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Betting on Sobriety

Old 04-07-2011, 05:56 PM
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Betting on Sobriety

People often ask me (in real life, not on this forum) how it was that I stopped drinking. Obviously there were a lot of factors which converged to foster my decision, but I thought I'd outline some of my initial observations which motivated me to quit...

I never denied that drinking was enjoyable. Heck, it was an absolute blast sometimes! We shouldn't lie to ourselves that drinking is never a pleasant experience. On the contrary, it is often quite wonderful! It's important to be honest about that, and to find genuinely good reasons for quitting. So, the question is, if it's so much fun to drink, why stop?

One way to give an answer is to liken each drinking experience to a betting game, and ask, does it have fair odds? Suppose, for instance, that we were to quantify the net pleasure incurred by our drinking experiences, where positive values represented a net gain of pleasure and negative values represented a net displeasure. For me (and presumably for most others who seriously consider quitting drinking), the net pleasure is going to be decidedly in the negative. The key point, though, is to recognize that even though there is variance across large numbers of outcomes, the expected gain from any single drinking experience is still negative. Given this plain fact, it follows immediately that, as a betting game, drinking has entirely unfair odds. If we are to be rational, we need to find another game.

One natural objection to this view is that we can improve the odds by picking out patterns in the variance and discriminating accordingly. In other words, we can learn to recognize the most dangerous occasions for drinking, and avoid them.

This objection has at least one serious problem, though. Namely, we are demonstrably terrible at both designing and implementing our discrimination plans. If we look back at our past drinking experiences, it should be abundantly obvious that we are competent neither to identify high-risk drinking environments nor to avoid them when identified. Even if in principle we might be able to improve our odds of yielding net pleasure from drinking, the evidence clearly shows us that, in practice, we are utterly unable to do so. To the extent that we recognize the importance of past trends in predicting future results, we should flee from the alcoholic experience.

Even if we believe (despite indisputable evidence to the contrary) that we can properly manage our drinking so as to incur a net gain of pleasure, it is obvious that such a goal is extremely high risk (which is to say the expected gain of each drinking experience has a large variance). Given the wide array of recreational options available to us in Western society, it would be far more prudent for us to seek safer, more successful strategies for finding pleasure. To be sure, this requires an initial sacrifice. However, the payoff is almost certain, given time and effort, and avoids the enormous risks associated with alcoholic strategies.

That said, we should notice that quitting drinking is not an ongoing activity, or some kind of burden which needs to be perpetually carried. We don't need daily reminders of the dangers of alcoholism, as if we could forget. Instead, the purpose of quitting drinking is to enable us to accomplish other tasks, in order that they may help us obtain the pleasure we seek. On our first day of sobriety, we should be concerned most with developing new strategies for pleasing ourselves, and for finding fulfillment in our lives. We mustn't be shy about the selfishness of that task. The fact of the matter is that we really do care about our own happiness, and we need to take that into account when we make our decisions. But above all else, we need to remember that drunkenness is a counter-strategy for obtaining pleasure, which is to say that it has exactly the opposite effect---it hands us displeasure in heaps!

The basic idea here is to take the time to actually think the matter through. If we are about to take a drink, we had better have a good reason for doing so! If we can't articulate that reason, then that's a big problem. If we can furthermore articulate reasons not to drink, then we are absolutely without excuse.

Anyway, I thought I'd share this, since it might help someone else. If you think I'm mistaken about any of it, please don't hesitate to say so (especially if you're struggling with alcohol). I'm more than willing to defend the judgments I've expressed here.
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Old 04-07-2011, 06:40 PM
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Interesting idea and thought process.

I'm not 100% convinced that drinking was ever really fun however....it was hell on earth at the end...at the beginning I did it to fit in and loosen my inhibitions. I'm sitting here trying to recall if it was ever really enjoyable.
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Old 04-07-2011, 10:01 PM
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I quit gambling.

But seriously this is sort of the way that I look at my drinking as well. I gained alot of pleasure from it for 27 years, but as time moved forward the law of diminishing returns came into play much more often, to where I was really getting no pleasure whatsoever.

I think this is a very logical way to look at it, thanks for the post.
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Old 04-08-2011, 05:54 AM
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i like it....

the very small benefit of drinking, which in hindsight i see as not even real or even that good...

versus the huge costs, and all the other (extremely real) crap...

i'm in a place where i can make that logical choice now, but it wasn't that easy when i was in the grip of addiction - i think fear got me through initially, until i could get to a place where i could make that logical choice better.

i think for me also acceptance was really important, accepting that i really could not control it...

totally agree re seeking happiness / contentment, it's what we're all after, i suppose that's the biggest thing for everyone, regardless of addictions etc. that journey is a huge part of my recovery too.
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Old 04-08-2011, 10:31 AM
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Whoa, and I thought I was all up in my head about recovery

I never denied that drinking was enjoyable. Heck, it was an absolute blast sometimes! We shouldn't lie to ourselves that drinking is never a pleasant experience. On the contrary, it is often quite wonderful! It's important to be honest about that, and to find genuinely good reasons for quitting. So, the question is, if it's so much fun to drink, why stop?
There is a time component to consider: For long time drinking was fun...Then drinking was fun with problems...Then just problems. Seriously, by the time I quit, drinking provided only a few minutes of relief, then it was find more booze or face the demons. By that time, it was taking a lot of booze to get a buzz, and my body simply could not process enough ethanol to keep me 'happy'.

Although I have no argument with your logic, I am not sure how applicable logic is to desire. On a neurochemical level it is logical - whoever fires the right synapses wins, but the "I wanna drink" side seems to have disproportionate resources to the "no I really shouldn't" side.

Thanks for sharing VP, I enjoyed reading it. I think you are dead on that a person can get past not drinking being an everyday choice. I think you still have to be continually working to improve yourself, but I would like to think that some battles can be won.
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Old 04-09-2011, 11:47 AM
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At first when I first started drinking/drugging the pleasure was great and the negative consequences were minimal or manageable.

As time went on the pleasure was still high when I drug/drank and the negative consequences were still manageable, although there was more to manage.

Near the end of my drugging and drinking there still was pleasure drink/drug, except the negative consequences were becoming less manageable and more frequent with a sooner onset.

It wasn't until the pleasure of drinking and the negative consequences of drinking went hand and hand. That I decided to stop my active addiction.

Now pleasure comes without all that negative crap and seems to last longer in sobriety.
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Old 04-09-2011, 02:33 PM
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I guess I'm "lucky"? I don't remember drinking being fun, I don't remember it being not fun either; I just don't remember it as I was a black out drunk pretty much from the first time I took a drink. I know that I drank to 'fit in' but I became a hermit so I guess ultimately it didn't work. If I remembered it as being fun I think I would of had difficulty stopping which I didn't.
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Old 04-09-2011, 08:15 PM
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Well if we are able to recognize that drinking isn't fun--that it doesn't offer us pleasure or satisfaction--then a decision to quit will be obviously rational. But I would expect that for the vast majority of alcoholics, the opposite is true. Maybe I'm mistaken about that, but in any case it's important to be honest to ourselves about it. We need not tell ourselves that drinking offers us nothing if in fact it provides us with great enjoyment.




Originally Posted by recycle View Post
Although I have no argument with your logic, I am not sure how applicable logic is to desire. On a neurochemical level it is logical - whoever fires the right synapses wins, but the "I wanna drink" side seems to have disproportionate resources to the "no I really shouldn't" side.
Sure. But we can still develop strategies in advance and form habits, which will serve us in times of need. If we plan and persevere, we will be in a far better position to make an informed, rational decision about whether or not to keep drinking.

I think you still have to be continually working to improve yourself, but I would like to think that some battles can be won.
Oh absolutely we need to keep improving ourselves! I hope I didn't imply otherwise. But I would add that that's just how life is--it's not a condition unique to alcoholics.
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Old 04-09-2011, 10:32 PM
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I wouldn't have started drinking if it wasn't fun, but I have tried to focus on all of the negatives of drinking. I am not actively trying to remember the goods times, because it gives my subconscious brain ammunition to fire at me in times of weakness. But again I look at the law of diminishing returns when looking at my 27 years of drinking time.

At the end truly everything was negative or a loss in gambling terms. In fact I bet and lost so much in the end that I went mentally broke so now there is nothing left to gamble with or for, and the house doesn't accept credit in this game of chance.
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Old 04-10-2011, 06:10 PM
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In hindsight...the times when I remember drinking being fun....the weddings, vacations, dinner with friends....well, those events were fun because of what they were not because of the presence of alcohol.

If alcohol were so much fun alcoholics would be the happiest people on earth.
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