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Addiction and the Demon Drink (Part 2)

 This article continues to look at our relationship with alcohol and the problem it can come to represent for many of us at individual, familial and societal levels.  It builds on part 1, published in The Euro Weekly News issue 1147.  Today I want to look at how alcohol (and other addictive substances) works at a physiological and psychological level and how use can move from a gentle, positive experience into one which can be hugely destructive. 

Last time I introduced the idea that childhood experiences influence both the development of the brain and its functioning, and the development of our sense of self, our “O.K. ness” if you like.  This in turn influences our ability to moderate our mood by positive thinking and behaviours, rather than negative, unhealthy methods of managing feelings. This can be called many things but within a medical setting it will often be referred to as modulation disability.

 What we see, simplistically, is that the type and levels of particular chemicals in the brain determine mood, and when we find that mood unpleasant, many of us seek to change it by either behaviour – which impacts balance through the internal production of those natural chemicals – or by the direct ingestion of other chemicals that similarly change the mix, and thereby brain functioning and mood.  However, we often do not allow ourselves to access the source of these unhappy feelings and then work to resolve them.  Instead we mask them with alcohol or other drugs or behaviours. 

 Basically chemicals, natural or man-made have one of three effects – they can stimulate, sooth or numb. This is physiological, chemical fact, but how we use them means they can psychologically serve all three purposes.  Alcohol itself is a depressant, which means that it inhibits, or relaxes the system.  However for many, that relaxing effect actually allows them to function differently – here I am talking about Dutch courage – where a little alcohol allows us to put aside our fears, or shyness or whatever, and perform.  Technically then it can appear to be a stimulant, but it is not. 

 After that first glass or two, that apparent stimulating effect is lost and we get more relaxed. Here the soothing effect is actually depressing the system (remember people used to say Gin made you cry?) and as this continues, we lose inhibitions but unfortunately, we also lose our reason. This is why people when inebriated often say, or do, things they normally wouldn’t. Unfortunately, their ability to communicate their feelings and meaning is much reduced and they seldom get their point over.  Indeed this is the state in which couples often try to communicate the difficulties they feel inside a relationship and of course, the situation is often made worse.   Excessive use of alcohol is all too often found in situations of domestic violence.

 Excessive use of alcohol can lead to the third type of mood regulation – numbing.  This is where the person we know is lost, feeling nothing and free of their problems.  Of course different problems are there now for others around them at this time and indeed for the individual, the next day when they come back from their state of oblivion.

 We will look more at this and why it happens, and begin to look at a way back from this situation, in Part 3.  Thanks for reading and please, let me know what you think.