RE 443: A Different Type of Alcoholic

RE 443: A Different Type of Alcoholic

Episode 443 –  A Different Type of Alcoholic


Today we have Kelly, she is 46 from Minneapolis, MN and took her last drink on June 18th, 2023.


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[02:57] Highlights from Paul:


When saying the word “alcoholic”, these images, and thoughts commonly come to mind:


Living under a Bridge. Brown paper bag. Homeless. Hopeless. Unemployed.


Some of this is accurate but studies show only 5% of alcoholics fit these descriptions.

The other 95% are high functioning, tend to be high earners, more educated, are healthier and have more stable relationships than average.


With the estimated 452 million alcoholics that don’t fit the stereotypical description of an alcoholic, this takes the saying you are not alone to a new level.


We justify or benchmark our drinking according to what an alcoholic looks like. I’m not that bad, I have a job, and money in the bank. We surround ourselves with other drinkers who don’t fit the alcoholic stereotype to solidify our own positions on the addiction scale. Now a classic trait of an addiction is that we are blind to where we actually are with the addiction process. The hole you find yourself in is probably deeper than you think. My recommendation is to stop digging. You CAN put the shovel down. Another classic trait of an addiction is the progression. We have 452 million alcoholics on the globe who are not living under a bridge or drinking out of brown paper bag yet.


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[09:30] Paul introduces Kelly:


Kelly took her last drink on June 18th, 2023, and has 6 days at the time of this recording. She is 46 and lives in Minneapolis. She leads software development teams for a living. Kelly loves the outdoors and enjoys running, hiking, and paddleboarding. She enjoys movies, music, and museums as well.


Kelly first tried alcohol at a party in 9th grade. Drinking was not something that she wanted to do but she succumbed to peer pressure. A year later she started spending time visiting her brother at college, and she enjoyed hanging out with him and his friends and started drinking more frequently. It was a good escape from the abuse she was dealing with at home.


In college Kelly was drinking and dealing with an eating disorder. She worked hard to overcome her bulimia but then her drinking ramped up after that. After college she married a fellow engineer, and they would drink heavily together. After they started having children and settling down, her husband was able to quit the excessive drinking, but Kelly was not.


While raising her children, Kelly was able to cut back on drinking and started putting rules around it. Her relationship wasn’t going well, and Kelly was going out more frequently and drinking almost daily. After a few drinking and driving charges, Kelly began to realize that she could no longer control it. Over time she recognized that she was starting to isolate more and then would go out to bars to find connection with other people.


Kelly has been able to have more gaps in drinking days over time and has been acquiring tools throughout the process. She is recognizing that she needs to treat her sobriety like a baby and nurture it daily. Each morning she meditates and uses the Reframe app. She attends AA meetings frequently and has recently found a therapist to help her with her childhood trauma.


Kelly’s plan for recovery moving forward: keep doing things that make her feel uncomfortable, attending more meetings, and new meditation practices.


Kelly’s parting piece of guidance: keep trying, be open to new resources.


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RE 429: The Connection Between Alcohol and Anxiety

RE 429: The Connection Between Alcohol and Anxiety

Episode 429 – The Connection Between Alcohol and Anxiety


Today we have Dale, he is 55, from Roanoke, VA and he has been alcohol free since March 23, 2019


Exact Nature:


[02:34] Paul’s thoughts:


Paul knows now that there is a connection between his drinking and his anxiety but while actively drinking, he could not. We are told that alcohol relaxes us – which it does by shutting down important parts of our brain.


According to Dr. Sheila Shilati,”Alcohol ultimately replaces those important chemicals like dopamine and serotonin in the brain, which mitigate anxiety, therefore, in episodes where you are not drinking, then your brain is searching for those all-important ‘feel-good’ connections, which become diminished because the supply has been mitigated,”


We hear a lot about “self-medicating” in recovery. Which isn’t a bad thing, but when we rely too much on this strategy, it stops working. This becomes an even bigger problem because we don’t realize it so we just drink more and now our coping strategy is becoming the reason we can’t cope.


Paul shares in episode 417, this is the best place you can be because the tipping point isn’t far off in the distance.


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[10:48] Paul introduces Dale:


Dale is 55, lives in southwest Virginia, has been married for 25 years with no children. He works for a shipping company and also owns and manages rental property. Dale enjoys music of all varieties, loves reading and learning and also enjoys gardening.


Dale’s first experiences with alcohol came from his parents using it to medicate him as a child. He worked in the hospitality industry in his late teens and early twenties and drinking was a glorified part of the lifestyle. His tolerance grew and he became a daily drinker throughout that time.


The recent years found Dale questioning his drinking and realizing he wasn’t living life within his values. He had sneakily drunk some of his wife’s special whiskey which prompted an angry text to Dale. He used this message as motivation and although he was not able to quit right away Dale feels this was the start of his recovery.


Dale has found self-awareness to be a catalyst to helping him stop drinking. He has utilized Recovery Elevator and the Café RE community as a large part of his journey. It was a scary first step for him, but he found getting out of his comfort zone to be very helpful. He has made many friends that have helped him move forward and be strong in his sobriety. Focusing on the good has been an important tool for Dale, specifically in the early days. As he closed in on a year, he felt the veil had been lifted and he was seeing the world differently.


Year two for Dale was unpacking everything that led him to drink so much in the first place. He feels that was the mucky part of the journey and it is a process to unpack it.


Year three Dale feels that learning to let go of control was a big thing. Learning that life is going to happen, and he didn’t have to cling so tightly to everything. He finds that the service work he does in the community has helped him deal with life as it happens while approaching the four-year milestone.


Dale feels that success comes by building the wall one brick at a time, stepping outside of the comfort zone and being willing to learn. He also feels that service work helps strengthen us and keep us connected to our foundation.


[53:36] Closing thoughts:


Paul’s tips for dealing with anxiety without alcohol:


Perception – anxiety pangs are messengers. Your body is sending you signals that something is off balance. Tell your body this will pass and will soften with each passing day or month.


Get the body moving to cue the release of endorphins whose purpose is to mask physical and emotional pain.


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RE 411: The Grateful Alcoholic

RE 411: The Grateful Alcoholic

Episode 411 – The Grateful Alcoholic


Today we have Lisa who is 65 from Atlanta, GA took her last drink on 11/17/2022.


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Highlights from Paul:


Paul didn’t understand a fellow AA member’s references to being a “grateful alcoholic”.  Only after getting to know Jim, did he understand what they meant. It took a few years for Paul to get to that point to be grateful for his addiction.


He reflects that our addictions are signposts trying to guide us to a more authentic life and that there are no such things as failures. They are learning opportunities and we should never give up.  We should trust the process of healing from the addictions, and we can all become grateful for the role that alcohol has played in our lives.


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[00:00] Paul introduces Lisa


Her last drink was November 17, 2022 – a little over three weeks from the time of this recording.  She says it feels wonderful, relieving, liberating, comforting, all positive things.


Lisa is 65 and lives in Atlanta area with her husband of 36 years. They have two grown children and remain close to them. She enjoys reading, travelling, exercise, nature and family time.


Lisa’s drinking started out on the weekends in high school.  She drank throughout adulthood and always knew she drank abnormally. She discovered she had her first blackout and fell when she was nearly 50.  That scared her into getting sober with AA but she feels she never did the work or found a good sponsor.  After one year, she thought she could handle drinking again.


Over the last two or three years she has known she needed to stop again. She was starting to notice the health consequences and began finding resources including The Huberman Lab podcast episode about alcohol, and This Naked Mind.

Journalling about her drinking past has helped her recognize some of what drove her to addiction.  She became aware that her drinking ramped up after she retired in 2015 as she felt a loss of identity. She has recently become a caretaker for her mother who has been in recovery since Lisa was 15, but they have never been close. She thinks she used alcohol for stress and anxiety relief over that and the loneliness she found in retirement.  Now that she knows that it is her brain reacting to the disease which she finds helpful to her recovery. She embraces that she must do things differently this time and get comfortable with being uncomfortable. She has joined several recovery communities and asked to be on the podcast. She has not shared her journey with her immediate family but plans to do so very soon.


In recovery, Lisa says that routine is vital to her success.  She exercises daily while listening to podcasts. She enjoys volunteering to stay busy.  Her faith is very important to her and she finds prayer and journalling helpful.


One thing she has learned in sobriety – she can find the courage to do hard things and is stronger than she realized

Parting piece of guidance – you can control your thoughts, just focus on what you are gaining, not what you are losing.


[00:00] Closing thoughts from Paul:


Paul encourages us to stop labeling things as a problem.  We need challenges to appreciate rewards.  He compares this to alcohol as being the invitation to step into a rebirth and make great changes in our lives for the better. He has yet to meet someone that regretted quitting drinking. Paul also revisits his thoughts on Big Alcohol and his view on legalization of drugs and alcohol.


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The Brain and Alcohol | Genetic Predisposition

The Brain and Alcohol | Genetic Predisposition

Let’s talk about science and alcohol.  It’s a pretty interesting and popular subject when the topic of recovery and sobriety gets brought up.  


But let’s keep in mind that it’s not enough to rely on science and information to ditch the booze. Yes, it’s interesting and knowledge is power, but please don’t solely rely on knowledge, science and information alone to quit drinking. If we could read or listen ourselves out of a drinking problem, well, the problem would be solved. 🪄🦄


Paul loves the science part of addiction and recently did a podcast intro on just that. (RE Episode 396)  


Paul got most of his info from a fantastic podcast episode from the Huberman Lab Podcast, What Alcohol Does to Your Brain, Body & Health| Episode 86.   I highly recommend you check it out and listen when you get a chance…Dr. Huberman goes into great detail in this 2 hour episode and even those without a drinking problem will find it interesting and beneficial.  


Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., is a neuroscientist and tenured Professor in the Department of Neurobiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine.


Alcohol and the brain. 🥃🧠


Alcohol has many biochemical and neurochemical effects on the brain. There are dramatic changes in the neurons that control the release of serotonin when we consume alcohol. Serotonin is the feel good chemical and 80% of it is created in the gut. When we mix alcohol and serotonin it gets converted into acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde damages your DNA and prevents your body from repairing the damage.  A toxic buildup of acetaldehyde can increase your cancer risk.


This acetaldehyde acts as a toxin at the very synapses and the connections between the serotonergic neurons and lots of other neurons. In other words, when we ingest alcohol, the toxic effects of alcohol disrupt those mood circuitries.

It does this first ☝🏼by making them hyper active. 


This is why people become happy or more talkative after a couple of sips of alcohol.  But when the alcohol wears off the serotonin levels and the activity of brain circuits really start to drop and this is why most people head to the bar for a second round. Now typically what happens when people ingest their 3rd, 4th or 5th drink, there is an absolute zero chance of them recovering that energized mood they experienced on the first drink. Most people, when they drink more and more, begin to feel suppressed 🫤. The front part of the brain, the frontal cortex, is starting to shut down.  The motor areas of the brain that control motion and basic functions begin to slow. 


This is the slurred speech, the swaying back and forth, the classic drunk shuffle. People begin to lean on things, uncomfortable benches seem like a good place to spend the night. There is a great depression, not of the psychiatry sort, but a depression of alertness and arousal, and eventually people begin to pass out. 🥱


Here’s one big way that alcohol changes your brain chemistry.  


Alcohol changes the relationship between the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and the adrenals.  The hypothalamus, which is about the size of a gumball and sits above the roof of the mouth, provides a specific set of signals for the pituitary gland…which then releases hormones into the bloodstream that go and talk to you adrenals which sit right above your kidneys in your lower back. The adrenals release a chemical called epinephrine and cortisol which is involved in the longer term stress response. 


The hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and the adrenals maintain the physiological balance of what you perceive as stressful.   People who consistently drink are more stressed out at baseline then sober peeps. They have more cortisol released from their adrenal glands even when they are not drinking. And a consequence of this is they feel more stressed and feel more anxiety when they are not drinking. Most medical professionals will agree that stress is the number one contributor to disease.


Let’s talk about blackouts for a second. Blacking out is not passing out. When we overload the brain with alcohol, it’s almost too much to process and the activity of neurons in the hippocampus, which is involved with memory formation, are strained and then they completely shut off. As in you no longer form memories. You are still awake and can still be functioning, some high functioning, but the memory forming part of your brain, the hippocampus, clocks out.


Now…to genetic predisposition…

Side note, Paul doesn’t believe in genetic predisposition to alcoholism. He used to, but now he doesn’t.  

Addiction guru Dr. Gabor Mate’s teaching rebukes the genetic myth. Dr. Mate feels all addictions are trauma responses. What helped Dr. Mate reach this conclusion was his studying of twins who have the same genetic makeup.  He also studies twins with the same genetic makeup who are separated at birth. His conclusion is that all addictions are environmental responses, or coping behaviors that allow people to survive in unhealthy environments.

Dr. Bruce Lipton, who is coined the father of Epigenetics in the 90’s, would also agree with this. Epigenetics says it’s the environment that controls the expression of genes and gene mutations. In addition, it’s the environment that cues anxiety, depression, addiction, auto immune responses, cancers, inflammations, and not genetics. The classic Rat Park experiment by Bruce Alexander in the 70’s also shows addictions are environmental. 


Paul says, “I am on board with this approach and even in the past 8 years doing Recovery Elevator, I’ve seen the pendulum slightly shift in this direction.”   What we’re seeing now, is our biological makeup is much more adaptive and reflexive to environments than previously thought. Again, Paul feels, most addictions are trauma based. They are adaptive behaviors. Another reason he doesn’t think alcoholism is genetic is because alcoholism is rapidly on the rise. Gene’s take thousands, millions of years to evolve. Gene’s can’t explain the ten fold increase in alcoholism we’ve seen in the last couple centuries.


That being said, we do want to share different perspectives on alcoholism. 


Dr. Huberman feels alcoholism is genetic. He does mention that there is no blood test, fingerprint test, or bio marker to indicate this addiction gene.  Dr. Huberman says the best way to “identify” alcoholics and non alcoholics is by putting drinkers in two bins. One bin is the group of people who have a couple of drinks and then get tired with a nodding head, or they feel sedated. The other bin of people is the group that has a couple of drinks and gets energized and are not sedated. The drowsy group after a couple drinks are your normal drinkers. The let’s go streaking in the quad and bring your green hat group are the future alcoholics.


Is it genetic based, or trauma based. Most likely it isn’t 100% one or the other.  It’s most likely a combination of 57,680 different things.


Again, we don’t recommend getting too caught up in all this. At the end of the day, you’ve got a drinking problem. Knowing what alcohol does to your prefrontal cortex isn’t going to keep you sober in the long run. 


Find what works for you…and go with that!

***Taken from Recovery Elevator Podcast, episode 396, host Paul Churchill***


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