I badly wanted to turn back the clock. Not for because I wanted to look younger, or be able to “do over” some of my more memorable stuff-ups, but because I wanted to get back my “take it or leave it” attitude to wine.
I just wanted to drink like I did in my 20s. Back then, I didn’t even think about it, I didn’t count units, I didn’t care if I drank or not … why couldn’t it be like that again?
It seemed so unfair that back then I didn’t care if I moderated or not. Now I was a wife and mother and responsible adult and I wanted to rein in my drinking … I just couldn’t.
We’ve all heard of habituation and tolerance, but I didn’t realise until I really started looking into it that drinking regularly actually physically changes your brain. Physically. Like, that lumpy grey stuff in your noggin starts shrinking if you’re drinking on a regular basis. Alcohol is classed as a neurotoxin, which means it’s poisonous to the delicate cells of our nervous system, including the brain. Who knew?
What we like about drinking is that it stimulates the release of serotonin and dopamine in our brains, making us feel fab. This is why, when we drink, we get that “ahhhhh” feeling, and the world seems a kinder place.
The big BUT is this: in nature, rewards usually come only with time and effort. Alcohol provides a sneaky shortcut, tsunami-ing the brain with dopamine and other neurotransmitters. Our brains just ain’t built to withstand the onslaught.
Drinking releases up to 10 times the amount of dopamine that natural rewards do, and it’s much faster and easier than going for a run, meditating or getting a massage. So when we’re drinking regularly, our poor old pleasure centres become overwhelmed. The brain responds by cunningly producing less dopamine or turning down our dopamine receptors—an adaptation similar to turning down the volume on your Bluetooth speaker when the noise level gets too much.
So we have to drink more to get the same “ahhh” feeling, and (this bit is so sad) our pleasure receptors are permanently turned to LOW. So we can often feel sad. Just all the time. Unless we have a drink. How wrong is that? We’ve changed the wiring of our brains to feel less pleasure.
Plus we simply have to drink more, as time goes on, to get the same effect. We used to have one drink and that was enough, now we need three or four or more. Before I stopped drinking, I could drink a bottle and still want to drink more. Two bottles, sometimes.
The good news is, that when we stop drinking, our brains can recover and rebuild. They plump up again. Neural pathways are rewired. Our pleasure centres fire up again, and we don’t need to drink alcohol to feel good.
For me, this was the biggest transformation in my life; I just felt happy and balanced again. I got my fun back. I hadn’t realised how depressed I was on a regular basis, until I removed alcohol from my life.
I don’t want someone to hurry up and invent time travel now. I love my life, with all it’s smooth easy bits and lumpy challenging bits. And I love the journey that got me here. I am very aware that moderation isn’t for me, that I will never go back to drinking how I did in my 20s, and to be honest, I have no desire to.
Life is so much easier without alcohol. Here’s to looking forwards, not backwards.