"The wisdom of the body is so rich... We go to school and learn and learn and learn, but the brilliance inside each person is amazing."
Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009
He Drinks Too Much! Why AA?

 "When we first met , Ted was the life of the party, the first one to play the piano, sing the latest hit songs, tell funny jokes.  But after the fourth drink, it wore thin. He became sloppy and  sickened me as he put his arms around every woman in his path. I held my breath as I saw them look away in disgust. My fun loving Ted was turning into an offensive drunk and I did not know what to do. I tried to get him to stop after the third drink. He was still fun at that point. It worked for about six months but now he gets belligerent and tells me to leave him alone. I feel helpless. My friend suggests I go to Alanon and encouage him to go to Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.). Ted is a smart guy. I need to be able to explain how it works. Truthfully it sounds like a religion to me. How does it help?"


   AA is the most effective method researched to treat addictions to date. I believe one reason is that meetings provide a ritualized structure for fellowship members. Recovering folks are not alone but are members of a non-judgemental support team, important for people who may be swimming in shame.When they have an urge to drink, they call sponsors, utter mantras, prayers or slogans, a great way to open new pathways in the brain under conditions of intense activation from both pleasant or unpleasant feelings. Intensity leads to a need for alcohol to quench feelings or sensations too strong for one's nervous system to process. The old conditioned neural brain pathway leads to a drink. AA provides a context to develop an alternative healthier pathway. Alcohol dulls sensation and makes it easier to process intense sensations and feelings at least for a while, until more and more alcohol becomes necessary and life of the party Ted becomes the sloppy drunk.

   It is a slippery slope and all of a sudden Ted is sliding very quickly down the slide to relationship problems and eventualy chronic issues at work. After a while, a drink becomes essential for getting through the day. first he bargains and doesn't down one until after 2:00 PM. That works for a while . Eventually though, he needs to maintain a blood level of alcohol to get his body to function which is why it is wise to have good medical support before Ted stops drinking. His body may need the alcohol to function and it is possible to have a seizure if he withdraws alcohol too quickly. Surendering to a Higher Power allows Ted to surrender and give up the intense need for control activated by his out of control drinking.

 AA meetings provide a ritualized structure for fellowship members. No matter which country or state Ted visits, all meetings will use the same format, materials and structure. The 12 Steps, 12 Traditions and Big Book are always the same. Only the language differs from English to Russian to German to French. This sameness appeals to the reptilian brain/brain stem, that ancient enfisted part of the brain just under the limbic system/mammalian or emotional brain and the smart cerebral cortex. This ancient brain thrives on ritual. Reptiles just need a nice safe rock to sit on, some food and basic reproduction. It is also the location of the fight/ flight/freeze response. Alcohol  dulls those fears that arise when we feel threatened and unsafe. The structure and rituals of AA soothe that ancient reptilian brain or brainstem and help it to feel safe.

Various short reminders support folks recovering from addictions, i.e. HALT. Avoid getting too hungry angry, lonely, tired as that kind of intensity can activate the physiologic desire for alcohol and a person may go back to the old alcoholic neural pathways. Whenever members feel stressed or activated they are encouaged to call their sponsors. This works because it mobilizes the social engagement nervous system, a counterpoint to the dorsal vagal shutdown of the reptilian brain. In contrast the mammalian brain is stimulated and pack animals that we are, calling a sponsor engages us socially and we move away from shutdown and the need for a drink to feel better.

 Finally, when I studied addictions with the National Council for Alcoholism and Other Addictions, we were required to attend fifteen 12 Step meetings of every kind,  AA, AlAnon, OA, NA, etc. During the first Open AA meeting, I loved the experience of being there.The energy and sense of peacefulness was palpable. There was a depth of spiritual enegy that impressed me. I felt refreshed in spite of the "horror stories" shared by leaders at the front of the room. Was it because fellowship members turned their lives over to a Higher Power when they realized the need to tap into a higher energy if they were to stop going round and round on their personal addiction gerbil wheel?

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