Feeling Good…or Not!
Feeling Good…or Not!A
lcohol has been enjoyed by man for thousands of years. In fact, finding Stone Age beer jugs established that fermented beverages existed at least as early as the Neolithic period (circa 10,000 B.C.).
What is this fascination we have with alcohol, a chemical so toxic that only one form (ethanol) can be safely ingested? A significant part of our programming, referred to as the pleasure-pain principle, is an automatic mental drive or instinct, described by Herbert Spencer in the 1800’s: life-sustaining actions generate feelings of pleasure and life-negating actions generate feelings of pain.
These days, it seems that happiness, the seeking of pleasure over pain, is our Holy Grail. As humans, we have many natural ways to achieve happiness/feel rewarded and these good feelings are due to the activation of neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, endorphins and enkephalins) in an area of the brain known as the Reward Pathway. These neurotransmitters each have different functions but all of them are rewarding in some way. Alcohol stimulates the Reward Pathway, producing pleasure more quickly and intensely than our natural reward system.
Interestingly, alcohol does not work the same way for everyone due to the fact that we are each biochemically unique. Some people try drinking and don’t like it; others try it and enjoy the relaxation, rosy outlook, and “social lubrication” that it provides, having a drink once in a while when the opportunity presents itself. For a smaller percent of the population, alcohol assumes more importance, is actively sought, and often a personal supply is kept on hand. Some progress to abusing alcohol and others go further to what is known as Alcohol Dependence, Addiction, or Alcoholism. The fascinating fact about this is that there is no one genetic marker, mental health problem, personality, or life event that consigns a person to addiction.
About 68% of adults in America drink and only a percentage end up with an AUD (alcohol use disorder). The progression from experimental drinking to social drinking to problem drinking to addiction is extremely varied. Some problem drinkers drink daily and others occasionally. Some drink larger quantities than others. The signs of addiction are sometimes very apparent and sometimes hidden (the “functional” alcoholic, holding down a great job and having the appearance of a normal life). In reality, some people who drink daily are not problem drinkers and some people who drink once a year are alcoholic. Think of it this way: it’s not about how much you drink or how often, but rather what happens when you put alcohol into your body.
The following true story is illustrative:
Sean could never understand his father’s alcoholism because it caused his father so many appalling problems, including incarceration. Sean avoided alcohol for a long time, but eventually tried it. He described his first drinking episode, which led to his own alcoholism, in this way: “I suddenly understood why my father was willing to go to jail!”
Continued drinking damages the brain and changes how it works. It is not a moral issue, nor is an alcoholic a “bad” person. He/she has a chronic progressive disorder which is life-threatening and is treatable. If you or someone near to you is noticing problems resulting from drinking, further exploration could avert serious or tragic consequences. Obtaining an evaluation or talking with a substance abuse professional, attending AA, or speaking with your physician or pastor are all great ways to start the process.