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The Alcohol Loop: A Game of Cat & Mouse

Alcohol is also known as ethyl alcohol or ethanol (yes, like the gas in your car!). Alcohol affects our brain chemistry and throws the body out of balance, beginning with the first drink. How? 

Drinking stimulates the pleasure center of the brain. The body reacts by releasing a counter chemical, dynorphin, to neutralize or turn down that stimulation. The body does this because it's always seeking to maintain homeostasis (or balance of its internal state), whether it’s body temperature or, in this case, the effects of alcohol. 

For some, an alcoholic drink is occasional; they can take it or leave it. For others, it’s not so simple. Some may find they drink larger amounts of alcohol than intended. They may spend a great deal of time drinking or trying to recover from drinking. Persons may find they have trouble meeting social, occupational, or other important obligations. Yet, they continue to drink even when alcohol has repeatedly caused physical or psychological problems. Eventually, these persons may find that they need more and more alcohol to get the same high. Worse, they may experience withdrawal symptoms (shaking, sweating, & "seeing things") when they abstain from alcohol use. Despite the warning signs of a drinking problem, it’s often difficult for a person in this alcohol loop to admit they are playing a game of cat and mouse with a seriously addictive substance.* 

An Autonomy coach uses the term “alcohol loop” to acknowledge the struggle for some individuals to moderate alcohol or become alcohol-free. The struggle is real. And, this is how it starts. With the first drink, ethanol crosses the blood-brain barrier. It shoots all over the place, bouncing off receptors – exciting some and inhibiting others. When the alcohol begins to cause an imbalance in the brain’s neurochemistry, the brain compensates. How? By taking glutamate (an excitatory neurotransmitter) and GABA (an inhibitory transmitter) in the opposite direction to stabilize it. As the alcohol wears off, the brain has to find stability again. This produces cravings for more alcohol. Brain circuits can become ingrained which makes cravings more difficult ( or impossible) to resist. It’s one of the reasons many persons struggle to stop drinking.

Sadly, this change in brain chemistry can leave a person feeling trapped - going around and around a never-ending loop. Good news! There is hope, and there is a solution. At Autonomy, we suggest the following book, This Naked Mind by Annie Grace, to explain why some of us struggle to stop this alcohol loop. Annie Grace shares how she became alcohol-free and how others are doing the same. Join Annie Grace’s online program, The Alcohol Experiment: A Free 30 Day Challenge, at https://thisnakedmind.com/the-alcohol-experiment/

Be free of the cat and mouse game. Be free of the substance. Let go of shame and guilt. 

Place the blame where it belongs. "It's the drink, not the drinker.” ~ Annie Grace 

The alcohol loop... 

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…can feel like this. 

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  • Did you know that alcohol is nearly 3 times more harmful than tobacco, even cocaine; and alcohol is 5 times more harmful than Benzodiazepines (Valium) according to The Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs from the Imperial College of London. 


References: 

This Naked Mind, Control Alcohol (2018), and The Alcohol Experiment (2020) by Annie Grace


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