LACK OF EXCITEMENT
When we stop drinking, some of us experience a general lack of excitement for all those activities, either social or solitary, that we used to enjoy when they were accompanied by a glass or ten.
Imagine alcohol, coming to you, and saying, “It’s not you … it’s me”. Well, that’s because it is! The reason for the lack of excitement is purely chemical, it really isn’t personal and it has nothing to do with you.
Alcohol is the only drug that engages with (and alters) almost every neurotransmitter in our brain. One of them is DOPAMINE, the so-called “feel-good hormone”. When you think of dopamine your mind might travel to anything that makes you feel good and excited, seeing your good friends, going to a party, going on a trip, finally doing something you had been looked forward to. When I stopped drinking none of this would have made me feel remotely good. The idea of seeing my friends could not be extricated by having an alcoholic drink in front of me. The thought of it was absolutely bizarre and I wasn’t interested, at all. But I didn’t know why.
When I stopped drinking the second time and I started to suck up every information I could find on alcohol, I learned that drinking alcohol floods the reward centre of the mid-brain (also known as emotional, limbic or mammal brain) with dopamine. As the reward centre of the brain is connected to motivation and memory, your brain learns that every time it receives alcohol, it experiences a dopamine spike, which is pleasurable and, because of that, it will drive you to do it over and over again. Your brain made the connection alcohol=pleasure, the connection is reinforced and the job is done.
On top of this, it’s also important to note that the quantity of dopamine released by drinking alcohol is higher than the amount it would produce in pleasurable activities that do not involve the use of substances. As well as releasing big quantities of dopamine, alcohol also decreases the number of dopamine receptors in your body and, as a result, your brain stops producing these chemicals naturally. This is why a lot of people who stop drinking experience subsequent periods of sadness or depression. As you all know, whatever goes up, has to come down.
The other astonishing fact that blew my mind wide open is that it may take up to 14 months, let me say it again, FOURTEEN MONTHS of complete abstention from it for our dopamine levels to return to normal. So, as dopamine affects your mood, motivation and feelings of pleasure and reward, if you don’t feel any of those, or don’t feel them as you wished or expected you did, this is why. It’s not because life without alcohol is dull and boring. It’s because your brain is not producing enough dopamine or at all. Additionally, this behaviour is not conscious. So, please, don’t blame yourself. Your brain is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do. If you had someone working for you, would you be doing it yourself? A big FAT “NO”.
The other good news, though, is that you will start to feel the first improvements in your mood around the three months’ mark. This is why, when my clients come to me, I usually suggest to them if they would be willing to be alcohol-free for three months as a start instead of one, because if you are an habitual drinker and you go sober for one month, your experience won’t be as rewarding as you had envisaged, and, without knowing what I explained above, you might get discouraged. And we know what we can do when our heart sinks. Here’s another reason why it can be useful to be working with a practitioner who can be there to help you process your feelings and support your through your struggles as they come up.
Also, we have tapping, and tapping can help us hugely in this period of time to take down all the uncomfortable feelings and cravings that might arise as a consequence of stopping drinking.