Episode 336 - Endorphins, Dopamine, Serotonin and Oxytocin
I need to admit myself somewhere. I could sit here until I’m blue in the face and until I have some humility, this is not going to work.
Today we have Susan, she’s 61, she’s from Pennsylvania and took her last drink Nov 19th, 2017. This is her story of living Alcohol Free (AF).
Today I will share information on the 4 main chemicals we’re dealing with when we ditch the booze. I’m outline them, give a framework of how to work with these chemicals in a healthier way and a loose timeline of what to expect when you quit drinking and how these chemicals will come back into balance.
The four main players dance with an addiction are Endorphins, Dopamine, Serotonin and Oxytocin.
Endorphins and dopamine are the chemicals of progress. Short-term feel-good chemicals. And Serotonin and oxytocin are the long-term chemicals.
Let’s cover the short-term molecules first: endorphins and dopamine
Endorphins - We often hear the word endorphins with exercise. And it’s true. This is the reason for the runners high. Endorphins have one purpose - to mask physical pain. Since the body doesn’t distinguish the difference between physical and emotional pain very well, this is why running, or physical movement helps us emotionally when we aren’t feeling good.
Dopamine - This is the molecule we are mostly engaged with when dealing with an addiction. This is more accurately described as the learning molecule. Dopamine is viewed as an incentive for progress. The good feeling, we get when we do something necessary for survival. Addictions highjack the dopamine system. Alcohol raises the dopamine in our brains by over 100-200% and cocaine raises it by 300%… temporarily. Then there’s a major crash.
Dopamine is highly addictive, and it should be. Human beings walked thousands of miles over the ice shelf of eastern Asia to the Americas because of dopamine. The dopamine system worked great for humans, until the world modernized faster than the system could adapt. Alcohol completely over runs this system
Long-term chemicals - These chemicals control our long-term feelings.
Serotonin - The selfless chemical.
Oxytocin - The love molecule and the connection molecule.
Let’s cover how we can work with these as we ditch the booze and then I’ll give you a loose timeline of when these chemicals should start naturally emerging in your system again.
Endorphins - Keep running, keep gardening. This is a much healthier way to override the physical and emotional discomfort of quitting drinking. Also, laugh, laugh, laugh.
Dopamine - It’s important we retrain the brain to release dopamine with other activities. Pick a short-term goal. Maybe it’s learning the guitar, maybe it’s finding a species of bird in the wild, or a snake. Science shows that a spike of dopamine is released when we help other people. Dopamine is a big reason we’ve done this podcast 336 straight Monday’s.
Once we have the dopamine system cued to healthier stimuli then within time serotonin starts to naturally emerge. With this comes a sense of belonging. If we stick with it long enough, oxytocin will emerge on the scene.
The long-term chemicals are contagious. This is why we love inspiring movies that motivate us to perform our own selfless acts. This is why we cheer people on at marathons or say heck yes when we hear someone has hit an AF milestone.
Here’s a loose timeline for this:
Endorphins: within the first 24-72 hours.
Dopamine: within six months, depending on your habits.
Serotonin: 3-9 months.
Oxytocin: 6-12 months.
This is all given that you’re doing the work.
PAWS in recovery is post-acute withdrawal symptoms. I like to call them healing symptoms because it’s the body, mind, soul, and spirit recalibrating itself without alcohol. Trust the process, stick with it, we got your back.
Let’s hear from Betterhelp. betterhelp.com/ELEVATOR
[13:52] Odette welcomes Susan
Susan’s last drink was on November 19, 2017. She feels great and every year is better. Susan is 61 and single but was previously married. She has a daughter and two grandchildren. She is from Pennsylvania. She moved to Los Angeles and lived there for thirty years. She has also lived in Colorado and is now back on the East Coast. She works for a medical device company. She loves to read novels, cooking, exercise, the beach, bike riding and TV.
[15:49] Tell us about your history with drinking
Susan described 44 years of drinking. Her first drink was at age 14 and she would sneak drinks with friends. In high school she fell in love with the bad boy of the school and did a 360 in one day. She went from straight A’s and first clarinet to a party girl. After her first pill and sips of beer, her inhibitions disappeared. She partied like everyone else. She married this bad boy very young, and they divorced at 21. She moved to California and got involved with another guy. They drank together with friends. She remarried and tried to clean up her home and life to have a family. Giving up weed was easy, but she struggled relinquishing wine. At 30,
she admitted herself to a treatment center called Schick for a weekend and participated in an intensive outpatient program (IOP). She went to a few AA meetings and was able to stay away from alcohol for four months. When she returned to drinking, her drinking progressed. She was raising her daughter, working and what many would describe as a functioning alcoholic. She drank nightly, but not a lot. Over the years, she made a few attempts to quit, tried counseling and AA again, but nothing was working. She decided to accept it for what it was because she didn’t have the time to do what you must do to quit.
[21:19] What was the tipping point that made you enter treatment?
Susan’s father was an alcoholic, and she watched his drinking become progressive. She knew it could happen to her and didn’t want to become like her father. The rest of her life was healthy. She exercised and ate healthy foods and wondered how long she could continue drinking. She described feeling like two people. She was Miss Goody Two-Shoes during the day and at night she was drinking.
Susan always had faith and knew that God was protecting her but didn’t want to push the limits and hurt others. It took a while after that realization for her to attempt quitting. She had some false starts where she would try but wasn’t ready. When her second grandchild was about to arrive, she knew she had to quit because she was fearful her first granddaughter would associate Mima with wine.
She spoke with her therapist and said she felt therapy was not enough and entered an intense outpatient program because she knew until she had some humility, it wouldn’t work. Her IOP was very diverse and encountered many people with several stories. During IOP she would screw up every week. She admitted it and, on the 19th, she called her sister (who is in recovery) who calmed her down. Her sister mailed her a book called Acceptance* and she hasn’t had a drink since. She described her moment of acceptance, surrender and her daily routine of prayer and meditation.
[31:22] What were the first 90 days like?
Susan described having time to focus on herself. She then took over as the nanny for her grandson and her daughter was able to trust her with the baby. She gradually returned to work with part-time work. At a year after she became sober, she returned to corporate America. It continued to get easier with time. She enjoyed podcasts. Her dog had some health issues yet survived for six months. When he passed, she was tempted to drink, but overcame the temptation. She tries to mix up her recovery with AA meetings, podcasts, and anything to keep it interesting. She loves Café RE because it gives her the flexibility of both worlds (AA and podcasts). She now has a strong desire to help others in recovery. The peace and freedom that comes with recovery has become the best way for her to live, she can’t imagine anything better.
[40:21] What was behind drinking for you?
When looking at fears and resentments, she gained a new perspective. She realized that something else may have been going on in the moment. She learned to stop holding bad feelings and looking deep into the causes of certain things. She uncovers new things regularly. She is accepting, simplifying, and lowering her expectations. It took her years not to want more. She has more work to do and is open to the work.
[40:24] Do you still get cravings?
Susan doesn’t get physical cravings but does have memory triggers. While Christmas shopping last year, the memory of having wine at Christmas came into her head. She did some thinking, played the tape forward and it passed quickly. She does have a fear of dating because she has been single through her recovery. Self-care or “me time” will remain a priority for her to maintain sobriety.
[47:11] What are your rituals in sobriety?
Susan gets up at 5 AM and reads a novel, then does her recovery reading including daily reflections and prayers. She frequently listens to podcasts. She watches to Joel Osteen regularly because he gives her hope that there are good people in this insane world. Susan is a listener in AA meetings, she is an optimist, and she learns from others. She has become a host for AA meetings and wants to give back.
[52:17] Rapid Fire Round
Sparkling water (lime flavor) with lots of ice and mint.
Freedom and time that come with not planning how you will get your next drink.
Don’t overcomplicate it, drinking is overrated. You have more strength than you realize. Everything in life you want to accomplish will be easier without liquor. Having a clear head, mind and a simple life without the alcohol will be the beautiful things in your life.
You might need to say adios to booze if ….
You stress months before the Christmas holiday about how you will cook the holiday meal and not drink all the wine in the house the night before.
Odette recently returned from Guadalajara and while she was there, she celebrated her father’s 12th sober birthday. They attended an AA meeting together and she heard him tell his story. She saw herself in his words. We all walk alongside each other. We the same lessons to learn, hurt to heal and joy to find. Seeing her dad as a parent and fellow in recovery was challenging, but she left the meeting hopeful that we are all human, doing the best that we can. Odette is grateful for the Café RE community that helps each other navigate the world, feel understood and gives us a sense of belonging.
Remember you are not alone. If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
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