Few things in this world are more culturally unpopular than abstaining from alcohol. Just about everywhere on earth people are conditioned to associate alcoholic beverages with fun, and even to believe it’s impossible to have fun without alcohol.
And this has been the case for a long time, since about 7,000 B.C. Talk about a longstanding cultural convention!
Alcohol, as the authors of the books I’ll be referencing all say, is the only universally acceptable drug in the world.
It is the only drug in the world you need to justify not taking.
And this should come as no surprise if you follow the money. The alcohol industry makes billions if not trillions of dollars from beverage sales. Governments, too, make a pretty penny on alcohol sales and alcohol taxes — in the U.S. alone, multiple billions of dollars. Entertainment media usually portray alcohol as glamorous at best and perfectly normal at worst, although to their credit, films and TV programs sometimes dramatize the dark side of alcohol with great power and compassion. In the annals of advertising, some of the most brilliant, creative, and effective advertisements have been for alcoholic beverages.
But do you know who the best and most widespread promoters of alcohol use are?
You and me.
Nothing entices young ones to try alcohol more than seeing their parents drink. People on the fence about drinking decide to give it a try when they’re at a bar with a bunch of friends whooping it up with beer or wine or both or more.
And now to get unpopular.
But let’s make no mistake about it. Alcohol is a poison, a drug, an addictive drug, and a drug that is responsible for more deaths and misery than all other drugs combined. I doubt there’s a single person in this country whose life as not been negatively affected by alcohol in some way at some time, directly or indirectly — and plenty whose lives have been devastated. But because it’s so culturally ingrained, many people don’t stop to think about how alcohol actually affects society as a whole and themselves individually. They just go with the cultural flow.
That’s where these three books come in:
- This Naked Mind, by Annie Grace
- Alcohol Explained, by William Porter
- Kick the Drink … Easily! by Jason Vale
Several other books like these are on the market, but these are the ones I read and they complement each other perfectly, as I will get into.
The purpose of these books is not only to help you stop drinking, but also to stop wanting to drink — an all-important distinction. This is accomplished by enlightening the reader on how alcohol affects you mentally, physically, and physiologically. You might not know as much about this as you think — God knows I didn’t.
Basically, the drug works like this. When people have a drink, they’re chasing a buzz — you know, that warm glow that comes after the initial drink is consumed. That buzz, however, wears off pretty quickly, causing the drinker to want another drink. But although the buzz wears off quickly, other physical and mental effects of the alcohol continue to work inside you, causing all sorts of disruptions and problems. So when you consume another drink to regain the buzz, the additional alcohol piles up in your body, worsening the disruptions and problems. Over time you build up a tolerance to alcohol, requiring you to put more and more alcohol in your systems to get that buzz — and thus more and more poison into your body, ever intensifying the assault on your state of mind and physical health.
The process of escalation continues until the alcohol kills you.
Now obviously, this process proceeds at vastly different rates for different people. Some people, God bless them, can have one or two drinks every day of their lives and never really progress down the road. Others have their first drink, and several months later are starting off each day with a quart of vodka. Most of us are somewhere in between, probably not even aware we are in a process at all. But we are. The books explain in great detail, and easy-to-follow language, how and why that is the case.
The problem with alcohol is that it’s very difficult to connect our consumption with its effects on our minds and bodies. The “aha moment” for me was discovering (finally!) how a great deal of my stress and anxiety were to a very considerable extent actually caused by, not relieved by, alcohol. I had cause-and-effect backward! I guess it was a relief to learn that my mistake was actually pretty common, and in fact, natural.
Alcohol, you see, is a depressant. When you consume it, your brain releases chemical stimulants to counter the effect and bring you back into homeostasis. But when the alcohol exits your system, those chemicals continue to be released, making it impossible to sleep soundly and making you wired, pretty much all the time if you drink regularly enough. Your brain does not associate the ensuing agitation and depression with these (and other) factors — but it does associate alcohol with a nice buzz. So you develop an itch to drink, to relieve symptoms the alcohol is actually inducing. Over time the itch grows (for some) into an irresistible craving. The escalation can be very slow and very subtle. I could go on, but the books do a much better job of explaining the physical, mental, and physiological dynamics. And there’s a lot more to it than what I’m sketching out here.
Another thing I was astounded to learn about in these books is the profoundly significant shortcomings of AA, the universally accepted treatment for alcohol addiction. Let me be clear: these authors are in no way condemning AA; in fact, they praise the organization for selflessly saving the lives of thousands if not millions of people — including people who might not be helped at all by the method they themselves advocate. And although I don’t recall any of them explicitly saying so, I can’t imagine any of the authors would advise someone to leave AA if it was helping them.
Nevertheless, the AA approach has problems which I had never stopped to consider.
First, AA is based on the idea that alcohol addiction is a disease called “alcoholism.” This is highly problematic. In the first place, there is no universally accepted definition of what constitutes being an alcoholic. There is no clinical test that can conclusively identify someone as having alcoholism, nor is there any gene that has been identified that causes the disease of alcoholism, nor is there even any definitive set of standards to describe the behavioral symptoms that conclusively diagnose alcoholism. The fact is, anybody who drinks alcohol is going to develop an addiction because our bodies are wired that way. It’s just a question of degree, of where one stands in the process.
However, stigmatizing alcohol addiction by labelling it as a disease called alcoholism actually encourages people to drink!
I think back. Even if I was having several drinks in an evening, even if I knew I was drinking more than I should, I’d think, well, at least I’m not an alcoholic! It was like having a “Get Out of Jail Free” card in my pocket 24/7. And I think this is a very common attitude, one that greatly discourages reflection and introspection.
The second problem with the AA approach is that the treatment is only slightly better than the “disease.” Someone entering AA has a terrible choice to make: either continue drinking until it kills me, or stop drinking and fight the urge to drink every minute of every day for the rest of my life. That kind of life is not very appealing; in fact, it’s rather terrifying. Having been faced with a similar choice in my many unsuccessful attempts to quit smoking cigarettes, I can easily understand why many participants in AA relapse.
And this is where the real beauty of these books comes in. As one of the authors says (Jason Vale, I think):
It is important to know when you are sick. But it is equally important to know when you are cured.
You are free of alcohol when you no longer want to drink.
With AA method, given its core principle of alcoholism being a permanent disease, one can never be free of the craving to drink. One can never be cured.
These three books, in contrast, advocate a different method, which is to understand what alcohol does to you with such clarity and impact that your conscious and subconscious mind no longer want anything to do with it. Cravings stop. You are cured.
It may sound too good to be true, but it definitely works for some people.
All three authors speak from experience about alcohol addiction. And the three books combine to make an exquisite whole, presenting very similar information with different styles that resonate in different ways. And the repetition is good, because it makes the message sink in.
- Annie Grace is in some respects a typical U.S. woman balancing family and career. Her story is one you can relate to if you’re anywhere in or near that world.
- William Porter is an English lawyer who takes a very methodical, factually-dense look at the issues.
- Jason Vale writes like a football coach delivering an inspiring halftime speech to a team that’s in trouble. He’s clear, emphatic, passionate, and funny.
And, even if you don’t drink or don’t care about stopping, the books are utterly fascinating simply on an intellectual level, as they explore social, cultural, commercial, behavioral, and biological aspects of alcohol that you may not have even stopped to think about.
You may be thinking at this point, I can control my drinking. I can stop any time I want. Perhaps so! There is an easy way to prove it: stop drinking. Not for a day or a week, but for a month. How do you feel? If you’re still interested in this topic 30 days from now, these books are great reads.