Daily Archives: 02/12/2014

Alcohol as a self-help behaviour

“The truth about childhood is stored up in our body and lives in the depth of our soul. Our intellect can be deceived, our feelings can be numbed and manipulated, our perception shamed and confused, our bodies tricked with medication. But our soul never forgets. And because we are one, one whole soul in one body, someday our bodies will present its bill.”
—–Alice Miller

This post carries a warning as the material might be triggery to you depending where you are on this journey so proceed with caution.  It has taken me over 14 months to reach the point where I can think and feel about this topic without diving into a vat of wine.  The post was prompted by the brilliant blog post of Paul over at alcoholics guide to alcoholism and I strongly recommend you go and read his full post here.

His blog post features research carried out by Dr Felitti who has looked at addiction as a  possible survival mechanism.  He was a key researcher in the ACE study in the US and you can read more about it here.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, research on 17,421 people who were simply asked if they’d had bad childhood experiences, physical or emotional. The study compared their childhoods, to whether they later developed life-threatening physical medical conditions and/or addictions.

Based on the ACE Study statistics, Dr. Felitti said, “The risk factors which can be  attributed to Adverse Childhood Experiences include… about 2/3 of all alcoholism, about half of all drug abuse, and about 3/4s of intravenous drug use (in the U.S.).

“And,” Dr. Felitti continued, “the things that we call ‘risk factors’ are in fact, coping devices.  This is an important idea.

“Many of these things termed ‘public health problems’ are in fact, personal solutions.



So why the need for personal solutions and the draw to substances like alcohol?  Bruce Perry explains it in terms of how the three regions of the brain (cortex, limbic and survival) react.  We’re back to flipping out lids again!

“We can’t persuade people with developmental trauma with a cognitive argument (cortex brain), or compel them with an emotional affect (limbic brain), if their brain stem (survival brain) is dysregulated,” Perry warns.  “We can’t talk to people in this kind of alarm state into doing the right thing, because their thinking brain’s been turned off by the alarm state.  And we  can’t reach their emotional-attachment-relational (limbic) brain if they feel so threatened they get into an alarm state, because they can’t feel reward from relations with people.

“If their brain stem, the foundation of their entire brain as a whole, is completely dysregulated, the only way they can feel reward is from sweet/salty/fatty foods, alcohol, drugs, sex, and so on. They know in their head that it’s wrong to steal from Grandma, and they may love Grandma in their heart – but at that moment, cognitive beliefs, or even human relational consequences, can’t relieve their anxiety.  They are in such distress in the lowest parts of their survival brain that it (survival brain) needs the reward of the drugs too badly.

“In fact, they can get to the point where they can’t feel any reward at all –  reward can’t even reach the lower part of the brain, if they’re so ramped up and anxious. At that point, the ONLY thing they want is to relieve the distress, and the only thing that can do it is to drink.  Alcohol will reduce the anxiety. It also makes us more vulnerable to other unhealthy forms of rewards.”

I LOVE salted caramel and that line about sweet/salty/fatty foods really got alarm bells ringing in my head!!

Dr. Felitti goes on that “After we talked to the very first round of ACE Study participants about their childhood experiences in the results of their ACE questionnaires, we saw a staggering 20% or higher reduction in the number of medical complaints, office visits, and other indicators of physical ailments in the next year alone.  Over and over, people thanked us for simply listening to them and their stories.”

That’s human emotional attachment: being seen, being known, just as we are, warts and all, by another human being – and then being fully accepted, and finally feeling that we belong.”

Maybe that’s the power of the sober blogging community?  It is certainly a key element of the success of AA.  Paul sums it up so well I’m going to use his words:

Having some one listen to you without prejudice or censor is a first for many of us, having the confidence to verbalise one’s emotions is in itself a therapeutic tour do force as it helps us identify (recognise), label, process and regulate our emotions and in time allows us to offer the same courtesy to others. In the fullness of time, we become adept at reading and responding to our and other’s emotional language.

I’ve shared this here because his blog post resonated so strongly with me that I wanted to spread the word further.  Sometimes we make choices that feel like life or death at the time and that’s okay.  Drinking felt like that to me but it doesn’t anymore and it has been replaced with a more healthy self-help behaviour, sober living and a sober online community for that vital acceptance and it’s therapeutic value.   And the beauty that as others heal and share their experiences it helps us heal too.  Thank you Paul  🙂