One year ago, I gave up drinking. A habit I thought I would never be able to break. People often ask me if I will ever drink again? I find it hard to comprehend why I would ever choose to drink again.  I talk about drinking as a habit rather than an addiction because it was not just the alcohol that made me crave a drink, it was the feeling it gave me. Like any habit, we do it because of the feeling it gives us. Drinking made me feel connected with people. It helped me feel a part of something. All my friends and colleagues drank, so it gave me a sense of belonging. These sentiments of connection and bonding stay ingrained in our subconscious. When we are isolated, depressed, or disconnected from our friends and family our minds tell us that alcohol will make us feel connected. It is why bad habits formed through socialising can start to become something we do alone. It is also why some bad habits can replace other bad habits.

 

When I gave up drinking, I soon started binge eating. Again, food gave me that same feeling of connection. Eating chocolate and lollies with my friends while growing up was a bonding experience my mind could not forget. Binge eating would usually be triggered on a Friday night at 5pm which in the past would usually be my drinking hour with friends. It makes sense looking back on it because when I first gave up alcohol, I stayed away from after work drinks. This would mean being at home alone on a Friday night. What you must realise is, when you give up a bad habit your mind will look for something else to replace it with. I drank for a reason. I wanted that sense of connection. Just because I gave up drinking, doesn’t mean the feeling of wanting connection disappeared. It just meant without alcohol my mind was going to search for that feeling in another activity. My mind doesn’t know which activity is good or bad it just goes for the one that is easily accessible which in my case was food. However, once you understand the feeling you are trying to get out of your bad habit you can rewire your brain to crave healthy activities that give you the feeling you need.

 

Johann Hari speaks about a study to test addiction. They had one rat in a cage with two bottles, one with water and one laced with cocaine. The rat always went for the one with cocaine, eventually leading to its death.  In the 70’s Professor Alexander wanted to test out this theory again but instead built a cage called Rat Park, which was heaven for rats. Lots of activities, friends, and sex. Everything a rat could dream of! Rat Park had similar water bottles. The results were different. In Rat Park they refused the water laced with cocaine, and so the rats remained healthy. Compare the results of this experiment with a similar episode that affected people. The Vietnam war was happening around the same time and 20% of all troops were using heroin. The government was concerned that when the troops arrived home, they would all be addicted.  It turns out when the troops arrived home, they did not go into withdrawal or go to rehab. 95% just stopped using illicit drugs.

 

There is so much stigma about addiction, yet by changing our environment we can easily break a habit.  We all have some sort of vice that we do regularly. We all have needs that need to be met but it is understanding what you need to fill up your cup. To break any habit, you need to understand the feeling you are trying to achieve from it. Think back to when you first did the habit? Who were you with? How did it make you feel? Why did you do it? Understanding where the sensation originated from, will help you realise why you continue the habit. Then you can start the transformation by introducing new activities that will give you the same feeling. For example, in the beginning of my sobriety I did pole dancing classes on a Friday night. This activity helped me feel connected and rebellious which were both feelings I got out of drinking.  Finding a healthy activity that has more value than the original bad habit it what will create powerful change.