OVERCOMING ALCOHOL DEPENDANCE : HOW TO REWIRE YOUR NEURAL PATHWAYS
On your journey towards overcoming alcohol dependence and embracing a life of health and wellness, one of the most critical aspects is rewiring your subconscious mind and healing your dopamine-reward system.
This process is integral to living your best, healthiest life, free from the shackles of addiction. In this blog, we'll delve into the science of habit formation, explore the steps to rewire your neural pathways for an alcohol-free existence (or at least a 90 day break), and discuss how long it takes to solidify this transformation.
Understanding Habit Formation
Habits, whether they're positive or negative, are deeply ingrained in our subconscious minds. They're like well-worn paths in a forest; the more you tread them, the more entrenched they become. When it comes to alcohol dependence, breaking free from this habit loop involves forging a new path in your mental landscape.
Neuroscience tells us that habits are formed through a three-step loop:
- Cue: This is the trigger that initiates the habit. It could be stress, anxiety, depression, withdrawal symptoms from alcohol itself, social situations, unresolved trauma, or any other circumstance that prompts the desire for a drink.
- Routine: The routine is the actual behaviour you engage in, such as drinking alcohol to cope with stress, anxiety and withdrawal discomfort.
- Reward: This is what your brain perceives as a benefit from the behaviour. In the case of alcohol, it provides temporary relief or relaxation and that hit of dopamine and serotonin.
The role that the dopamine-reward system plays in alcohol addiction
The dopamine-reward system plays a central role in alcohol addiction. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is associated with feelings of pleasure and reward, and it plays a crucial role in the brain's reward pathway.
So, when this area of your brain lights up like a Christmas tree when you consume alcohol, your brain associates pleasure and reward to drinking, so it demands you consume it, despite any negative consequences it is having on your health.
Here's how the dopamine-reward system is involved
- Initial Pleasure: When you consume alcohol, it can lead to a pleasurable sensation due to the release of dopamine in your brain. This pleasurable feeling reinforces the behaviour of drinking alcohol, making you more likely you repeat it.
- Craving: Over time, as you continue to consume alcohol, your brain can become conditioned to associate alcohol with pleasure as your brain seeks to recreate the pleasurable experience associated with alcohol consumption. Neural pathways become hard wired for addiction.
- Tolerance: With repeated alcohol use, your brain's reward system can become less responsive to the same levels of alcohol. This leads to tolerance, where your need to consume more alcohol to achieve the same pleasurable effects.
- Withdrawal: When you try to reduce or stop your alcohol intake, you may experience withdrawal symptoms, which can include anxiety, depression, dysphoria and other much more unpleasant and sometimes serious symptoms. These symptoms related to disruptions in the dopamine-reward pathways. Seek help if your consumption has been chronic and ensure you taper off slowly.
- Compulsion and Loss of Control: As alcohol addiction progresses, you may lose control over your drinking behaviour, even in the face of negative consequences. The dopamine-driven reward system can contribute to compulsive alcohol-seeking behaviour beyond your willpower.
- Neuroadaptations: Long-term alcohol use can lead to changes in your brain's reward circuitry. This includes alterations in dopamine receptor sensitivity, with a down-regulation of dopamine receptors, meaning you need to get the dopamine hit from outside of you, from a bottle, hence dependence.
The role that Serotonin plays in alcohol addiction
Initially alcohol can lead to an increase in serotonin levels, which contribute to feelings of relaxation and euphoria. This is one of the reasons why you may experience a temporary mood lift when you consume alcohol.
Chronic or excessive alcohol consumption can disrupt the normal functioning of serotonin pathways in your brain. Over time, this disruption can lead to decreased serotonin production and activity, contributing to mood disturbances and symptoms of depression and anxiety if you consume too much. It’s a viscous cycle, and the only way out is by weaning yourself off slowly, taking a break or abstinence. Weakening the neural pathways of addiction and sprouting new neural pathways of abstinence and freedom.
Rewiring Your Subconscious Mind
To overcome alcohol dependence, it's essential to unhinge the neural pathways that form this habit loop and strengthen new, healthier neural connections, leading to habits that benefit you long term. Here's how you can do it:
- Identify Triggers and Cues:
Start by recognising the cues that lead to your desire for alcohol. Is it physical stress and pain, boredom, loneliness, chemical stress (toxicity) causing pain, unresolved negative emotional stress or trauma, or certain social situations that stress you out? By taking an inventory of these triggers, you can proactively prepare to face them, then heal them, without turning to alcohol during this process.
- Replace the Routine:
Instead of reaching for a drink when triggered, substitute it with a healthier alternative. This could involve deep breathing exercises, meditation or guided hypnosis; critical to reprogramming your subconscious mind, "craving surfing" (read previous blog), exercise, or engaging in a hobby you enjoy. The goal is to create a new routines, new programming that overtime becomes a hard wired habit and made part of your new identity. Overtime this new version of you will become automatic in programming and you will find it easy. It also involves facing unresolved difficult emotions, limiting beliefs and memories; healing and upgrading those too.
- Reinforce with Positive Rewards:
Reward yourself for making the right choices. This could be as simple as acknowledging your achievement or indulging in a healthy treat, ritual or behaviour that aligns with your health and wellness goals. Over time, your brain will associate positive rewards with the new, alcohol-free routine. Remember that your addiction didn’t develop overnight, so know that it takes time to for your brain to rebalance, recalibrate and heal it.
- Consistency and Patience:
The duration it takes to rewiring your subconscious mind varies from person to person, but research suggests that it can take anywhere from 14 to 90 days to form a new habit. Be patient with yourself and stay committed to your new, healthier routine daily.
- Seek Professional Help:
Don't hesitate to reach out to addiction specialists, therapists, or support groups. Professional guidance can provide you with valuable tools and strategies to navigate the challenges of rewiring your subconscious mind.
Living Your Best, Healthiest Life Free From Addiction
As you continue to rewire your subconscious mind away from alcohol dependence, you'll notice profound changes in your life. You'll have more energy, improved mental clarity, better physical health, and enhanced emotional well-being. These positive changes are the building blocks of your journey towards becoming the best version of yourself.
Remember that setbacks may occur, but they're a natural part of the process. What's essential is your commitment to the new, healthier routine and your ability to learn from any slips. With time and dedication, you will firmly embed this alcohol-free lifestyle into your subconscious mind, allowing you to embrace a brighter tomorrow.
Future pace yourself alcohol-free. Visual and embody the associated feelings, thoughts and emotions that you will feel as though you are free from this addiction now, for quite some time. Imagine how the raised quality of your life, mental clarity, boundless energy, optimised health, new subconscious programming as the result of stronger, health enhancing neural connections, and freedom from addiction will feel on a visceral level and how it will enhance every part of your life?
Good luck and here for coaching support!