Friday, May 22, 2009

The first-person dimension of alcoholism

A series has been started. This post, like the one I wrote on schizophrenia, attempts to delve into the life experience many in Homeless World have, as a means for the rest of us to apprehend the others' suffering. This is also an attempt to know how to treat people with certain problems and to learn what homeless-aid personnel can empathetically, properly do when angry or wild behavior manifests.


... the most simple way to describe [alcoholism] is "a mental obsession that causes a physical compulsion to drink."

Did you ever wake up in the morning with a song playing over and over in your head? ... No matter what you did, that silly tune kept on playing. You could try to whistle or sing another song or turn on the radio and listen to another tune, but the one in your head just kept on playing.

... Such is the nature of the disease of alcoholism. When the drinking "song" starts playing in the mind of an alcoholic, he is powerless, ... the only way to get it to stop is to take another drink. The problem is the alcoholic's mental obsession with alcohol is much more subtle than a song playing in his mind. In fact, he may not even know it's there. All he knows is he suddenly has an urge to take a drink -- a physical compulsion to drink.

... In its early stages, taking one or two drinks may be all it takes to get the "song" to stop. But soon it takes six or seven and later maybe ten or twelve. Somewhere down the road the only time the song stops is when he passes out.
From a New York Times blogpost, written by Jim Atkinson,

[Dr. Mark Willenbring, director of the division of treatment and recovery research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism] argues that the main thing that alcoholics share is a natural tolerance for alcohol, which leads them to overindulge without knowing it. Repeated overindulgence, in turn, changes their brain chemistry and literally creates the inexplicable ache by altering the activity of two systems: the brain’s “reward system,” which sends the message that drinking feels good; and the excitatory and stress response systems, which become “recruited” and, over time, produce an elevated anxiety when one is without alcohol in his system.


If you are among the 80 percent of people who drink “normally,” think of your relationship to booze as a minor friendship that strikes up at certain times of the week, or even the year. Think of the drunk’s as a torrid, reckless and self-destructive affair. Whiskey she is a bad lover, and all that. It is a decidedly adolescent affair, a kind of puppy love that overtakes all good judgment and reason.

A writer for Mutineer tells us that the viddie, above, a Japan commercial for a brand of whiskey, shows us what it is like to be alcoholic. Sean Connery comes into a room, swaying a bottle of booze. Suddenly, he's seated, working on a sketch, glances at his doberman. Grimaces. Sets aside the sketchbook and pencil. The booze captures his attention. Heavenly music plays. He lovingly pours himself a drink. He admires the drink. He swirls the ice. He smells the drink. He takes a sip; he's delighted. The sketchbook and pencils blow off his sidetable. The booze is everything. His relationship with "man's best friend" and his work is impeded.

Below, another booze commercial that shows alcohol attachment, in a less-heavenly way: "... and only here you get close to what really matters in life, sharing precious moments with some[thing] you love. [Can I have my f*ckin scotch, you f*ckin moron.]"

This from Addiction: Why can't they just stop?:

He says it was almost like watching someone else – someone in a movie. Like he left his body. He felt a sense of horror, he says. Horror and also, incongruously, reckless delight. He sipped the Scotch. He breathed it. The taste was "heaven." he sipped again. "Glorious." he drained the glass. The reaction inside his head was instantaneous and intense. "I was filled with electric warmth," he recalls. "A smoldering fire was rekindled. I felt enlivened. The taste was ... and I felt so ..." He could not find the exact words. " I was horrified and felt perfect, both, but perfect won.
The Reality of Relapse

Again, from Addition: Why can't they just stop?:
Relapse is heartbreaking for addicts. it is heartbreaking for those who care about them. relapse can be devastating. Recovering from relapse is likely, but nonetheless, every relapse comes with the possibility of death. "There are psychological and biological reasons that relapse sometimes is fatal," says Tom mclellan, PhD, co-founder of Philadelphia's Treatment Research institute. "A biological reason is their previous use probably built up slowly to a high level of tolerance and adaptation. Without slowly building up again, they easily can do too much and overdose. The psychological reason is what is called the 'absinence violation effect' – the despair and defeat an addict feels when they leave an abstinent lifestyle. They may feel that they don't want to come back from a relapse."
Addiction stop-and-go switch:

Addiction - Stop and Go Switch - The Brain's Control Circuitry [post is a work-in-progress]

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Blogger Jaz said...

Without alcoholism treatment, these problems can often go undiagnosed; most alcoholics don’t ever seek treatment until they wind up in some major problem involving severe health problems

July 29, 2010 at 3:46 PM  
Blogger Tom Armstrong said...


Thanks for your comment. You know not how poignant and "right on" your words are. My high school friend, Tracy, was getting picked up to go to the All Star game by his son-in-law, a sports writer for USA Today, but the son-in-law noticed how extremely yellow and weak and ailing Tracy was and took him to the hospital, instead.

Tracy's liver was failing. Within days, he was dead, at the age of 56. From the time of high school, Tracy was keenly attracted to alcohol and throughout his 20s alcohol was always present.

I had a falling out with him maybe 15 years ago, for a reason I have fully forgotten. But I do know I was weary from his demand that doing anything with him entailed a lot of drinking.

Now he is dead and I feel terrible about everything.

July 29, 2010 at 4:12 PM  

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