Category Archives: Heavy drinkers

Alcoholism and Rats

Alcoholism is a master of disguise.  That is how it kills.  It shows up on the doorstep of your consciousness dressed as an ordinary thought — a good thought, in fact, a good idea that seems to be coming from your own free will. So you welcome it in.  It says, essentially, “Hey, a drink is a good idea!” 

It’s nicely dressed.  It’s friendly.  It seems perfectly sensible and justified — justified because, dang it,Good idea you do deserve a drink. Chatting with it, you discover you agree on so many points: all this abstinence stuff is an overreaction. Right?  Other people make such a big deal over something so simple as a [beer / glass of wine / cocktail]!  It’s not their business. Can’t you just do what you want?  Of course you can!  This is your life and… You know what?  A drink is a good idea.  

So skilled at disguise is this visitor that the alcoholic never suspects the truth: its aim is death. Youralcohol death death. It wants you to drink, and keep drinking, to kill yourself while screwing over everything you ever did to STOP drinking, including treatment and step work and soul-searching — all you’ve done to get well.  As long as you still have the strength to raise that drink to your lips, Alcoholism has more work to do: “Fuck that,” it chuckles.  “C’mon, my friend. A drink is a good idea.”

Impulse — that’s what the visitor relies on. Though we vaguely sense that we’re “being none too smart” [36], we pour whiskey in the milk, decide to have a highball, prescribe for what ails us, rebel, say fuck it, or just mechanically take that drink. We are truly defenseless against the first drink.

So are alcoholic rats.

I recently came across this fascinating medical study of alcoholism conducted on rats: https://www.nature.com/articles/npp2017105.

Because it’s rather dry and scientific, here’s a cheat sheet. 

First, the scientists isolated rats like us, that is, “alcohol-preferring rats,” which they call P-rats.  Anrat drinking alcohol alcohol-preferring rat is one that would rather drink booze than water (sensible, right?) until they are quite hammered and, I assume, pass out.  Next, they taught these P-rats to “work for” their booze: when a light went on they had to press an initial lever that would give then access to a second lever which they could press to get booze. All the P-rats learned this. 

Now, here’s the kicker: They started giving the rats painful electric shocks some of the time when they pressed the “seeking” lever — the lever that brings them nothing but an opportunity to press a second to score some booze.  The breakdown was this:

  • 30% of P-Rats greatly decreased use of the “seeking” lever
  • 36% of P-Rats moderately decreased use of the “seeking” lever
  • 34% of P-Rats, the true alcoholic rats, did not or could not give a shit about the shocks. Increasing the frequency of shocks did not deter them. Ten months’ abstinence with no alcohol available did not untrain them. The instant the booze was back, they were back at it, getting fuck zapped out of their little ratty feet, anything just so they could have a drink.

That’s us, guys!  That is us.  I think of the first 30% as normies who love to drink.  I think of the second 36% as hard drinkers who get told by a doctor to decrease their drinking and are able to do so.

But that last 34% of rats  — those the scientists termed “compulsive,” meaning that for them the drive to get alcohol is stronger than any other.  And that is alcoholism in a nutshell.

Were the compulsive P-Rats of a lower moral fiber than the other 66% of booze-loving rats?

Might other rats who loved them have convinced them not to press that seeking lever?

Could they maybe have tried more mental control?

No, no, no.  They were simply alcoholic rats, and they were screwed.

A higher power is our only hope

Back to that master of disguise, alcoholism.  How can we possibly gain the perspective to slam the door in its friendly, affable face?  There are these things called “steps.”

  1. Give up being special. Identify as alcoholic. Know we are no different or “smarter” than anyone else who died of alcoholism.
  2. Open our minds to something greater than us, a power beyond our thinking.
  3. Follow that power. Stop believing our thoughts about anything to do with alcohol and ask instead for help. Make a bone-deep commitment to do what is right and good, no longer what we want. Good Orderly Direction. Group Of Drunks. God as we understand it.  Opening deeply to any of these will let in the light that heals us. 
  4. Complete the next 9 steps with aid of a good sponsor.

Louisa checking in 

I write this today with a heavy heart — crying, actually.  All I write here is what I long to say to one person — one who has never listened.

I love this person very much, though I shouldn’t because he’s an ex who done me wrong.  He is near to dying from alcoholism. Yesterday he checked in to detox and treatment. Ever since one of his relatives texted me that he was “skeletal and shaking,” I’ve stayed mostly in the background, asking sober friends he’s lost touch with to call.  But last night I kept waking and just praying for him to find a higher power. 

It’s unlikely.  His chances of survival are slim not only because he’s one of us 34% compulsive P-Rats but because his right brain is weak. The left brain is the bullhorn of ego and fixing things; the right takes in a bigger picture. People with right brain strokes, relying on their left brain’s assessments, often deny that anything is wrong with them, that limbs are paralyzed, sometimes even that their paralyzed limbs belong to them. I believe the right brain is also the seat of our spiritual connection, without which we cannot get sober.  

Below is a series of photos of George Best, the famous Irish soccer player.

Here he is in 1972 at the height of his fame, enjoying a brewsky.best-in-1972

Here he is in 2003, robust at 57 after a successful liver transplant necessitated by alcoholic cirrhosis.

His liver transplant was so successful and Best felt so great that he welcomed in that friendly visitor, Alcoholism, when it appeared on the doorstep of his mind assuring him a drink was a good idea — “C’mon, George! Just one on a new liver couldn’t hurt!”

Here he is just two years later at 59, a day or two before he died of massive organ failure brought on by alcoholic relapse.

George Best did not mean to commit suicide. His mind was co-opted, and, for whatever reason, he could not reach god to restore him to sanity.

I fear my loved one will follow this same progression. Please pray for him — that he find a way to reach a god of his own understanding that can override the P-Rat compulsion. His name is Gerard.

Thanks, guys. Love is the most powerful force in the universe.

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Filed under Addiction, Alcoholism, Drinking, Heavy drinkers

Hard Drinker vs. Real Alcoholic

Moderate drinkers have little trouble in giving up liquor entirely if they have good reason for it. They can take it or leave it alone.

Then we have a certain type of hard drinker. …If a sufficiently strong reason — ill health, falling in love, change of environment, or the warning of a doctor — becomes operative, this man can also stop or moderate, although he may find it difficult and troublesome and may even need medical attention.

But what about the real alcoholic? He may start off as a moderate drinker; he may or may not become a continuous hard drinker; but at some stage of his drinking career he begins to lose all control of his liquor consumption, once he starts to drink.

Chapter 2, “There is a Solution,” Alcoholics Anonymous

Unfortunately, most of the public is clueless about the difference between a hard drinker and an alcoholic. Hard drinking is a habit that can be overcome with willpower. Alcoholism is a condition no amount of will power can cure. As the Big Book says, “If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic.”

Few perches in life are more uncomfortable than knowing you’re an alcoholic but refusing to accept that fact.  Denial is, however, a primary symptom of the disease.  I myself spent a number of years there before I hit bottom, i.e. the point when all fight for what I wanted was drained from me and I had to square with what was true.

If you’re an alcoholic still clinging to whatever pretext will enable you to drink, I have bad news: Certain things really are true.  Regardless of what props you drum up to disguise it, the truth is still there. And if you’re a real alcoholic clinging to the delusion that you’re only a hard drinker, the fact is that no matter how ironclad your resolutions to stop or control your drinking, only two outcomes are possible:

A) After a short pause, you drink again.

B) A rarity, but it does happen: you manage by sheet obstinacy to remain dry but are permanently restless, irritable, and discontent — i.e. “dry drunk.”

Hard Drinkers
Before they resolve to stop drinking, hard drinkers may appear indistinguishable from alcoholics.

For example, two of my relatives drank hard for over a decade. This couple worked so hard and lived at such a frenetic, globe-trotting pace that they simply could not wind down without cocktails. When staying for a visit, they would put away a gallon of vodka in a matter of days. More than once they announced they were going  “on the wagon,” only to be drinking hard again in a few months.  They were gradually gaining weight, their faces often flushed and bloated. I suspected alcoholism.

But then one day, one of them was informed by his physician that his alcohol intake was harming both his heart and his liver. The doctor warned that, if he wanted to regain his health and live into old age, he would have to stop drinking. The two, who love each other deeply, took this diagnosis seriously.

Here’s the astounding part: They both stopped drinking, slowing the pace of their lives to reduce stress levels. A year later, they’re both slim, healthy, and happy teetotalers. Perhaps COVID-19 has helped out a bit with the easier pace of living, but the fact remains that they simply decided to quit and it has stuck.

Why were they able?  These two were hard drinkers — not alcoholics.

Real Alcoholics
Now let’s look at my dad and me.

Twenty-four years before his death to alcoholic cardiomyopathy, my dad developed gout while touring Europe with my mother. A Spanish doctor diagnosed his condition and advised him to cut out alcohol and fatty foods, so my dad decided the doctor was a fool.

Twelve years before my father died, his doctor warned him that alcohol consumption had enlarged  his liver (see How Alcohol Fucks Up Your Body) and shrunk his brain (see How Alcoholism Fucks Up Your Brain). My father’s reaction? The doctor was exaggerating. As his condition progressed and these warning grew more severe, Dad switched doctors. His new doctor — what a coincidence! — insisted Dad cease drinking for two weeks. During this time Dad consumed many bottles of alcohol-free wine and was so tense, angry, and miserable that Mom couldn’t wait for the two weeks to be up so he could drink again, which he continued until heart failure took his life.

Chip off the ole’ block that I am, I’d begun trying to decrease my drinking by the age of 23. My few friends had cut back on drinking post-college, so I tried to as well — except when I didn’t! Yes, I made resolutions to drink less, not just at New Years but ANY time I was ghastly hungover (i.e. most mornings) — resolutions I was able to stand by for a good 5 hours!  After that, a drink began to sound, for the zillionth time, like a good idea.  So I “changed my mind” and drank.

As the Big Book explains,

We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago. We are without defense against the first drink.

As my ability to cope with life deteriorated (see Addiction Memoir), various therapists diagnosed me with alcoholism. I dismissed them as fuddy-duddies. In retrospect, I’m fortunate that I was less able than my father to maintain a stable work and home life, as the pain of my dysfunction eventually led me, at age 34, to seek sobriety in AA.

Free at Last
I adore and respect the memory of my father, who lived with honor despite his suffering. When Dad’s spirit came to me about a year ago (as I’ll describe in an upcoming post), I was seeking to make contact with the man I’d lost twelve years before.  To my amazement, my father’s energy burst upon me with the vitality he’d radiated in my childhood: he was powerful, confident, and — I’ll just say it — charismatic as he delivered to me his message of unconditional love. On the other side, no longer buried under the poison, lies, and pain of our shared disease, his spirit was proud of me, his look-alike daughter, for my now (in 3 weeks!) 26 years sober.

We two in 1978

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Filed under alcohol damage, Alcoholism, Drinking, Heavy drinkers, Recovery