Author Topic: Cutting back on alcohol  (Read 14148 times)

Offline Todd Becker

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Re: Cutting back on alcohol
« Reply #15 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.
« Last Edit: May 01, 2010, 09:04:04 AM by Todd Becker »

Offline Moonbeam

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Re: Cutting back on alcohol
« Reply #16 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.

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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.
 
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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)

Offline Todd Becker

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Re: Cutting back on alcohol
« Reply #17 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.

« Last Edit: May 03, 2010, 12:01:21 PM by Todd Becker »

Offline Moonbeam

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Re: Cutting back on alcohol
« Reply #18 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. 

Offline Jbird

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Re: Cutting back on alcohol
« Reply #19 on: May 03, 2010, 06:50:20 PM »
Congratulations, Todd! I'm glad you had such a rewarding experience!

Offline SUGARDUDE

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Re: Cutting back on alcohol
« Reply #20 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.

Offline SUGARDUDE

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Re: Cutting back on alcohol
« Reply #21 on: May 04, 2010, 05:36:28 PM »
By the way, I love the picture on the front page.

Offline Todd Becker

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Re: Cutting back on alcohol
« Reply #22 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!
« Last Edit: May 08, 2010, 03:18:55 PM by Todd Becker »

Offline Todd Becker

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Re: Cutting back on alcohol
« Reply #23 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.

Offline Moonbeam

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Re: Cutting back on alcohol
« Reply #24 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!