I understand the pain behind your question. But I cannot tell you why — why you specifically — are an alcoholic. But if the heart of your question is ”How can I stop drinking?,” then I can offer you some practical advice on achieving sobriety — a battle plan for victory.
But before I do that, let’s take a look at the startling statistics, the connection between escalating alcohol cravings and changes in your brain as well as certain factors that might have predisposed you to alcohol abuse.
Alcohol abuse is neither new nor insignificant; see this 1820 engraving entitled King Alcohol and his Prime Minister. The 2014 statistics in the United States are as grim as those depicted in that image: Alcohol abuse, now known as Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), had a hold on 16.3 million people over the age of 18, of whom 10.6 million were men and 5.7 million were women. And among adolescents between 12 and 17 years of age, it is estimated that 679,000 were seen for AUD.1
Alcohol and your brain
This is what happens. All addictive substances, including alcohol, produce a jolt, an overload, to the pleasure/reward pathways (dopamine) in your brain. And the faster acting the drug, the greater the jolt. In response to that jolt, your body reduces all available dopamine as best it can by slowing its production to a crawl while accelerating its removal — dramatically.
At the end of this cycle when the addictive substance has worn off, you are left with lower than usual levels of dopamine, resulting in a downer that is really down. You are now tempted to use more of the drug more often to reproduce that initial pleasurable jolt. If you continue to drink, other changes occur in your brain (judgment, decision-making, learning, and memory) that make the more drug more often cycle more difficult to resist, leading from abuse to addiction. Body changes may occur in your liver, your kidneys, and your balance. Sadly, as use continues, some of these changes become permanent.
You may find this visual helpful in understanding how all drugs of abuse, including alcohol, affect your brain: Drug Use Changes the Brain Over Time.
Certain genetic factors may speed up the path to addiction by creating higher jolts followed by lower lows. Persons affected by these factors are about 50% more likely to succumb to addiction than those who are not.2 3
In addition, cultural and environmental factors — such as being abused, exposure to family intoxication, or social isolation — can increase vulnerability to alcohol abuse. And, in vulnerable persons, especially adolescents, the biggest contributing factor is having friends who are abusers.4
In summary, remember this: While an alcoholic may have been influenced by one or more of these factors, so might those who are not alcoholics. And not one of these factors predetermines your destiny. Moreover, there is nothing in your circumstances that makes your temptation insurmountable. There are proven interventions.
Form a battle plan
You are unlikely to resist the temptations of escalating use of alcohol by will power alone. Even Paul, in Romans 7:19–20, bemoaned his inability to conquer his human condition, the “sin that dwells in me,” by exerting his will. When we turn to our Lord, He promises to limit our temptations according to our ability to endure. And further, in 1 Corinthians 10:11–13, He promises a route of escape from overwhelming temptations, a mountain pass if you will. But, He does not say it will be easy.
As a Christian, your most powerful weapon against temptation is your strong relationship with God. Read the Bible. And pray earnestly: tell Him of your remorse, ask for His forgiveness, and ask for His support resisting temptation. You are mobilizing an amazing spiritual army! Prayer is a habit you can count on as you move through that difficult mountain pass, fleeing temptation.
Safely navigating difficult terrain requires minimizing excess baggage, so eliminate your drinking triggers. First, toss out the liquor from your house, your car, your locker, your desk drawer, your shed, your trash can. Don’t save some just in case friends come over for a drink. Friends, family, or acquaintances who encourage your drinking or discourage your sobriety are not your friends. So, distance yourself from them. Remember: “Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Corthinians 15:33).
And shield yourself from activities that involve drinking. Sell those season tickets to games you attended with drinking buddies. Frequent only those restaurants that serve no alcohol. Avoid family affairs that involve drinking. Scratch drinking activities from your calendar. If you must attend a drinking-available activity, invite a buddy who’s committed to your sobriety — and don’t stay long.
So, you’ve emptied your cupboard and your social calendar. What now? Fill your life with sober, healthful activity. Attend Alcoholic Anonymous meetings, attend church, and learn sign language as it will actually build neurons. Start an exercise program — strenuous aerobic exercise such as running or swimming releases endorphins, the feel good hormones that provide short term relief of pain, anxiety, and depression. Also, go out and meet new people — in the grocery store, in the gym, in your neighborhood, at work. Worried about what to say to someone who may have seen you at your worst? Just smile and say, “Hi, how’s your day going?”
For those who entertain thoughts of just one drink or just one meet-up with old drinking buddies, stop. Force yourself to write down and consider the consequences. Call your sponsor. And call on our Lord — His line is never busy, and He is waiting for your call.
For more temptation battle plan strategies, check out this site: addiction.com.
Here’s what we did
We looked at the stats, saw what happens, listed some contributing factors, and set up a battle plan against temptation. Using the support offered by secular and sacred sources, you can create a sober lifestyle. Remember, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
Let us pray
Father God, we pray for mercy on those who are fighting this physical, psychological,and spiritual battle against alcohol. Only you know the temptations they face. Light their paths to strengthened resolve and humbled spirits, allow them to surrender to Your power and walk with You in peace all the days of their lives. We pray in Jesus’s name. Amen.
- Drug Use Changes the Brain Over Time. (n.d.). Retrieved April 24, 2016, from http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/addiction/brainchange/ Prime resource for laymen describing the effects of addictive dungs on the brain.
http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics 2014 National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism statistics. (Accessed April 21, 2016.) ↩︎
Prescott, C. A., & Kendler, K. S. (1999). Genetic and Environmental Contributions to Alcohol Abuse and Dependence in a Population-Based Sample of Male Twins. American Journal of Psychiatry AJP, 156(1), 34–40. Retrieved April 21, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9892295/ Early publication of research defining genetic brain differences in alcohol addicted persons. ↩︎
Enoch, M., & Goldman, D. (2001). The genetics of alcoholism and alcohol abuse. Current Psychiatry Reports Curr Psychiatry Rep, 3(2), 144–151. Retrieved April 21, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11276410 Builds on Prescott & Kendler’s earlier definition of genetic contribution to alcohol abuse. ↩︎
http:/learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/addiction/environment/ (Dr.Kelly Lundberg, Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Clinical Consultant, Utah Addiction Center, University of Utah. (Accessed April 21, 2016.) ↩︎