Let’s face it, drinking gives you a buzz and feels good! It’s not rocket science and a multi –billion dollar industry exists due to this inarguable fact.
I believe that regardless of why you started drinking, by the time it’s reached the point that you feel the need to address it, there are certainly “issues” in your life that are causing hardship, dysfunction or disharmony in your daily existence.
Let’s take the example of someone who began drinking strictly for the buzz. There were no underlying issues of which to necessarily speak of; no past trauma, adequate if not well adjusted living skills, vocational success and contentment. He or she simply drank too much because he or she liked the buzz and over time it got out of hand. He may have drank him or herself out of jobs, a marriage, gotten arrested for DUI or any
number of negative consequences as a result. By the time he or she sought help via AA or a therapist or self-help methods, his or her life had become problematic to say the least!
Then there are those for whom alcohol provided, besides the obvious buzz, something more. It relieved some kind of internal pain/suffering or provided some kind of confidence boost that was for some reason lacking. As a result, the underlying issues at hand were never addressed and the self-medicating dependency simply took over. It’s very easy to understand how this kind of thing can take place.
In either case, drinking for the high or drinking to relieve pain/suffering/dysfunction, I believe that the urge to engage thusly is influenced heavily by our instinctual brain. There are many who believe that we have two basic thinking processes that are behind all of the decisions that we make. Renowned psychologist and Nobel Prize recipient in Economics, Daniel Kahneman, in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, refers to them
as system 1 and system 2. He considers system one our emotional and intuitive mechanism and system two our rational or logical mechanism. Unfamiliar with his work until recently, I wrote about very much the same phenomenon in The Freedom to Recover but viewed it slightly differently. I like to think of what he refers to as“intuitive” as more “instinctive” as I have a slightly differing definition of intuition and its place. In any case, system 1 is the “mind” that comes into play when we make quick, automatic decisions in the
course of action that we will take. Included here are such things as the “flight or fight” response when confronted with threats. It’s our survival mind if you will. We react without much thought going into it. Consideration of what the long term ramifications of these snap judgments will be doesn’t really come into
play. In system 2, however, considerable thought goes into the end result and a more rational and cognitive approach is utilized.
So how does all of this play into alcohol dependency?
I believe, that people who succumb to this condition are more prone to being dominated by the system one (emotional and what I consider instinctive) mode of decision making. It’s the system that
gravitates towards “instant gratification”; i.e... drinking feels great, so pour me another! Thoughts of being hung over and possibly missing work or getting into an automobile accident aren’t really considered with much if any weight. The moderate drinker (non-dependent) thinks it through and realizes that he has
the responsibility to be a good citizen, make it to work and doesn’t want to feel like Hell in the morning.
I think the same kind of thing can apply to folks who drink to ease the pain/suffering/dysfunction thing I referred to earlier. The type one response seeks “survival” and a sense of “immediate well-being”. Well drinking a lot, as we know, helps you “leave your troubles behind”. The rational mind or system 2 thought process is going to try and figure out what is causing this pain or dysfunction and will try to seek out
remedies for long term well-being.
So what is the major factor that makes some people more aware of and prone to be more of a“system 2” type of thinker? I think it comes down to the strength of their willpower and their awareness that these 2 systems exist. Willpower is extremely important because when it is running low, I believe that you tend to
revert back to the more automatic and less strenuous decision making processes of system 1. Making decisions rationally and thoughtfully is draining! It wears you out. By the end of the day, our minds often don’t have enough in the tank to do a very good job of it. That’s why car dealers love when you come in after a hard day’s work when you’re in the market. You are much more prone to emotional decisions (that car looks hot, yeah your points make sense, WHERE DO I SIGN) when you are fatigued from “thinking” all day long. A better time to shop for your car is on a Saturday morning after you’ve had a good breakfast and a decent night’s sleep to recharge your“willpower” battery.
So who or what makes the decision as to whether to go with system 1 or 2? In The Freedom to Recover I refer to the ultimate decision maker as “our arbitrator”. Symbolically, he’s the one who sifts through the competing voices and leans one way or the other. The best method we have to arm the arbitrator with the ammunition to lean towards system two is a strong and healthy will. There are other ways to help the arbitrator out and I discuss those in the book.
We all have internal dialogues that take place in our heads; you know, the little guys in our heads. We need to help them do the right thing!
Again, these are just my thoughts and opinions. I’d love to hear yours. To send a reply simply click on the “add comment” tab below (go figure)
Peace out for now,