What happens to your body when we quit drinking? Why does it feel like it’s so hard to stay sober sometimes? Why do we have cravings? Should I be counting my days sober? Do I have to live like this forever? Some people say ‘yes’, and some people don’t understand alcoholism or addiction at all. I googled “what happens to your body when we quit drinking” and the results were predictable. Some of the websites told me how much money one might save or how much weight you might lose, but it doesn’t explain why we still have cravings and why it’s so hard NOT to relapse. Let’s go into what the body actually does and why counting days sober is bullshit.
It’s an established fact that alcohol is a depressant. When you drink alcohol, it hits certain receptors in your neurological system that dampens activity in the brain and causes a relaxed feeling in your entire body. It depresses feelings and emotions and allows you to feel like you don’t have a care in the world. Is that the alcohol that you remember? It was for me. If it sounds like a super drug, that’s because it is. Just because alcohol is socially acceptable, doesn’t mean that it’s not one of the most powerful drugs on the planet. It is so powerful in fact, that a person can die from the withdrawal. You can’t even say that about the withdrawal effects of heroin. Alcohol pretends to love you so much that if you try and leave, it will try to kill you like a crazy ex! Think about it like this, would you continue to count the days since the end of a toxic personal or romantic relationship? You might do it accidentally at first, but you would drive yourself insane if you continued to do it for too long. Alcohol is a literal toxic relationship that has horrible effects on the human body, and 12 step programs tell you to remember exactly how many days it’s been since it ended? If it sounds exhausting, that’s because it is. I believe the goal of counting days has good intentions though. It is supposed to be a sense of accomplishment in a one day at a time program, the only problem is that your brain and body doesn’t function like that.
Your thoughts trigger the making of chemicals in your body. When you’re happy, you release serotonin, or if you feel like you’re in danger you might release adrenalin. You are constantly making all sorts of different chemicals in your body, it’s like you are your own personal drug dealer. From cannabinoids (weed) to dimethyltryptamine (DMT), your body is a chemical factory and you are the one that’s in charge of what it makes. What happens when you stop drinking but keep focusing on the act of drinking? Your body cannot tell the difference between focusing on drinking and actual drinking, so your body keeps producing the same chemicals that it was producing while you were drinking. You are so laser focused on NOT drinking, that you’re fooling your body into thinking it wants alcohol, so it invents cravings. You are inventing a feeling or a craving by thinking about the very thing you’re trying to avoid. Remembering how important alcohol was to you and trying to avoid it at all costs keeps you in a pattern of a destructive learned behavior. When we don’t change things, send new signals to the brain and force it to make different chemicals that can help us recover, we end up going back to the repetitive behavior that got us here in the first place.
Your brain and body are connected in a way that might be hard to understand. When you are a kid many things are out of your control, like what you eat, what you see, and who you learn from. When you’re born you have zero opinions on anything, and everything you learn gets stored in your memory until you develop habits, that turn into traits, that turn into your personality. If you have a phobia, then somewhere along the line you learned to deal with a problem by being irrational about it, and it was likely from a someone you love. We end up repeating these learned actions so many times that the body gets used to making these connections and chemicals and does so without you having to think about it. Your body is adapting to its surroundings and your perception of what is surrounding you. You are creating how you feel by what you surround yourself with, and then what you surround yourself with makes you feel the certain way that you created. So, you are continuously activating all the same genes and connections that you have been for your entire life. When people quit drinking, they only try and remove the drinking, and try to go back to their normal lives, this is a mistake. Your normal life included an insane amount of drinking so if nothing around you is changing, you’re going to have the same thoughts and actions that produce the same chemicals that makes you want to drink.
How do we change this? The short answer is to do something different. The long answer is to do everything you can differently. I started by meditating, then I changed much of what I was watching or reading, my input. I learn as much as I can about human sciences because this is the only body and mind that I have while I’m on this planet, so if I want to change any aspect of my life I know it must come from me. When I changed my diet, I learned that my body could create ketones that can repair damaged cells and help myself recover from all the dumb things I had done while being an alcoholic and an addict. I learned why I used to hide things all the time, especially my alcoholism. I figured out that I had been covering things up since I was a small child and changed the behavior immediately (I sent different signals to my brain). That’s why I’m not an anonymous alcoholic, if I was it would just be hiding and doing more of the same and getting the same results. I realized that I wasn’t hiding anything from anyone other than myself anyway so it’s time to just be honest. You’ll read about many of my changes in the other articles on this site and there are more like this coming soon. Now I’ve continued the opposite of hiding from myself for so long, that I’m sending new signals to new genes and therefore don’t have cravings for alcohol or a desire to drink. The discomfort of this change lasted only a week or two for me, and what I have created has been incredible. I have successfully changed the way my entire body functions. I went from having weak and misfunctioning internal systems to having outstanding results in a recent blood test. I changed the way I do everything and created a healthier, happier, more outgoing Neil than ever before. I don’t fear what’s in my head anymore because I know that I’m the one that let those thoughts and stress in and I’m the one who can let it out.
Our greatest obstacle is the person we see in the mirror and how we perceive the world. Right now, we may have a negative feeling, but just remember that negative feeling was learned from somewhere else and it doesn’t have to control your life. When we let negative feelings take over, it controls our bodies and our minds, which controls our perception of surroundings, which controls the way we feel, and so on and so forth. See the cycle? It all leads back to how you think and feel. To know when you quit drinking is just fine if the memory doesn’t have a strong emotional tie that can put you back into the same habit cycle that got you to rehab in the first place. If you’re counting days sober from the beginning, you’re putting more stress on an already stressful situation. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re powerless against your addictions. Realize that it’s just a fight that doesn’t need to be fought by wrestling it with anger, because you’re only fighting against yourself, to which there is no winner. You decide that alcohol is just not worth the trouble and change your thoughts from there. Remember that actions speak louder than words so change your actions as you change your thoughts. Think about what you are changing your thoughts to and why you are changing your thoughts. Make sure that there is no revenge or anger in your intentions, because that only leads to more bad decisions. Try living life for you, just for today, and see how you feel. Go for a walk or have a conversation about something that is important to you with someone that is important to you. Keep questioning why it’s important to you. Is that your old alcoholic personality talking or is it the real you that doesn’t need to be concerned with nonsense from the past? Not everything from the past is nonsense but a lot of it is. Most of it only has to do with your alcoholic reaction to something way back when you drank, but that isn’t you anymore, right? You may feel like you’re swinging like a pendulum from time to time but that just means that you’re self-aware and things are starting to balance out. You control it.
You don’t have to agree with anything you’ve read because either way it’s true. If you want to struggle you will, if you want to succeed you will. I’m trying to help you look in places you may not have looked to find out why you’re struggling. Once you find that, then you can go back to other times in your life and see if it applies there as well. How honest are you willing to be with yourself? It’s how you perceive your life and what you created, I can’t control your perceptions, but you know you can create more. I know that if I were still struggling to stay sober, I’d take any advice I could to try to end my struggle if it puts the struggle in my hands and gives me the tools to change it. I’ll take that any day over trusting my sobriety to someone that’s barely staying sober themselves. You control your universe!
Have a Powerful Day!