If you’re trapped in alcohol addiction you might be left wondering how to ever get free. Alcohol addiction seems like a cell without a key. A virtual black hole. You can break free and you can make your way out.
The Pitcher Plant
Allen Carr, an author and addiction expert best known for helping smokers overcome nicotine addiction, uses a perfect analogy for how addiction works: the pitcher plant. This analogy is powerful, both in making sense of addiction in your conscious mind and in reconditioning your unconscious mind.
Have you heard of a pitcher plant? It’s a deadly, meat-eating plant native to India, Madagascar, and Australia. Imagine you are walking by a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop, and you smell the doughnuts frying. It’s hard to resist the smell of doughnuts. A pitcher plant is like Krispy Kreme for insects. You are an unsuspecting bumblebee flying through the woods. Suddenly, you fly through blissfully perfumed air. It makes your little bee tummy start to rumble, and you want to get a taste.
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You fly closer to the plant; it looks like a delicious treat of fresh nectar. It smells great. To get a taste you must fly inside the rim. You land in the nectar and start to drink. But you don’t notice the gradual slope under your feet. You are caught up in the moment, enjoying the treat. Suddenly, you begin to slide down into the plant without realizing it. You only notice the intoxicating nectar. Then you begin to sense the slight slide; gravity conspiring against you, but you have wings. You are confident you can fly out of the plant at any time. You need just a few more sips. The nectar is good, so why not enjoy it?
You think, as most drinkers do, that you are in control; you can leave the plant at any time. Eventually the slope becomes very steep, and the daylight seems further away as darkness closes in around you. You stop drinking just enough to see dead, floating bodies of other bees and insects around you. Alarmingly, you realize you are not enjoying a drink; you are drinking the juices of other dead and dissolving bees. You are the drink.
Elixir of Life
Alan Carr uses this as a metaphor for alcohol because he says it’s all around us and it’s held up as this beautiful thing and we’re so susceptible to it from a young age. Super bowl commercials, parties – it just comes on hard and fast that this is somehow the elixir of life. So we believe this and we don’t see the harm or danger in it. We’re on a trajectory of drinking more. That’s just the nature of alcohol – not only are we building a tolerance but it’s also addictive so it’s very similar to the pitcher plant.
The realization hits that this is actually the nectar of death. This drink is made of poison. Just wreaking havoc and ruining lives in so many ways. We realize this at the moment that we’re already stuck. We start to struggle against it and so the question is in essence how do we get free when we’re trapped in alcohol addiction?
Often, because of how our society treats drinking as normal it makes drinking too much the fault of the individual.
When did you make the choice to drink as much as you are currently drinking? Chances are you never did.
Where do you think you will be if you continue on this trajectory – will you naturally drink less overtime? No that’s not how alcohol works.
My passion is to awaken people to the situation, to the addictive nature of alcohol (despite societies glamorization of it) before they reach a point in the plant where getting out becomes next to impossible.
I want to open this conversation so that we’re talking to our kids and to each other before we get to a point where we feel like we’re trapped in alcohol addiction. Why are we waiting until that point? Why can’t we have this conversation drinking Chardonnay and how we should just have one because of the dangers of breast cancer or liver damage? Is there a reason we are not having that conversation and bringing some consciousness and some mindfulness to the issue?
‘the chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken’
How you get trapped in addiction is that there is a line that is crossed, in addiction, in your brain.
Many studies show that that line is actually deeply connected with stress. The stress can come from external sources – or – terrifying enough – the stress can come from the realization that alcohol is more important than you would like it to be an your attempts to escape.Your brain slowing down can have the illusory effect of making you happy because if you are unhappy and suddenly your brain becomes foggy you can forget the source of your discontent. Imagine the bug in the pitcher plant, as it struggles it becomes more stuck.
Trapped In Alcohol Addiction
The key to escaping once you’ve reached this point of being trapped in alcohol addiction is to really understand how you got there. Many studies show that addiction is really deeply connected with stress. One of the reasons people can go on for years just drinking socially on occasion and not develop into addiction is that the stress never became overwhelming. I think often when you develop into addiction it’s when you start drinking to self-medicate. It becomes a form of relief. Now you’re drinking your way through stress.
It could be something stressful happened in your life. On the other hand, maybe you realize how much you’re drinking, you’re not happy about it and that in itself creates a sense of stress. Now you create a viscous cycle where your drinking stresses you out and you drink to alleviate that. Crazy right?
Obviously stress affects us neurologically. Our bodies try to maintain homeostasis and anytime something throws off homeostasis our bodies begin working to restore it.
The hedonic threshold is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.
Research by Dr. Kevin McCauley in Pleasure Unwoven explains that when that threshold for stress rises because the amount of stress or trauma has been elevated the things that used to relieve your stress aren’t hitting it anymore. A laugh isn’t hitting that threshold, the stress is building and the relief isn’t coming. This again can happen just because you’re drinking too much and you’ve decided you want to cut back. You don’t know how to stop being trapped by alcohol addiction and that is a very, very stressful situation.
You start searching for the one thing that will give you relief. Something that artificially messes with your pleasure center. That artificially stimulates it rather than a laugh, a hug or even sometimes a good cry. Guess what drugs and alcohol artificially stimulate your pleasure center! You can have a drink and it goes above the hedonic threshold, provides relief and if you start drinking to provide relief suddenly you’ve changed something in your brain.
Your body is so desperate for the relief of that stress that when you do something to relieve it the dopamine release tells you that this is good. Even when it’s not.
Setting the Trap
You get trapped in alcohol addiction because when dopamine is released your body says, “Ah that relieves my stress. I need that! Your brain gets tricked into believing that alcohol is the answer and the relief to stress. Meanwhile you’ve actually rewired your pleasure center in the brain to crave alcohol and you become deeply physically to it.
The Good News
We’re not like the fly. We are human beings and we have an intellect. Understanding the dangers of being trapped in alcohol addiction and knowing we need to find escape. My recommendations are to read This Naked Mind. It goes really deep into the brain science. Next, get The Addictive Brain course by Thad A Poke. It’s a deep dive into exactly what happens in addiction. Finally, watch Dr. Kevin McCauley’s Pleasure Unwoven.
By understanding why you’re trapped in alcohol addiction it can provide you the tools to escape the pitcher plant. When we’re deep in it when we’re seeing the bodies, when we’re stuck in the nectar how do we escape? It’s through understanding.