Are you an Alcoholic?
by Tim Brunson, PhD
In our culture alcohol consumption has often been synonymous with being socially accepted. Somehow we have linked the ingestion of these liquids, which everyone knows contains toxic substances, to our desire to be socially connected. It has always been the baby boomers version of Facebook and Twitter. In fact, decades ago while serving as a young Army officer, it would have been considered an insult not to share a few "cold ones" with the men as a form of celebration. I'm not saying the Generation X and Y'ers are immune to becoming alcoholics. It seems to be a problem that transcends generations. Yet, when we allow occasional or moderate use to become a compulsion, then we have transitioned from participating in a social activity to developing and maintaining an addiction, which can easily ruin relationships, end careers, and even end in death.
When do the effects of drinking alcohol get to the point where you must get concerned? Clearly if you feel that you absolutely have to have more than a couple of drinks a day, you find an uncontrollable amount of your budget going to purchasing alcohol, or you start hiding or lying about its use, you have alcoholism symptoms. You may not be to be to the point of calling yourself an alcoholic or an alcohol addict. However, those who you live or work with you may be quick to disagree.
Obviously, excessive drinking has social and even legal consequences. However, this fails to address that it is also a disease. Recently I've read several studies in which researchers are claiming that it is a chronic brain disease. I tend to agree. As such, any treatment approach must consider it as such – rather than focusing on shame and punishment.
Like any addiction, alcoholism involves strong encoding and brain restructuring. It very simply translates the repetition of a pleasurable consumption into a memory, which can be easily triggered and thus repeated. Each repetition results in further reinforcing your "competency" as an abuser. Even the alcoholism symptoms that I mentioned earlier quickly become reinforced in your brain.
While the habitual activity, which is associated with alcoholism addiction, is hardwired into your head, to start understanding how it can be resolved you must understand how it is encoded. Starting with your very first drink, a short-term memory is created. Like all memories, whether short or long-term, it eventually ends up stimulating the emotional center of your brain. In this case it causes a barbiturate-like pleasurable reaction. This becomes associated with other conditions and events in your environment as the memory eventually becomes long-term. When these conditions and events are once again present, the part of your brain that handles anticipation, leads to you wanting or seeking another drink.
Attempting to resolve alcohol dependence with abstinence alone is difficult – even as you receive excellent, understanding support from others. This is because such approaches deny the chronic brain disease nature of alcoholism. Every triggering stimulus will still result in the desire to drink at some deep level. Instead, what is needed is something that recognizes the anticipation-reward pattern associated with this addiction and reprograms it to achieve an alternate result. The use of hypnosis by a qualified practitioner appears to be uniquely suited for this task.
Hypnosis is a process that creates extremely efficient selective thoughts. This means that you can effectively use powerful suggestion and imagination to begin restructuring how your brain reacts to the environmental stimulus, which has typically resulted in the compulsion to drink. The reason why hypnosis is particularly successful is that it employs the exact same part of the brain that seems to start the process of craving your next drink. By the way, this is the same brain area that facilitates inhibition – which is pretty handy to have when you are struggling with temptation.
Hypnotherapy, which is the use of hypnosis for therapeutic goals, specifically helps alcoholics by interfering with their usual anticipation-reward pattern by interjecting a conflicting anticipation – you can only have one at a time – and installing a different reward. By doing so, it respects the strength of the anticipation-reward mechanisms, which have been so expertly developed by the strength of your addiction. In fact, it uses this powerful ability, which your disease has created, to hasten your recovery. To make this work you must correctly use hypnosis regularly over a several week period. I suggest that you become a user of hypnosis so that you can continually develop your talents in employing suggestion and imagination to gain comprehensive control of your life.
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