Are you a mom who asks yourself over and over again ‘What is wrong with me? WHY can’t I be a normal drinker?”
What if the truth is that there is nothing wrong with you, but that there is something wrong with the substance you are overindulging on?
Maybe you can relate to some of this – “Why can’t I just have 1 or 2 glasses of wine, instead of the entire bottle and be satisfied? Even my husband can just have 1 or 2 drinks and be good, but I don’t seem to have an “off” switch, I am always out drinking him. It seems like everyone else can manage to moderate, why can’t I? ”
Try exploring the mindset shift that science is your friend! What does that even mean?!
The substance hijacks your biology, brain, and behavior. Alcohol and sugar release artificially high levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, also known as the learning molecule, that signals the brain and body to keep doing things that are keeping us alive. Dopamine supports your drive and motivation and creates the desire of liking and wanting a particular substance. Consuming substances that release artificially high levels of dopamine in the brain teaches the brain that the particular substance is necessary to survive, so it leads you to continue to engage in the habit or behavior you consciously know is not good for you.
When drinking an excess of alcohol, the brain is telling the body that the habit is necessary for survival. The brain can’t tell the difference between natural or artificially stimulated dopamine, and it continues to crave and adapt to that higher-than-normal dopamine hit, over time craving even more of the substance to reach those high levels. So the brain is just doing what it is meant to be doing, which is adapting to keep you alive!
What happens when your brain is flooded with an artificially high level of dopamine? Unfortunately, what goes up, must come down. The brain fights to get get back to homeostasis, to keep you alive. Counter chemicals otherwise known as stress hormones are released from the brain to get back in balance. Cortisol and adrenaline compete with the artificially stimulated level of dopamine to get the brain back to baseline to detox the excess dopamine out of the brain and as a result, dysphoria emerges.
Dysphoria is a feeling of distress, agitation, and anxiety, which leads a person to reach for another drink to relieve the dysphoria. Another glass of wine will temporarily get rid of the dysphoria (for about 20 – 30 minutes), and the cycle will continue and the following day you experience an even higher level of anxiety than you did before, due to the alcohol’s aftereffects of the detox and lingering high levels of stress hormones, making a brain neurotransmitter mess that will take some time to recover from.
Forever I felt like something was wrong with me. I could not control my drinking while it seemed like everyone else around me could. Why was I out drinking my husband every time we drank? Why was I always thinking about the next drink when I just poured the first one? Why was I always concerned if there would be enough alcohol and that many times going to a social event, I would bring backup. I was so jealous of my friends who could go out for a ladies night out and have just 1 or 2 and not get twisted up in their heads over it. It was like they could take it or leave it. I was dying to be like that!
At a family party about 6 years ago, I overserved myself with red wine as usual. I got visibly drunk in front of my relatives and I will never forget my mother saying “Alison, what is wrong with you? You do everything else right, you eat well and exercise. Why can’t you just have 2 or 3? If you have this real issue with alcohol, maybe you should seek some professional help”. I had so much guilt and shame around that incident for months after and felt like I was walking on eggshells with my mother for weeks. Do you know when you have one of those incidents you wish you could just erase from your past? I was sadly embarrassed to see my relatives at the next family function, worried they were disappointed in me and were judging me.
How many days did I sit on the floor and cry the day after a binge-drinking episode and ask myself “WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!” Or have my husband so mad with me the next morning and me trying to explain to him that I am not doing this on purpose, feeling completely at a loss with a ginormous pit in my stomach.
The belief that something was wrong with me had held me back for years! I came across a huge “aha” moment when I finally educated myself and learned that there was nothing wrong with me, there was something wrong with the substance I was putting into my body! My brain was doing exactly what it’s supposed to do! When I realized this, I gained so much hope and positivity that I could overcome my overindulging and my shame started to dissipate.
Once I was able to finally kick alcohol to the curb for good, my dopamine levels eventually went back to a healthy normal level, and needing to live off those brief surges of artificially high levels of dopamine became a thing of the past. I realized feeling balance in my mind is much more worth it to me than forcing something that isn’t true.
So, embrace science and understand that it’s not you, it’s the substance – be it alcohol or sugar that trips your brain, body, and behavior to want more and more of it.