Alcoholism & sobriety

So...how the hell do you people do it? :-P

I've been an alcoholic for years, as my avatar probably indicates (really ought to change that, I suppose) and am making yet another attempt to quit. This time though, unlike my many other tries, I'm going to do as much as I can. I've been attempting to see a counsellor (unfortunately the service here is shit, and they keep missing appointments), I've talked to my doctor, I've even been to AA. While there has been plenty of helpful-ish information on offer, one thing nobody seems to be able to tell me is how to cope with the boredom.

Sitting at home watching TV, reading, playing a video game or whatever with the constant nagging itch of "God, this is dull without alcohol" running through your head is hard. How do normal people cope? If you wanted to stop yourself thinking about something, to distract yourself completely, what would you do?

You can't distract yourself. You just have to demonstrate will power. Remind yourself why you're quitting and if you truly value those reasons, you'll abstain. It will be hard but after a while your brain will grow accustomed to the absence of the drug and you won't have cravings any more. That's how overcoming addictions works.

Normal people normally succumb to their feelings. They simply cope by not being addicted, that is - they have it easy.

For distraction I can take several approaches:

#1. One is to identify what I truly feel like doing and sate that need. Now you may think that this would mean drinking alcohol for you, but alcohol is merely a means to an end. For example, many people drink in order to relax their inhibitions in social settings. But I can practice relaxing my social inhibitions by making an effort to change my attitude instead.

#2. Another way is to change my needs instead of sating them. For example, if I really feel like eating I can go on a jog instead. The adrenaline from the exercise will alter me biologically so that the hunger ceases.

#3. A third approach is to view it like a challenge or training exercise and go against it just to spite my own needs. Slap on some montage music and bask in the glory that you are conquering yourself. Then I do something that I were supposed to be doing, like study or work.

#4. The fourth is mental tricks. They need proper instruction, so I won't bring them up here.

But really, it just seems like you are bored out of your skull. Alcohol would only mask that problem. Addiction makes it seem worse, but it may just be that TV is boring, the games you play are boring, the books you read are boring etc. If that is the case you should look for what is really engaging you.
However if you, after an honest effort, can't find anything then it is simply the case that alcohol has become such a strong force in your brain that you have become accustomed to a higher degree of stimuli than anything else can provide. The receptors in your brain have essentially been desensitized to everything. In order to feel anything again, you simply need to be bored for a while. This is a good opportunity to do something boring that you should be doing anyway.

SonicWaffle:

I've been an alcoholic for years, as my avatar probably indicates (really ought to change that, I suppose) and am making yet another attempt to quit. This time though, unlike my many other tries, I'm going to do as much as I can. I've been attempting to see a counsellor (unfortunately the service here is shit, and they keep missing appointments), I've talked to my doctor, I've even been to AA.

Congratulations on both deciding to quit, and on taking so many positive steps to help yourself with that decision :) I will warn you to be careful with AA, though--the actual 12-Step Program is rather detrimental to overcoming addiction (telling an addict he's powerless is basically giving him an excuse to engage in his addiction, since you're telling him he can't stop if he wants to). Also, some of those groups focus so much on talking about how they wish they were drinking that it'll just make you want to get drunk even more. Not saying you should drop the idea of going to AA, mind (there's a lot of variation from group to group, so you may have found a good one), only that you should keep an eye on how things are run to be sure this group won't hinder your efforts.

How do normal people cope? If you wanted to stop yourself thinking about something, to distract yourself completely, what would you do?

Take up a hobby--something that requires some mental effort, so that you can't just let your mind wander. Making it something that also keeps your hands busy is a good idea as well so that your fingers aren't itching to grab a beer. I use chainmail and needle felting (you HAVE to concentrate when needle felting if you don't want to jab a barbed needle into your finger).

It's also helpful to figure out exactly which situations cause your cravings so that you can change them. If you crave a beer every time you play games, maybe you need to try a different genre that you don't associate with alcohol, or maybe you need to stop gaming for awhile. If you used to always sit in a particular chair and read with a beer, maybe you should read elsewhere, or switch to audiobooks and listen while out walking.

BrassButtons:

SonicWaffle:

I've been an alcoholic for years, as my avatar probably indicates (really ought to change that, I suppose) and am making yet another attempt to quit. This time though, unlike my many other tries, I'm going to do as much as I can. I've been attempting to see a counsellor (unfortunately the service here is shit, and they keep missing appointments), I've talked to my doctor, I've even been to AA.

Congratulations on both deciding to quit, and on taking so many positive steps to help yourself with that decision :)

Thankyou :-)

BrassButtons:
I will warn you to be careful with AA, though--the actual 12-Step Program is rather detrimental to overcoming addiction (telling an addict he's powerless is basically giving him an excuse to engage in his addiction, since you're telling him he can't stop if he wants to).

While I take your point - I was rather uncomfortable when they introduced the concept of God, even if they didn't mean it in an exclusively religious context - what the group leader tried to explain to me that for many of the alcoholics he knows "God" is an internal rather than an external force - "God" could just as easily be the addict's own willpower. The idea as described to me was that it's some greater power than the self, which for some people might be Jesus or it might be their own desire not to drink, if you know what I mean?

"I may be weak, and an addict, but I have the strength of this desire to help me through"

BrassButtons:
Also, some of those groups focus so much on talking about how they wish they were drinking that it'll just make you want to get drunk even more. Not saying you should drop the idea of going to AA, mind (there's a lot of variation from group to group, so you may have found a good one), only that you should keep an eye on how things are run to be sure this group won't hinder your efforts.

Well, I've only been to one, and I spent most of it staring furiously at the floor - social anxiety, particularly crowds, is one of the reasons I started drinking so much in the first place :-P - but it seemed as if they were all glad to be off the booze. Here's hoping it stays that way!

BrassButtons:

How do normal people cope? If you wanted to stop yourself thinking about something, to distract yourself completely, what would you do?

Take up a hobby--something that requires some mental effort, so that you can't just let your mind wander. Making it something that also keeps your hands busy is a good idea as well so that your fingers aren't itching to grab a beer. I use chainmail and needle felting (you HAVE to concentrate when needle felting if you don't want to jab a barbed needle into your finger).

It's also helpful to figure out exactly which situations cause your cravings so that you can change them. If you crave a beer every time you play games, maybe you need to try a different genre that you don't associate with alcohol, or maybe you need to stop gaming for awhile. If you used to always sit in a particular chair and read with a beer, maybe you should read elsewhere, or switch to audiobooks and listen while out walking.

I'm rather blessed/cursed with regards to that, really; I drank everywhere, and while doing everything. So while there is no one specific thing that I associate with alcohol, there's also nothing I don't associate with alcohol. It remains to be seen whether or not this is a positive or a negative, as it means I won't have to give up anything I enjoy but also that I'll likely be constantly reminded.

Senare:
#1. One is to identify what I truly feel like doing and sate that need. Now you may think that this would mean drinking alcohol for you, but alcohol is merely a means to an end. For example, many people drink in order to relax their inhibitions in social settings. But I can practice relaxing my social inhibitions by making an effort to change my attitude instead.

How would that work? Part of the reason I drink is because I'm terribly awkward at talking to people, even family members or friends I've known for years. How exactly does one practice relaxing their social inhibitions?

Senare:
But really, it just seems like you are bored out of your skull. Alcohol would only mask that problem. Addiction makes it seem worse, but it may just be that TV is boring, the games you play are boring, the books you read are boring etc. If that is the case you should look for what is really engaging you.
However if you, after an honest effort, can't find anything then it is simply the case that alcohol has become such a strong force in your brain that you have become accustomed to a higher degree of stimuli than anything else can provide. The receptors in your brain have essentially been desensitized to everything. In order to feel anything again, you simply need to be bored for a while. This is a good opportunity to do something boring that you should be doing anyway.

Hmmm. So by not drinking for a while, my brain sort of...resets? I go back to enjoying things normally, without having to get a buzz on to "enhance" the experience?

SonicWaffle:

Senare:
#1. One is to identify what I truly feel like doing and sate that need. Now you may think that this would mean drinking alcohol for you, but alcohol is merely a means to an end. For example, many people drink in order to relax their inhibitions in social settings. But I can practice relaxing my social inhibitions by making an effort to change my attitude instead.

How would that work? Part of the reason I drink is because I'm terribly awkward at talking to people, even family members or friends I've known for years. How exactly does one practice relaxing their social inhibitions?

I found instruction on how to change my social inhibitions when I started to study seduction (or "pick-up artistry"/PUA as it is also called). Although that topic is potentially a can of worms because it is a touchy subject who everyone have differing opinions on, I was able to get out some useful things out of it. If you see social interaction as a skill and commit yourself to practicing it you will realize that you can research and hone it like any other area in life.

Here is how to do it in practice:
1. Search for any information regarding social interaction (if you can stomach it, check the seduction communities).
2. Challenge yourself to try the techniques you find, especially those that feel hard or weird because it is by summoning this courage and going against your feelings that you can realize that it wasn't so hard after all.
3. Keep the things that seem reasonable and works after you have tried it and forget about the rest.

I can give you some specific examples later if you want.

SonicWaffle:

Senare:
But really, it just seems like you are bored out of your skull. Alcohol would only mask that problem. Addiction makes it seem worse, but it may just be that TV is boring, the games you play are boring, the books you read are boring etc. If that is the case you should look for what is really engaging you.
However if you, after an honest effort, can't find anything then it is simply the case that alcohol has become such a strong force in your brain that you have become accustomed to a higher degree of stimuli than anything else can provide. The receptors in your brain have essentially been desensitized to everything. In order to feel anything again, you simply need to be bored for a while. This is a good opportunity to do something boring that you should be doing anyway.

Hmmm. So by not drinking for a while, my brain sort of...resets? I go back to enjoying things normally, without having to get a buzz on to "enhance" the experience?

Yes, it resets. More specifically, the receptors in your brain get more sensitive so that other things than what you are addicted to can also give an emotional response. I got my information on addiction mainly from this video series (which I then verified with other information sources in my life) - check it out if you want to know the details:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKDFsLi2oBk

SonicWaffle:

While I take your point - I was rather uncomfortable when they introduced the concept of God, even if they didn't mean it in an exclusively religious context - what the group leader tried to explain to me that for many of the alcoholics he knows "God" is an internal rather than an external force - "God" could just as easily be the addict's own willpower. The idea as described to me was that it's some greater power than the self, which for some people might be Jesus or it might be their own desire not to drink, if you know what I mean?

I wasn't actually referring to the God bit (although that's related) but specifically to the idea that addicts are powerless. We aren't, and thinking that way is a good first step towards a relapse. In my opinion telling an addict they're powerless is almost as bad for their recovery as handing them the item they're addicted to and then looking the other way, and anyone who does so is at best woefully ignorant of how to actually handle addiction. There are many good things about AA, but this is not one of them.

Well, I've only been to one, and I spent most of it staring furiously at the floor - social anxiety, particularly crowds, is one of the reasons I started drinking so much in the first place :-P - but it seemed as if they were all glad to be off the booze. Here's hoping it stays that way!

Agreed. Hopefully the group continues to be a good fit for you--support from others can make a big difference in recovery provided it's the right kind of support.

I'm rather blessed/cursed with regards to that, really; I drank everywhere, and while doing everything. So while there is no one specific thing that I associate with alcohol, there's also nothing I don't associate with alcohol. It remains to be seen whether or not this is a positive or a negative, as it means I won't have to give up anything I enjoy but also that I'll likely be constantly reminded.

Hopefully the good will outweigh the bad :)

SonicWaffle:
So...how the hell do you people do it? :-P

I've been an alcoholic for years, as my avatar probably indicates (really ought to change that, I suppose) and am making yet another attempt to quit. This time though, unlike my many other tries, I'm going to do as much as I can. I've been attempting to see a counsellor (unfortunately the service here is shit, and they keep missing appointments), I've talked to my doctor, I've even been to AA. While there has been plenty of helpful-ish information on offer, one thing nobody seems to be able to tell me is how to cope with the boredom.

Sitting at home watching TV, reading, playing a video game or whatever with the constant nagging itch of "God, this is dull without alcohol" running through your head is hard. How do normal people cope? If you wanted to stop yourself thinking about something, to distract yourself completely, what would you do?

You'll probably need to start drinking a lot of fizzy drinks (or drinks with similar constitution to the alcohol you imbued). It's like a smoker trying to quit. They need something to do with their hands as a substitute for holding the cigarette.

So yeah, if you're on the carbonated boozes then switch to soft drinks. It'll still be difficult for a little while but at least you're not losing the habit of having a drink in your hand.

Besides that I have to say please don't try and do this on your own. That hardly ever works.

Good on you though.

SonicWaffle:
one thing nobody seems to be able to tell me is how to cope with the boredom.

Isn't it so obvious?
Did you start drinking because your life was boring?
Or did you start drinking because you were depressed that your life was boring?

I do not know you, but I would guess it's one of those two.

The solution? Get a hobby, do sports, play an instrument. TV/Reading/Videogames are too mindless, too passionless. They are only there to kill time. Stop killing time, start spending it on things you -really- like. I guess it's up to you to find out what that is, but I think that if you find something you're passionate about, you have a really good chance of never looking back to alcohol.

SonicWaffle:
While there has been plenty of helpful-ish information on offer, one thing nobody seems to be able to tell me is how to cope with the boredom.

Sitting at home watching TV, reading, playing a video game or whatever with the constant nagging itch of "God, this is dull without alcohol" running through your head is hard. How do normal people cope? If you wanted to stop yourself thinking about something, to distract yourself completely, what would you do?

I'm glad you're trying to get a grip on the addiction.

I was the President of my High School SADD club, and I've had to deal with someone who had a hard time coping with reality without being 3 sheets to the wind at all times. My best friend is currently a prescription pain killer addict. Which is his doctors fault, and his doctor has lost the right to prescribe anyone pain killers now because he's gotten too many people addicted to them.

I'd say you're probably not experiencing real Boredom. It probably feels like boredom, and is driving you a little crazy. It's a standard withdrawal symptom.

You might try replacing the addiction with another addiction. It sounds bad, and it can be if done wrong. For example, a lot of people complain that they gain weight and eat too much when they quit smoking. This is because they've replaced the addiction to cigarettes with the addiction to food. Eating food will naturally trigger dopamine to encourage you to eat, but is also a key player is most addictions.

I would suggest trying regular exersize as a replacement addiction. If you do it to the point of Runners High you might find that boredom feeling go away in your regular everyday activities.

medv4380:

I'd say you're probably not experiencing real Boredom. It probably feels like boredom, and is driving you a little crazy. It's a standard withdrawal symptom.

Do you happen to know if that's specifically a symptom of chemical withdrawal or if it applies to behavioral addictions as well?

BrassButtons:

medv4380:

I'd say you're probably not experiencing real Boredom. It probably feels like boredom, and is driving you a little crazy. It's a standard withdrawal symptom.

Do you happen to know if that's specifically a symptom of chemical withdrawal or if it applies to behavioral addictions as well?

Short answer, Yes.

All addictions are rooted in a defect in the brains Dopamine reward system. Some, like cocaine, do it by blocking the Dopamine receptors so that you get a mass build of of Dopamine. Other, like alcohal, do it by making the dopamine and saratonine receptors more sensitive.

Dopamine is what your brain uses to get you to do anything. There is a disease, I forget the name, where people literally stop because that reward system is messed up. However, if you play music they start moving for a bit, or if you give them a dopamine injection (edit: it's actually L-DOPA a synthetic dopamine, real dopamine doesn't pass though the blood brain barrier, but L-DOPA will)(Again edit: the disease is Segawa's dystonia). Music increases Dopamine production, and become "addictive" in its own way. A morning run is an easy thing to add, but for other adhering to a schedule works better.

Unfortunately this means that everything can become addictive. To me, addiction means that its somehow interfering in your life. Drugs usually do this, but people can get addicted to anything that gives you dopamine. Sex is needed to reproduce so it's critical for life, but it can become addictive. Games have no chemicals ingested, but they can become addictive.

One that I find weird is water addiction. It's chemically neutral, and has no way of rewarding you. But your brain has to give you dopamine to do ANYTHING, and you do need water to live. Once the brain associates an activity with a dopamine reward it can get out of hand. Water can also be dangerous in large doses because it can leach out all the nutrients in your body. Most people come no were near a water OD.

Boredom, at its most basic level, is your brain saying "We're not getting enough Dopamine, Give us more Dopamine!". If you're bored then doing something that works with that system will help counter the boredom.

Depression is also similar. I don't like it when people who've recently been addicted to something get diagnosed with clinical depression. In the case of addiction depression should be treated as a symptom of the addiction. You risk further addiction if you treat it with more drugs. The best first treatment of addiction symptoms is to treat it with non chemical solutions. Otherwise you're just dooming them to taking that drug forever.

medv4380:
Snip

I'd never thought of boredom as a lack of Dopamine, but it makes sense. And the way that addiction causes you to get used to ever-larger doses of Dopamine when engaging in that activity explains why it's so difficult to get past the bored feeling when trying to recover.

This is helping me to understand my own behavior better. Thanks.

Sometimes it's easier to do something for others than it is for yourself. It's also generally easier to disappoint yourself and move on. If you have anyone in your life that you'd be negatively affecting by drinking just think of them every time you feel the urge to drink. My father is a recovering alcoholic (he's relapsed multiple times) and has two failed marriages under his belt. Consequently neither me nor my sister have ever had more than a sip of any alcoholic beverage. I honestly believe the only reason he's not dead is because he was torn up about what it did to our lives and wanted to sober up and fix it.

Umm well as someone nearing the end of their medical training...

The way that people cope is that the way you feel on alcohol is the way people who aren't alcoholics feel all the time.

Alcohol causes serious changes in cognition and chemical balance in your central nervous system (which is why sudden withdrawal for very heavy drinkers often --> death or other serous, permanent medial problems). This is why hospitals have alcohol detox programs, they allow you to get dry without getting dementia or dying etc. etc.
A (very) rough example: Some alcoholics wake in the morning and start vomiting, the only way to stop vomiting is to drink and absorb enough alcohol to stop the nausea before they vomit their drink up again. They puke because they don't drink. The brain sees being alcohol free as being poisoned. Normal people puke because they dink too much. The exact opposite.

Anyways the only way of returning to a normal state is to never ever drink again. Eventually your CNS will get used to not having alcohol around again and function normally.

Thanks for the advice, people, I just thought I'd update and say I'm at two weeks sober now and the boredom is much decreased. Partially because I've thrown myself into gaming again to pass the time. I still have the urge to drink - doubt that will ever go away - but it seems easier to block than it was before. Now I just throw in XCOM and shoot some aliens inna face :-)

That's great to hear! Congratulations!

 

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