The Cure for Alcoholism and Addiction
This is an excerpt from my book, Fuck Portion Control, which contains references to other chapters. This information is provided to help those suffering from substance abuse who cannot afford my book. I am also always available to chat with those needing help with this condition.
–––––––––––Chapter 28 The Cure For Alcoholism and Drug Addiction
One Saturday when I was fifteen our family was driving home from my Dad's office buildings doing janitorial work where we earned extra money instead of having normal summer jobs. I was staring out the window like a proper brooding teenager, dreaming of all the ways life could be better than it was while my five siblings, tired from the day’s janitorial effort were silent and nodding off in the back. Actually, I clearly remember fantasizing about fighting a fire-breathing dragon flying along our car, I was just insecure about sharing that so I was going to lie.
"Nathan," my Dad's authoritarian tone broke the hypotonic drum of the suburban's rolling tires, "we know what you do when you take long showers, so you're no longer allowed to be in the bathroom more than five minutes." My face turned red. I didn't reply. What could I say to something like that? Now I stared out the window to hide my embarrassment. "No long showers," agreed my mom, who then looked at Dad in a way which revealed this to be a premeditated attack. Why they thought a good time to address my masturbation habits was in the car with my entire family present seems insanity to me, unless they did mean to trap me and inflict the greatest level of shame possible, then it was pure genius.
This was just another example of the kind of constant emotional bombardment in which I grew up, not half of it from just my parents, full of religious threats and debasing shame for simply being alive. The irony was that I hated whacking off in the shower. Water is a terrible lubricant, as any boy knows. I did all my masturbation under the covers or while streaking around the forest behind our house under cover of darkness. No, I loved taking long hot showers because it was the only place in the house where I could get away from them. Unlike the rest of my life a shower was peaceful, quiet, a sanctuary. I found out later that children and adults with thyroid problems instinctively shower hotter and longer to self-medicate a reduced body temperature. It is literally medicinal. But wellness wasn't something that concerned my parents nor the community at large, and as is the experience of many teenagers my life seemed nothing more than one emotionally assaulting experience to the next. Real relief finally came when I was nineteen, on a date with a handsome, kind boy at his apartment when he asked if I'd like a glass of "red or white." "Red or white, what?" I replied, was how little I knew of alcohol, how efficient my insulated upbringing. He chose for me and brought a glass full of red wine. I remember how acidic and fruity it tasted. I did not get a buzz, but there was something about it which felt instantly freeing, as if for the first time I knew what life was like without pain and inhibition, and all in a beautiful little glass of pretty red liquid. For a moment I was free and mature, happy, unencumbered by the neuroses and insecurities under which I suffocated. From that day out alcohol freed me every time, from ever-present stress. It made my life enjoyable, brought fun and companionship, the kind of life other people get to live without it—the kind of life I always wanted.
But even when alcohol proved detrimental to my life, I was never able to connect the dots. Actually I was, but deeply in the back of my mind, inaccessible, a very real fear that alcohol was ruining my health. But I continued to drink while suffering through the relatively rapid decline of my physical and mental wellbeing, as though the person who knew this was trapped inside the body of a person who drank liberally. I would meet models and athletes who refrained from drinking even on a night out. I saw their example and longed to join their ranks—but the tequila was just too good. Actually, I longed for them to join me and prove that alcohol was compatible with such beauty. They never did.
When my life fell apart I was standing alone in our three-bedroom house in Palm Springs which we would soon have to vacate wondering why my life was in such a shambles. Of all the things a white male my age and privilege could have—a job, a car, a place to live, money, a lover, friends—I should have at least one. I had none. I was still sick from our last party a few days before during which I had drunk copious amounts of tequila. “I’m so hungover,” I had said to a guest. “Really?” He said. “We didn’t have that many drinks.” I was surprised by his response, as it was the closest anyone in my entire life had suggested I had a drinking problem. Not even when I ran a car drunk into a concrete wall did it occur to me that alcohol and not poor planning was the cause. I recalled the events of the previous night, and how I repeatedly snuck back to the kitchen pouring clandestine refills of tequila during moments when our guests were outside, or in the bathroom, or watching the TV intently, and continuing to refill from the freezer after everyone had gone to bed. Because I am so tall I always assumed that everyone was always watching me, but I was so good at sneaking my alcoholism that not even my partner knew the quantity of alcohol I put away.
Desperate for a way to hold on to my life as it was I asked for help from someone I had never met but knew was sober, who was a friend of my boyfriend’s. My motivation was more that he might help preserve my relationship, but the conversation did not go as I had anticipated. He did not join in my commiseration, though he allowed me to vent. He then explained that there was nothing I could do except to help myself. But it was not his words which made an impression on me. Rather, he spoke with a calmness I had never heard before, as if he was familiar with pain and the secret of life and accepted its changeableness. I would later come to know this as serenity. But right there on the phone as he suggested I try a program for codependents I knew instead that I had a drinking problem. Suddenly the plagues of my life all made sense. “I am a drunk!” I thought with glee as we began to wrap up our phone call. My pain and desperation suddenly lessened. I hung up the phone and contemplated my situation. My problems became quite clear. It was not that I couldn’t manage a relationship, hold a job, be financially responsible, or avoid bad partners. I had a disease which made the accomplishment of these things impossible.
Initially I thought that identifying as a drunk would save my relationship. On Valentine’s Day I had prepared a warm welcome for my partner who had returned to get some clothes and apologized for my self-centered behavior, revealed my alcoholism, and promised that I would no longer drink. “That’s great,” he said in a chummy tone not used between lovers. “Are you going to meetings?”
Meetings? I thought. Oh, he means Alcoholics Anonymous. “I don’t need them,” I said. As the words left my lips I knew I was lying. I was not good at life. I had failed utterly. How was I going to get my life back in order when I did not even know where to begin? Sure, things could be yet worse but that was no standard to live by. I had no idea how to be an adult, how to run my affairs, how to find success in relationships and business or to deal with the suffocating uncertainties which are the garb of mortality. I would not survive if I did not learn how.
I didn’t say as much, though. Suddenly I did not want him there anymore. I felt it was a real chance for me to get out of old patterns of behavior entirely, if I only reached out and grabbed it. My misery turned to excitement, and as soon as he left I ran to the computer and looked up the very next meeting I could find. A few hours later I walked into a small building with no signage in a half-empty commercial development. Blinding florescent lights made the few old men gathered appear decades older than they were. None of them looked at me. After I sat down, a crazy lady sitting to the side asked me why I was there. I told her my fiancé had left. She said it was not a good reason to be there. It was obvious that she was no person to take advice from, so I ignored her. Then a man twenty years my senior walked in. He saw me and paused, then stepped toward me with an outstretched hand and introduced himself, and asked if I was new. I nodded and introduced myself, my emotions an equal mix of overwhelming joy and sadness made it difficult to speak without my voice catching. He offered his help and phone number. The meeting started. The attendees went around the room declaring their names and length of sobriety. They did not care that I cried when I said I was an alcoholic. They knew how to treat me, encouraging me to return but not indulging my self-pity, giving advice on good meetings and encouraging me to pursue the program. I stuck with it, and within a few months found myself on the way to an entirely better future. One day while working on my cancer situation, when I had been sober for some time, I suddenly realized that a lot of the things I had been using to treat my cancer were also helping my alcoholism. I thought I was just good at being sober, but the more I looked into possible causes for alcoholism and addiction and experimented with therapies to address it I soon discovered what causes this condition and thus how to treat it.
Because alcohol is a type of sugar it helps cells make huge amounts of energy, and this why we so often use it, especially if we are stressed or want to feel better, since alcohol helps to run fatigued cells. Alcohol is also metabolized by enzymes into the short chain fatty acid called acetic acid, which is involved in the formation of steroids, energy, and other metabolic processes which support a robust metabolism and general health. Alcoholics are often deficient in the ability to properly metabolize carbohydrates, with low endogenous levels of acetic acid, so post-hangover drinkers find an increase in energy, good feeling, and motivation that is otherwise absent, which reinforces the helpful nature of alcohol on a suffering person.
But alcohol is incompatible with the human body, not only because alcohol kills beneficial gut bacteria, but is itself highly estrogenic and causes a suppression of metabolic integrity and the absorption of excess iron. This does not mean that total abstinence is necessary to get well, but it does mean that alcohol use comes with consequences. The other, more harmful metabolites into which alcohol degrades during consumption such as aldehyde are the real reasons why alcohol can be so harmful to the health, destroying cellular structures and flushing spare vitamins and minerals from the body. People who don't want to believe alcohol is bad for their health, even if they're already sick, immediately hail the witless tripe of stuff working differently for various persons, as if they are different species or something. One dolt commented on an article of mine that Europe had a strong tradition of drinking and was an example of a peaceful, functional society. Um, holocaust? Albanian genocide?
The reason alcohol can harm our health has nothing to do with morals, religion, or spirituality, and many of us who should probably stop drinking do not want to because those people who hurt us deeply, who also told us not to drink would then be right, not only about the drink but about our character. Unfortunately, alcohol is incompatible with health, but only because of chemistry and not because our abusive parents or religious leaders say so. As a former alcoholic no one wanted this to be untrue more than I did, but if I’ve learned anything it is precisely how much life absolutely does not care what I want to be true. Sure, maybe you won't be one of those to get cancer from alcohol. Maybe, like me, you can manage your drinking for many years, but that doesn't mean you are a superman with your own laws of chemistry. It's okay. Alcohol helped me think I was exempt from life a time too.
In the mid nineteen-hundreds a man by the name of Curt Richter was studying rats and their response to stress. He noticed that when rats were subjected to a painful stimulus (torture) while being restrained, the rats would quickly surrender and cease to struggle. Rats given even one chance to escape during the torture continued to attempt escape every time. The rats with no chance to escape suddenly stopped trying to escape, and would not even attempt to escape when given a later opportunity to do so. They had acquired an inability to perceive hope, and when put in a swim test where a healthy rat would swim and stay afloat for two or three days without drowning (and the rats allowed to escape), the rats who developed hopelessness had heart attacks within an hour and drowned, overcome by stress. This acquired response to stress, marked by an inability to perceive hope and which resulted in the permanent inability for rats to survive challenges to their physical capacity was termed learned hopelessness.
When I was twenty I could not bring myself to attend college even though I really wanted to go, and had applied and been accepted for a second time. I was not yet drinking regularly, but I would look forward to occasions when one of my friends threw a good house party. I wanted to be sociable, affable and charismatic, and able to hit on guys and be good at my job (and be able to stay at one) and face life and people without fear, without feeling paralyzed. I wanted to have hope for the future. But as hard as I tried I could not. I could only be any of these things when I'd had a drink (or had one not too long ago). I was not conscious of the connection between drinking and my desires until my drinking reached epic levels. Drinking had been an unconscious reaction for much needed self medication just like my long showers as a kid. When I did finally become aware of it I was without explanation, or recourse. How do I acquire the ability to function the way I wanted when it had proved so beyond my physiology to do so? Of course I sought help. I tried therapy, both psychological and psychiatric, I got into yoga and mediation, tried antidepressants and nutritional approaches. Read books. Asserting my willpower. None of these approaches came close to the freedom afforded by alcohol. Even a small drink would relieve me of the bondage of this condition, yet it was also limiting. I couldn't drink at work, or in the morning (not yet anyway) or for too long without some kind of side effect. I was trapped between a rock and a hard place. Eventually I developed cancer, and lost important parts of my life.
The condition of learned hopelessness exhibited by the rats happens when our natural learning process becomes a negative feedback loop. Normally, the parasympathetic nervous system and a chemical called acetylcholine are responsible for the imprinting of learned behavior. When functioning rightly, acetylcholine is integral to our development. A pianist becomes good at controlling ten separate fingers simultaneously because of acetylcholine. Repeated exposure to a piano, music, and instruction trains the pianist's mind and body to respond while being exposed to the stimulus of the keys, sounds, sights, instruction, etc. Because of acetylcholine, when the fully practiced concert pianist lifts their hands over a keyboard, their body instinctively knows how to respond. In the same way, a basketball player learns to instinctively control a bouncing ball without even looking at it. Chefs learn to distinguish between foods and more deftly form works of art. A teacher also learns how to better control and inspire their students because of acetylcholine. But acetylcholine functions in even more subtle ways. It teaches us what body posture to adopt when among friends, and which to adopt among enemies, things which we aren't always conscious of learning, like how fast to move when crossing the street or which kind of dogs make us relax and which make us nervous.
In the condition of learned hopelessness, the parasympathetic system (or in other words, us) has learned that escape (or hope) during broad stimulus like life and people is nonexistent. I must always hide who I am or be rejected by my friends and family. My parents do not love me. I was abandoned as a child and no family will take me in. Men will take advantage of me and I must always be on guard. Physical violence is everywhere. Paying this bill will make me afraid of my bank account. When these and other perceptions of life are the lesson learned from this disease, the reaction to life is quite simply emotional and social paralysis. This also happens because acetylcholine is more pronounced during stress, and acetylcholine also increases the expression of other stress hormones, hormones which induce torpor, malaise, fatigue, and pain, which further amplifies the suffering and physically destructive conditions of the disease, and the elevation of stress hormones in turn increase acetylcholine sensitivity so a person with the condition becomes stuck in a negative cognitive feed back loop that is in effect, a paralysis of their vitality. Stress increases acetylcholine. Acetylcholine increases stress. Because it involves the nervous system and its excessive activation by stimuli, this condition is then a neurological disorder.
Since acetylcholine is a chemical it can also be influenced by environmental and nutritional factors and an excess may not even be related to social dynamics. Some things like dioxins, pesticides, and phytotoxic compounds in grains and nightshades can increase the expression or impact of acetylcholine, at disproportionate amounts for disproportionate amounts of time. Nutritionally, nightshades which include potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers, contain a powerful toxin called solanine. Solanine is meant to deter pests like nematodes. By inactivating an enzyme which is supposed to reduce acetylcholine, it kills the nematodes by overloading their nervous system with acetylcholine. Since we are much larger than nematodes the poison does not kill us, and in fact is hardly noticeable except that it still effects the enzyme which is supposed to inactivate excess acetylcholine, and so elevates it artificially. Since stress then increases the expression of acetylcholine, a child in an abusive home will be more effected by acetylcholine than a child in a peaceful home, and a child in an abusive home will be more effected by the abuse if also fed a diet which increases the effect of acetylcholine. But a child in an abusive home with a great diet can grow up without the disease, and a child in a peaceful, loving home with an incorrect diet can still succumb to it. Either way, a child developing learned hopelessness becomes more and more sensitive to stress, and every stress reaction, environmental or nutritional, increases acetylcholine until the point that acetylcholine is chronically elevated, chronically learning that stress is everywhere and everywhere creates stress. A child who grows up believing they are going to be torn away from their family after they die for masturbating under the covers at night is a child who is constantly exposed to elevated acetylcholine, even when the abusive parents aren't present. When the child becomes an adult, just like when the concert pianist encounters the conditions of sitting at a piano and acetylcholine stimulates their mind and fingers to do their thing, the alcoholic (or learned hopelessness adult) experiences their conditioning, which is not to impress adoring crowds with soaring music but that there is no hope of escape.
At this point you may have guessed what alcohol does to acetylcholine. That's right, it turns it off. In fact alcohol inactivates acetylcholine so well that in excess it completely erases acetylcholine, and since acetylcholine is what creates memory and learning its absence causes a blackout. With enough alcohol memories cease forming at all, both mental and physical, and a person wakes up to find themselves lying on an unfamiliar lawn in an unfamiliar neighborhood with no recollection of where they are or how they got there. And this is also why Alcoholics constantly return to the bottle in spite of negative experiences, because the very presence of it entirely reduces the effect of acetylcholine and there is very little, if any, impact of acetylcholine and thus no imprint of learning. Alcohol is thus its own cloaking device. Little or nothing is learned or retained while it is present. But since the majority of acetylcholine is eliminated so is the state of learned hopelessness, and thus relief to the sufferer. Since acetylcholine can also be effected by diets, cultures which traditionally have a high rate of nightshade consumption like the Midwest (potatoes), Russia (potatoes), and Mexico (tomatoes and peppers) have correspondingly higher rates of alcoholism because their diets are higher in nightshades, and thusly elevated levels of acetylcholine. Alcohol just happens to be the most powerful antagonist of acetylcholine, cheap and widely available. Alcohol is the medicine alcoholics use to relieve themselves of the symptoms of learned hopelessness. Alcoholism is, then, a neurological disorder.
Drug use, both prescription and recreational, is also a form of self-medication for sufferers of learned hopelessness. That boy who gave me my first glass of wine was murdered in his adulthood. Also a victim of this disease, he was in a situation no sweet, loving person such as him would ever willingly place themselves in if we weren't suffering a debilitating illness. No person, even homeless and destitute from addictions would chose to be there if they weren't victims of this disease. That this even has to be explained is incredible to me. Though drug abusers may or may not also use alcohol do suffer from the very same neurological condition but where alcohol works by directly antagonizing acetylcholine, the way in which drugs like marijuana, Xanax, methamphetamine, or heroin ease the suffering of this disease is by increasing other hormones which antagonize the effects of acetylcholine rather than acetylcholine directly. Acetylcholine, for instance, lowers dopamine, which is the hormone that makes us happy. Methamphetamine directly raises dopamine, reversing the debt caused by acetylcholine. By increasing the neuroinhibitor GABA, heroin in turn suppresses the release of acetylcholine and that associated suffering of learned hopelessness. Marijuana relieves the inducement of stress caused by acetylcholine and like alcohol also interferes with acetylcholine production. All forms of substance addiction center around the activity of this neurological chemical to relieve sufferers of its negative effects, regardless of the substance used.
Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol only work while they are in the body, which is why sufferers or this disease continually turn to them for relief, and eventually cause social and physical consequences. For years I had believed I was no longer suicidal. But then I saw that I had been committing suicide long and slow by alcohol, the only two choices available to me was to either drink or to die, because to live with things as they were was not possible, literally, for the disease which I suffered would not allow other options. The biological systems which construct a life and personality had for me formed an ugly view of the world, and no matter how much I tried and wanted my perspective to be different, no matter how many pleasant things went on around me or much I wrested, fought, and pleaded with God, the world, or my own self control, there was no way I could ever have treated such a disease on my own.
There is an article in The Atlantic magazine decrying Alcoholics Anonymous for being the only primary treatment of alcoholism, given that there are some adjunct medical therapies available as well. The subtext from the author was really a beef with the concept of God, and one could strip everything about A.A. from the article and not have lost the message he was putting up. I get it. God was an integral part of the torment which I was subjected to as a helpless child. Not actually a God, of course, but adult men and women who hurt me in the name of God. A more patient person might frame them as well-meaning, but I know adult behavior and people who use God to control their children are just lazy fuckers who resort to fear and intimidation because they are powerful tools, with little regard to the eventual outcome of their actions and are more concerned with their own benefit than that of their charges. No, that author is not wrong to despise the concept of God when authority is tied together with the very nature of learned hopelessness. It is from these very people who were Gods to us small children that the excruciating condition from which we suffer came.
And yet twelve-step programs do work to relieve alcoholics and drug addicts from their enslavement, if actually done (doing six steps of a twelve-step program is not doing a twelve-step program, it's doing a six-step program and there is a reason no six-step programs are around). So if alcoholism and drug abuse are a neurological disease, why do twelve step programs work? Because learned hopelessness is a process created by the neurological pathways in which we learn, it can be unlearned. This is especially effective if therapies are used to support the physical health and proper function of the nervous system. A.A. intuitively tapped in to the process by which the condition is created in the first place, by repetitive lived experiences, and uses it to associate the conditions of the first case, which is life, with lessons of a positive social nature, thus reversing the condition. Twelve-step programs show the sufferer of alcoholism and drug abuse how to accomplish real hope by empowerment, and so reverses the symptoms of the disease which was the inability to perceive hope. This impact is further cemented by abstinence because concomitant drug and alcohol use destroys acetylcholine which is still needed to form new replacements of positive associations with the previous learned associations. Of course, there is some dogma in such programs which is misunderstood and misused by certain adherents, and to be clear, the value in such programs are the therapies of personal and fear inventory, which helps alcoholics and addicts understand that they are truly valuable as human beings and how life experience differs from who they are as a person, as well as being supported by a community of likeminded individuals. My own experience within the program was a mostly positive one which exposed me to the practice of personal inventory and helped me tease apart the trauma of my past from my individual worth and thus learn to have a deeper connection to myself and the world around me.
But a behavioral program is not the only way to attack the problem of alcoholism and learned hopelessness (because many people do suffer learned hopelessness who are not also addicts), and often the program may be successful in removing the abusive use of alcohol but may not successfully reverse the condition of learned hopelessness, because of the severity the condition and the nature of acetylcholine. Because acetylcholine is a physiological substance it can be altered the way it is with alcohol but with healthier strategies. One of the best and easiest available are antihistamines. I find this hilarious, as will anyone familiar with the program, because the program regards alcohol as an allergen. Antihistamines work to combat alcoholism by blocking the destructive effects of excess acetylcholine, and have been used for years in rehab clinics and medical settings to protect against the effects of withdrawal without understanding the mechanism behind its effectiveness, which is that the rebound of acetylcholine during withdrawal during severe alcoholism can be so intense it can actually cause death (also because the body of the sufferer is weakened and more susceptible). But since antihistamines only block the destructive effects of acetylcholine rather than eliminating it like alcohol they also help facilitate the relearning process of undoing learned hopelessness, and unlike alcohol, the worst side effect is drowsiness. Incidentally, first generation antihistamines also function as sleep aids and can be very useful for alcoholics who suffer insomnia. At the outset of my recovery from alcohol I was taking doxylamine succinate to help combat my cancer and aid sleep. I noticed how profoundly easier my recovery was than those who began the program at the same time as I did and thought I was just really good at being sober. Now I recognize this as being owed to the use of that antihistamine which, eliminating the destructive effects of acetylcholine, made my recovery easier and the impact on my psyche more profound. Not all over-the-counter antihistamines are actually antihistamines, though. Some are steroids or other compounds. Diphenhydramine is another type, and there are yet more which are available by prescription. Excessive use can overload the liver, and isn't necessary, and antihistamines also block the function of GABA so they should not be used long term, but are fine until the person is healthy. Small doses also do huge work and usually I would break a tablet in half. An antihistamine will relieve an alcoholic of the activation of their learned hopelessness while recovering from it. On taking one you may noticed a slight reduction in the severity of the emotions which can lead to relapse. After several weeks the real benefit will start to kick in, which is sort of a sense of the pattern of negative emotional cues starting to vanish altogether, and moments are taken as they come, rather than in anticipation.
Acetic acid, the end metabolite of alcohol ingestion, is supposed to be produced by our gut bacteria and is the substrate for many bodily processes including cholesterol and steroid formation (and all alcoholics or those with symptoms of addiction and alcoholism must address gut health as discussed in that chapter, as restoration of healthy gut microbiota, by again supplying healthy short chain fatty acids, will go a long way to healing the disease and its destructive mental and physical effects). When alcohol is taken it produces the effect described that relieves an alcoholic of their emotional suffering, and this in large part is because the amount of free acetic acid generated as the end product of alcohol metabolism helps to synthesize the missing steroids and other hormones that an alcoholic lacks due to the stressors of a lifetime of elevated acetylcholine. Alcoholics often have disturbed gut function and have less endogenous production of the short chain fatty acids, including acetic acid. Alcohol is antibacterial and the continued and excessive use of it further destroys the balance of gut bacteria and reduces acetic acid production, making the self-medication of alcohol even more dependent for normal bodily function, and is another reason why alcoholics instinctively reach for alcohol even after having negative experiences with it, since the reduction of alcohol to acetic acid further enforces the benefit of alcohol use to the alcoholic, providing a temporary boost in steroids and energy post drinking that serve to relieve the alcoholic of suffering. Gut dysbiosis is the description of imbalanced gut bacteria, where some species of bacteria outnumber others and alter the composition of digestive products, much to the detriment of the sufferer, and the nuances and remedies for gut microbiota issues are discussed in the chapters on proper human diet and gut health. In tackling alcohol use it is extremely helpful to find supplemental sources of acetic acid to replace that which is otherwise found through alcohol, which can severely relieve the impulse of cravings and in fact I have had a number of my readers relate to me about a reduced desire to drink when using regular intake of acetic acid from vinegar or the use of sodium acetate. The chapter on gut health details what sodium acetate is and how to get it (also at the end of this article). It is a generous source of supplemental acetic acid and extremely helpful in dealing with alcoholism. In fact, an excellent pharmaceutical for this disease would be a multi-mineral formulation of acetic acid salts, to provide ample acetic acid supplementation without overdosing on any one particular mineral. Additionally, vinegar can be used in foods or other products to supply more acetic acid, and thence the production of cholesterol and steroids which will not only relieve suffering but help ease cravings as well as aid in restoring the general health of the individual. Interestingly, many alcoholics take a liking to kombucha, which is traditionally made with acetic acid producing bacteria. Since some kombucha can have almost as much alcohol as beer it is important to read labels and avoid those when recovering from alcoholism. Other brands avoid the alcohol by adding lactic acid bacteria to their brew, and lactic acid can work against efforts to restore health and fight alcoholism so commercial kombucha isn't a best source of acetic acid but can be an option if a source of low-alcohol, no-lactic acid can be found or made.
Many vitamins are either inhibited by drug and alcohol abuse, are not present in the diet, or are used up quickly during intoxication. Vitamin C is especially helpful for recovery, though best had through natural sources or natural supplements since a person in recovery can be very sensitive to contaminants and allergenic supplements. If an alcoholic/drug addict is not getting at least 600 mg of vitamin C every day from natural foods it is unlikely to do much good. Vitamin C deficiency is actually an underlying contributor to heroin and opiate abuse, and is a primary driver behind the current opioid epidemic in the United States. I once suggested vitamin C to someone recovering from heroin addiction. Like many people, he had decided to become sober because his addiction was finally taking a serious toll on his physical health. But in taking vitamin C he recovered very quickly, and promptly returned to abusing heroin since he no longer felt ill and had not committed to a recovery program, and vitamin C alone is not enough to address the effects of acetylcholine and the neurological impairment of this disease.
When I first read about learned hopelessness in an article written by Dr. Peat I was astounded to recognize those same traits exhibited by the rats as my own personal experience with depression and alcoholism, and that the same chemicals involved in the brain which causes learned hopelessness also fit with alcoholism like a jigsaw puzzle. Through my own experience and research I came to the realization that alcoholism and drug abuse is simply this condition of learned hopelessness being self-medicated, because acetylcholine’s role in learned hopelessness is antagonized by all drugs and alcohol.
More specifically, the area of the brain which is directly involved in the development of learned hopelessness and the development of addiction is called the dorsal raphe nucleus. The raphe nucleus is the center of neurological serotonergic function, and during events of inescapable stress the function of the raphe nucleus becomes irreversibly altered and begins to chronically elevate levels of serotonin which in turn cause chronically elevated levels of acetylcholine and a decline in the metabolic rate. This in turn down-regulates dopamine, GABA, and calcium functions, and other beneficial processes. I think this response is actually a protective mechanism against painful death, since its occurrence is most likely to occur in animals during the act of succumbing to predation. I think it’s nature’s way of sparing the prey animal excessive suffering. But in animals such as ourselves, and those experimental rats, we live through the stress only to find ourselves permanently changed, because the parameters for causing this condition are merely biochemical it does not require actual predation to occur but simply the same levels of stress hormones which elicit the response, which in terms of us humans comes from long-term neglect, abuse, and/or promoted by chemical intervention from natural or industrial antagonists.
Studies on learned hopelessness have shown that it can be reversed by exposure to bright light. The therapy to remove learned hopelessness is so surprisingly simple I was even more giddy when figuring it out (but also because I had removed my own condition). This involves the same light therapy described for treating the dorsal raphe nucleus in the chapter on depression, where by directing a bright light such as from a 300 watt incandescent bulb onto the back of the head can stimulate the affected areas of the brain to increase their metabolic rate. Many people assume that light does not penetrate to the brain, but this is totally incorrect and studies show that even when blindfolded parts of the brain respond to light directed at other parts of the head. As discussed in the chapter on GABA therapy, our cells are designed to refract light, and one of the reasons for the internal red color of our tissues is that the skin filters out all but the red side of the spectrum so that red light penetrates deep into the body. As long as the light source is fairly powerful, the light waves will travel through the skull and stimulate the proper calcium pathways of the dorsal raphe nucleus (and also the pineal gland) and thus reverse the excessive serotonergic condition of learned hopelessness.
Because this condition involves a deficit of calcium activity in that center of the brain, it also requires a high-calcium food source such as milk or cheese or a supplement such as food-grade calcium sulfate (if you are lactose intolerant, real cheese and not those colored blocks of solidified milk can be tolerated better) as well as the vitamins which regulate calcium pathways such as K, D, and E (large amounts are not necessary and can be obtained from food, but a high quality supplement helps too), and the whole increase in metabolic rate needs to be supported by generous vitamin C and a little sea salt (as sodium is necessary to transport vitamin C). So 30 minutes before applying light it is necessary to take vitamin C, salt, and a food such as milk (the other vitamins can be any time of day). An hour or two every day for seven days is required to permanently remove the physical symptoms of learned hopelessness. This therapy does not remove the perceptions which have been created over a lifetime, such as a fear of people, finances, remorse, guilt, shame, etc., as a recovery program is needed for that. What this therapy does is remove the chemical depressors which facilitate the overwhelming negative emotions which impair healing and promote substance abuse. If done correctly, results will be noticeable within just one or two sessions as the body begins to feel more relaxed and less urgency felt around life. In conjunction with a recovery program and supportive nutrition and appropriate medications, this light therapy will guarantee a complete recovery.
There are other things which can help a sufferer of learned hopelessness and thence alcoholism and addiction in similar ways, such as naltrexone and thyroid medication. Both of these substances lower or block the destructive effects of elevated acetylcholine and have been shown to aid recovery from alcohol. But since the problem of alcohol is one of learning, the sufferer must experience new and positive associations with experiences lived in order to permanently replace the old, learned hopelessness or adjunct therapy will not be as successful. The program used as outlined in conjunction with light therapy, a good antihistamine (or naltrexone or thyroid hormone) and generous supply of acetic acid is an easy way for suffers to find relief from the suffocation of learned hopelessness, because it systematically unravels all the negative lessons previously learned by the alcoholic, and associates empowerment and positivity with a new outlook on life supported by the chemical and hormonal factors which normally impede recovery. Many medical protocols already use antihistamines for alcohol withdrawal, but their broader therapeutic use in alcoholic recovery, and for learned hopelessness, is not widely known. Antihistamines used simultaneously with alcohol is very dangerous, however, and should not be used in place of abstinence since both reduce the action of the excitatory amino acids which run the active state of metabolism. Many drugs which are now illicit like LSD and MDMA, drugs which currently plague many people suffering from substance abuse, were originally developed specifically to treat many of the symptoms and conditions similar to or involved in learned hopelessness, and mainly work by increasing factors which combat the effects of elevated acetylcholine rather than targeting the chemical directly. Unfortunately those ended up having too many side effects to be considered by doctors as viable for standard treatment, though the properties of which still help sufferers of learned hopelessness escape their condition for a time much the way alcohol does, and thus the abuse. Because in reality, alcoholism and addiction is merely the self-medication of the condition of learned hopelessness.
There is always the possibility of regressing back to the condition during times of high-stress or insufficient light exposure such as during the winter or with excessive sequestration indoors, but all that is required then is to merely repeat this process to prevent its redevelopment, and recurrence can be entirely prevented by guaranteeing a good diet, high metabolic rate, sufficient natural light exposure, and having some compassion for your mind, body, and spirit by avoiding excess stress. Some twelve-step programs have been altered from the original format by their successive authors, however, such as that some make excuses for “triggers,” with much emphasis on their avoidance. This is antithetical to the concept of a twelve-step program, however, because triggers are all around us, and the helpfulness of such a program helps teach sufferers of this disease that a difference lies between triggers and action, and telling people they will relapse when encountering triggers will only guarantee that they relapse. The best program is the original Alcoholics Anonymous, no matter which addiction is suffered, and the same format can be used to treat all of them.
Of course it is also important to maintain a diet which supports the biochemical healing of the physical disease, otherwise recovery is not assured or will continue to be unpleasant, difficult, and lead to or sustain other mental health issues. One unfortunate and ubiquitous source of increased Acetylcholine is a side effect of normal eating, where the breakdown of ingested protein releases ammonia into the bloodstream, and ammonia powerfully raises acetylcholine. In a healthy person with a young and robust metabolic rate this ammonia is managed by healthy levels of CO2. But in sick people, and all alcoholics and drug abusers are sick, the metabolic rate does not produce enough CO2 to bind this ammonia (alcohol also lowers ammonia while ingested, but the byproducts of alcohol metabolism raise it later). Not only this but gut bacteria may also contribute to the disease because some strains of bacteria, ones which are also enabled by the destruction of healthier types by the very alcohol being taken, can produce huge amounts of ammonia by fermenting protein. An increase of ammonia raises the levels of acetylcholine in the brain (by lowering the enzyme which is supposed to reduce it). So even normal eating can inadvertently raise acetylcholine and cause an alcoholic excessive and unnecessary emotional stress, and it is important to understand this by reading the chapter on gut health. High ammonia is very easy to detect, however. Brain fog, blurry vision, confusion, and other mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and irritability, and of course strong desires for alcohol are all signs of increased ammonia. Lithium can be used to help combat ammonia, especially if the diet is changed to suppress high-ammonia producing bacteria, because lithium works by complexing with ammonia, much like CO2 is supposed to. A prescription isn’t needed to get lithium either, and the amounts in prescription tend to have too severe of side effects anyway. The small doses available as a supplement are healthier than the larger prescriptions. Vitamin B1 (thiamine) also lowers ammonia by increasing CO2 production, where CO2 is the healthier way to remove ammonia from the body. B7 (Biotin) also reduces ammonia, but in my experience it's not powerful enough to effect a cure of high ammonia. Lithium is much stronger and biotin would be an adjunct to thiamine use. Before alcohol metabolizes into acetic acid it is first metabolized into highly toxic aldehydes, and it is these aldehydes which are mostly responsible for the toxic effects of alcohol. Because we have evolved alongside yeasts for millions of years we have the innate ability to detoxify alcohol, which is why we can even drink it in the first place without immediately dying, but these detoxification pathways require certain nutrients like B vitamins and zinc. The trace mineral molybdenum is the most important, of which a deficiency is quite easy to acquire, especially if its use is increased through heavy drinking. Molybdenum is needed specifically to detoxify those aldehydes and in long-term drinkers or those with a preexisting molybdenum deficiency aldehyde levels remain elevated and thus account for most of the physical decline of alcoholics, so all drinkers or anyone in recovery must supplement molybdenum in order to avoid the specifically destructive effects of aldehydes. High doses aren’t necessary nor helpful, and is better taken in a low dose consistently. Because alcohol promotes the oxidative destruction of polyunsaturated fats, which is the mechanism by which alcohol and its aldehyde metabolites actually cause physiological damage, it is also helpful and advisable for anyone who does or has used alcohol to supplement extra boron with a low dose boron, boric acid, or borax supplement (if the borax doesn’t include other cleaning ingredients, which can be dangerous). Studies on the medicinal use of boric acid show a beneficial effect on a toxic marker of oxidative stress in the body called malondialdehyde, which results from the lipid peroxidation of polyunsaturated fats. One rat study which examined the protective effect of boric acid on alcohol toxicity showed a slightly lower malondialdehyde level in boron treated rats than even the control rats not exposed to alcohol. Malondialdehyde damages DNA. Boric acid is definitely not one of those things that works better in bigger amounts, and taking too much will make a person sick and have potentially life-threatening complications, and boric acid and borax come in highly concentrated preparations unlike the supplement form of boron, so minuscule doses of both are far more potent than may be obvious (and borax should not include other ingredients, which can be harmful). A safe and helpful dose of boric acid is about 1/8 teaspoon dissolved in water once a day taken a few times a week. Higher doses have been shown to be safe, but I personally experienced significant benefits from this amount, it is quite potent and there is no need to exceed it.
Good whole food at regular intervals and generous use of sugar can replace some of the therapeutic benefit of alcohol (alcohol is a form of sugar, but no one has ever crashed their car from driving under the influence of Coca Cola) without any of the side effects. Another primary deficiency alcoholics suffer from is the inability to properly store glycogen, which is our carbohydrate storage mechanism similar to starch in plants. This accounts for an alcoholic and addict’s insomnia, fatigue, and blood sugar irregularities which adversely effect mood, motivation, and healing, and can be restored by supplementing vitamin B2 or a general, naturally sourced B vitamin supplement like brewer’s yeast. Taurine, zinc, and the other B vitamins can be very helpful to help elevate mood and energy.
Grains, which cause a lowering of mood and energy should absolutely be avoid by those in recovery as they also elicit many of the stress responses which an alcoholic suffers then remedies with alcohol, especially common wheat as discussed in the chapter on bread, which causes inflammation and then irritability, depression, and even mania by promoting inflammatory and torporific hormones. The family of nightshades, potentially contributing to the exacerbation of learned hopelessness and excess acetylcholine, are best left uneaten until a full recovery has been made. Once the metabolic rate as measured by the method described in the chapter on self therapy is risen to a healthy level and the physical health has been restored, then it might be okay to indulge in these foods occasionally, always aware of their potential to contribute to metabolic decline. Good fats such as butter (especially grass-fed butter), coconut oil, and cocoa butter can help to dampen the stress response and repair the tissue damage and premature aging caused by alcohol consumption, because these fats resist the physiological deterioration which both causes and contributes to the disease in the first place. Bad fats like soy, canola, corn, fish, etc, which are not stable in the high heat, high oxygen environment of the human body should absolutely be avoided forever and always, even after recovery has been made. Daily natural vitamin A and carotenes, by directly supporting the production of steroids, will also go a long way toward helping the affected individual feel happy, healthy, and energetic (supplements of vitamin A are not helpful and should come from natural foods).
The condition of learned hopelessness was later renamed by an enterprising psychologist to the less appropriate term learned helplessness, and indeed most of the current literature available refers to it by that name. I take issue with this for a number of reasons—that the condition as I have experienced it has nothing to do with helplessness. The sufferer of this disease is no less aware of the options and ability to overcome stress or to rise to the challenges which come easy to healthy individuals. The condition truly is one of hopelessness, where the very point to go on is lacking rather than the means of doing so. In addition the term helplessness implies a sense of personal responsibility for the condition, which could not be further from the truth as it is a disease and largely beyond the control of those who suffer it, and in fact the major contributors to the work on this condition continue to regard the solution as one of personal choice, which completely fails to comprehend the nature of our biological function and the root source of the condition. The terms do not fully encompass the nature of the disease, and distract from the causes and solution. In addition, the researchers who renamed it experimented by torturing dogs, and while all animal abuse and experimentation unsettles me I find it impossible to understand that a person capable of electrocuting dogs could possibly comprehend the condition. I propose that the collection of symptoms of learned hopelessness be classified and renamed to something like Social Perception Disorder or Hyperacetylcholinemia, defined as the excessive elevation of acetylcholine causing impairment of social and personal wellbeing as arises from an overactive parasympathetic nervous system. Levels of acetylcholine and acetylcholinesterase can be measured objectively in a doctor’s office to establish morbidity, supported by outward manifestations of behavior and suffering and history of abuse, trauma, neglect, or dietary factors which contribute to the condition. The term Social Perception Disorder encompasses the true nature of the effect of the disease, removes stigma and provides a singular and targeted trajectory for tackling the cure and treatment of all symptoms. While alcoholism and drug abuse are considerable manifestations of this disease, they are only some outward symptoms, so this term also includes those who suffer the disease but haven’t passed to the self medication of it. Symptoms are an impairment of a person’s perception of social dynamics and personal wellness which results in self-defensive behavior which harms their personal wellbeing, which may or may not be marked by a number of symptoms which might include extreme agitation, restlessness, irritability, isolation, resentment, instability, a failure to connect to friends and loved ones, to provide for oneself, which may but does not always include self-medication through excessive drug and alcohol use. Treatment would use light therapy stimulation of the brain supported by vitamin C, calcium, and the use of Naltrexone, thyroid, safe antihistamines, acetic acid supplementation, and other medicines to block the destructive effects of excess acetylcholine activity (without eliminating it, since it is also needed to relearn) and the prescription of a social support group or recovery program to help the person reengage with life.
Fixing the disease which underlies drug and alcohol abuse is really a lot easier than it has seemed. When I started drinking again I was delighted to find that only one or two drinks satisfied me, and I would go for weeks without the thought of alcohol even popping up in my head. By fully understanding the factors which contribute to its development, a person may be empowered to help themselves since a true healing can finally be made through easy, actionable steps.
I discovered the use of sodium acetate for gut problems, and it can help supplement extra acetic acid in a form that is a bit easier to use than caustic vinegar. For more on it's health benefits you can read my book.
*never mix in a sealed container, reaction is
volatile and will burst container.
1 tsp baking soda
3 tablespoons vinegar (plus more if needed)
Place baking soda in an open cup or bowl, slowly adding vinegar until foaming stops. Once reaction slows add small amounts of vinegar until all sodium bicarbonate has disappeared or fizzing ceases (swirl or agitate the solution to react all bicarbonate). Dilute this remaining solution with water, orange juice, or milk, and divide into two or three doses separated by at least an hour when starting sodium acetate. Adding too much vinegar makes it taste acrid, too much bicarbonate makes it salty, balancing the two is key to a mild taste and may take practice. The benefit of this comes from repetition, and excess can be unhelpful or cause sodium overdose, so please don’t do that. It is also best used after or with a meal. Some conditions like Crohn's disease are believed to be an excess of acetate so please consult with a doctor before using sodium acetate.