Creatures of Habit
In our work with clients our consulting physician, Dr. Tim Norcross, D.O., usually prescribes Naltrexone, a benign anti-craving medication, to help you make changes in your day-to-day life less distracted by “cravings.” 70% of our clients find this to be a helpful adjunct for three to six months and we recommend that you at least try it.
However, cravings are not a straightforward issue.
One example is the tendency to confuse your bodies’ response to low blood sugar levels as a craving for alcohol. In reality, your body just wants its waning blood sugar levels restored and it doesn’t care whether it’s with a martini, a chocolate bar, a donut, or a meal.
Think about cocktail hour. It’s 5:00 p.m., you haven’t eaten anything since lunch and may not have then. Your blood sugar levels have plummeted, you’re feeling weak, moody, and distracted. You down a cocktail or two, a couple of glasses of wine, and presto! Blood sugar restored, energy returns, mood lightens, you’re relaxed, and any anxiety disappears.
What’s not to like about that?
Nothing, really, except you could have avoided the mid to late afternoon drop in energy and mood, and skipped the anxiety, by having a decent lunch and a mid-afternoon snack. And it doesn’t take much food to keep the blood sugar spikes and crashes at bay.
What it does take is paying attention and modifying some habits.
Which brings us to a real problem: habit formation, maintenance, and change.
Our lives are structured around familiar habits and routines. Generally, these are benign ways of getting things done without having to pay much attention. Consider the amount of attention you paid the first time you drove a car and the amount you spend now as an easy example.
Having established these effortless patterns we are loathe to change them, which requires paying attention again, at least for a while. Besides, we all like the comfort we get from replicating familiar behaviors with predictable results.
Which brings us back to that 5:00 p.m. craving. Yes, there is some craving for alcohol and its relaxing effects. But there is more of a craving for elevating your blood sugar, and most of all, to replicate the ritual which you find comforting.
Combine the three – alcohol, sugar, habit – and you will be hard pressed to change just one of the three factors. Why not let us help you redesign your now malignant “ritual” into a healthy one? And, no, it won’t be as hard as you think, and nothing like as hard as smokers find it when they “kick the habit.” But they do, and so can you.
The Elephant In the Living Room
Beginning last July and continuing through the present, political events have conspired to convince a lot of people that this is a bad time to quit drinking. Even therapists, particularly marriage counselors, are finding themselves wondering about their own escalating alcohol consumption as they encounter ever more intractable problems between spouses.
It is true that there is cause for anxiety even though the anxiety doesn’t fix anything. It’s also true that the short term relief alcohol provides is more than offset by the depression and paranoia it also visits upon us.
Simply stated, a fast track downward spiral is easy to create these days and, really, hard to avoid and extremely tempting.
The late Dr. Lewis Thomas, former head of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Institute, and an award-winning essayist, once noted that what’s most difficult to manage is the knowledge that at times, the best you can do is to “stand quietly in the corner wringing your hands.”
While it’s tempting to think that this is one of those times, and to wring our hands while taking care not to spill the drink in one of them, it isn’t.
Virtually all of the negative feelings the current political conditions may engender – fear, anger, anxiety, depression, etc. – are aggravated by alcohol. But they are all eased by internalizing the mental processes collectively known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and by engaging in actions consistent with our beliefs.
Many of us, certainly myself included, catastrophize situations and become paralyzed with anxiety, hopelessness, exhaustion, and depression. But the antidote isn’t medication, whether liquid or prescribed, it’s engagement.
Complicated as that may read, it’s pretty easy to simplify it all down to “doing stuff.”
And doing stuff is easier if your learned to manage your emotions and forego the alcohol, both of which we can help you manage with the least amount of stress and without surrendering your personal integrity, individuality, or power.
Ready, after eight months of the unsatisfactory alternative, to give yourself a chance?