"I want to stop drinking, but I want to drink" - are you going insane?
Updated: Apr 30
When you think about giving up alcohol forever, how does this thought feel for you? Exciting and exhilarating? Are you keen to find out what your life will feel like without it? Or anxious and uncomfortable, like getting kicked out of the comfort of your own home?
If you are like me and majority of my clients, it's most probably the mix of these two, and this mix gives you a strong internal conflict. Let's say you've had some negative consequences of drinking: bad hangovers, anxiety, low self-esteem, maybe some embarrassing posts on social media or drunk messages to your ex-boyfriend. If you have, then you know the drink needs to go and you'd love it to be gone. Well, part of you does. The other part would do anything to keep alcohol in your life and is absolutely terrified to think that things could change.
So what is actually happening here?
The part of your brain that wants you to stop is your prefrontal cortex - the logical grown-up brain. It knows the link between alcohol and it's negative effect on your physical and mental health. This is the voice that says: "We need to stop doing this, it doesn't serve us".
But, there is this other voice that says: "We need to drink. We can't function without it". This is your lower brain, so called "reptilian brain". It's only job is to keep you safe. It can't tell a difference between a good and a bad habit, all it knows is that HABITS ARE IMPORTANT FOR YOUR SURVIVAL. It thinks that in order to stay safe you need to keep repeating the patterns that you know so well, it doesn't care about the consequences. Put this together with the fact that alcohol is such a powerful drug and BAM! You're stuck in the loop.
This whole mix might make you feel like you're going crazy. You want to listen to your grown-up brain, but the primitive brain keeps winning and you end up drinking. The good news is: you're not going crazy. You have a brain that acquires patterns, it's not a bad thing as such. However, there's some bad news too: strong will is not the way forward. If you try and force your way out of the cycle, you will only create resistance and anxiety.
So what can you do to set yourself free?
My personal experience is that the way out is through acceptance. Once you come to terms with the fact that you have those conflicting motivations, it becomes easier. When you embrace the struggle in your mind, you create a little bit of peaceful space. Stay there and notice the chatter in your mind, acknowledge that the drink has got you stuck and own it. Observe, don't judge and stay curious. You have just reconnected with yourself.