Non-Anonymous Alcoholic

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I am an alcoholic.

I’ve known it for years. Known, even longer, that I was at great risk for it:  my father, Grandfathers on both sides of the family, and even more of their relatives were all alcoholics.  Scientists made a big deal out of “discovering” a genetic pre-disposition to alcoholism, starting with studies in the 70’s and 80’s, culminating in a study in 1990 that seemed to settle the question once and for all …

Those of us who had the tendency knew it, already.

In 2004, a study finally found THE principle group of genes responsible for alcoholism – and a number of other substance abuse issues:  the CREB gene, which contributes to the formation and function of a brain structure called the Amygdala (Amygdalae, actually, for they are twin structures, one in each hemisphere, but we’re going to stick with the singular, because they tend to function as one organ). While the importance of this gene-sequence is still under debate, the importance of the Amygdala  in substance abuse issues is NOT. The Amygdala, it turns out, plays a part in Anxiety disorders, Emotional disorders, and (wow, big surprise) the substance abuse issues that arise from self-medicating, either with alcohol, or a number of other substances …

The trouble is, nearly ALL of these substances damage, yes, you guessed it, the Amygdala!

The specific sort of damage done is to render the individual less and less capable of managing stressors on his own, and less and less able to break the grip of his addiction.  The Amygdala, itself, is not the ‘Center of Addiction’ – there’s no such thing – but its normal function is to help us manage anxiety, manage stress, manage emotional issues … and Alcohol damages it …

Of course, Alcohol damages a lot of other parts of the brain as well – the entire organ, as it turns out.  Severe and continued use of alcohol results in a phenomenon called paresis … it’s a steady, systemic erosion of the entire cortex.  Alcohol basically melts away the brain, beginning at the outermost layers and progressing inward. Motor Functions are damaged. Reasoning and Cognition are damaged. Emotional control is damaged.  Memory is damaged. Balance. Coordination. Motor control. Sensory Functions.  All permanently and irreparably damaged.

On the left, two views of brains damaged by paresis. On the right, a normal brain.

On the left, two views of brains damaged by paresis. On the right, a normal brain.

Take a good look at the image above.  First look at the rightmost image … this is a healthy brain … now look at the two images on the left … these have been damaged by paresis. See the massive erosion of the front of the brain (the part at the top of the image) ? That part is referred to as the Frontal Cortex. Its job?  Higher reasoning. Pretty much everything a man can do that animals can’t (or at least can’t do as well as a man) is done right here, at the front of the brain, right behind the eyes.  There’s damage all over the two views on the left (which is actually the same brain, just different slices, to show the full degree of the damage), but the worst of the damage is to the Frontal Cortex. The Frontal cortex is actually only part of the Neo-Cortex, even if it’s the most important part.  The Neo-Cortex (‘New Cortex’) is the newest, most modern part of the brain … the part that needed to grow to accommodate new and exciting changes, but found itself running into the skull … the solution? Grow more surface area by developing folds and furrows … paresis damages the whole freaking thing!

My point is that alcoholism damages everything that makes a person a person.  It damages all sorts of physical things like motor control, but it also permanently damages  the person’s ability to reason, to manage his emotions, to control his behavior … ask an alcoholic’s close friends and family:  at a certain point, he becomes another person – that is, the damage is so great, that he’s no longer able to be the person he once was.  It doesn’t mean the addiction always wins – but it does always leave a permanent mark, a permanent change, and friends and family have to adjust to a whole new version of their loved one.  Sometimes they can.

Sometimes they can’t:  alcohol doesn’t just erode the structures of the brain, you see, it also erodes every relationship a person has.  Every relationship you form is based on the ‘you’ that existed at the start of the relationship … when ‘you’ are so far eroded as to no longer be fully ‘you’, however, oftentimes people simply can’t adjust.

Alcoholism can be beaten. Old relationships can sometimes be repaired. New relationships can be formed. Unfortunately, beating it can only be done in two ways:  relying on the part of the brain that is being most severely damaged by alcohol – or relying on other people to help you accomplish the things you used to be able to rely on your own brain for …

If you’re a loner, like myself (and you probably are, to some degree, if you’re an alcoholic,) it’s very, very, very hard to rely on anyone else …

But not impossible. I’m going to try. Because I want this to be over. I finally, completely, want to be sober. I want the damage to my brain to stop. I want the damage to my relationships to stop. Very likely, I can never be me again.

I’ll have to embrace a new me – and hope that you all can, as well.

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~ by dourscot on September 18, 2013.

One Response to “Non-Anonymous Alcoholic”

  1. Incidentally, if you, too, are an alcoholic, or you know one, here are two tricks I’ve picked up … get your house empty of alcohol (pour it down the drain, or, if you can’t, drink it) then use these two tricks to avoid buying more:

    I’m usually tempted to buy alcohol anytime I leave my house (if I know have have only a little left, or there’s none) … the two tricks involve making it impossible buy any …

    1) if you’re leaving the house for any reason that doesn’t involve money, LEAVE your money, credit cards, etc, at home, take only your Driver’s License.

    2) If you HAVE to have money and Credit Cards with you, leave your SHOES at home … most merchants won’t let you in barefoot, and you can buy fast-food, pick up medications, and do lots of other stuff, from inside your car, where it doesn’t matter if you’re barefoot.

    Obviously, there are going to be times when neither of these is appropriate (buying groceries, for instance) … for those occasions, you’ll have to fall back on will-power, and prayer.

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