In this podcast (episode #411) and blog, I speak with therapist Amanda White about why some people choose not to drink, her new book Not Drinking Tonight, how to heal your relationship with alcohol, getting to the root issues behind why you drink, and how to build a beautiful, sober life.
Amanda wrote her new book because she wanted to shift the conversation around alcohol abuse. It is based on her work as a therapist and the latest research on addiction, as well as her own struggles with alcohol and how she found healing. She wanted to write a book that is fundamentally approachable and based on the process of being in therapy for addiction instead of focusing on the binary and black-and-white thinking that so often characterizes how we talk about substance abuse.
Yes, the popular disease model of addiction has helped de-stigmatize alcoholism and move the conversation away from “moral failure” narratives that used to define our beliefs about addiction, but it has its limits, and can often leave people feeling trapped. As Amanda points out, it’s far better to think of substance abuse, including alcoholism, as a learning disorder, not as a disease you are “born with”.
It is important to understand that addiction is a signal that something is going on in our lives. It is a bio-psycho-social phenomenon-something we use to cope with whatever is going on in our lives, which means addiction and healing will look different for different people.
At mentioned above, addiction is a learned coping mechanism or maladaptive coping skill that becomes stronger the more we “practice” it. However, when we start addressing the roots of why we need this coping skill, we can start re-learning how to manage our mental and physical challenges and find true healing. This way of thinking about addiction is extremely hopeful: if we have learned to do something, we can unlearn to do it as well!
Indeed everyone, not just people addicted to drinking, can benefit from examining and questioning their relationship to alcohol. Alcohol use and abuse is a continuum, which is why it’s so important to look at individual narratives and context when managing someone’s relationship with alcohol. We can all end up using substances like alcohol in unhealthy ways if life is hard enough or we experience major events like trauma or have a lot of pain (physical and/or emotional). The key thing here is to look at the WHY behind what we are doing, not just what we are doing.
When don’t deal with what is going on in our life, we can use things like alcohol to cope in the moment. Over time, this can become a learned behavior that can really impact our mental and physical health and our relationships, dramatically reducing our quality of life and even lifespan.
In her book, Amanda explains that it is better to view alcohol use like we look at other habits such as sleep or what we eat. How can we change what we do for the better? How can we have a better relationship to alcohol? What can we improve? How are we dealing with stress? Are we practicing mental and physical self-care? What toxic messages about alcohol are we seeing in our day-to-day life that may be impacting our choices?
Alcohol use doesn’t have to be THE problem that brings someone into a therapist’s office. It is a part of a person’s unique life story, a relational issue within the context of someone’s many and varied life experiences. Alcoholism is not just a biological disease that someone is born with.
There are different ways someone who is battling can deal with and manage alcohol misuse. They can stop drinking completely or only work on drinking occasionally if they feel that they can do this. There is no one size fits all for everyone. As Amanda notes, it is about meeting yourself where you are on the spectrum and working from there.
Indeed, the most important knowledge that we learn is what we discover about ourselves, and this is true for alcohol misuse as well. The key is to explore your mental and emotional life and ask why, such as:
- What is your story and how is it impacting you?
- How learned is your alcohol use? Do you think you can reduce the amount you drink or is better you avoid alcohol completely?
- What are your unique risk factors?
- What can you change so that you can live your best life? -What plan do you have for when you fall down again?
- How can you practice better self-care and mindfulness to take care of your “future self”? What mental health investments can you make in your life?
As Amanda points out in her book, alcohol abuse is like an iceberg: you only see the top of the iceberg or the visible behavior. There is so much more going on below the water, and exploring this is integral to the healing process!
For more on drinking, addiction, mindfulness and mental health, listen to my podcast with Amanda (episode #411), get her new book, and check out her website. If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing! And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media (don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
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2:50 Why Amanda wrote Not Drinking Tonight
3:30, 4:40, 49:30 Quitting the binary addiction model
4:15 Everyone, not just people addicted to drinking, can examine their relationship to alcohol
8:00 Alcohol abuse is about more than addiction
13:40 The toxic messages about alcohol use in our society
15:00 Boundaries are not selfish—they are an important part of mental self-care
16:15 Having a drink to fall asleep: how can it backfire?
20:43 You can recover from alcohol misuse!
21:30 Amanda’s own struggles with drinking & how she found healing
30:00 How you feel & your emotions are NOT “too much”
31:40 There are different ways to deal with alcohol misuse
32:33 Tools to find healing & change your relationship with alcohol
35:30 The importance of mental self-care & mindfulness: taking care of the future self
42:50 Why we need to re-think addiction
46:47 Why we need to move beyond awareness & feelings to find healing
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