Everything You Wanted to Know About the Saying “Falling Off the Wagon”

In episode number 256 of Elevation Recovery, Chris Scott and Matt Finch discuss the saying “fall off the wagon” and how it relates to alcoholism. They explain the meaning of the phrase, the origin behind the phrase, and how people fall off the wagon. They also provide some resources in order to help you stay on or get back on the wagon.

Fell Off The Wagon – History of Idiom

The idiom fell off the wagon started off with on the water cart. Around the late 1800s, there was a prevalence of horse-drawn carts that had big water tanks on them and they would use them commonly in cities with dirt roads. In the hot summertime, these horse-drawn carts would use water to dampen dirt roads and thus mitigate the dust. In the same era, long before prohibition, there was like a temperance movement and there was a League of the Anti-saloon. In these leagues, they would have members pledge their eternal sobriety as a form of self-improvement and improving their character, as well as to set a good example. A lot of it was based on sin and redemption with religious undertones.

League members were reported to say “Although I’m thirsty indeed, I rather jump aboard the water cart and take a drink than accept a stiff drink.”

Another theory is that people that had committed to sobriety would ride atop wagons (aka carts) through town for everyone to see them committing their pledge to sobriety.

Thus, it started off on the water cart, and then it progressed to on the water wagon, and once those things started to die off and you didn’t see water wagons anymore it progressed to on the wagon.

If you’re on the wagon, that means you’re not drinking or it’s also been bastardized to mean you could use it for, “I’m on the wagon with opioids,” or, “Oh, I’m on the wagon with my sex addiction.”

You could translate it to anything really, make it your own. So on the wagon means abstinence or recovery from a substance or behavior, and then falling off the wagon means you’ve returned to active alcohol use or drug use or whatever behavior use after a period of abstinence.

Falling Off The Wagon – Everything You Need To Know

Many people are currently on the wagon and are alcohol-free or free from other addictions. Additionally, many have fallen off the wagon and are trying or at least wanting to get back on the wagon.

And it’s for this reason that Chris and Matt created this info-packed episode on Falling Off The Wagon – Everything You Need To Know.

You can benefit from it by watching, listening, or reading the transcript, and thus whatever your preferred content consumption modality you can dig in without further ado.

Links to Resources Mentioned in this Episode:

Here are some ways to learn from this episode:


Chris Scott: On the wagon implies a risk of falling off the wagon. I think that's one of the reasons I don't love the term, because it seems like a precarious place to be in. It's like, all right, you're on the wagon now, but you're going to spend the rest of your life on a wagon? Doesn't seem tenable. Now, I've heard my dad, I think at some point talk about being on the wagon or off the wagon with drinking soda, with sugar in it. And this was years ago, this coincided with him also quitting drinking, which he did not have a problem with. And every time I talk to him, he always remarks, "Why don't more people understand how much better life is without alcohol?" And I was, "I don't know. I'm working on it." But it seems like people are increasingly realizing that that's the case.

Chris Scott: So if someone is comfortable saying that they're on the wagon or they want to say that they're on the wagon for the rest of their lives, that's another way of them saying they've transcended alcohol or they've transcended addiction and all power to it. The same way that I don't judge anyone who says that they're an alcoholic in recovery. I think the self-defeating and potentially depressing language comes more from saying that you're powerless.

Speaker 2: Thanks for tuning into the Elevation Recovery Podcast, your hub for addiction recovery strategies, hosted by Chris Scott and Matt Finch.

Matt Finch: Welcome to the show, everyone. My name's Matt Finch and I'm joined with my friend and co-host Chris Scott and papaya the bird, bringing you episode 256, which is on the term fall off the wagon, everything you need to know. So we're going to talk about what it means to fall off the wagon, what it means to be on the wagon, the origin of the idiom fell off the wagon. That's kind of cool backstory. If you don't know about that, that's really kind of funny and interesting. We're going to talk about how to get back on the wagon, how to stay on the wagon after you've got back on the wagon, the dangers of relapse, the prevalence of people during the COVID pandemic lockdowns falling off the wagon, have the hard time getting back on the wagon, et cetera. And then finally, we're going to talk about some of the best resources for getting back on the wagon and staying on the wagon.

Matt Finch: And oftentimes the same resources are helpful for both of those. Usually what a person did to overcome alcohol use disorder, and we're going to talk about other things too, drug addiction behaviors, because falling off the wagon has been kind of a, what's the word I'm looking for? Bastardized to not just be about alcohol, but to be about I'm on the wagon for a certain diet or for a certain drug addiction or any behavior that you want to cancel. So thanks so much for joining me, Chris, and thank you papaya too. Let's rock this out.

Chris Scott: Good to be here. I think we should start with the backstory about being on the wagon, falling off the wagon. Any of these wagoneers out there might want to know what that is before we dive into it.

Matt Finch: Yeah. I love wagons. My love of wagons started when I was a little kid and we'd go to the ocean beach to watch the 4th of July fireworks that happened around 8:50 PM-9:00 PM. They'd shoot them off the end of the ocean beach pier. So when I was a little kid, maybe five, six, I can remember since my parents lived so close to the beach, we didn't have to drive down there and get stuck in all that traffic. So we had a little red wagon that my dad would tow and all.

Chris Scott: I got to pause. I'm struggling here because, and we'll cut this out. There's a very funny inside joke with one of my friends who's, I'll say uncut, it's referred to as the hooded wagon. And he talks about his wagon all the time. So I needed to get that out. Sorry. I don't usually crack up, but I was struggling.

Matt Finch: No sweat. That's good-

Chris Scott: Lily will understand, or you can cut it out either way.

Matt Finch: Yep.

Chris Scott: Awesome. Go ahead.

Matt Finch: And so my dad would... Sorry again. So my dad would tug us in the wagon. First it was just myself and my little brother, then eventually it was my little sister too. So there'd be three of us kids in the red wagon getting towed down to the beach to watch the fireworks. And so that was a great experience with the wagon. Then it turns out, when you talk about the history of the idiom, fell off the wagon, I think it started with on the water cart. So around the late 1800s, there was a prevalence of these horse-drawn carts that had big water tanks on them and they would use them commonly in cities back then, late 1800s, the roads were dirt, and in the summertime in a lot of these cities, it would be really hot.

Matt Finch: So there'd be lots of dust. So these horse-drawn or mule-drawn water carts would put water to dampen these dirt roads and thus mitigate the dust. And so there's a bunch to theories on how exactly it happened, but one of them is that around the same time, long before prohibition, there was like a temperance movement, and there was this League of the Anti-saloon. I'm paraphrasing the name, but it was like, there was these leagues that were anti-saloon where they would have members pledge their eternal sobriety as a form of self-improvement and improving their character, as well as to set a good example. A lot of it was based on sin and redemption. A lot of it had religious undertones and back then much of the stuff was like that.

Matt Finch: And so what they would also do was these people that were going to these anti-saloon clubs, they'd say things like, "I'm thirsty indeed. Although I'm thirsty, indeed I rather jump aboard the water cart and take a drink than accept a stiff drink." Another theory is that people that had committed to sobriety would ride through wagons, same thing as a cart, just another word, ride on top of wagons, through town for the whole town to see thus committing their pledge to sobriety. And so it's not like, falling off the wagon as you're so drunk and you're riding in a wagon and you fall off. So yeah, it started off on the water cart, and then it went to on the water wagon, then it just, once those things started to die off and you didn't see them anymore, the water carts, then it just became on the wagon.

Matt Finch: So then, if you're on the wagon, that means you're not drinking or it's also been bastardized to mean you could use it for, "I'm on the wagon with opioids," or, "Oh, I'm on the wagon with my sex addiction." You could translate it to anything really, make it your own. So on the wagon means abstinence or recovery of substance or behavior, and then falling off the wagon or I fell off the wagon, what does that mean? It means you've returned to active alcohol use or drug use or whatever behavior use after a period of abstinence. So that's the origin of the phrase, fell off the wagon.

Chris Scott: Interesting stuff. I actually didn't know that. I always assume that if people fell off the wagon, it's because they'd gotten drunk and they fell off the wagon. But I never wondered. I don't love this term, to be honest. I think it's an important one to discuss because it's in our common vernacular, but I've tried to distance myself from the sort of puritanical underpinnings of what we think of as the recovery culture, which is still there and it's not as Christian or religious. And I have no problem with Christianity per se. I was raised Christian, but I see no reason to excessively moralize or infuse with a religious faver. Something that to me is just an obvious fact of life, which is that life without alcohol is better or life beyond alcohol is better.

Chris Scott: I've had a lot of clients and course members who were not sure that they wanted to quit drinking, but wanted to take an indefinite break. And as we've stressed lately in the last few months, you don't have to be 100% sure that you want to be 100% sober or abstinence or committed to sobriety, which is another word I don't like. I just don't like the sound of it. I don't know what it is. I don't say that I'm in sobriety. For sure. And I guess in some ways I'm not, I mean, I'll sometimes recreationally use kratom or CBD, rarely kratom. Now I can't remember the last time that I did. But I'm not clean or sober, I guess I'm off the wagon. But in some ways, I guess I'm on the wagon because I've totally transcended my addiction.

Chris Scott: I think alcohol is pretty useless. The short term experience for me is not particularly desirable. So I often think of someone who's on the wagon as almost white knuckling. And I don't know if that's a misinterpretation and again, I don't want to offend anyone who's proudly on the wagon, because good for them. Because life without alcohol or without their addiction is a lot better. But I've tried to avoid that moralizing sense that seems to come as part of the territory, which I really didn't like in early recovery. And I was actually relieved when I started framing my recovery and optimization and just whole life picture as a practical benefit rather than as a really hard, moral decision that I was trying to be a saint or a martyr and sacrificing, in other words, giving up something of higher value, alcohol, for something of lower value, which is my day-to-day life experience.

Chris Scott: It seems to me it's the opposite. There's no sacrifice involved once you realize that what's of higher value is feeling great, most of the time, and being fit, having mental clarity, having good relationships, having a sense of purpose, getting eight hours of sleep, being able to taste your food, not having ridiculous hangovers in the morning. To me, when I frame it like that, it's almost like, well, there's no desire, there's no sacrifice than living a life without alcohol. But I suppose in some sense, since I am happy and I'm not a drinker, I'm on the wagon. I don't know.

Matt Finch: It's cool that you brought that up, because even on one of the flashcards that you don't like the phrase. Obviously you know that I don't like the phrase either, but this podcast, it's not about what you and I prefer, although it's heavily biased towards what you and I prefer. It's like this big recovery menu that obviously is biased through our eyes and on the eyes of the guests that we interview, but one of the things I wrote under the flashcard, how typical is it for an alcoholic to fall off the wagon, then underneath that I wrote, oh, I got an idea. And what about the stigma of being on the wagon, the stigma of falling off the wagon? There's so much stigma attached to both the term alcoholic, which has been now in the DSM-5, diagnostic statistical manual, part five it's alcohol use disorder, and then there's mild, moderate or severe.

Matt Finch: So language is something that's, I find that is, can be disempowering or empowering for that particular individual. So like, customizing language for some people saying they're an alcoholic with a disease seems to be empowering for them. To me, it's disempowering, but it's the only terminology that's ever worked for those particular people to actually do good and stay with that mainstream language. For you and I, that mainstream addiction language never resonated intuitively from probably the very beginning. It was just like, there's got to be different stuff. So you and I, for so many years now, have been just dedicating the professional part of our lives to helping people to just ask questions about this stuff, not to tell anybody what to do or how to think, but certainly tell people how we think, what we use to think compared to what we think now, what we used to believe to compared to what we believe now.

Matt Finch: What do you think about that? Just how much stigma? Even to this day, 2022, the stigma has gone down quite a bit. The pandemic did help with that, but still there's still this mainstream recovery ideology or dogma that's embedded into the full fabric of society at large, all of American culture, and other countries as well. And within that, there's some trigger words, alcoholic, fall off the wagon, on the wagon. I think a lot of people don't realize that they can consciously and intentionally choose to use different terms and words, if they want to, they don't have to say certain things and believe certain things just because other people have told them that. Like instead of I'm on the wagon, it's like, I'm in the process of transcending alcohol, mofos. How about that empowering language?

Chris Scott: Right. Yeah. And I mean, I guess that be too complex of a statement that would require a long explanation for most people to use it. But yeah, I mean, simply saying I don't drink rather than I'm on the wagon. On the wagon implies a risk of falling off the wagon. I think that's one of the reasons I don't love the term. Because it seems like a precarious place to be in. It's like, all right, you're on the wagon now, but you're going to spend the rest of your life on a wagon? Doesn't seem tenable. Without going through too much semantics, I mean, I've heard my dad, I think at some point talk about being on the wagon or off the wagon with drinking soda, with sugar in it. For a long time, he would drink San Pellegrino, but the fruit kind with the sugars, and this was years ago, this coincided with him also quitting drinking, which he did not have a problem with.

Chris Scott: And every time I talk to him, he always remarks, "Why don't more people understand how much better life is without alcohol?" And I was, "I don't know. I'm working on it." But it seems like people are increasingly realizing that that's the case. So if someone is comfortable saying that they're on the wagon or they want to say that they're on the wagon for the rest of their lives, that's another way of them saying they've transcended alcohol or they've transcended and all power to it. The same way that I don't judge anyone who says that they're an alcoholic in recovery. I think the self-defeating and potentially depressing language comes more from saying that you're powerless. Powerlessness and depression seem to be intimately related, as far as I can tell. I mean, depression results from feeling helpless or powerless to change something.

Chris Scott: But some people apparently, and I'm sure there's someone out there listening who's in AA and really following their program. Some people apparently develop a sense of comfort with that identity. And if it keeps them away from alcohol, then good for them. I don't judge, it's not my approach, but clearly it's worked for some people. So I think that terms evolve, stigma evolves. My sense is that over the last decade, we've seen a reduction in stigma about addiction generally due to the opioid crisis. It's hard to find someone who doesn't know someone touched by the opioid crisis. And now I know you had your own opioid addiction. I've never had really an experience with opioids, I guess, kratoms and opioid kind of. And I kind of like it. I take a micro dose. I take like an eighth of a teaspoon these days if I ever use it.

Chris Scott: I took half of a Percocet once after I had my tonsils out in college and the room started spinning. I thought I was going to puke. And it was one of the worst experiences ever. I hated it. So I'm not wired for opioid addiction apparently. And that's a biochemical phenomenon, but I really think that because so many people currently are, everyone knows someone who's been touched by it. And so as a society, our collective consciousness started to reassess the image of the stereotypical addict with all of those adjectives, worthless, incapable, incompetent, stupid, irresponsible, and all of those attributes. And we started thinking, no, actually it could be my neighbor, who's really nice. It could be a mom who's raised five kids. It could be someone who's really accomplished. It could be a kid who's a star football player and broke his leg and then was prescribed too many pain pills for too long.

Chris Scott: So I think we're making progress in terms of the stigma surrounding addiction, which is something that I care about on a mass level, but I never cared about for myself. I always preferred a more stoic assessment of my situation that really wouldn't give other people, including broader society power over me by caring what the hell they think. I mean, back in 2014, I had a very nice boss, very nice people, but there was like a mutual decision on my part and their part for me to go our separate ways as soon as I ended up in detox and told them what had happened, because I know part of it was that the stigma, you can't have a person like that on your team.

Chris Scott: I don't think that exists so much anymore. I think companies are way more likely to help people out and to extend support and resources. I've even heard of companies offering to pay for our coaching services and for people to enroll in our online course, Total Alcohol Recovery 2.0. Obviously insurance covers some rehab expenses for people, but oftentimes companies and managers are stepping up to the point and saying, "Look, this employee's really good. I understand this is a brain issue." They might not know anything beyond that, but they know it's not a character issue. And so I think in addition to that, we got all of that progress from an unfortunate event, which was the opioid crisis and how broadly that extended, but now we're seeing the reduction in stigma 2.0 coming again, from alcohol. And I shouldn't leave out opioids because we have a terrible crisis with opioids. It never really led up, but it's gotten worse since the pandemic.

Chris Scott: Almost everything that could be categorized in the mental health arena has gotten worse since the pandemic and the lockdowns. And it's been overlooked because for a long time, the only thing people have cared about is transmissibility of the virus. So there are all these other things and nuances going on, but it's easy for people to get sucked into a one dimension. So as that dissipates, I think we're going to continue to find that there are a ton of people who have started drinking while working from home, who have, maybe they had a problem that they had kept under control, they barely kept together before the lockdowns and pandemic and various dislocations that we've had as a result of those things, and then all of a sudden imploded. There's a certain amount of time, you and I both know, during which an addiction can be fun. And there's no way in hell, you would stop doing it.

Chris Scott: It's fun for a while. It's fun until it becomes an exhausted resource. Or at the very least, it's fun until you start experiencing massive cognitive dissonance because some disaster unfolds, maybe you get a DUI and it costs you $10,000 or more. Maybe you go to the doctor and they say, "Hey, your liver enzymes are off the charts." Or maybe you let down someone, you do something really dumb. You start slacking off at work and you don't even realize it. There are a number of things that can happen that lead people towards that inflection point from having fun with their addiction, almost like the honeymoon phase of an addiction and realizing that they need to make a big change. I am predicting now that in the next year or two, a lot of people, a lot more than even have in the last year, which is a substantial number will realize they need to make a change. And at that point, we're going to see an even bigger reduction in the stigma against addiction, particularly alcohol addiction as well, not just opioids.

Matt Finch: Right on. Yeah. I'm glad you brought up opioids too. In 2020, like you said, they've been really obsessed with the total number of people that have died with Covid. And luckily, there are some media outlets that have been talking about the death toll. In 2020, there was more than 100,000 people died from drug or alcohol or combination overdose. That's like by far, the biggest year ever. I think it was even closer to 110,000 or maybe 120,000 overdose deaths. More than 50%, so the majority of all those overdose deaths were from fentanyl. Fentanyl is a fully synthetic opioid that's usually up to 100 times more powerful than morphine.

Matt Finch: So yeah, then moving the stigma aside, what can cause a person to relapse instead of falling off the wagon, whatever they want to call it, what can cause a person that has been abstinent or in some program of recovery, not using alcohol or not using drugs or anything, what can cause them, two questions, Chris. How often is it for people to slip or relapse AKA fall off the wagon? And how common is it for people to get on the wagon in the first place?

Chris Scott: Well, as we've established, being on the wagon or falling off the wagon or slipping off the wagon or relapsing off the wagon, all of these are arbitrary constructed terms, right? And a lot of times people might decide they fell off the wagon when another person, if you apply the same metric, they didn't, right? So in that you can see a distinction, for example, between a slip and a relapse, which a lot of rehabs centers even make. A relapse is a return to active addiction, typically with physical or extreme psychological dependency. And that's how I would define a relapse. Now, a slip, it seems is a little more vague and arbitrary. A slip seems to me, you did something that you really didn't want to do or mean to do, which is also confusing. Because why would you do something you don't want to do?

Chris Scott: It could just be that you didn't fully extinguish the subconscious autopilot that sustained your past addiction. And so you fell into old habits, that's a slip, but you didn't actually rekindle the addiction near where it was before. So then you get back on the wagon and you hopefully don't have a slip or a relapse again. But as I've said, I've had people join my course who had a goal to either take an indefinite break to see how optimized they could become and how good they could feel without alcohol. And I've had some who just wanted to use it to cut down on alcohol, which is fine. I think people are going to do what they ultimately want to do, right?

Chris Scott: So I don't believe that you and I exist to tell people from down on high that you need to live without alcohol or else you're banished. That's how rehab centers operate. They kick out people all the time because they drink. And they never ask, "What's the root of the person's inclination to drink? They might ask, "Was it a slip or a relapse?" They might actually be compassionate and not kick them out, but it does happen.

Chris Scott: There are a number of things can cause someone to have a slip or a relapse. I mean, your own free will can do that. If you haven't totally reframed alcohol or your drug as an undesirable substance, or at least as something that in the grand scheme of things isn't worth the trade-off, then you're very susceptible to having a slip or a relapse. A lot of people will fall off the wagon because they have biochemical deficiencies or imbalances that they never addressed. And so it's actually not possible for them, biochemically, to feel as good as they do when they are using alcohol or drugs. And so who wants to live a life that feels like it's in black and white and you feel kind of fragile and you're tired or anxious or both, or you have nervous exhaustion? We only have so much willpower in our reserves. So if you're running on willpower fumes, then you're very susceptible to a slip or a relapse.

Chris Scott: And I would say generally speaking, because that could go on forever. What could cause a slip or a relapse or a divorce? It's a loss of life of a friend or a family member, global events, watching the news too much, having cortisol and adrenaline and glutamate frying your body at all times because you don't manage stress well, being stuck in situations or relationships or jobs that you really resent, but you don't want to admit you resent them. I see there the TMS equivalent for addiction, where there's a certain anger or subconscious rage or resentment that can then trigger you to go find solace in something that really the trade-off isn't that good, but at least in the immediate moment, you get to escape, so escapism.

Chris Scott: But really, all of this just means that if you fall off the wagon, so to speak, however you define that, you have missing links somewhere in that hierarchy of recovery, somewhere in either the biochemical, psychological, social or spiritual pillars of recovery, but also life optimization and fulfillment. And as my dad said, and I've said this before on this podcast, but my dad who quit drinking, he'll use terminology I don't like. He'll say, "I gave up drinking and I'll stop it." I'll say, "Did you give it up? Because it sounds like you're upset about it." He'll say, "No, I quit it because who wants it?" Like, "All right, that sounds better." We have to be careful about the language that we use when we talk about things. I'm not allowed to drink because I'm an alcoholic. That was always my least favorite thing that I would hear people say in earlier recovery. It's like, who's disallowing you from drinking? Of course, you're allowed to drink. And that label that you slapped on yourself, I hope you're happy with it because that's how your self image is going to be formed.

Chris Scott: But my dad would always note that the hierarchy of recovery, which is what we call it, is actually as applicable to anyone seeking to optimize their lives and live a full, happy life, whether or not they've had an issue with alcohol or have had a past addiction. So I think if you have missing link in those pillars in your biochemistry, your psychology, your social life, or your spiritual development, then you're going to be prone to potentially self-sabotaged or escapism or acting in ways that are not in accordance with your deepest values and your deepest desired outcomes for yourself.

Matt Finch: I love that. I love all that stuff. A image that popped into my head too was riding a wagon that's like going maybe 10 miles an hour. And then sometimes maybe you slip, maybe you hit a bump in the road as you're riding the wagon and you slip off, but then you just get right back on. Back in my past drinking life, sometimes I would slip and get right back on. Ooh, accidental slip, get back on. Other times, Chris, I would get all [inaudible 00:29:14] and I'd be like, "Yes." And I would run, get a running head start and I'd do a back, running gainer, going as fast as I could running and then doing a back flip where I'm running forward off the wagon, landing and going straight to the liquor store, fully conscious of exactly what I was doing, didn't give a shit.

Matt Finch: So sometimes it seemed like autopilot, where I didn't want to drink. I didn't want to drink. I was abstaining. I was abstaining. Then all of a sudden something would happen. I didn't even know. Sometimes it didn't seem like anything would happen. I'd find myself autopilot, hypnosis, OCD style, going to the liquor store to purchase alcohol or going to the bar sometimes. And was like, "Don't do this, don't do this." But my brain was saying one thing and my body was doing another. That's really hard when a person can't even control that. It almost seems like the more severe someone's alcohol use is, the more severe their free will has depreciated as their biochemistry and body physiology in general has depleted so much and alcohol has robbed it of all the ability to deal with stress and feel happy, joyous, and free without that particular substance. We've talked about the dangers of relapse a bunch. Let's go now to how can a person get back on, whatever they call it, the sober train, the water cart, the water wagon, the wagon, into recovery, into abstinence? What are some things that you recommend?

Chris Scott: Right. Well, I would say identify and resolve those missing links in those biopsychosocial spiritual pillars that everyone has in their lives. That looks different for everyone. I mean, that's the only one-size-fits-all really sentence about recovery that I've ever been able-

Matt Finch: How about self compassion, immense self compassion, rather than beating yourself up?

Chris Scott: Sure. Absolutely. And I think that's... So there are a number of things and also nutrient repair. To the extent you have a chemical dependency, you definitely have biochemical imbalances that could be ameliorated through the use of targeted nutrients, like amino acids. And also of course, as vitamin mineral co-factors, fatty acids that are involved in numerous bodily processes, important for brain function. I've, in the last few months, I've done high dose fish oil, not as part of recovery. I mean, I transcended alcohol years ago, but to help with brain fog, to help with mood and energy levels. And it's helped tremendously. I have like five to 10 grams of really, really, really high quality fish oil every single day. And I feel the difference. So there are lots of things that people can do that are not talked about in the mainstream. And that's why you and I do this podcast.

Chris Scott: If I had known about high dose fish oil back when I was struggling, I'm confident now in saying, because there's research backing this up, that with that supplement alone, I could have decreased my suffering at the very least. I won't say that I could have single handedly transcendent alcohol because of fish oil, but Dr. John Umhau, who we've had on the podcast, who we'll have again soon, hopefully, we've had him on a few times, wonderful guy, brilliant guy, worked at the NIH as an alcohol researcher and epidemiologists for decades. He conducted a study once where homeless people were given high dose oil, or actually, maybe they were just told to eat more fish, but either way, they were given fish oil and, or given a lot of fish to eat. Either way, they were getting more omega threes. And the ones that didn't get that had way higher rates of relapse. And some of the ones who did get more omega threes simply spontaneously quit their drinking.

Chris Scott: Now, it could have been that those were people who didn't have severe chemical dependence. Now, obviously when you have severe chemical dependence, you either need to taper down, which you can do with alcohol. It's been done for thousands of years. Or the easiest, most painless or least painful way to do it is to go get benzodiazepines from a doctor. And you can, depending on what they want you to do, you might have to be in a detox facility, which is not cheap, or you can finish that script at home. So can you refresh me on where that question was going? Because I think I've gotten on a tangent.

Matt Finch: Well, I keep thinking about a homeless person with liquid fish oil and then dosing up their alcoholic beverages with liquid fish oil. I know that's not what the study was, but a lot of these fish oils now, Wild Alaskan liquid fish oil, I take that sometimes. I take fish oil pretty much every single night, but that liquid one I take sometimes. It's got high dose and I can't taste it at all-

Chris Scott: I can't either.

Matt Finch: So it's like, well, what if-

Chris Scott: It's got lemon oil. I think they have some natural lemon in there. It's Nordic Naturals, is the brand I use. And I know people are going to hear this and they're going to think, oh, I found the answer. I just need to go get some fish oil, that might help. I hope it does, but that's the tip of the iceberg because it's not just fish oil-

Matt Finch: That's a fish of the iceberg.

Chris Scott: A fish of the iceberg, there are amino acids, vitamins, minerals. We could talk about a list of supplements on every podcast, but it's not the list itself, it's how to use them. And so that's also why we do what we do, why we spend time in the course, helping people, giving them individual guidance so that they know how to take the supplements, because it's no help if you take supplements incorrectly or at suboptimal dosages, or if they stay in your cabinet for years. I do have supplements that have been in my cabinet for years, but they're kind of like insurance policies in case I need them again for whatever reason. And it's kind of cool and empowering knowing what they all do. I've spent thousands of dollars on supplements and I don't think a penny of it was wasted. Anytime something really didn't work, I'd send it back. Almost all supplement companies have a return policy.

Chris Scott: So it's almost like there's nothing to lose with giving this a try, but you have to know what to look for. And it's always helpful to have an intellectual grasp of what you're doing when you use supplements to break that biochemical dependence, which can linger beyond what we think of as chemical dependency. Post-acute withdrawal can occur for a year or more after someone technically quits engaging in an addiction. Now, some people will say, "Well, dopamine levels normalize within 30 days of quitting something." That's the result of research that found that on average, that was the case for some people, but we can't really measure dopamine levels that effectively. We don't really know that.

Chris Scott: Now, that might be true for like a habit that's a moderately bad habit. You'll stop needing that habit in order to feel balanced. You might not feel a compulsion to do it. You might find other things. That's the way the brain works, neuroplasticity, but in the case of alcohol or opioids, which is a different beast, but still, you're depleting a lot of vital nutrients. Many people don't know that just one drink, one alcoholic drink increases magnesium excretion by multiple times what it should be. And you're also creating a tremendous amount of inflammation in the liver, in the gut, in the brain, and that gut, liver, brain access is something that Dr. Umhau Likes to talk about.

Chris Scott: So we need to find ways ideally to reduce that inflammation, to replace loss nutrients and to restore neurotransmitters. That's where the amino acids come in, because amino acids are precursors for those neurotransmitters like endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and GABA, et cetera, that you need in order to feel truly balanced. And so the whole thesis here is that when you feel balanced, when you attain the ability to feel balanced, stable, and then optimized, maybe even euphoric without things that grant you that cheaply, 20 minutes at a time in exchange for feeling good tomorrow, spending all of tomorrow's neurotransmitters today, feel good chemicals today, then you have a chance of actually effortlessly living the rest of your life without that addiction, because it accelerates the process of the substance becoming a moot substance.

Matt Finch: I'll be able to answer a lot of questions, hopefully about the intricacies of dopamine real soon. Yesterday, I got an email from Audible, my audible.com monthly account that said I had a new free credit. Towards the end of every month, I get a free credit. I think it's like $14.99 a month to have the account. And you get a free Audible credit, audiobook. And the one that I just picked was a very recent book. I forget the name of the author. She is a doctor. The title of the book is Dopamine Nation. And she was a recent guest on the Huberman Labs Podcast. Andrew Huberman, the awesome neuroscientist guy that's blowing up his podcast all over YouTube. So that is a long book too. So I'm going to learn from this lady that she's really, really smart.

Matt Finch: I know about dopamine, of course, but I've never read or listened to a whole book on dopamine, Dopamine Nation. I've never even heard that term, dopamine nation. But when I think about America, I don't know if I can think of many other terms that would kind of fit as well as that one, with our smart phones, laptops, desktops, tablets, Netflix, Pornhub, liquor stores, video games, just all the different ways that we can, as you were saying, take a shortcut to feel good, by doing something that ultimately is not as healthy as taking a long way to start feeling good. I've been feeling really good lately just by going for a walk in the sun. It was cloudy here for ages. Now, I've been barefoot walking in nature in the sun again. When I do that daily or most days compared to all those weeks it was really cool and cloudy, I was tired, my mood was funky, I was just not very motivated to get a bunch of stuff done, it was getting dark super early.

Matt Finch: Now, we've had this huge high pressure system, it's been in the seventies, low seventies, sunny, like I said, barefoot in nature, taking papaya with me on walks. I got another bag of a Epsom salt finally again, after being out for a while and just not going to get it. Epsom salt, some really good home cooked meals, and just a couple days of doing that is all it takes to get somebody feeling good again.

Matt Finch: Like, let's say, if they quit drinking and maybe they're going through a rough patch and they feel like drinking, or they feel like getting back on pills or whatever it is, there're these little things that if you've got this kind of referential index of things that you've done and you know that they're going to make you feel good, like the more those resources, self care habits, recovery habits, whatever you want to call them, that a person has and the more access you have to those in your physical proximity, the easier it is to choose all of those different options than it is to, "Oh, I know the fast shortcut, I'll just go buy some beer." Or, "I'll just go to my pill dealer, text my pill..." Why am I having a hard time saying that word? I'll just go get some Oxycodone and snort that. Oh, I'll just go get a little bit of teener of meth, take a few hits.

Matt Finch: That's the direct pathway to dopamine and other neurotransmitters depending on the substance, but it messes our brain up in most cases. And the more we do it, the more it messes our brain up through neuroplasticity. Our brain comes to rely on the substances to feel good. Then it can start to rely on the substances to avoid getting sick. Then when you're in there, you're pretty much physiologically dependent. And then from that point, it can be harder for some people to quit.

Matt Finch: But if I had just recently fallen off the wagon, if I had just slept or relapse, knowing what I know now, what I'd do is I'd sign up for your course, Total Alcohol Recovery 2.0, at fitrecovery.com/course, I think it is. If I couldn't afford that, then what I would do is I would check out these YouTube videos on Fit Recovery, some of the elevationrecovery.com podcast there, that there's no videos of. The Elevation Recovery YouTube channel. And I'd probably go on Audible or Amazon or to a bookstore nearby and I'd find like a new good book, a book and a journal. So I'd start journaling, I'd get a new personal development or addiction recovery book that intuitively felt like it was good for me right there.

Matt Finch: And then I'd just be in the learning and planning mode. Learning and planning, learning and planning, until I felt like I was ready to give it a shot again. Of course, there's so many different situations with alcohol, with drugs, with psychological dependence, physiological dependence, dependence of both of those times two, what is the person using the substance for? Is it for stress? Is it to forget? Is it for pain relief? Is it for euphoria and energy? And yada yada yada. But yeah, that's all I have to say. I think we mentioned the origin of the phrase. We talked about the stigma, the pandemic, how people can overcome this kind of cycle, this circular cycle of addiction, relapse, addiction, relapse, slip, slip, addiction, relapse, recovery, recovery, and whatever combination it is for that person. It's not a fun situation to be in. So if you have anything else to add, let me know.

Chris Scott: Yeah. Well, I think real quick, I want to say that I've been in a really good phase of getting up at about 6:30 in the morning, early for some people not early for others. I know some people like to get up at 4:00, something crazy. For me, it's early. And I do about an hour of work. I have a little bit of coffee, not too much. And then I go to the gym. I do sled pushes and pulls, that's my new everyday thing. And then I jump in the outdoor pool, which is really cold water. I think it was under 50 degrees the other day. It's probably over 50 at this point. And I go back and forth between that and the steam room. I'm lucky enough to have a steam room at the gym that I go to. And that whole process takes maybe 45 minutes to an hour at most, depending on how slow I am.

Chris Scott: I only do like six sets of the sled pushes and pulls, where I build it up. It's pretty heavy and I'm out of breath. My legs are burning and my lungs are burning when I'm done with that. But I get such a great dopamine release from that. And I always leave that gym thinking like, I'm starting my day, the sun's barely come up, because it's pretty early. And I feel so much better than I ever did with toxic alcohol, but I know it wouldn't have been possible for me without nutrient repair and without figuring out what my missing links were. And I think everyone can benefit from physiological stabilization and figuring out how to achieve euphoria naturally. And it's something that's just such a missing gap for mainstream recovery programs generally. So that's what you and I are all about.

Chris Scott: We talk about what we call the basics all the time on this podcast, sunlight, earthing outside. By the way, sunlight's something that I've been missing as well. And I've been meaning to get out and barefoot walk on the beach. I always feel so much better when I do that. I feel like my hormones are more optimized when I get at least 45 minutes of sun preferably in the morning. So there are always things. I mean, I guess you could say I've been falling off the wagon with sunlight lately, because I haven't been out there. So I need to get back on the wagon for sun.

Chris Scott: But I just wanted to wrap it up with that. For anyone who is feeling like they're stuck, you can absolutely get unstuck. The cool thing about the approaches that we talk about is that you don't have to dive all in all at once, you don't have to commit yourself moralistically to something forever, and yet you can let things like targeted supplements do a lot of the invisible work for you and then make it easier for you to commit to any other programs or psychology-based changes that you're making in your life.


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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