Alcoholism – Is It a Disease?
Do you struggle with your relationship to alcohol?
Have you been told you’re an addict?
My family is rife with “alcoholics”, most of whom are “recovered”. The dominant narrative is that alcohol made them sick and sobriety has offered them their lives back. To my eyes, however, there’s something important missing from this all-or-nothing approach that, for some, leaves, the Drink ever dancing in their peripheral vision. Is taking alcohol out of the equation enough? Is abstinence always necessary? To what end?
I didn’t drink alcohol through college and medical school. Not one drink. I was a straight-edge control freak, and I went dancing and partied sober, and enjoyed every minute of it. I owned it, but the notion of my genetic inheritance certainly weighed heavy on my mind – that long line of genetic codes spelling out ADDICT potential. But somehow I also knew that there was more to the story.
Recently, I received an email from a colleague in the field of sobriety support. She wanted to know how it is that I drink on social occasions while criticizing pharmaceuticals. Aren’t they all drugs? Here’s what I said:
Thanks so much for your support and your words. I think we may have a different perspective on this issue, and perspectives evolve, so I’m just speaking now from my current purview. I don’t believe alcoholism to be a disease any more than I believe depression is. I believe that, over the course of history, alcohol has been regarded as a ritual, a sacrament, and an informational complement to many foods. It is a fermented beverage that is recognized molecularly by the body as are hallucinogenic mushrooms, cannabis, and plant medicines like ayahuasca. To compare it to a pharmaceutical is reductionist, in my opinion. But we have strayed from the Continuum, and alcohol has, for some, become the symptom of our soul disconnection. For some. For some it has come to represent a tool of self-invalidation, distraction, and mindlessness. As I’ve written here, research has proven that healing the deeper wounds can eliminate this so called “problem”. Therefore, the context is everything.
To learn about one’s personal context requires a reset. I’m not sure if you’ve done my program, but if you have, you would know that I ask for total cessation of alcohol for the month. If there is a choice to reintroduce it, then the participant would learn about THEIR relationship to alcohol. This is enlightening and empowering for many women as they begin to understand where they have unknowingly given their power. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of the book MindBody Code but Martinez speaks to the critical importance of this concept as well.
I know what works for me because I have traveled this path. I have tremendous joy, abundance, and a growing contact with deep feminine power in my life. I have fun, I work hard. I am hoping to light this path for others to join me. But my path is not their path, necessarily. And that’s where the reset becomes a tool for self-exploration. Only through this deep inner process – which you admit rarely has been positioned before pharmaceutical initiation in these women struggling with alcohol and other substances – can we align with our highest consciousness and power. Only then will women be truly dispossessed of dogma and alienating judgment of one another.
Hope this helps,
Let’s break this down a bit.
Is alcoholism (or any substance abuse, or behavioral addiction, or eating disorder) a disease?
We are told a story about illness, and that story serves a mindset that underlies the darkness that we feel all around us and within us. The mindset is that we are flesh robots, floating on a dead rock, in the middle of nowhere. Since everything is random and purposeless, and since it is a survivorship game of every man for himself, then thank goodness we have science and technology to help deal with the cards we’ve been dealt. Help to fix things, make them easier.
McDonald’s never really hurt anyone, and gluten free is a fad.
The only thing that really matters is your genes.
But we are in the midst of a paradigm shift.
We are learning that beliefs, cultural conditioning, and our interaction with our environments are the true determinants of health and illness.
And, in fact, genes are merely a suggested template.
The trouble is that we are in deep pain.
We are struggling and we are suffering. Our irritability, righteousness, and even fatigue belie a deep reservoir of sadness and of grief. Part of the reason is that we have strayed from the Continuum. Our very births send a signal of danger to our systems. A signal of missingness. And set us on a lifelong path of running from the pain.
The pain is the wound that addictive and compulsive behaviors attempt to distract us from, bandage up, and temporarily ease.
The pain is the diagnosis and we must ask, why the pain? as Dr. Gabor Mate has invited us to do.
From addict to psych patient
Dual diagnosis is what we call them.
This is the label slapped on the labels slapped on the human struggling with what is perceived to be the separate problems of addiction and mood disorders. Of course, we can put many hats on this multi-headed dragon, but we still haven’t even begun to engage the process of taming it, slaying it, or befriending it. And everyone’s dragons are different.
If we look at addiction as a genetically driven disease, then it makes sense that alcohol is the problem. It also makes sense that the residual struggles – the untended wound – would then be labeled neatly as a discrete and separate mental illness. And since mental illnesses are chronic problems that reflect inherited chemical imbalances, well, then we are back to the magic pill solution!
Where in this rubrik have we even attempted to address the root cause driver of pain and trauma?
Instead we are inviting patients to continue to externalize their struggles, label them impersonal illnesses, and we are – quite literally – addicting them to the most habit forming chemicals on the planet when we replace their alcohol abuse with psychotropic medication.
These chemicals retain the same power over their consciousness that alcohol once did. It is a divorce from self and a suppression of the soul.
This is why, in his banned Ted Talk, Graham Hancock speaks to the sociocultural support and tolerance of substances such as alcohol and psychotropics that foster a level of consciousness supportive of the world destroying machine, and our current state of soul-less affairs.
How can you learn what alcohol is to you?
Dr. Martinez writes about the difference between ritual, routine, and habit. A primary distinction is in the application of mindfulness. He references centenarians who drink and smoke cigars every day, but he notes that they do so with a level of ritualistic care and awareness of the role of these so called substances in their daily experience of life and its available joy.
We are in a time where self-learning and self-exploration brings you closer to others. It’s N of 1 medicine practiced in a community setting. Where we find ourselves and we merge with others and the planet in the process. Where there are highly personal “rules” to our own self-alignment.
It’s my belief that there is a simple formula for getting clear enough to begin to read yourself. A simple take home assignment that brings you one giant leap closer to identifying and healing your wounds.
If you are interested in learning what these habitual relationships mean for you, personally, I ask that you consider removing addictive consumptions from your life – alcohol, coffee, sugar, wheat, dairy – so that you can quiet reward pathways, silence inflammatory alarm responses, and eat more informationally dense foods. While you’re doing that, I ask that you meditate once a day, every day. I ask that you detox. And I ask that you tap into your faith that there is something incredible waiting for you. I have found time and again that this simple process of ritualizing self-care opens a portal to unseen, unacknowledged, and circumvented feelings that bring you closer to the real you.
Then, after that month, you can choose to learn specifically what kind of effect these agents have on your consciousness, your body, and your general experience of yourself. When you shed these externalities, the lightness and expansion you feel is yours alone. There is nothing out there that has control over you. You are in control, learning, healing, and open.
Over time, and over your healing journey, you may find that your wound closes, and that the places you empowered with your pain – including alcohol – may have a very different alchemical effect or none at all.
What heals addiction?
I love the Rat Park study. Here are the details:
In the 70s, Bruce Alexander conducted the famous Rat Park experiments (thanks to Will Hall for sharing this vital science with me!) where he rips the foundation out from under the drug war, the chemical addiction model, and the notion of the addict as mentally and physically disordered. His elegant experiments play on the presumption that rats in an isolated cage with one water and one cocaine dispenser go onto addict and eventually kill themselves. This seemingly demonstrates that chemical nature of the addictive process.
He then went on to conduct subsequent experiments in a “rat park” where the rats had a social network, space, and an enriching environment, in which they no longer chose to consume the cocaine and would even detox themselves voluntarily if they entered the space previously addicted.
What this tells us is that, even in animals, community is the prevention and the treatment for self-abuse. Many argue this is why and how 12 Step programs enjoy the persistent success that they do. They offer community.
But the problem with them is that they still make the substance the enemy. Charles Eisenstein has taught me that viewing the world through a lens of good and bad maintains the very bad we seek to eliminate. In demonizing alcohol (or anything, for that matter), you maintain the war forever. We empower this seeming enemy when we choose to perceive it as a dangerous overlord.
When there is an enemy at all, we are divided, and we strengthen the very dynamic of warfare that we were hoping to resolve through our efforts.
That’s not to say that cessation and abstinence are not necessary for clarity and the opportunity to begin this exploration. But the outcome of the exploration should not be that you are always and forever one drink away from total consumption into the void of terror and destruction. That leaves no room for radical healing and no acknowledgment that context drives the relationship.
Spirituality has the power to heal the war. It delivers to you the exact medicine you need, and it teaches you how to be with your pain. How to even love it as a part of the wholeness of you. And how to have compassion for yourself when you hurt because your most human needs are not being met.
Stop running from yourself
Spirituality also involves radical responsibility. You make choices. Your genes don’t. This is the nature of mindful living. When you stop running, distracting yourself, and making excuses, then you look at all of it and you engage with open eyes.
Hands down, the mantra of my practice, my online program, and my personal journey is this:
I am coming home to myself.
Over and over and over again, I hear this phrase. I am becoming more and more myself. I am being liberated into my own truth and beingness. And in doing so, we come home to each other, and to Mother earth, and to the fabric of our connectedness. We look back on the path we have traveled and we say, yes…it needed to be exactly this way. Nothing was bad. Nothing was wrong. Hard, maybe. Painful, sure. But I am not broken. I am not diseased. And nothing is a foregone conclusion or an absolute certainty.
Only you can divine the path of self-realization, and you’ll know when you’re on it because you will feel the terrible pain and the glorious beauty of this life all at once, and you will feel, finally feel, free.
© Kelly Brogan MD. This work is reproduced and distributed with the permission of Kelly Brogan MD. For more articles, sign up for the newsletter at kellybroganmd.com.