Alcoholism and Statism (Part 1)Submitted by Séamusín on Mon, 06/30/2014 - 23:10
Hi I am Séamusín, and I am an alcoholic.
I will share at some point, my story about coming to terms with my alcoholism. What I would like to share right now is what the disease of alcoholism, and how it can be treated.
Alcoholism really is a disease
I know, I know, I didn't believe it either. You see, when you introduce will power into the equation, we tend to have alot of trouble. We don't see behaviors as diseases. We don't see making the wrong decisions as a medical problem.
When I hear that alcoholism is a disease, my first inclination is that if there is an alcoholic in front of me, and I give him a shot of whiskey, holding a gun to his head and threatening his life he will chose not to drink. He will recognize his circumstances and decide that it is in his best interest to live.
If I did the same thing to an aids victim. Told him raise your t-cell or i will blow your brains out, he can't just will his disease away. Will his t-cell count to normal levels. He has no choice. And that's a disease.
Ok why? What is a disease? If I am going to be so bold as to make the claim that alcoholism is a disease, i ought to be able to provide a definition. Let's have a look at definition.com: a disorder of structure or function in a human, animal, or plant, especially one that produces specific signs or symptoms or that affects a specific location and is not simply a direct result of physical injury.
So in other words, if your pancreas (structure) is broken and it does not produce enough insulin(function), then you will exhibit the symptoms of diabetes (symptoms, signs).
So when I am saying that alcoholism is a disease, what do I mean. What is the structure or function that I am talking about, and why does it matter? Well we have to start with what is broken. And if the symptoms of alcoholism is an inability to choose correctly, than what organ in the body do you think is broken? Why will alcoholics and other addicts choose to let their whole's lives fall apart. Lose their families, jobs, sell their bodies, sell their children etc.. Just to get another fix
Our choice part of the brain
I am going to discuss two parts of the brain. The midbrain and the frontal cortex. This will not be a thorough discussion, covering all the minute details of neurology, but just a glossing over for my purposes.
The midbrain is evolutionarily speaking, the oldest part of the brain. It is the parts of the brain where our instinctual mechanizations reside. Fight or flight, eating, sex, killing, etc... This is the part of the brain that we share with many others in the animal kingdom. The survival part of the brain.
The frontal cortex is what makes us human. It is where our reason, spirituality, emotions, and awareness reside. It is presumably that part of the brain that would tell us not to get behind the wheel when we have been drinking, or tell the alcoholic that he is about to lose everything he ever cared about for one last drink.
Our pleasure center is located in/around the midbrain. The way it works is when an outcome that we are expecting is processed, it releases a certain amount of dopamine that causes us to feel satisfaction. When an outcome that is better than expected the pleasure center releases a larger than normal amount of dopamine, to indicate that the behaviors that caused that outcome should be remembered. When an outcome yields less than expected results, less dopamine and we feel dissatisfaction. Makes sense, right?
Ok. So when alcohol hits the brain, the first part of the brain to go is the frontal cortex. This is why our inhibitions fail, and we lose some of our capacity to reason. Bit also when alcohol or any drug hits the brain, our brain gives us a shot of dopamine. This is why even though alcohol is a depressant, we still feel the satisfaction that we feel when we first introduce alcohol into our body.
A normal brain will take that shot of dopamine and have a good time with it until things settle, when the experience a slight decrease on dopamine levels, and they feel a small degree of "coming down".
Now an addict's brain, does not produce normal levels of dopamine to begin with. So when a dopamine enhancing drug enters the system, he feels an immense degree of pleasure. It has been explained the following way. If we were to quantify the pleasure levels we achieve, a normal persons brain is set at 100. When a dopamine enhancing drug is entered into the body, levels rise to about 110 or 120. When the effects wear off we can expect levels to fall to about 80 or so. The addicts brain on the same scale has a set point of 20. This is to say that their dopamine levels are broken to the degree that they don't feel the same pleasure to the tune of 80%. So when a dopamine enhancing drug enters the body, levels rise to where is can be quantified at 100.
For the addict, it takes a dopamine releasing drug just to feel the same level of pleasure that normal people experience everyday. And when the levels normalize, oh my god. Straight down to 0.
That's not the end though. That's not even the worst. You see, remember when I was talking about the instinctual functions of the midbrain?
Fight or Flight
Well eventually when enough of a drug is consumed, it actually makes its way on to the list.
Fight or Flight
And as the disease progresses, it works its way up the list, until eventually it gets to the top. Now, this is not even the chemical dependency part. This is just the psycho/neurological part. Our brain has already been modified to necessitate alcohol beyond our capacity to rationalize the consequences. Alcoholism is a disease of choice.
Where the answer to the disease has been found
In the 1930's a war hero by the name of Bill Wilson had destroyed his life. Almost lost his family, lost his job, detox'd in a mental institution, and in short was one drink away from losing his life. Alcohol was about to win, when he found god. His buddy had found god sometime prior and tried to share his awakening with bill but couldn't. It took rock bottom. It took the last straw, laying in the ward after severe chemical withdrawals, seeing the light. He went back home and decided to make it his life trying to help fellow alcoholics.
He would go to the prisons, where folks would have gone through withdrawals and were relatively sober. He would preach the word, and try to convert other alcoholics for months. He had a 0% success rate at saving anybody else. What was funny was that it kept him sober.
This went on for a while. He got his life back on track, found himself a job and became happy in his new sober life, even though he always felt the pain of not being able to share it with other drunks. Until one day he had to travel. Work had brought him away from his life, and away from his drunks, whom helping had helped keep him sober.
While waiting for his business meeting, he started feeling the cravings that he had beaten back. Cravings are our midbrain subjecting the frontal cortex, and they had almost beaten him. He started calling around. He spoke to priests, policeman, and social workers. All the time searching for someone who could put him in touch with a drunk. This was how the secret of AA was discovered. Bill was finally put in touch with Dr Bob. They set up a meeting. Dr Bob was reluctant at first, telling bill that he had tried everything to kick the habit. Cold turkey, church, medicine, etc... Nothing would do the trick, and he just didn't want to talk about it. And that's when bill told Dr. Bob the secret. Bill said "Dr. Bob, I am not help you. I am here to help me. I don't need you not to get drunk. I need you to keep me sober."
That day Dr. Bob stopped drinking. The secret to beating alcoholism was community. A community of people who shared the same ailment, sharing together in their sobriety. They beat the disease of choice and they did it with friends.
Over the course of the next few years Dr Bob and Bill W. Went around bringing people into the community. They took all of the stories of those who recovered from the disease and they started to compile them. They only took what worked. They scientifically dissected each recovery to figure out the bare bones of what it took to have a successful recovery. Out of this analysis came the twelve step program.
The twelve step program is one of the most fascinating doctrines I have ever read. My wife said, when she used to accompany her friend to NA, she felt that the twelve step program was as beneficial to her as it was to her addict friend.
It can be summed in in the following mantra:
Trust god (in whatever shape it takes) clean house, help others.
Trust god - admit that there is a higher power, rely on it for help
Clean house - Admit you are not perfect, and make amends to people you have harmed
Help others - Share your experience and joy with members of the community. Actively participate in the recovery process for any alcoholic looking to become sober.
Incidentally, this program has existed long before Dr. Bob and Bill W. This is the paired down version of every spiritual and religious pursuit in 6000 years of recorded history. And with all the medicine, and with all the science, it was the only thing proven to beat the disease of addiction.
I believe that it is also the only thing that will be able to beat the state. But that will be the topic of part 2.