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Pavlov's Dog

Old 02-16-2011, 10:43 PM
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Pavlov's Dog

I would like to get a little feedback on some thoughts about my alcoholism. I have been having quite an easy go of this current stint of sobriety, and I feel really comfortable with the fact that I don't have any cravings, and can honestly say that I don't think I will ever have a problem with alcohol again. The thing that sort of ticks me off is that I didn't see it sooner in my life.

I finally came to the conclusion that drinking was a learned response, and much like Pavlov's dog, as soon as the thought of drinking came to mind I associated it with fun, relaxation, good times, prosperity, youth, sex and every good and fun thing I have ever done. That response to the thought of alcohol made it impossible for me to ever even contemplate life without it. That response was ingrained in me for the last 27 years. So basically it wasn't a situation or a problem or a specific group of people that triggered me to drink, it was the thought of drinking that was the trigger that got the chemicals moving in my brain.

Now millions of people all over the world have similar thoughts regarding alcohol and they are able to lead productive lives. But when I found out that my body reacts to alcohol differently than most, and that I am truly allergic to the thing that I have basically had ingrained on my brain as the greatest thing in the world, and the thought of it alone makes my adrenaline pump and makes me find it and pour it down my throat that is the reason that I would continue to drink even when I knew what the consequences would be.

Before I truly thought I was an alcoholic and before I did the hours of research I have done over the last 6 months on my problem, it was still a mystery to me why I always had to drink like a wild man, even though I knew damn well the hell I was gonna be in when the hangover the next day was coming, so I reprogrammed my brain further to look forward to the next day so I could start drinking again.

If I never learned how to love drinking I would have never had this problem, or if I wasn't born with the alcoholic gene this might have never been a problem. But when you have been programmed to love drinking, and when you weren't born with an off switch, this is where a true alcoholic is formed.

If I was born 20 years earlier and the information I have been able to read wasn't available to me I really don't think I would have been able to figure out that my biggest drinking trigger was the thought of drinking itself. Without this knowledge I would have had to think my obsession was something unexplainable and maybe i would have looked for spiritual help. But, at least in my case, the reason why I didn't quit drinking even when it was stupid and caused problems and caused pain is because my brain had been programmed so strongly to feel positive about all aspects of alcohol that no matter what the situation I would still feel good about drinking it.

I almost have trouble reading in the forum with post after post of I can't live without it, I can't stop, you have to admit your powerless, because now it seems a clear to me as the nose on my face. If you are an alcoholic and alcohol causes major issues in your life and you won't stop drinking, it's because your brain doesn't want to stop because it has been taught that alcohol is good. That is probably why 90 in 90 has worked for many people because it was able to deprogram that learned response, but I think in my case as in many other alcoholic's cases the learned association of alcohol and good feelings will always be there on some level, until the pain of drinking finally outweighs the pain of being without the miracle elixir.

Thoughts?
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Old 02-16-2011, 11:27 PM
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The more I get into the recovery the more I learn that we each assign our own meanings, derived from our whole life experience, to make sense of the journey we've been on.

I believe there are universal elements to everyone's story, but that the stories themselves are as unique as fingerprints.

For me, even tho I can appreciate and understand your more scientific take on it, it's simply not enough of an explanation for me - it doesn't go far enough for me.

I'm mindful of the forum I'm in, so let me just say I was definitely missing something in me. I felt the absense. In recovery I've found it again.

Doesn't mean either of us is wrong, and it doesn't mean I want to argue with you or convert you to my view LOL - it just means we have different interpretations based on how we each discern our situation

D
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Old 02-16-2011, 11:49 PM
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I appreciate your response Dee, and I will completely agree that we are all different people and our experiences and our needs are all different as well. Thinking back to the nights that the obsession to pick up the bottle and the mental craving I had before ever drinking a drop truly baffled me in every sense of the word. It was almost trance like the way I would allow it to happen to me night after night. I truly feel I was in some way brainwashed. So for me that was probabaly the worst of it.

I have been fortunate in life, with a great family, alot of friends, great kids, and no major financial or health issues. So thankfulness and morality and a sense of being have always been near me. So I guess I haven't felt the need to change aspects of my self and look at other issues that may help to improve me as a person. I didn't see a reason that I needed personality or behavior modification, because my only major issue was the drinking. I studied the Bible in college and I feel I live my life the way I want to live it, and I am a good person. Obviously there is always room for improvement, but I see those issues as separate from my drinking. But I see my alcoholism as a form of brainwashing or or a learned response that I never realized was there or how strong it was.

Thank you again for the reply, I am not really looking for an opposing viewpoint as much as I am just trying to put some info out there that might benefit someone else as much as it has helped me.
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Old 02-17-2011, 07:58 AM
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As you might guess Supercrew, you're singing my song!

I too believe that what keeps an alcoholic drinking despite all the wreckage to their health and relationships is a physiological response in their brain to the thought of drinking alcohol. Why an alcoholic starts drinking to excess is different for each of us, but what keeps (kept) us drinking are the changes to the brain stem and limbic system caused by the alcohol abuse itself.

The deviousness of those changes are amazing. Exactly the same areas which allow even the 'slowest' kid in class to remember what house gave the biggest chocolate bars at Halloween two years ago, or that the sensations while having sex are kinda really nice, or are responsible for the waves of positive emotions while we are first falling in love, are the same ones that become altered to crave more and more alcohol.

People can wrap whatever else they want around the problem, but at the root of it all is this physiological drive to drink originating from an area of the brain incapable of complex problem solving, but only capable of basal instinctual drives. These drives or urges however, do have the power to change our thought processes...if we don't know what's going on.

That's what worked for me, was knowing why I was feeling the way I did, why I kept going back for more, why the urges kept coming back, why I had to make sure I had my wallet when I was only taking the dog for a walk and just happened to walk past the liquor store, again, and again, and again...

Anyways...looking at it from that angle worked for me

Murray
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Old 02-17-2011, 09:13 AM
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This article illustrates in detail about the subconscious signals that cue drug seeking behavior. Prelude to Passion: Limbic Activation by “Unseen” Drug and Sexual Cues

I know its important for me to have good behaviors reinforced. Peer support is one way of doing that. I can get rewards by being in a group that recognizes and approves of my good behavior. As a social animal, these rewards can help to reduce the impact of (extinguish) cues that can activate drug seeking behavior.

Internal rewards like developing a greater sense of self-worth can also straighten my resolve to change how I have associated drug use to satisfaction. Like challenging romantic thoughts of drug use with the realization of all the negative consequences of being drug addicted, bolsters my sense of self-mastery and aids my self-worth.

Much like Murray's sig quote, I am smarter than my lizard brain.
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Old 02-17-2011, 10:13 AM
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Thanks Zencat for the article!! It sounds as if maybe I'm not to far off!

"Our working hypothesis is that drug and sexual cues acquire the ability to trigger brain reward circuitry through simple Pavlovian conditioning. In Pavlov's classic experiments[16], a bell reliably signaling the arrival of food reward came to trigger salivation and excited anticipation of the meal. Though salivation to the food was reflexive, salivation and arousal to the bell was “conditional” – newly established by learning. Similarly, arbitrary cues (e.g., the sight of a drug paraphernalia, a drug location, or even an internal cocaine thought) that reliably signal cocaine will come to trigger physiologic arousal, drug anticipation, and activation of the limbic reward circuitry[8]in users of the drug.

Wow..maybe I should become a scientist.

Well my next question would be if I know that I am basically brainwashed with the way I think about alcohol is that enough of a deterent to keep me from picking up the bottle. Basically can self knowledge alone keep you from harming yourself? Basically once you find the "man behind the curtain", will that be enough to protect you from killing yourself with your DOC?
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Old 02-17-2011, 11:53 AM
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I have no doubt that the alterations to the brain are indeed the mechanism that perpetuates drinking to self-destruction. This leaves two questions in my mind: Why did my unaltered brain choose this path initially? And what about me has changed that precludes similarly self-destructive choices in the future?

For me, I see many personality traits that predate using which led directly to substance abuse. I was an angry cynical young man that figured I was just a little smarter than those around him, and I would do almost anything not to get exposed. Exposed for what I really am, which is scared. I have come to believe that fear has underlain every strong emotion and conviction I have ever held. Alcohol made hiding that deception easier to pull-off, and provided the motivation to learn to be an alcoholic. It goes deeper than this, but this understanding seems to be sufficient for the time being to answer the first question.

The second question is much slipperier. There are buttons in the brain that once pressed override logic and reason. Say what you want about freewill or willpower, something like bungee jumping elicits an emotional/physical response regardless of how much you know about physics. So I do not believe that self-knowledge is not sufficient defense against the first drink. If the wrong thought occurs at the wrong time and mashes the wrong chemical button, I will drink.

What happens then depends on a lot of things: The things I have done to repair my brain. The support network I have built. My physical health. My beliefs…my understanding of the true nature of reality. (Substitute whatever you want in the last statement – god, humanity, Buddha Nature, the Universe, whatever, but I do not have any evidence it is found wholly within Self.) In short, what is my program?
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Old 02-17-2011, 12:22 PM
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Originally Posted by recycle View Post
So I do not believe that self-knowledge is not sufficient defense against the first drink.
Nice double negative huh? I meant to say: I do not think self knowledge is sufficient...

Drunk or not I cannot proof read worth a darn.
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Old 02-17-2011, 12:41 PM
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Good post recycle. I agree we all got on the path for different reasons. Mine was a "drinking is fun and cool" thing to do, which snowballed into I live for the buzz.

The second question for me is a little easier because by deprogramming the brain to realize that drinking isn't the path to happiness, instead of feeling "I can't ever drink again" the feeling has changed to "I don't want to drink". By making it my choice instead of some type of behavior that I really want but can't have has changed my thought process towards it. So now the thought of drinking doesn't get the feel good response from the brain chemicals.

I think some programs work because they stumbled on behavior modification which could be considered a form of deprogramming/brain washing to eventually change the way an alcoholic's brain reacts to the thoughts of alcohol.

Thank you for your input.

Last edited by Dee74; 02-17-2011 at 02:02 PM. Reason: see my post
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Old 02-17-2011, 01:50 PM
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I have not found the mastery of one’s thoughts to be a simple task; my only advice is to not think about elephants.
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Old 02-17-2011, 02:03 PM
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Damn you Recycle! I can't seem to stop thinking about elephants now!!

Nice trick! The power of suggestion is a strong motivator.
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Old 02-17-2011, 02:03 PM
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I don't want to close this thread so you may want to steer clear about what some programs do or don't do in your opinion

12 Step Programs are off topic for this forum and posts discussing 12 Step Programs will be removed.
D
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Old 02-17-2011, 05:38 PM
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I started because of being a painfully shy stutterer who would be transformed into a 'super happy joking around meet anybody kind of guy' when drunk.

There must be some sort of "tipping point" when a person has consumed enough alcohol in a certain time span which triggers the brain to begin creating more dopamine receptors, and it's that point at which one starts sliding down the slope from problem drinker to full blown alcoholic. Every person's genetic makeup, personality, and life experience will put that tipping point in a different place.

Knowing this stuff we're talking about empowers me. It explains everything. It makes it blazingly clear that one drink will equal many drinks. It lets me know that if I relapse, it will result in a nastier low point before I manage to get sober again, if at all.

My job will be to hold onto this knowledge, despite whatever Life may throw at me.

No matter how many layers of defence a person might have, be they spiritually or scientifically based, ultimately it comes down to the moment just before the glass touches your lips and you decide to take that first drink.

One equals many. One equals many. One equals many...

Murray
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Old 02-17-2011, 06:26 PM
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One thing that I need to remember is "Individuals also differ in their capacity to exercise judgment and inhibit impulses." All that enter into recovery IMO are not the same in make-up: "If the prefrontal cortex is not functioning properly, an addictive drug has more power to monopolize the reward circuit."

To know myself, to know my strengths and limitations through what it has been for me, trial and error, I have become familiar with myself. Self-knowledge allows me to set in place safeguards that aid me in my addiction and mental illness treatments. I for one need assistance in my wellness journey. The beauty is, like in life, there is more than one way to get to the proverbial mountain top. Something like cultivating a heightened awareness. I need teachers to show me the way. Fortunately for me, with the advent of available books and now electronic media. The teacher is at hand, always. I have other teachers too in the F2F world. They can be mentors, friends, family, professionals and so on.

So to the question of self-awareness and its role in sobriety (among other things). Yes and no, I need to know what I'm doing. But pure knowledge (self or other for that matter) alone is good for nothing if there is no practice to put it to application in the real world.

All quotes are from: The Addicted Brain
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Old 02-17-2011, 07:11 PM
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Love it Zen!! And thanks for the link!
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Old 02-17-2011, 08:48 PM
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Ik started to drink to overcome my shyness and feel cool. I'm guessing I was always susceptible.

For me self knowledge of why I drank will not be enough because for whatever reason I knowingly was committing suicide by alcohol by the time I quit...therefore I have to work on myself so that I dwant to live. It is separate from the alcobol in many ways...except it fueled the depression which drove the madness.
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Old 02-17-2011, 09:37 PM
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Maybe I'm being overly optimistic and some might even consider it playing with fire, but the realization itself that I was somewhat brainwashed to react to a thought unconsciously, and now I know what caused these feelings and cravings, I feel like the trance has been lifted, so the mental obsession of wanting the first drink to begin with is gone, (it was just a trick and I figured it out). The fact that I know I have an "alcohol allergy", or the "alcohol gene" that makes it so once alcohol is in my system I will never really be satiated is enough for me not to grab the first one again. The word "cured" comes to mind, but I obviously won't be flippant about it or lazy when it comes to my mindset or the upkeep of my program, because I still don't know what the future holds. But I do feel very secure in the fact that I don't want to drink ever again. But I have also seen that things can change quickly if I am not alert and conscious of my thoughts and motivations.
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