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The Truth About Alcohol, Addiction, and Recovery

May 5th, 2018

 

Booze barons do such a great job of disguising alcohol that many people don’t know what it really is.

Alcohol is ethanol, also known as ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol, and is a flammable, colorless chemical compound. Yes, folks, everything can really go up in flames when you drink.

I fondly remember Christmases spent at my grandmother’s and the excitement we all felt when a match was held against the rum-soaked Christmas pudding and it burst into plumes of fire.

For some reason, until researching this chapter I never made the connection that booze was a flammable substance I poured down my throat.

Ethanol fuel is also used in some countries instead of gasoline in cars and other engines. In Brazil, for example, ethanol fuel made from sugar cane provides 18 percent of the country’s fuel for cars.

In short, the alcohol or ethanol found in your favorite beer, wine, and spirits is a poison, masquerading as a happy drink. It’s so toxic that, when consumed too quickly or in huge quantities, your body’s default position is to expel it—usually in a totally unglamorous technicolor spray of vomit.  That’s if you’re lucky.

Alcohol poisoning can, and does, cause death—both directly and indirectly through liver disease, breast cancer, and a staggering amount of other alcohol-related diseases. We’ll explore the havoc caused by booze, as well as how sobriety leads to nirvana in the chapter, Health Havoc or Health Nirvana?

Yet, despite all the risks and dire health warnings, alcohol seems such a benign substance. Perhaps it’s the allure of its origins—a uniquely natural process.

Alcohol is formed when oxygen deprived yeast ferments natural sugars found in fruits, grains, and other substances. For example, wine is made from the sugar in grapes, beer from the sugar in malted barley, cider from the sugar in apples, and most vodka from the sugar in fermented grains such as sorghum, corn, rice, rye or wheat (though you can also use potatoes, fruits or even just sugar.)

Many people use alcohol as a way to self-medicate their way through life’s ups and downs. Peer into the history of alcohol and you’ll find that its medical origins enjoy a good pedigree. Gin mixed with tonic containing quinine, for example, was historically used to treat malaria.

“So it’s totally good for you,” writes one enthusiastic supporter in an alcohol forum.

Yeah, if you’ve got malaria perhaps, but not if you’re just sick and dog-tired of living.

Alcohol is classed as a ‘sedative hypnotic’ drug. That definition on its own may sound just like what you’re craving until you discover the true impact. Sedative-hypnotic drugs depress the central nervous system (CNS) at high doses.

Hmmm, that doesn’t sound so flash, especially if you’re prone to knocking back a few too many drinks. Your central nervous system controls a majority holding of the key functions of your body and mind. The CNS consists of two parts: your brain and your spinal cord.

As you know, the brain is the chief conductor of your thoughts, interpreting your external environment, and coordinating body movement and function, both consciously and unconsciously. Complex functions, including how you think and feel, and maintaining homeostasis, a relatively stable balance between all the interdependent elements in your body, are directly attributable to different parts of your brain.

Your spinal cord with its network of sensitive nerves acts as a conduit for signals between the brain and the rest of the body.

You definitely don’t want to mess with the way this important duo functions. But every time you ingest alcohol you do, weakening their ability to perform like virtuosos, interfering with maintaining a healthy balance and the finely tuned harmony which is so vital to your health, performance, and effectiveness, and causing all systems in your body to play horribly off key.

Would you love to possess an outstanding ability in your field? Excel in your chosen profession? Tap into higher knowledge? Hone a much-loved or admired skill? Be universally admired? Many people think alcohol aids the fulfillment of these desires—until they realize their beliefs were deceptively wrong.

Sobriety on the other hand… now there’s a different story.

At lower doses, alcohol can act as a stimulant inducing feelings of euphoria, optimism, and gregariousness. Everything looks beautiful, your belief in yourself, your talents, and your ability elevates like a seductive piece of music. Your inhibitions float away, suddenly you imagine yourself to be far better than you really feel. Shyness disappears, in its place talkativeness.

For a little while.

But pour more and more drinks down your throat,  knock back liters of your favorite elixir and you’ll quickly find yourself confronted by the truth. Alcohol is trouble.

Quite simply, alcohol knocks the life out of you. The more you drink, the higher the likelihood you’ll become drowsy. Recall the drunk in the corner, slouched against the wall, or the once vivacious life of the party, barely able to hold her head in her hands, as she sits slumped at the bar. I’ve been there—it’s a predictable rite of passage. In a culture that values drinking, this is normal.

Normal but definitely not glamorous, hip or cool.

But things get worse. Sometimes much, worse. Your breathing naturally slows into a state called respiratory depression. It can become exceedingly shallow or worse, stop entirely—what’s truly frightening is you have absolutely no control. No one chooses to fall into an alcohol-fuelled coma, but this is exactly what happens to far too many people.

Very high levels of alcohol in the body can shut down critical areas of the brain that control breathing, heart rate, and body temperature, resulting in death. And, tragically, far too many beautiful people needlessly die this way.

Can I scare you sober? It’s not my agenda, but I do know this—that’s exactly what happened to Amy Winehouse. And it’s exactly what’s happened to a great many other talented, beautiful, smart people. People who only wanted to feel high, but never intended to die.

As well as its acute and potentially lethal sedative effects at high doses, alcohol undermines every organ in the body and these effects depend on your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over time.

We’ll examine the dangers of drinking both large and small alcoholic beverages over a short period of time in the chapter, Binge Drinking Blindness.

We’ll also dive deeper into what constitutes safe drinking, including analyzing what constitutes a standard drink and why health authorities want you to control your drinking—assuming you don’t want to kick the alcohol habit for good.

But first, let’s stop to consider, how natural is alcohol really?

What’s Hidden in Your Drink?

Ethanol made be created via a naturally occurring process, but that’s not the end of the production cycle. The other thing to be mindful of is all the other hidden dangers lurking in your drinks.

Peer a little closer and you’ll find all sorts of nasty additives—not to mention toxic sprays, pesticides, fungicides, chemical fertilizers and other things that infiltrate many crops. But you won’t find many of these disclosed on the labels.

Sorry to spoil the party.

Health gurus cite dangerous levels of sulfites or sulphites (as it’s spelled in New Zealand) and warn of harmful side-effects, particularly for those with a low tolerance.

The term sulfites is an inclusive term for sulfur dioxide (SO2), a preservative that’s widely used in winemaking (and most food industries) for its antioxidant and antibacterial properties. SO2 plays an important role in preventing oxidization and maintaining a wine’s freshness. When used in high levels, because it’s considered harmful, it must legally be disclosed on product labels.

To be fair, many foods also contain sulfites. Some people claim the preservative is nothing to be alarmed by—unless of course, you include yourself in the numbers of people who are allergic. Sulfites cause bloating and itching in sulfite-sensitive people. Does your beloved have a beer gut or sulphite bloating?

Histamine High?

Some studies suggest sulfites and other additives, including compounds such as histamines and tannins, are connected to the pounding headaches many of us suffer after drinking. That, and our ballooning weight.

Fermented alcoholic beverages, especially wine, champagne, and beer are histamine-rich.

As the author and psychologist Doreen Virtue explains in her excellent book, Don’t Let Anything Dull Your Sparkle, many people binge drink when stressed, but most don’t realize that some of the excess weight may be attributed to stress-hormones and neurotransmitter responses. These biochemicals, Virtue says, are triggered by the fact when you’re stressed you often binge on food and drinks to which you may unknowingly be allergic to, or which are intrinsically unhealthy.

As I’ve mentioned, any product that undergoes fermentation contains high levels of histamine. What I didn’t know was that these histamines trigger allergic reactions in our body, especially if we’re under a lot of stress.

Histamines get you both ways, not only occurring in the food and alcohol you drink but also because when you’re allergic to something your body releases its own histamine, says Virtue. “Stress produces histamine. We’re all naturally allergic to stress,” she says.

When you consume a diet that’s high in histamine or histamine-inducing foods, your body becomes overwhelmed. Add a stressful lifestyle to the mix and it’s no wonder you feel less than perky.

Histamines are also manufactured and released by our bodies not only when we’re stressed but also when we’re dehydrated. Again, alcohol, because it magnifies dehydration, makes things worse.

Virtue explains, “The trouble is that histamine produces uncomfortable symptoms such as bloating, itchy skin, profuse sweating, hot flashes, runny or stuffy nose, and feeling cold all the time, as well as low blood pressure, arrhythmia, anxiety, and depression.”

Nice.

No wonder, we start to look and feel better when we lose the booze.

Other addictive beverages, like coffee and sugar-laden drinks, also trigger histamine reactions. The net result is a ‘histamine high.’ This boosted energy and elation you experience is always short-lived and is always followed by an energy crash, plus other painful symptoms discussed above.

Before publishing her findings Virtue decided to test her theory and embark on a 30-day histamine-free diet.

“Within two days of going ‘low-histamine,’ I felt a youthful energy and exuberance that I had never experienced before. I felt well. I felt happy. And I knew it was due to the low-histamine diet… you cannot return to the old ways of bingeing upon histamine once you realize the process behind these binges.”

Sugar Rush

Submerged in many alcoholic drinks are dangerous and highly addictive levels of sugar. Research collated in a New York Times article stated, “Cravings induced by sugar are comparable to those induced by addictive drugs like cocaine and nicotine.”   

Latest research revealed in The New Zealand Listener in 2018 reveals the physiological and neurological reasons your brain makes you crave sugar.  I share some of these findings in the chapter Sweet Misery. It’s only since researching and writing this book that I realized I was more addicted to sugar than alcohol.

Whew! That’s a relief. But it’s also not—because both are tough habits to crack. Tough, but not impossible. Knowledge is power, right?

In summary, not only is alcohol a highly addictive poison, but your cravings, your weight gain, low energy levels and less-than-optimal mental and emotional health may be fuelled as much by additives and sugar, as it is ethanol or alcohol itself.

You can heal your life and it begins with examining the facts. Consider becoming an amateur sleuth and adopting the role of an investigative journalist. Discover how alcohol is made, including all the artificial things that are added to many products to make it tastier and more alluring—and potentially more dangerous to your health.

Perhaps this may be all the motivation you need to develop a healthy intolerance for alcohol.

 

You’ll find more ways to cultivate joy and moderate your drinking in, Mind Your Drink: The Surprising Joy of Sobriety, available from all good bookstores, including:

Amazon: getbook.at/MindYourDrink

Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Nook, and iBooks: https://www.books2read.com/u/bQBLj0

You’ll find plenty of ongoing support and cheerleading in the Facebook community https://www.facebook.com/Sobrietyexperiment/. Pop along and join us now.

 

 

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