ANY use creates a craving for more

from Sober Challenge (day 1):

“Hi Belle. I’m doing ok but I’m sorry to say I drank last night.

I went to my therapist meeting on monday and we have however formed a plan for me to tackle this. I don’t know what you would think to her suggestion but I think it could help me. She thought that as I have tried to quit for over a year by stopping, perhaps I needed to “try something different” (sound familiar) 😉

The thing I’m not sure you’ll agree with is that she gave me this method that she uses to break the cycle. We have written a “ladder” of things that I associate with alcohol and where I use alcohol to help with anxiety starting with the easiest to do without alcohol to the hardest. I now have to start at the bottom of the ladder, do the activity as many times as possible in the first week without alcohol and continue until I don’t have the anxiety and it is normal to do the activity sober and anxiety free. She is going to see me once a week and I will record all my feelings and experiences. The aim is that within a few months I will have worked on all the steps of the ladder and then be in a better position mentally and physically to commit to a sober life.

I am going to give it a try as I feel more positive and feel I can approach it this way. But if you think this is not a good idea, I’m open to your thoughts …”

me: sweet pea, let me say this.

I don’t know you in real life, and I’m not a therapist, and I’m not YOUR therapist. I don’t know all that is ‘UP’ with you. and you should never take the advice of a girl on the internet anyway 🙂

and here’s what I think.

it sounds like your therapist is using some ‘exposure’ therapy ideas to help to deal with your anxiety. like, imagine you were afraid to go outside. first you’d stand on your front step. then you’d walk to the corner and back. then next week you’d walk around the block. and you’d slowly get used to doing things.

and maybe you do have an anxiety problem, and maybe you do really need some kind of immersion/exposure therapy.

but my guess is that your therapist is not a sober human, and that she isn’t an alcohol specialist.

in my head (where I spend most of my time!), if you have an anxiety thing then yes, it does require treatment. exposure, counselling, medication. If you’re using alcohol to deal with anxiety, it’s adding a problem to a problem.

but what therapist is saying, is something like “let’s find all the ways you can go through life without cocaine and then slowly increase the percentage of your day when you’re not using cocaine.”

the problem with cocaine (and booze) is that they’re addictive. and that ANY use creates a craving for more. and any use creates problems with anxiety. so to me, continuing to drink in any amount while dealing with anxiety stuff  is like tying your legs together and asking you to walk.

again really, I am not an expert and I know NOTHING.

you may well need some medication. you might need rehab or outpatient treatment. my personal opinion is that you can’t really treat anxiety (for real) unless you’re sober. because the noise in our head is so loud because of the booze, that it’s just not able to integrate other things. (I sometimes wish I could go back and do all of the counselling I did before but do it sober, like it’d be so much more useful…)

the same can be said for the medications we take for depression or anxiety. while they work, they gotta be working BETTER when we’re sober, right?

again, really, are you ignoring me? you should be – but again, I don’t think that drinking is something we can ‘think’ about in a new way. it’s not logical. it’s not rational. it’s not sensible. our brains are complicated places. if it was ‘easy’ we’d all work through some kind of process and come out the other side as occasional one-drink drinkers. and that isn’t what happens. It “should” happen if you think about it logically. but it doesn’t. because nothing about alcohol use is logical.

and I don’t think we can change how we think about drinking while we’re still drinking. it’s only once the booze is removed that things begin to change.

well there. that’s my opinion.

please delete this message now 🙂

and keep emailing.
hugs hugs

More about how to ‘think’ about quitting drinking, a series of audios for Lurkers, Beginners, and early sobriety > go here


I want to put this online, to hold myself accountable. I want to document the noise in my head. I'm tired of thinking about drinking. date of last drink: june 30, 2012

  • My anxiety disappeared between months 2 and 6 of stopping drinking. It was beautiful- I was calm, happy and confident. Month 7 the anxiety started creeping back in. I’m getting to month 8 and figuring out what is going on. It’s not simple but I’m able to work at it sober.

    BTW I think your pen pal was asking her therapist for a new way to tackle getting sober as what she had tried for a year wasn’t working. Send sober tips, sober friends!!

    My tip: take better care of you. X

  • Actually, for me, if anything, stopping drinking increased my anxiety. I became more aware of those things that made me anxious, and that had made me turn to the anaesthetic of alcohol in the first place. But, sober, I was and am clear headed and clear sighted enough to recognise that some anxieties are just in my head, and that there are other better ways of coping with them than drinking, and some anxieties are legitimate, and being sober, I am able to face the problem(s) and do something constructive to solve it/them.

    • It’s interesting; I certainly didn’t find removing alcohol reduced my anxiety either. If anything all my feelings have just been magnified. That’s not to say my anxiety increased; but no alcohol was certainly not the solution to my troubled feelings. You are right though Da about the being clear headed. I do at least stand a greater chance of knowing what the anxiety is about and what I can do to change my circumstances!

  • DON’T take the first drink … no matter what AND don’t take the first “think” either. Spot on about how thinking about alcohol with a boozers mind is not logical EVER … alcohol is cunning, baffling, powerful.

  • Absolutely, remove the booze. Alcohol causes anxiety and mine went away the minute I got all the alcohol out of my system.
    I could always not drink or drink just one in many situations but then I would come home and open my bottle of wine and drink in my home. So some ladder practice would never work.
    Like Belle said, any drink will make you crave another. It is addictive and it’s just doing its job.
    A long period of time with no alcohol is I believe the only way to get the perspective you need to realize what it was doing and then hopefully decide never to let it back in.

  • It will be one year on December 31st. I look back now and think how very different my life is. Iove how I feel and how I have more time to do things and enjoy them. I also watch other people drinking and think ,nope I don’t ever want to be like that again. I love being in control of my life. If I want to unwind I just go to bed and relax. I don’t need alcohol to do that. I truly will never drink again. Thank You Belle for everything you do.

  • Thank you, Belle, for this post and to everyone who’s posted here. I’m struggling to reach a second day 1. Every word all of you say here resonates and makes sense to me. So why can’t I get there? I reached day 80, for the first time in many years, then crashed.

    • if what you’ve been trying isn’t enough, then you try some new things now. you’ve tried it the other way. now you can do something new. get a new result.

  • I think there is some value to what the therapist is suggesting with the ladder, and that is identifying triggers and understanding the size/importance/difficulty that comes with each. A good next step would be to then come up with a list of alternatives–things to do when you are triggered other than drink.

    However, I totally agree with the other comments here on the need to remain completely sober; only focusing on one ladder rung/trigger at a time and continuing to drink during others would be harmful, at least for me. The craving would never die, and I’d be drinking at every rung, even the one I was supposedly working on.

  • As much as I hate to say it, you’re right, Belle. A person who has a fear of snakes can’t get over it by handling them, not immediately. Sure, you have to plunge back into life sometime, but not by deliberately and prematurely putting yourself in a situation that you know is stressful. I blew my first 100 day challenge after 60 days doing just that. I’d made it through family dinners, Thanksgiving, and thought I was immune–then I went to my husband’s gig at a local bar and fell completely off the wagon. Crowded, loud venues devoted to drinking are never my first choice of entertainment, and since that situation already stressed me, I was a sitting duck. Will I ever go to a bar venue again? Maybe. But not 60 days in!

  • I have a therapist that doesn’t get it either, trust Belle!! I love my therapist for my anxiety and other issues, but Belle’s way to quit drinking really works.

  • This is my, oh I don’t know how many times trying to quit. I am tired and exhausted of the same old routine of feeling like crap. I am joining the 100 day challenge with a new outlook on life. You are all very inspiring. Cheers

  • Having any alcohol just keeps me tied to the idea that it is a necessary and wonderful part of life and that living without it is “less than.” It keeps me twisted. The only way I have found to be happy is to treat it like a bad boyfriend…so glad that he is gone…and completely convinced that if I left him in the living room, he will be in my bed in no time, and he will move in for good. But that’s me.

  • I, like Cindy, agree to a degree with both the therapist and Belle! I didn’t get from the original message that the therapist was advocating anything other than sobriety, there was no mention of drinking smaller amounts! I should say, before you take anything I say as gospel, that I am less qualified to give advice on what works than I am on what doesn’t work as I managed 70 sober days this summer then daintily stepped off the proverbial wagon…… drama, just the sweet tempting voice of the ‘angel’ on my right shoulder (or Wolfie as he is to you guys) sounding remarkably like the angel that sits on my left shoulder, and my gorgeous ‘normal drinking’ boyfriend agreeing that a glass of sangria when we are sitting at a beach bar was perfectly ok on the odd occasion! (It took a mere six weeks to return to a bottle of wine a night and a few sneaked shots but now back on Day 4) However, avoiding the beach bars completely wouldn’t have worked either, tried that one a couple of years back, because it isn’t just there that I think about drinking! So the therapist saying that doing routine things sober (like going to the beach bar or the supermarket and not drinking) will build up a feeling of normality to doing it sober does make sense, but what we need to be prepared for (and you’ve probably mentioned this before Belle?) is a degree of complacency and comfort in not drinking setting in and then you start to forget the bad relationship you had with alcohol and start to feel normal and kind of sorted then in steps the little devil impersonating the angel, sounding rational and sweet, trying to persuade you that you are totally ‘fixed’ and can return to ‘normal’ drinking! That’s what I now know I have to be constantly on high alert for ………no matter what number sober day I reach! I am determined to do it! Alcohol? Not today thank you!

    • “is a degree of complacency and comfort in not drinking setting in and then you start to forget” Absolutely – tripped me up several times before I figured out I have to stay on high alert every day – sending Belle 4 emails a day, every day, works for me. It’s a sort of mindfulness exercise.

  • Totally agree. One drink always leads to another. I could not start to deal with all the shit in my life until I put down the bottle.

  • 49 days without any alcohol. Doing things differently by no longer drinking alcohol and removing it from my life has ignited the real me and got rid of the anxious, depressed and negative me. That person has gone, thank goodness without any medication or therapy.

    I’ve never previously faced up to tackling the real problem.. which i thank goodness have now realised was alcohol.

    I’m looking forward to my first hip and completely sober Christmas in probably 27 years : ) I’ve been to events, meals out, festival nights, a live band, the pub, an awards ceremony ( there was free wine all night and fizzy water for me!!). My friends still love me and completely respect my decision and I’m doing all this sober….Yay

    Thank you belle for the daily updates and to the on line community whose stories continually reinforce that this is the right decision

    xx xx : ) xxxxx

  • This resonates with me today. I’ve pondered sobriety for about a year and a half now. Not a daily drinker, but definitely not doing well moderating. There is no point in having one. I want 10.

    Last night and also last Friday I had a work-related happy hour. I don’t over-imbibe when out because there’s no way I’m driving drunk. But on the way home, I stopped to buy more to drink at home. By myself. Today’s remorse is almost palatable.

  • I believe that both the therapist and Belle are right. I think there are many ways to reduce your drinking. That is better than continuing to drink massive quantities. Any sober day is better for your health than a non-sober day. But, using this approach, alcohol will still be the go to thing when you are triggered. Maybe less often, but the basic association between trigger and drinking remains. And, I believe that you can easily go back to more frequent and heavy drinking as long as that association remains.

    Quitting completely is the only way to break the link. It is the only way to learn to always do other things than drinking when something triggers you. It is the only way to heal your brain.

  • I think you hit the nail on the head about the therapist being a boozer too. I had a therapist 12 years ago when I first realized that I may need to quit drinking. She sent me to AA because I didn’t believe in God. Or at least that’s what I am assuming now. She was a Christian therapist and long story short – I ended up in her wine tasting group. After I had found God and declared myself not an alcoholic. That “worked” for a few years. Then still riddled with anxiety and depression and hangovers and a miserable existence – I knew I had to quit the alcohol. I didn’t want to go back to AA but I definitely knew that the way things were going was not how I wanted to live. This site has helped. I only have six months and that is the longest I have ever gone. I have a new therapist. And it is only in the last week or so that I am feeling a shift in the anxiety and depression. It’s lifting. Things are getting easier. Life is more manageable. And it is because the common denominator of my problems ALCOHOL has been removed. I’ve got a momentum that I could never achieve while partaking in the sauce. It’s unfortunately the truth that my boozer brain doesn’t want to accept, my healthy self is getting stronger and it’s good. It’s better.

    • Melisa, you ended up in your therapist’s wine tasting group …that’s hilarious.

      When I read that the therapy prescribed to quit drinking was to continually do things that make you want to drink I thought “This therapist will have this client in sessions for a long time!”

  • This would not work for me at all. Doing the things that I do drunk would make me drink. For example, on this ladder of drinking activities is going to a pub with friends. Going to a pub with friends as many times as possible and trying not to drink there would be setting myself up for failure.

    Physical addiction to alcohol is a real tangible thing. It is not like having anxiety when you are near puppies. Maybe you could conquer that anxiety by petting a puppy every day until you get over it.

    Doing any activity that makes you want to drink sounds like a bad idea.

  • IMHO, will not work. stick with belle’s sober challenge, as a lifelong boozer and OCD sufferer I can say unequivocally that alcohol will only make things truly hellish by comparison. I am not a therapist but I can positively attest to that through 40 years of alcohol abuse.

  • Every time I read your blogs I well up. I don’t know why. I’m still drinking myself – with hundreds of day 1,2,or 3, but not much more. I love what you say but I’m filled with such emotion that it is a bit overwhelming sometimes (so I shouldn’t read at the office where tears in my eyes bring on strange looks). I will keep reading and trying. I appreciate the support even if I haven’t found the strength yet to really be sober… I know I’m getting there and that helps.

    • You can do this. Just start. Get your sober car on the road and drive carefully. Put Belle in the passenger seat and email her as many times a day as you need to. I’m pulling for you too!

  • And the quote of the day goes to Belle:
    “ANY use creates a craving for more.” Yep, that one’s going down in my saved folder. So true on so many levels. I don’t even let myself think about drinking anymore.

  • In my (humble) experience, this response is spot on and correct. It 100% reflects my cycle of trying over and over again, without totally removing the REAL problem. Once it is removed, the other struggles/issues have a clean slate – a new ‘palette’ – against which to be exposed and dealt with. Thank you belle.