10 Reasons Early Alcohol Recovery is Challenging

In episode 283 of the Elevation Recovery Podcast, Matt Finch discusses the 10 different reasons that early recovery from alcohol addiction can be challenging. He also discusses how to combat these challenges in fully optimized, healthy ways!

He pulls from research, personal experiences, and anecdotes to share his wisdom on making early recovery into a smoother process.

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Matt Finch: There's a lot of addiction education that one can learn online from books, from 12 step meetings, and other support groups, self-help groups, treatment programs, but oftentimes that addiction education is not enough to really give the person a good enough understanding to make alcohol, not cunning, baffling and powerful. Out of all the addiction education out there, look for this stuff, look for everything that you can that after you've finished learning about it from that source, alcohol feels less cunning, less baffling and less powerful the more you learn about it, and the more you learn about addiction and alcohol addiction and detox and recovery and treatment, and the more self-knowledge you acquire.

Announcer: Thanks for tuning into the Elevation Recovery podcast. You're hub for addiction recovery strategies, hosted by Chris Scott and Matt Finch.

Matt Finch: Greetings and welcome to episode 283 of the Elevation Recovery podcast. My name's Matt Finch, going to be your solo host for this episode, bringing to you a very interesting and helpful topic on 10 reasons, the early alcohol recovery stage is challenging. This list is not comprehensive. I actually have more than 10 reasons here, but I felt like if I did too many, like 15 or 16 reasons, that'd be too overwhelming, and not everybody faces all these challenges. So what I did was I culminated what I feel are the 10 most common, most typical reasons that the early alcohol recovery stage is challenging. So what's early alcohol recovery? When a person quits drinking that is early alcohol recovery for, in my opinion, at least the first six months to maybe even a year, it really depends on the person, their situation, the amount of progress that they make during the duration of alcohol free time, and many other factors.

So it's not challenging for everybody. For some people it's easy, for some people it's moderately difficult, for some people getting through early alcohol recovery stage, whether that's for them is three months or even the first two years is their early alcohol recovery. Maybe if they've had, a drinking part of their life was like 30 years of pretty much straight alcoholism with some breaks here and there of sobriety or abstinence. But so for some people early alcohol recovery could only be the first three to six months. For other people it might take one to two or longer years because of how many differences there are in people's severity of alcohol use disorder, their severity of stress and other things in their life. Life challenges, their amount of resources, including support systems and healthy connections with people, doing what they love for a living and so much more. So without rambling too far before we get in here, let me cut myself off and let's get into number one.

So number one reason why it's often challenging to get through the early alcohol recovery phase, brain chemistry dysfunction. Now, quick little caveat too. We're not going to go deep into all of these. What I was thinking is maybe we could either do a part two on this episode, where it's Chris Scott and I discussing them, or a part two on this episode where I go ahead and fill in some of the other challenges beyond this list of 10, that way it's like the more knowledge you have of these potential barriers to progress, potential relapse triggers, potential things that you might come to face in your life. Well, if you come to face those, would you rather know what they are and what they're about, or would you rather get blindsided? My guess is you'd rather know about these potential challenges in depth too, so you can really have a way of troubleshooting them, overcoming them, transcending them, et cetera.

So brain chemistry dysfunction, that's basically when you drink alcohol repeatedly and consistently over a period of time, that gets your brain to rely upon alcohol, to boost primarily GABA and also dopamine. Although for some people, it also increases endorphin and even serotonin, but at a very minimum, it leads to the brain, typically needing alcohol to produce adequate GABA, to feel relaxed and adequate dopamine, to feel motivated and to feel some type of motivation and pleasure and purpose and drive in life. The early alcohol recovery phase from quitting alcohol can also often lead to glutamate excess. So there's this dichotomy of when you drink alcohol a lot, then all of a sudden you need it just to feel okay. So then when you quit, there's typically a dichotomy of a GABA deficiency and a glutamate excess. So what that does is that wires your brain and that wires your central nervous system for being too excited, too excited, not enough mental sedation, not enough physical sedation, which GABA does, when you have good supply of GABA and a good supply of glutamate that's not in excess.

Then typically your brain is more balanced, more relaxed, more steadfast, more able to patiently endure the challenges of life, including just getting through the day. So the brain chemistry dysfunction is a huge one, probably the hugest one. And then along with that, there's things like endocrine system dysfunction, immune dysfunction, digestive issues, absorption issues, diet issues. There's so many things that also play into this, but then moving on to number two, neural pathways of addiction remain, you might have heard the quote, probably have, when neurons fire together, they wire together. So if you think of somebody like Serena Williams, the famous tennis player, who I think just said, she's about to retire soon. Anyways, how do you think Serena Williams was able to get so good at tennis and competing in tennis training for tennis, and all the psychology and mindset of tennis and competition and strategies and tactics and styles so much went into it.

Well, her neurons fired together in a certain way, repeatedly over and over again, over and over again, over and over again. So she eventually developed unconscious super competence, meaning she doesn't even have to think about it, and she can just go in there and her body and brain just go through the motions that she's built up with those neurons firing together, as well as wiring together repeatedly over time. The same thing happens with alcohol addiction. The more times we do certain things, the more times we think certain thoughts, believe certain beliefs, perform certain actions, abstain from other actions, get into certain patterns and habits and habit loops.

This causes our neurons to wire together, as they repeatedly fire together. Over time, you've got these super highways, super highway neural brain pathways that support binge drinking or that support daily drinking, or that support continued alcohol use despite negative consequences and despite wanting to quit, they can lead to relapse when you're in the early alcohol recovery phase very easily because you've driven those highways in autopilot so many times and done the habit of craving alcohol and then drinking alcohol and then recovering from alcohol and then getting alcohol, drinking alcohol, enjoying the effects of alcohol. Then recovering from the consequences of alcohol.

This becomes strongly wired into our brain. So while it's often a lot quicker of a process to start to optimize and rebalance your neurotransmitters and your brain chemistry and your physical and mental health in general, it typically takes longer for those pathways of addiction, those super highways in many cases, to fade away, they are going to be there for a while, depending on the person, it's usually at least a few months, if not longer, it's not really like a linear process too as far as every day, you abstain from alcohol, there's a consistent level of fading the way of those neural pathways, it's more of a non-linear process, and it's more of a slow moving process.

It's kind of more like a marathon, or a triathlon, versus sprinting in alcohol recovery to get to not having those pathways of addiction. For some people, it might take many, many, many years for those pathways of addiction to get substantially lower or to get all the way gone .And for other people, depending on how long their addictions have been and depending on their overall lifestyle and many other factors, it might take a decade before those pathways of addiction are completely faded away, meaning there's no remnants of them whatsoever. That's like a worst case scenario. I'm sure I've seen people heal these pathways much quicker.

Then what happens is as these kind of slowly fade away, then the more you're doing for your recovery, the more you're starting to wire new neural pathways of recovery, of relapse prevention, of alcohol free enjoyment and purpose and fulfillment. So then neurons fire together, they wire together. But this way, in a way that's opposite to addictive. It's like sustains recovery and recovery from addiction, versus the neural pathways of addiction support alcohol drinking. Anyways, number three, habits are difficult to kick. The habit loop, in addition to these neural pathways of addiction, there's also a specific part of our brain that's unconscious where the habit loop is wired, and that is an area of our brain called the basal ganglia. There is a really cool book, actually two really helpful phenomenal books on habits and on these habit loops and how they work in the brain and how to break bad habits and create and sustain positive habits.

So it's a lot of research in this. One of the books is The Power of Habit, and the more recent book is called Atomic Habits. I highly recommend both those books very much so. It was in the power of habit that I first learned about this habit loop and how there's a system that comes up to where there's some type of queue that leads to a craving. So some type of environmental or other type of cue, which leads to a craving, which leads to a lot of people engaging in the habit loop and then getting the reward from engaging in that behavior. So to really simplify it, think about somebody that's been off alcohol for two months, then all of a sudden, it's their first time going out to an nice restaurant with some friends. And it's their first time going to a restaurant since they've been sober from alcohol for two months, all of their good friends are drinking really good, like red wine or cocktail mixed drinks.

And you're just like, oh my gosh, all of a sudden, these are the cues. You got these strong environmental cues that start to activate and wake up those neural pathways that were starting to fade away, and that were becoming more and more out of sight out of mind, more and more dormant. Now they've awakened. And then there's this cue, which is seeing all these people drink and enjoy the benefits of alcohol to connect and have a good time and to let loose and to feel just relaxed and euphoric and stimulate conversation. And you're smelling the alcohol and you're... So it's bringing up all these memories in your brain, either conscious or unconscious or both, and that's a cue. And that can lead to a craving, that can lead to thinking about some type of reward. The craving leads to the thought of the reward. And then even though somebody wants to continue to abstain from alcohol, oftentimes the cue and craving and the promise of instant reward is oftentimes more powerful than their ability to continue to delay gratification, give through that high risk situation and then reap the benefits from staying sober.

A lot of times, these strong cues will lead to strong cravings and lead to somebody activating the habit loop. And this is an unconscious process. So many times we hear about people and I've done this so many times, myself included. People were not drinking for a matter of days, weeks, or even months, or even several months or longer. And then out of nowhere, it seems all of a sudden they find themselves in autopilot going to the store to purchase alcohol or go to the bar to get an alcoholic beverage and they can't stop themselves. So it's very unconscious, a lot of these processes and a lot of invisible forces that are acting as potential barriers to progress, which stack together and synergize to make this addictions no fucking walk in the park, excuse my language. But this is some heavy duty stuff.

The more you learn about this, the less cunning, baffling and powerful alcohol becomes. And the more empowered you become. Number four, alcohol is socially praised. It increases our association, at least with status and connection. One of the basic human characteristics that both scientists and also marketers, marketing researchers have figured out is pretty innate to the human condition. And that is a lot of the things we do if not everything we do, we think the only reason we do something, oftentimes if it's going to increase our status, our status, wow our status, and all of this is just due to conditioning. There's other cultures all around the world that don't have this type of socially praised status and connection enhancing strong conditioning in regards to alcohol. I mean, if you look at the Mormons religion, I don't think they drink at all right.

And there's other religions that don't drink. So they have a different conditioning. They have a different belief system in regards to alcohol, but in America, United Kingdom, and Australia, so many different places, lots of societies around the world. We get this socially praised benefit from alcohol. At least our association to the alcohol is that it's going to increase our status and increase our connection, increase our love, increase our acceptance. And if we increase all those things, then while it's not rational in today's day and age, it is rational to our primitive part of our brains, where back when we were hunters and gatherers tribes, if we didn't get loved and accepted, if we were defective to a certain extent, we were liable to get kicked out of the tribe, to get banished, to get sent, and then you getting banished is pretty much certain death. Back then you needed tribes to survive.

It was very difficult on your own. It was even very difficult in tribes for the most part. So even though today, you don't need to worry about that. It's still probably a deep unconscious part of our brains, and also part of our genetics and DNA, and even a part of our karma. Number five, alcohol is aggressively advertised. Here, I live in the United States and many listeners of this podcast are in the United States, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom. Those are some of the main places although at this point, I think we have listeners in approximately 80% of the planet earth, including some of the most obscure, small little places that most people have never heard of.

So, but it's aggressively advertised here in America, and many other places. I mean, aggressively advertised, not just advertised, aggressively, seriously advertised to a point where it might not be quite ethical or moral maybe in 10, 20 years from now, or maybe even fewer years, maybe our civilization will have turned to a new chapter and we might look at our aggressive advertising of both alcohol and prescription medications in today's time as totally unethical, totally debilitating to the citizens of our world.

Really it's like we are aggressively advertising drugs and alcohol to them. It's crazy, man. It's a crazy world we live in. And that can make it more challenging. This is one of the biggest reasons early recovery is so challenging for so many people. I know it certainly was in my alcohol addiction, the aggressively advertised component of alcohol, especially coupled with the socially accepted, raise your social status and connectivity and acceptance, comradery, sisterhood, brotherhood with friends and family and coworkers and everything sharing a happy hour drink or having a couple shots after work or on the weekend or in a barbecue and on and on and on. Moving on, we have number six, it's lawful, alcohol is lawful if you're over the legal age, it's 21 here in America. I think in Mexico, it's maybe 18. I know it was back in the past. They might have changed it since then, but it's lawful over the legal age.

And even if it's not lawful, underage drinking, it's not like this huge criminal offense to where you go to jail for a year, two years. Yeah, you get in trouble, but it's not like getting a DUI or getting a possession of illegal drugs like heroin or something like that. So it's lawful if you're over the legal age, and even then if you're close to the legal age, I mean, so many people less than the legal age to drink, drink, but I mean, you combine the fact that it's lawful, socially praised and accepted and aggressively advertised and right. Well, you have just those three, these previous three that we just did, four or five and six, that is a trifecta of early alcohol recovery completion, difficulty enhancement to say the least.

Seven, affordable. Oh yeah, this is an affordable substance, at least in comparison to drugs, at least for the average Jane or Joe, at least if you're not going to purchase it at a bar or getting delivery or something like that, when you go to a grocery store or when you go to a liquor store, alcohol is pretty affordable. There are lots of inexpensive types that are very high potency alcohol for very low money. And so it doesn't take that much to get a buzz or to get drunk. When I used to be addicted to opioids, there was an eventual part where I was spending upwards of $100 per day on opioid drugs on the street, illicit street drugs from drug dealers, illegally purchased. I've had clients that have spent anywhere from 3000 to $10,000 monthly on prescription opioid pills, imagine spending $10,000 a month on drugs. My goodness.

So at least in comparison to that, alcohol and I know a lot of people spend a lot of money on alcohol, but it's still accessible for low amounts of money, right? So that's a choice. When I was addicted to opioids, I didn't have a choice in shopping around. I had to get illegally, illegal drugs are more expensive than legal drugs because of the risk associated with them. And because of other factors. So with alcohol, nobody needs to drink at bars, nobody needs to buy the expensive stuff, nobody needs to do that. To get the buzz from alcohol, to get the euphoria, to prevent alcohol withdrawal. All one needs is the higher the percentage of alcohol, the more effective it's going to be at raising their blood or their blood alcohol concentration. So yeah, those long-winded way of saying alcohol is affordable.

For most people, there have been points in my past alcoholism where I couldn't even afford, two or $3 to go get a 24 ounce tall can of Mickey's malt liquor. And those were the mornings, they happened a lot, where I would go through my car, go through my home and look for change, scrub up enough quarters, dimes, nickels, and even pennies to go over to the liquor store that opened at 8:00 AM, that was not even a block away from my house. It was a half a block away. It was right across the street, a half block away, maybe it was like a hundred feet away. I had a liquor store that opened at 8:00 AM, approximately a hundred, maybe up to 150 feet away from my front door. So then I'd go scrub together change, go by my first tall can of some malt liquor or a tall can of just regular beer Budweiser, depending on the mood I was in.

And then I would call friends, see if they wanted to hang out and see if they wanted a drink, see if they had any money or sometimes I'd go to the pawn shop or sometimes I'd borrow money. Usually it was pretty easy to at least get a few tall cans of malt liquor. If I was really, really broke, I could still afford to maintain mostly a buzz throughout the day for less than $10 in some cases. But those days were few and far between usually I could afford enough to not be scrubbing for change in the morning. But anyways, I remember a lot of those mornings. Number eight, it is effective. Alcohol is effective. No wonder so many people drink alcohol so oftenly, it is effective. And that's why it's a challenge for a lot of people to make it through early alcohol recovery, because they know that alcohol isn't effective, at least in the short-term substance beverage to getting the desired results.

They know that it kicks in really quick. It's 100% guaranteed that the it's not... With buying street drugs, maybe you get something that doesn't have the actual drug in it. That happened to me a lot. I got stuff that was cut with something else or stuff that wasn't even what it was supposed to be, but kind of looks similar. With alcohol when you go to the store, you know that you're getting alcohol 100% of the time. So you know it's going to be effective 100% of the time, alcohol works. It works at getting you under the influence of alcohol. It does have negative long-term consequences typically. And it does typically have the longer a person drinks for, the efficacy and effectiveness does tend to have diminishing returns over time. So at the beginning, it can be a great resource for people for making their lives better, but then the more somebody uses and then abuses and then addictively obsessively uses that resource then typically the negative consequences can start to first mimic and then outweigh the positive benefits.

Alcohol can start to get more and more diminishing returns, diminishing effectiveness, diminishing positive benefits, with more and more increasing negative consequences and decreasing effectiveness. So it can be an easy resource for especially those of us that are genetically predisposed with families, with alcohol addiction, mental health, stuff like that. We can be super wired to find this as a resource, oh, alcohols work so great for me. And then to use it too much because we're genetically predisposed if it's in our family history. And also if we had childhood trauma, those aren't required to become addicted to alcohol, but they certainly are prevalent, and they certainly increase the chances with a lot of people. It's not destiny, but it's one potential option. Number nine, it's easily accessible.

Oh, wow. This is the most easily accessible drug there is, for most of us. Maybe some people live in a dry county in Utah or something, and for a few hundred miles, for example, there's nowhere to buy alcohol, but they know five different people that sell heroin or something like that. So in that case, alcohol is not the most easily accessible drug to those people. But for most of us, alcohol largely is the most accessible, the most easily accessible, the most socially acceptable drug around. Just where I live right now, off the top of my head. I can think of one, two, three, four, about five or six stores. There's about five or six stores within maybe a two minute drive from where I live, and within maybe a 10 to 15 minute walk, five or six stores that serve alcohol and that have good rates, affordable rates on alcohol.

If you have an ID showing that you're of legal age, you can easily get alcohol, no other stipulations, easily accessible. That's one of the biggest reasons I find that my clients that quit opioids and then don't know where to get them anymore if they delete their dealer's number or they tell their doctor that they're addicted and don't want prescribed anymore, this is no longer an easily accessible substance for some of my clients. It makes it so much easier to get through early opioid recovery if they don't know where to get opioids, or it's very difficult to get opioids, versus some people that I help, they have all the resources in the whole world to be able to quit opioids, but they have two or three dealers numbers memorized, burned into their memory for goods. So even when they delete the numbers, it's seared burned into their memory from them texting and calling so many times and hooking up.

So then it's like about, well, what do you do in that situation if you know all those phone numbers, it makes it a lot harder. That is one of the reasons alcohol is difficult to quit. So opioids, when all of a sudden it's out of sight, out of mind, out of accessibility, out of mind, we don't have that luxury with alcohol. Most of us don't, like I said, unless you live in a dry community or some other country where. In America, we've got country of excess here in America. We have over excess of all the junk foods and fast foods and alcohol and nicotine products and pornography, and so much else. I guess anywhere with the internet has the pornography, but I mean, America, you can get stuff, a lot of different, these things that boost your mood quickly, but aren't necessarily the best long-term adaptive behaviors.

And we can get a lot of the stuff delivered right to our front door without even having to leave our home. So easily accessible, the more accessible a substance is the harder it's usually to abstain from it, at least during the earliest recovery phases, whether it's from alcohol or drugs. That was one of the reasons when I quit opioids this last time, more than 10 years ago, I wasn't relapsing because I did not remember my dealer's phone number, thank goodness. And I deleted their number and they didn't text me back. So, I mean, it was really lucky and fortunate that I didn't know where to get opioids. I had no idea, I could always go ask random people in the bad neighborhoods where there's drug dealers, but that's not easy accessibility, that is potential accessibility with a lot of time and energy and risk that would have to go into it and uncertainty with no clear prognosis that it would actually be a successful adventure that I'd succeed in attaining my goal of getting the opioids.

So that makes it harder to relapse, harder to slip, when it's harder to get access to it. All right, number 10, lack of education on addiction, lack of addiction education, and a caveat in here would be, or lack of helpful addiction knowledge. There's a lot of addiction education that one can learn online from books, from 12 step meetings and other support groups, self-help groups, treatment programs, but oftentimes that addiction education is not enough to really give the person a good enough understanding to make alcohol not cunning, baffling, and powerful out of all the addiction education out there. Look for this stuff, look for everything that you can that after you've finished learning about it from that source, alcohol feels less cunning, less baffling, and less powerful the more you learn about it, and the more you learn about addiction and alcohol addiction and detox and recovery and treatment, and the more self-knowledge you acquire.

All right. So that is going to conclude this episode. Let me give you a little preview of just some of the other ones that I wrote up here. Number 11, triggers remain. Number 12, not enough support. Number 13, not enough accountability. Number 14, not using effective alcohol alternatives. 15, the lockdowns wired the world for drinking home and alone. 16 boredom. 17 mental health issues. And 18 a service to self-bias and recalibration period. So really that's 18. So what I think I'll do probably next time is do numbers 11 through 18, or maybe I'll do one with Chris to where we go over these same exact 10, and we have a discussion on it and go deeper into these things. That might be really fun too. Not sure, but anyways, as always thanks so much for listening, we really appreciate you guys. We love you so, so much, take good care of yourself and I can't wait to teach you on the next podcast and continue to help you gain the tools and resources and skills and information that you need for yourself to be able to transform your own life. Take care.

Chris Scott: Hey everyone, Chris Scott here. If you like the information on today's episode regarding supplementation and empowerment strategies for addiction recovery, then please subscribe to the Elevation Recovery podcast and leave us a rating and review on iTunes. And if you benefited directly from this information, I'm confident in saying that you'll love the information packed online courses that Matt Finch and I have created. Matt Finch's Ultimate Opiate Detox 4.0, is a six module 30 activity course that contains video lessons, written lessons, PDF downloads, worksheets, audios, and much more. And it has everything you could possibly need to know to conquer opioid addiction in the easiest and most comfortable way possible. My own course, Total Alcohol Recovery 2.0, is the most cutting edge resource for anyone who wants to transcend alcohol and build their best lives. To get these courses, to learn more and to read testimonials, simply go to opiateaddictionsupport.com/ultimate. Again, that's opiateaddictionsupport.com/ultimate. For Matt's course, or for my course, go to fit-recovery.com/course. Again, that's fit-recovery.com/course. You can also go to elevationrecovery.com to see the show notes for this episode.

Author

  • Chris Scott founded Fit Recovery in 2014 to help people from around the world dominate alcohol dependence and rebuild their lives from scratch. A former investment banker, he recovered from alcohol dependence using cutting-edge methods that integrate nutrition, physiology, and behavioral change. Today, Chris is an Alcohol Recovery Coach and the creator of an online course called Total Alcohol Recovery 2.0.

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