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Alcoholism: Understanding the Underlying Cause

My mother was an alcoholic by definition. She certainly drank more than four #beers a week, but I don't think I ever identified as having had an alcoholic mother. She liked to party, yes, and she certainly liked her men, but alcohol was just part of that mix, at least in my mind. She could and did let it go whenever she desired. I suppose she just never chose me over alcohol. In my mind, this was about her lack of love for me rather than her actual love for alcohol. If she could stop, then it seemed clear she just didn't want to so she could take care of me.

Married more than twenty-two years to a man I never really saw drink, alcohol really wasn't a huge part of my adult life. My clientele-base was largely maternity so again, little exposure to those who drank. I never had any opposition to drinking; it was just never my thing. Generally speaking I am already a free spirit and have to be mindful of rules and social expectations because I tend to push the limit on fun; alcohol was never necessary to have a good time, and I was always the responsible one, always aware I needed a safe place and drinking took me out of that space. Never did I have someone who I knew would take care of me if I became vulnerable. Certainly though, when my son died and I struggled to cope, struggled even with why I was still breathing, I had hoped I could succumb to alcoholism. I wanted to numb myself completely, but my body and mind didn't respond. Alcohol didn't relax me. It wasn't enjoyable. It never made me feel safe.

Enter my #divorce, then dating, then branching my practice into family medicine and walla... it seems alcoholism is everywhere - truly everywhere. While alcohol continues to be little more than wasted calories for me personally, it seems to be everyone else's closest companion. Dates were often about getting drinks. I would watch men order drink after drink, guzzling them down faster than I could drink a single lime water or even the occasional Pepsi. At first I didn't bat an eye; afterall, I didn't drink so to each their own. However, I started to recognize that four beers in less than an hour without a hint of intoxication and still a drive in front of us to the movies meant, this man would be legally intoxicated but clearly proficient enough at drinking that he must certainly be well experienced. The more fellows I dated, the more I recognized their uncanny ability to articulate themselves via text while also communicate that they have had too much to drink and are now engaging in all sorts of wild-slash-fun behavior. I suppose I assumed there would be less texting, if any, and whatever did transmit would be less coherent when they were #inebriated. This is not the case.

As a classic over-thinker and straight-forward communicator, it never really was well received when I shared the conclusion of my calculations: "so you're an alcoholic, huh?" How does this impact my non-negotiables when it comes to dating or engaging in relationships? It seemed everyone was doing it; in fact, I was the odd person out, even my ex-husband had become a regular drinker to calm his nerves and my very best friends, all alcoholics. My son was now drinking to excess and my son-in-law was well versed as well, a collector in fact. As my clientele expanded, I was more often working with men and women, even teens, who were struggling to manage their alcohol. I was discovering histories of DUIs with various men I had connected and was eager to date - professional, educated, even quite prominent men. One man in particular I had really fancied; he truly stole my heart, but he acknowledged that his drinking would always be a priority and he would disappoint me eventually. He ended our relationship with what I initially thought was a cowardly excuse, "You're just out of my league, Penny."

What I am learning about alcoholism is not only just how prominent it is and how pervasive it is but also how truly consuming it is in the most insidious ways. It entraps its victims and they aren't even aware of the hold and certainly not the trigger. Getting addicted to something that is inherently addictive isn't a weakness in itself. Most often I find, that alcoholics have an underlying trauma or anxiety and they use alcohol to self-medicate, to relax.

Understanding the Need

GABA is a natural, anti-anxiety neurotransmitter. When this is low our minds can get stuck in an anxious loop of thoughts and worries, even obsessions. Serotonin, another neurotransmitter, is a natural antidepressant. When serotonin is low we can feel depressed, crave carbohydrates, and have difficulty sleeping. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter in charge of focus and motivation. When dopamine is low, it will be hard to stay on top of your goals and routines.

People with low GABA drink as a way to relax. People with low serotonin drink as a way to have fun. Those with low dopamine drink as a way to connect and engage with others. Here is the problem though; it can be easy to stop drinking when the issue is about #neurotransmitters, but it can be really hard to stay stopped, especially when we aren't replenishing our neurotransmitters and nourishing our nervous system in a comprehensive and consistent way.

The thing is that there are foods and lifestyle behaviors that are great for everyone - they are healthy in general, but for people who struggle with an insufficient amount of neurotransmitters, these approaches really can be life changing. Research has shown that our pleasure (dopamine) and our happiness (serotonin) are both elevated when we are in places with a density of trees or near a large body of water. The evidence has demonstrated that within twenty minutes, GABA, #dopamine, and serotonin all begin to rise.

While alcohol has never been a useful tool for me, it was hard for me to manage the stress associated with midwifery and ultimately my divorce. Hiking was that cure. It really did bring me great satisfaction, like an intense therapy session. Eight miles of pounding my boots on the dirt and eyes intent on the path, allowed for some meditative treks. Never once did I start a hike with an #anxiety or fear that wasn't resolved by the end of my adventure. While not as ominous as a drunken stupor, hikes are solid options for grounding one's emotional struggles.

I've shared previously my journey into #yoga and how it opened my eyes to all the many ways I was neglecting myself. I had become very disembodied. I had forgotten even how to breathe properly. This impacts not only our posture and our core strength which can ultimately cause rounded bellies, large hamstrings, rounded upper backs, and urinary incontinence, but it can perpetuate our anxieties. Deep, effective breaths can help regulate neurotransmitters. Take a breath. How did that feel? Did you notice the boost in neurotransmitters? Pranayama is the practice of breathing taught in yoga. If you're a member of Eden, join one of my classes and we'll work together to learn to breathe again.

Connection has a direct impact on our nervous system. The pandemic has greatly impacted our relationships, our friendships, and sense of community, even limited our sense of belonging through touch but technology had already pushed us right up against the line in this regard. Hugs are vital to optimal health. Our bodies need to know we are safe within a tribe. Only the ill are isolated away, right? Get body work, massage or Reiki. Cuddle with your dog. Find whatever resonates with you, but find ways to experience an embrace as this will greatly boost your GABA, serotonin and #dopamine.

Replenish with food. Your neurotransmitters require protein and fats to regenerate, yet so often those who drink, also limit their diets. They receive so many calories in their alcohol that they aren't cognizant of the nutrients their bodies are deprived. They continue to mask these symptoms with just more drinking. When they gain, they further restrict. Healthy fats though, particularly omega-3 from fish and nuts, are the raw materials for these very necessary neurotransmitters. When you eat carbohydrates - particularly green leafy vegetables, you are offering your body the precursors for serotonin, from B vitamins. Replenishing with food is vital for nourishing your body.

Guess what else, no joke, yoga increases #GABA at least 27 percent, but upwards of 80 percent in many who practice just one 60-minute class. Movement is critical to wellness, but it is even more critical to those who find themselves addicted to an unhealthy habit such as alcohol. Address the root issue. Movement helps detox. Yoga assists in bringing your attention back to yourself so you can become mindful of your needs, your feelings, and your desires for yourself. It doesn't have to be yoga though; just move.

Stillness is an absolute necessity as well. We do need to rest our bodies and minds so that our nervous system can return to a parasympathetic dominant state rather than consistently remain within the fight-or-flight mode. Prayer, meditation, scripture, music, or even savasana at the end of yoga can help achieve this. Really feed and replenish your GABA, serotonin and dopamine.

Creativity is another tactic I have talked a great deal about, particularly within our Wellness program for members, and my preference is watercoloring, dance, gardening and music. Dopamine is especially boosted when we become creative. Whatever you do, get into a single focused activity that ends in -ing. Gardening. Fishing. Camping. Hiking. Golfing. Be careful though, as there are a few other activities that makes us feel like we are achieving a dopamine high, but their consequences aren't so healthy. Drinking. Smoking. Overeating. Harnish your creativity but be conscientious.

You don't need a rock bottom moment to quit drinking. You don't need to look like you have a drinking problem for it to be hurting your relationships and destroying your health. The road you are traveling down with alcohol may seem doable, it may seem like you can balance your responsibilities and your favored hobby, but healthy people don't do things that are destructive to themselves and the ones they love. Maybe you don't feel you are in a position in which you have to stop drinking because you are in fact, an efficient, productive adult. Maybe you realize though that you should choose so, as this is part of honoring your health and wellness, but maybe you worry about your relationships. What if though, your best relationships stay strong and even deepen? What if a bad incident happens and you'll need to numb it with a glass of alcohol or wine? Don't forget that your body is waiting for you to activate your GABA, serotonin and dopamine with certain foods, movements, and lifestyle practices. When you do this, you nourish your nervous system - don't skip out.

Make an appointment with me. Let me help you evaluate your wellness. I'll meet you where you are at. No judgement. If you are interested in a 12-step program, I encourage you to check out yoga for addiction recovery.

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