My clients are typically in agreement about alcohol. It’s doing them no favors and they want to quit or cut back. But there is one hook that keeps many of them on the line: THE BUZZ! “It’s so fun!” “I’ll miss it!”
It’s true. That first hit of alcohol can give you a temporary feeling of pleasure. So why not have one drink, catch a buzz, and walk away?
A couple of reasons:
•Alcohol’s dopamine hit is more stimulating than the everyday, natural pleasures your brain was designed to enjoy. It throws your body out of homeostasis and your brain starts releasing counter-chemicals that bring you back down leaving you lower than when you started. This makes it hard to stop after one or two drinks if feeling good is what you were after.
•Where you get your rewards (dopamine!), your desire and energy will follow. If you reward yourself with alcohol regularly, your brain will continue to ask for it and your energy will flow toward pursuing it. You’ll siphon off energy that could be put toward pursuing goals and creating lasting well-being. And alcohol and other false pleasures (compulsive shopping, social media, Netflix, people-pleasing) are at our own expense. They feel great in the moment, but are fleeting and leave us feeling gross and stuck.
We’re wired to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. When your primal brain is throwing a tantrum and demanding instant gratification in the form of a drink, it can be hard to ignore in favor of a natural pleasure (exercising, talking with friends, playing with kids) which, while nice, doesn’t compare on the yummy brain chemical scale. But which version of pleasure will get you closer to your goals, improve your life, and have positive outcomes? Which one is sourced from love? It’s a tough sell in the moment but change is made one choice at a time.
Making the switch from false to natural pleasures will take time, patience, and practice. It will be uncomfortable at first. Let it be. You’ll feel like you’re missing out. But eventually your brain will return to factory settings. Decide for yourself if it’s worth it. How do you want to spend your one precious life?
Photo by Elle Hughes