettingstronger.org/2010/04/overcoming-addictions/) on the blog today, which discusses the potential of using cue exposure therapy to extinguish addictions.  Over the past few years, I've been successful in losing weight on the Deconditioning Diet, including giving up daily ice cream desserts, and replacing a daily routine of 2-3 cups caffeinated coffee with a few cups per week of decaffeinated coffee.

However, I've found it very hard to give up one particular pleasure: an alcoholic drink or two before dinner.  A year ago, I was successful in cutting back to 1 or 2 drinks a week.  But I do enjoy alcohol, and my habit has crept back to a daily cocktail or beer before dinner.  As I wrote on my blog, my favorite drinks, in order, are:  (#1) B&B cognac liqueur on the rocks; (#2) Manhattan cocktail; (#3) beer; (#4) red wines, especially Pinot Noir.

Over the past 5 days, I've managed to limit myself to a single beer over the entire 5-day period.  It has been harder than I thought. And yet, it is curious that I only find myself craving a drink at a specific time of day -- right after work, when I'm driving home from work, and the first hour that I'm at home. So far I've managed not to "reinforce" this urge except for Saturday night, when I had one beer. Each evening I'm still thinking about the drink. So I am going to try cue exposure to extinguish even this craving.

I'm also trying to formulate a plan for how often I want to drink and under what circumstances. I think drinking one or two evenings a week sounds "moderate" enough to allow some pleasure but have the possibility of improving my general health and energy level. I'm currently training for a big running relay race the first weekend in May, and I'm thinking that cutting back on alcohol may be beneficial.

Wish me luck! ...And I'd like to see if others might be willing to post their own "detox" experiences here....
Title: Re: Cutting back on alcohol
Post by: Jbird on April 15, 2010, 09:07:37 PM
Todd, I really enjoyed reading your distillation of the research, and it's particularly interesting and inspiring to see you applying it to yourself. I'm amused by your lack of bad behaviors to give up. Some would even argue that your one drink a day has greater health benefits than no drinks a day. I'm just playing devil's advocate. I have never cared about alcohol one way or another and am dubious about its supposed health benefits. I'd like to apply the technique to my bad habits related to eating. For one, I'd like to stop eating in non-eating environments (office, couch, bed, car, etc.) and eat only at the dining room table. Because I eat alone, I can eat anywhere, but I know it would be better not to. Certainly less messy! I'll start a thread on this and see if I can apply these cue-exposure techniques to help me break my bad habits. Thanks for another great post!   
Title: Re: Cutting back on alcohol
Post by: Todd Becker on April 16, 2010, 05:59:57 AM
Jaye, I'll look forward to following your experiment with eating environments.

For me, yesterday was not too bad. I had a busy day at work, and met my wife and another friend after work to head out to a social event that happened to be from about 4-6 p.m.  I was a little hungry (from having not eaten breakfast or lunch) so I did something a bit unusual for me and bought an ice cream sandwich from a sidewalk vendor.  When I got home around 7 p.m. I had only a small meal -- a leftover porkchop and lima beans, then a small piece of chocolate, and that totally satisfied me.  I really did not have any craving for a drink (or appetizers) at all.

I don't really know what caused my lack of desire for a drink: (a) the different evening routine; (b) the unusual ice cream sandwich; (c) eating a satisfying dinner right away without time to ponder a drink.  Could have been any of these or some combination of them.  No "cue exposure" to alcohol was involved, so this doesn't strictly follow the original guidelines of my experiment, except that part of deconditioning is discovering alternative behaviors.  As the Conklin and Tiffany paper observed, extinction is not just passive "unlearning", it is "relearning" new behaviors.  Since the unusual routine and foods may not necessarily be repeated often, I have to be careful not to assume I've really set down any "new routines" or sustainable new ways of responding yet. Also, I did not have much stress yesterday, actually a rather light and fun day, so I have not really "tested" myself in finding alternatives to my use of an evening drink as de-stressing technique.
Title: Re: Cutting back on alcohol
Post by: Jbird on April 16, 2010, 08:47:30 AM
I'm glad your experience of socializing without alcohol went so well! When I'm in novel situations that are stimulating in positive ways, I find I'm less interested in food and drink. It can also be so physically awkward if it's a stand-up situation, where you have to balance food and a drink and somehow manage to eat gracefully while socializing. Also, I wonder if your being conscious of not wanting to have a drink plays a role here. I imagine you were conscious of your goals, and you seem to be very disciplined about achieving goals you set for yourself. So there's intentionality. That's how I feel about my own attempt to confine eating to eating environments. I had no problem doing that so far today because it's very top-of-mind that that is what I want to accomplish. I think Sugardude said something on his thread about how any change seems easy at first. I think part of that must be that one is mentally focused on the goal. Also interesting to note that the ice cream sandwich didn't trigger a desire for more sugar in the form of alcohol. Maybe you're not particularly sugar sensitive. Good luck as you continue your experiment!
Title: Re: Cutting back on alcohol
Post by: SUGARDUDE on April 16, 2010, 02:13:17 PM
I think you are going to have to put your drinking behavior on extinction, at least with the specific dinner time cue otherwise you may be making the stimulus response even stronger by intermittantly reinforcing it.
Title: Re: Cutting back on alcohol
Post by: Todd Becker on April 16, 2010, 08:05:05 PM
Interesting point, Sugardude, I hadn't thought of that. You are right that intermittent reinforcement is well known to make extinction more difficult. Casinos and internet gambling sites exploit this by putting payouts and jackpots on a somewhat random basis, so gamblers keep betting even when they are not getting regular payouts.  That's also why parents who give in occasionally to whining kids encourage the kids to whine to get what they want, even if they usually don't give in.  I'll have to think about your point. If I settle on more or less of a regular "drinking schedule", one that is predictable and not too random, I think I would avoid this problem. For example, if I have a beer after work every Friday with co-workers, and then one other time each week, perhaps on the weekend, but not during the week, I think this would be non-random and I would avoid getting cravings during the week. I think I just need to make some "rules" about it.  This is like the "putting on cue" concept of Karen Pryor I discussed on the Psychology (http://gettingstronger.org/psychology/) page.

I skipped breakfast and lunch and took a run at lunchtime, which normally suppresses my appetite somewhat. Today was Friday, so I had a beer after work as I had planned, and a B&B cocktail at home tonight.  It was pretty uneventful. If anything, I would say both the beer and cocktail were somewhat bland or unsatisfying, and I almost didn't finish the cocktail.  So perhaps my desire for alcohol is waning somewhat. However, today was a nice day at work, not very stressful, and my appetite was diminished due to the run.  So maybe this wasn't a very hard test of what it would be like on a more stressful day.  Will see.
Title: Re: Cutting back on alcohol
Post by: Todd Becker on April 18, 2010, 12:00:02 PM
Yesterday (Saturday) went very smooth. I had no cravings for a drink, and didn't even think about it until I realized dinner had come and gone. This may have had to do with a somewhat different routine (helping my daughter get ready for her prom and driving her around), but I'm not sure. My original plan had been to designate 2 days of the week for drinking: Friday and one weekend day. I'm thinking instead to space these out a bit more, like Friday and then either Monday or Tuesday night.

On the one hand I'm thinking - why drink if I have no desire to drink? Why not just go to one day a week, Friday, which fits in with my company's tradition of a beer or two late Friday afternoon.  But on the other hand, I think I want to go more gradually, from 5-7 nights a week down to 2 nights a week, instead of going to 1 in a single bound.  Plus, I'm persuaded to some extent by Sugardude's point that a regular pattern may make extinction easier than a randomized pattern.  (The flip side of this is that randomized eating helped me decondition my appetite, so why wouldn't the same apply to drinking?)

Today I plan to do a little "swilling" of some B&B and spit it out, just to proactively dampen my taste for alcohol.  This is inspired in part by a method called "enlightened tasting" (http://boards.sethroberts.net/index.php?topic=5932.msg62610#msg62610)suggested by Tim Beneke, a contributor on the Shangri-La Diet (sethroberts.net) forum, and it is also consistent with the findings of Conklin and Tiffany that adding a "behavioral" element to sensory deconditioning is beneficial in achieving extinction.

...update Sunday evening. I did some cue-exposure with the B&B drink, right around dinner time.  This involved swirling and sniffing it in the glass, sipping it, and spitting it out.  The sensation on the tongue was warm and pleasant. The aroma was interesting, I don't think I'd paid attention to aroma by itself as much before, but it was sort of an odd sweet smell that wasn't especially great.  After this cue exposure, I had no real desire for the drink, and it made me wonder why I like it so much.  I also had no appetiizers, but just made a seafood stirfry and that was dinner.  No problem.

 
Title: Re: Cutting back on alcohol
Post by: Todd Becker on April 19, 2010, 10:19:26 PM
Today I decided that I would have my second drink of the week.  I had plans to take my daughter on a driving lesson around 5-6 p.m, which would be the time I would normally be arriving home.  And sure enough, on the way home I experienced a slight craving to drink. It was slighter than normal, but still there.  I picked up my daughter and we went for an hour's driving, including shopping.  By the time we got home, around 6:16 or so, I no longer had any desire for the drink.  But I decided that I should go ahead and keep my schedule, and in fact it was a good thing to have the drink precisely at a time that I had no desire for it, to help with the deconditioning.

So I had my B&B cocktail, cheese and salted almonds as hors d'oeuvres, followed about 20 minutes later by a small dinner.  The cocktail & snacks were no different than normal.  Perhaps the drink might have seemed a little bit "fainter" than normal, but it's hard to say.  It was not unpleasant, but nor was it "delicious" or unusually pleasant.  I limited myself to a single drink (1/3 of a glass).

I plan to go forward with a schedule of two drinking days per week, which means the next drink will be on Friday.
Title: Re: Cutting back on alcohol
Post by: Todd Becker on April 22, 2010, 08:00:30 PM
This experiment continues to go surprisingly well. I had a concern that my drink two days ago might have re-ignited the daily pattern, but it did not. Yesterday and today I didn't even think about a drink during the dinner hour, or any other time for that matter.  Today was a fasting day, with no breakfast, lunch or any other snacks.  Just one cup of decaf and one tea all day long. No food or alcohol cravings all day long! I took a very enjoyable 30 minute walk during the middle of my workday, as the weather is turning nice.

Tonight I broke my fast with some nuts, two slices of Havarti cheese and a glass of soy milk.  Dinner was a large artichoke, which I could not even finish, with a glass of soy milk.  FYI, I am not committed to soy milk over regular whole dairy milk, so I go back and forth between the two.  I just like unsweetened soy milk because it is so low in sugar content and it tastes good to me and is refreshing.   The soy milk kind of substitutes for a non-alcoholic drink that at least has an interesting flavor, something besides plain water or herb tea.

Tomorrow is our regular weekly Friday after-work company social event, with free beer and snacks, so I plan to take advantage of that for my now-weekly beer or two.  There is really something to having a regular drinking schedule.  I still will have that source of pleasure to look forward to each week, so I don't feel I'm depriving myself of anything at all.  I think it is also important to strive for moderation, not a prudish abstinence, because with moderation I am controlling the pleasure, but with abstinence, the forbidden fruit could control me.   I think the Stoics and the other Hellenistic philosophers like Aristototle were really onto something with their doctrine of moderation.  It can sound very boring and pedestrian as a philosophy, but in reality it is a way of allowing pleasure and self-control to co-exist in a very satisfying way.
Title: Re: Cutting back on alcohol
Post by: SUGARDUDE on April 23, 2010, 12:25:58 PM
I plan to go forward with a schedule of two drinking days per week, which means the next drink will be on Friday.

As a recovering alcoholic I have to laugh at this. Fortunately for you (assuming you do not have an addictive personality) many people could do what you are doing with no adverse effects. But a drinking schedule is one of things that is discussed in the Big Book of A/A as the type of thing that an alcoholic does in an attempt to drink like a normal person but to no avail.
Title: Re: Cutting back on alcohol
Post by: Todd Becker on April 23, 2010, 09:06:56 PM
Today was amazing.  I fasted until 4 p.m., including a group run at lunch with colleagues who are training with me for the big relay next Saturday (Its a 200 mile relay with 12 runners doing 3 legs each. I have 3 five mile legs to run).  It was a fairly relaxed run today.  At 4 p.m. I had a sandwich and one beer.  Very refreshing.  I was thinking I'd have a second beer when I got home, but I had no desire at all for a beer or any other alcohol.  I had given my self permission to have 2 drinks today, but I could only manage one!  That just seems strange to me.  I wasn't that I was repulsed or couldn't possible drink one if you forced me; it was that I had absolutely no desire, and I preferred to drink a soy milk with my chicken dinner.  Also my appetite was very small today.  I just had the chicken tonight, no extras.

I plan to go forward with a schedule of two drinking days per week, which means the next drink will be on Friday.

As a recovering alcoholic I have to laugh at this. Fortunately for you (assuming you do not have an addictive personality) many people could do what you are doing with no adverse effects. But a drinking schedule is one of things that is discussed in the Big Book of A/A as the type of thing that an alcoholic does in an attempt to drink like a normal person but to no avail.

Sugardude, I'd like to learn more about your experience with this and why AA and others feel this is impossible. From my research, I realize that AA is very, very adamant about this point that there is no option of recovering alcoholics ever returning to moderate drinking.  But there are others who dispute this.  I'd like to understand exactly why AA and others believe that a return to moderation is impossible.  I can understand that it is difficult, but impossible?  Why?  I also have read differing viewpoints on whether the concept of an "addictive personality" is a scientifically valid concept, or just a label that gets thrown around. Certainly, I know some people who would fit the stereotype, but I also worry about using deterministic labels that imply no possibility of change.  I've seen change, in myself and others, so I guess I'm a believer in the possibility of change.

HOWEVER, I want this blog and forum to have a spirit of openness and the give-and-take of ideas. So I'm very interested in hearing about how I might be wrong on this point.

Title: Re: Cutting back on alcohol
Post by: SUGARDUDE on April 24, 2010, 10:23:37 AM
A basic belief of A/A is that alcoholic drinkers are different than other people. In my experience and from what I have read as a whole I tend to believe this as well.

From my A/A experience, I have heard countless stories of people who have stopped drinking for 1-10 years only to feel comfortable that they could drink normally again which ultimately takes them right back to where they were and worse.

From what I've read, and please excuse for for not providing citations, there have been multiple documentations of recovering alcoholics who also have a strong sweet tooth. now not everybody has a strong sweet tooth. This tends to indicate to me that there are fundamental physiological response differences to alcohol/drugs/sugar in the "alcoholic" brain as opposed to the non alcoholic brain.

For me, it's never been about alcohol. My drug of choice was always cocaine. As you know it affects the pleasure centers in the brain much like sugar does. There was a recent study that confirms this that was mentioned in "The Week" magazine a couple of weeks ago. But again, not everyone is affected by sugar to the same level. ( To be continued because of that same problem again))
Title: Re: Cutting back on alcohol
Post by: SUGARDUDE on April 24, 2010, 10:33:06 AM
As to your inquiry about whether a return to moderation is impossible I would say no depending on what type you are. Some people just have no business drinking alcohol at all. Many in A/A got sober because they were on a collision course with early death. From a behavioral perspective, the need to continue drinking after that first step was so strong they simply were unable to stop. The feeling is that once you've gone that far down the road (and if one has felt compelled to attend such a meeting then that road has been travelled), you cannot simply rewire your brain to drink differently. Maybe that is untrue, but the cost benefit analysis weighs in favor of abstinence for those.

One thing that has been fairly well established among alcoholics in A/A is that trying to moderate by way of a drinking schedule results in disaster.........always for the alcoholic.

Title: Re: Cutting back on alcohol
Post by: Moonbeam on April 26, 2010, 05:26:52 PM
My Dad is an alcoholic, and I've had issues with drugs and alcohol so I'll give you my 2 cents, for what it's worth.  He and I have talked and wondered about this topic quit a bit; mostly about the differences between people and what their real diagnoses are. 

He goes to AA an so is of course for total abstinence.  I used to party a lot when I was younger, more than average, and I eventually realized that I needed to clean up my act if I was going to live a normal life.  So I did--I quit drinking (and drugging, but that was mostly just pot) and finished school, etc.   At some point I decided that I really didn't have to or want to continue to abstain completely, and so now I don't.  I have to watch how much I drink, because I still like it a lot, but as long as I'm careful and keep track, I'm fine.  This is has been many years ago now, quitting in my early twenties and then in my late twenties deciding I didn't have to forego completely.  Now, I have periods of time of drinking more or less; I'd like to keep it to less for health reasons.

OK, as far as what is going on with alcoholics--I think that in a lot of cases the alcoholism is just one symptom of a larger mental illness.  Anybody who has been around people from AA know that often they have a lot of issues other than just alcohol.  (I think my Dad's problems were a combination of a terrible childhood, extreme anxiety, and an OCD-like condition), and just as people with any mental or physical illness can do things that make the disease better or worse, they make their disease worse by drinking.  On the other hand, Dad says that there are people in AA who once they quit drinking are pretty much "cured", meaning that they have no residual mental health issues--their problem was purely due to their drinking.  Did I have some other mental issues that caused me to drink?  I don't know for sure, but I don't really think so; it was just the time and place and crowd I chose to hang out with; wanting to have fun.  I don't have much going on now mental-health wise except for the nagging things I put in my intro post; things I'd like to take control of better in my life. 

So--I think there are people who have a "disease" (some sort of mental condition) which includes problem drinking, which exacerbates the original problem.   Other people, for whatever personality reason, just like to drink and sometimes drink to excess, and this can become a habit, but if they break the addiction, they will be OK as long as they are careful and remember their propensity.  Then it becomes like any other sort of tendency that you know about yourself and have to watch out for (bad temper, over-eating, whatever indiscretions a person may be prone to.)

This is all purely subjective and personal, but there is no reason to think that I am the only person who ever drank too much and then was able to quit and then go back to drinking fairly responsibly.  I really d0 think it depends on what else is going on with the person's mental state.
Title: Re: Cutting back on alcohol
Post by: SUGARDUDE on May 01, 2010, 07:35:55 AM
This is all purely subjective and personal, but there is no reason to think that I am the only person who ever drank too much and then was able to quit and then go back to drinking fairly responsibly.  I really d0 think it depends on what else is going on with the person's mental state.

If it was just the person's mental state how does that explain the corelation between alcoholism and sugar addiction? There has to be some sort of physiological process involved which makes it impossible for certain people to stop once they start. 
Title: Re: Cutting back on alcohol
Post by: Todd Becker on May 01, 2010, 08:46:01 AM
This is an interesting debate, and I respect and see some truth in both viewpoints being expressed here, Sugardude and Moonbeam. The crux of the issue seems to be whether it is possible for alcoholics to stop the irresistible drive to drink once they have started, and whether this inability to stop has its basis in personality, physiology or mental disorders or disease.  Of course, there is not necessarily a contradiction in saying it is a combination all three at the same time -- personality, physiology, and pathology.  I'll have to think  about that.
The more important question to me is: what can be done about it.

Back to my own situation, I'd like to report on my progress.  After my last beer early last Monday, which I had with a sushi dinner, and which I can barely remember, I've had no alcohol to speak. Now here it is Saturday. I decided not to have any alcohol as I usually would on Friday. And I went with my kids to the Giants game against the Rockies last night, and also did not drink any beer as I usually would, even though just about 50% of the crowd was gulping down beer all around me.

This is not just because of my experiment, and I am by no means foreswearing alcohol forever.  Mainly, it's because I'm running today and tomorrow in a 30 hour relay, of which I will run 3 legs of about 5-6 miles each, separated by rest intervals of 8 or 9 hours.  I'm part of a 12-person corporate team doing this to raise money for Organs 'R Us, an organ donation charity.  This will be my first race of any distance greater than 6 miles! I've been training for it, but I'm still a little nervous that my legs will hold out.  But what the hell, you have to try new things, right?

It's also a very exciting course, from the California Wine country, across the Golden Gate Bridge and ending north of Santa Cruz.  I will have the finishing leg, which should be tomorrow (Sunday) around 5 p.m. or so.  Probaby I'lll be exhausted. For those interested, here is the course map.  You can click on legs 12, 24 and 36 to see the road sections I'm running: http://www.therelay.com/co_maps.htm

So this is a somewhat unsual week, and I'll pick up with my alcohol experiment again next week to see how it goes.  But for now, I must say I have no desire for alcohol at all.  No aversion, just zero desire.
Title: Re: Cutting back on alcohol
Post by: Moonbeam on May 01, 2010, 01:19:30 PM
This is all purely subjective and personal, but there is no reason to think that I am the only person who ever drank too much and then was able to quit and then go back to drinking fairly responsibly.  I really d0 think it depends on what else is going on with the person's mental state.

If it was just the person's mental state how does that explain the corelation between alcoholism and sugar addiction? There has to be some sort of physiological process involved which makes it impossible for certain people to stop once they start. 

Sorry SD I missed your response here.  I don't disagree with you at all, even if it kind of sounds like I do.  If somebody says that they personally cannot drink just a little bit and it will lead to drinking too much, and it is better for them to abstain, I sure wouldn't argue with them.  That is the case with my father; I wouldn't tell him to take a drink anymore than I would tell him to shoot himself. 

I also know what you mean with binging on carbohydrates and how that is an addiction.  I have a problem with that too, and I am choosing to abstain from sugar, because more likely than not, actually almost guaranteed, if I eat a little bit of something like that, I'll eat a lot, and have trouble getting back on track.  (Except very small amounts of sugar in natural forms, and very dark chocolate that doesn't even taste sweet.) 

I'm not sure if I put that right when I said "mental state", and I don't think that is a small thing ("just mental state", as you say) in any case.  Mentally, emotionally, physiologically--whatever the addiction process involves; maybe it is different in different people.  I guess that was my point, that it is different in different people, and maybe more of degree than of anything qualitatively different.  My capacity for alcohol addiction seems to be different than for carbohydrates--one I can control, the other not so much (without abstaining).   But maybe both are a really symptom of something else, I don't know.  Once I "fixed" my outlook and way of living that caused too much drinking, the problem went away.  (For the most part--I almost think I have a physical self-medication need for alchohol sometimes; it makes me feel better, but I need to remember that a lot more won't make me feel a lot better.)  Can I "fix" the carbohydrate thing by doing something similar?  I don't know--I was wondering if this site would maybe help with that.  I would like to have small amounts of very good desserts sometimes without wanting to eat the whole thing.

Anyway--I wouldn't tell somebody else that shouldn't abstain from anything that they have a problem with if that's what they feel that they should do, but I also wouldn't tell them that they might not necessarily be able to control it either.  They would have to figure it out for themselves.  For drugs like heroin or cocaine, there wouldn't be much point in being able to do "just a little", and it's fairly dangerous if the addict tries again.  Maybe the same for alcohol, but I got away with it.  I don't know if I will figure out food, but it's not the end of the world if I eat too many cookies either.  I wouldn't tell anybody that Twelve Step programs are bad or shouldn't exist; if that helps somebody, they should stick with it.  Certain aspects of the program are very useful; for example, the serenity prayer is pure stoicism.

The crux of the issue seems to be whether it is possible for alcoholics to stop the irresistible drive to drink once they have started, and whether this inability to stop has its basis in personality, physiology or mental disorders or disease.[

It could depend on how you define alcoholic.  But then people may be alcoholics sometimes and not others, which seems to go against what AA says.

Quote
Of course, there is not necessarily a contradiction in saying it is a combination all three at the same time -- personality, physiology, and pathology.  I'll have to think  about that.

I think most chronic diseases are a combination--diabetes, heart disease, etc. are all controllable by lifestyle--so why don't all people do the right thing and avoid them?  A combination of those three things.
 
Quote
The more important question to me is: what can be done about it.

It depends on the person, but I don't think you have a real problem with alcohol, so you can do whatever you want to.


OK Todd I thought your race was last weekend, so I'll tell you good luck again!  That sounds great, and not like something I could do at all!  (After my first three weeks of sardine diet, I'm going to add some running, so you will inspire me.  ;D)
Title: Re: Cutting back on alcohol
Post by: Todd Becker on May 03, 2010, 11:45:44 AM
What a weekend!  The relay race was very exciting, but exhausting.  Going for two days with three 5-6 mile races and two two-hour naps, and living out of a van with 5 others guys left me very tired Sunday.  The race included some serious uphill stretches, including one in the dark, and there was a wicked wind on my first and last races.  I was probably one of the slower runners on the team, everyone else being lean as a bean and experienced at racing, but that did not bother me.  Despite wondering whether I could finish the last race, I did it and I survived!  It was a real learning experience and the comraderie was incredible.

Right at the end of the race, several of my teammates had a beer to celebrate.  That was the last thing in the world I wanted at the time, since all I wanted was water.  But two hours later, I had a Corona, and man was it ever refreshing!  I usually like something a bit richer and tastier than Corona, but it quenched the thirst and was a great way to wind down.   I could only finish half the beer.  When I got home, I took a hot tub to sooth sore muscles and had a second half beer (just could not finish it), then got a good night's sleep.

So I think I'm fine continuing to have just a 1 or 2 drinks a week. I probably will only post on this particular experiment occasionally.  I think I have successfully deconditioned myself from the urge for a daily drink, though I still don't know how I would respond after a particularly stressful day.  On the other hand, I never really drank as a way of dealing with stress, it was just a daily pleasure, so perhaps that is not something I should worry about.  We'll see.

Coming back to the side discussion here about the nature of alcoholism.  It is interesting to think about what it is that makes it "impossible" for certain alcoholics to resist binge drinking, if they attempt to take a single drink or engage in moderate drinking.  Strictly speaking, I think we humans are born with free will, so I don't believe any behavior change is "impossible".  Very hard, perhaps extremely hard--but not impossible.   So the real question is what makes is so difficult and so very nearly impossible for some people?  Could it be a biochemical driver? It it that it becomes intolerably painful or distressing to have one or two drinks and then stop? Doe it really have to do with the chemical nature of alcohol and other drugs, or can non-chemical addictions like gambling be equally compelling? I will do some research and thinking about that.

Title: Re: Cutting back on alcohol
Post by: Moonbeam on May 03, 2010, 03:49:48 PM
Congratulations on a successful race, Todd!  That sounds like it was really tough, but you did very well.

I don't believe in free will myself (no source for it), but it doesn't matter.  It could just as easily be asked why does a person choose to drink after they have said they do not want to anymore; the free will issue is only philosophical.  Anyway--maybe abstinence is easier than control for some people, even if control is theoretically possible.  If a person doesn't really care about being able to have a drink now and then, not seeing the pleasure in that, but only wants to avoid the risk and problems of drinking too much, that may be the case. 
Title: Re: Cutting back on alcohol
Post by: Jbird on May 03, 2010, 06:50:20 PM
Congratulations, Todd! I'm glad you had such a rewarding experience!
Title: Re: Cutting back on alcohol
Post by: SUGARDUDE on May 04, 2010, 09:51:11 AM
Coming back to the side discussion here about the nature of alcoholism.  It is interesting to think about what it is that makes it "impossible" for certain alcoholics to resist binge drinking, if they attempt to take a single drink or engage in moderate drinking.  Strictly speaking, I think we humans are born with free will, so I don't believe any behavior change is "impossible".  Very hard, perhaps extremely hard--but not impossible.   So the real question is what makes is so difficult and so very nearly impossible for some people?  Could it be a biochemical driver? It it that it becomes intolerably painful or distressing to have one or two drinks and then stop? Doe it really have to do with the chemical nature of alcohol and other drugs, or can non-chemical addictions like gambling be equally compelling? I will do some research and thinking about that.



What I have heard from other alcoholics is that they can go back to moderation for a period of time but eventually they are just led back to drinking like they did before and worse.

I've never understood the inability to stop drinking alcohol. It tastes like shit for the most part, the buzz is just okay,
and if you drink too much you end up making an ass out of yourself. Doesn't sound to reinforcing to me.
Title: Re: Cutting back on alcohol
Post by: SUGARDUDE on May 04, 2010, 05:36:28 PM
By the way, I love the picture on the front page.
Title: Re: Cutting back on alcohol
Post by: Todd Becker on May 08, 2010, 03:12:51 PM
Thanks to all for the congratulations.  I'm proud I was able to get through the race and finish without any injury.  I had never done anything like this before, so it proved to me what I was capable of.  Now I am going to work on improving my speed and endurance so I can increase my performance in future races.  

Last night (Friday) our running team went out for pizza and beer.  I had skipped breakfast and lunch, and I really enjoyed the outing, including the camraderie and celebration of this year's relay, and of course the beer and pizza.  I'm not normally a pizza eater.  I had one slice of pizza, several handfuls of peanuts and two beers.  That was plenty for me, quite refreshing, filling and tasty all at the same time.

Since reading Solmon's work on the opponent-process theory, I've thought a lot about how if we try to extend direct pleasures like eating or drinking beyond a certain threshold, we begin to activate the "hidden" opponent process -- in this case the bad feels that are often associated with overindulgence.  What Solmon pointed out is that these feelings are the result of inhibitory processes -- biological processes that counteract the pleasureable processes to literally "rein them in" when they overstress our systems. This is what digestive hormones like insulin are doing, for example. But these opponent processes are invisible to us, so we assume that eating the next slice of pizza or having one more beer will make us feel incrementally better. WRONG! Before we have finished eating it, that next piece of food or drink will begin to set up a negative reaction that will be much bigger than the small additional benefit we get from continuing to indulge.

So I limited my eating last night to one slice of pizza, some nuts and two beers, and then I just enjoyed all the good conversation, and hung out for a few hours. The result was that I continued to feel great all night and today. None of that bad feeling or letdown that often comes. And beer and alcohol is actually more enjoyable when you just get that slight initial buzz and refreshment. That's good enough for me.

Moderation is not such a boring thing after all...it leads to really good things and an overall feeling of well-being. It looks like Aristotle, the Stoics and the other Greeks who wrote about moderation were excellent physicians and psychologists, and they didn't need to measure levels of neutransmitters or hormones in the blood to come up with their prescriptions for good health and well-being!
Title: Re: Cutting back on alcohol
Post by: Todd Becker on May 20, 2010, 11:33:40 AM
I've now gone more than a month with this new pattern of 2 drinking days per week.  It's working very well. The cravings are totally gone, and I limit myself to 1-2 drinks on the two drinking days, generally Friday and one other day.  When I have beer it is refreshing.  When I have a cocktail, it is pleasant, but no longer does it seem to have the magic it used to. Which is a good thing. I think I can easily stick with this pattern indefinitely. And I've been able to keep my weight at 156-158, since cutting back on alcohol.

I gained a lot of insight into this from reading about Solomon's opponent-process theory. One of the key consequences of his theory is that pleasures turn into addictions only if they are pursued with sufficient frequency and intensity. This is counterintuitive, because you tend to think that if something tastes good or feels good, that getting more will make it even better.  But there are not only diminishing returns, there are actually negative returns in pursuing more of a pleasant thing. By limiting the exposure in both frequency and intensity, you can still access most of the good aspects of the pleasure, but it ceases to become addictive. And you also avoid the negative rebound effects -- grouchiness, cravings, tiredness, foginess etc. by pursuing this type of moderation, yet you still get the enjoyment.
Title: Re: Cutting back on alcohol
Post by: Moonbeam on May 20, 2010, 03:45:10 PM
I've never understood the inability to stop drinking alcohol. It tastes like shit for the most part, the buzz is just okay,
and if you drink too much you end up making an ass out of yourself. Doesn't sound to reinforcing to me.

I guess it's always hard for people to understand other people's addictions--by definition, it's irrational behavior. 

I've now gone more than a month with this new pattern of 2 drinking days per week.  It's working very well. The cravings are totally gone, and I limit myself to 1-2 drinks on the two drinking days, generally Friday and one other day.  When I have beer it is refreshing.  When I have a cocktail, it is pleasant, but no longer does it seem to have the magic it used to. Which is a good thing. I think I can easily stick with this pattern indefinitely. And I've been able to keep my weight at 156-158, since cutting back on alcohol.

That's great.  I was really wondering if alcohol could be deconditioned; maybe my own experiences made me think that could work for some things but maybe not that.  It's like I can understand it for food, because you can actually change a hormonal response, but for alcohol, it's more psychological.  But maybe it's partly chemical too, or maybe a combination of both chemistry and psychology for both.
 
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But there are not only diminishing returns, there are actually negative returns in pursuing more of a pleasant thing.

That's for sure. 

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By limiting the exposure in both frequency and intensity, you can still access most of the good aspects of the pleasure, but it ceases to become addictive. And you also avoid the negative rebound effects -- grouchiness, cravings, tiredness, foginess etc. by pursuing this type of moderation, yet you still get the enjoyment.

It's just maintaining the discipline.  I think that's why it's easier sometimes to just say "I quit".  But it's great to be able to go on enjoying it too.  It's the fine line I've been trying to maintain with alcohol for quite a while.  It's inspiring to hear how you did it; keep it up!