BEST OF: Your Brain is a Mullet: Understanding and using your brain to quit drinking

Episode 128 August 30, 2023 00:25:29
BEST OF: Your Brain is a Mullet: Understanding and using your brain to quit drinking
Alcohol Tipping Point
BEST OF: Your Brain is a Mullet: Understanding and using your brain to quit drinking

Aug 30 2023 | 00:25:29


Hosted By

Deb Masner

Show Notes

This is a special throwback episode that was originally released on June 30, 2021. I wanted to re-release it because it is so helpful for understanding our brain and why we drink even when we logically know we don’t want to. 

YOU are normal and your brain is doing exactly what it was made to do! This episode is all about your brain and how it relates to habits and drinking.  

You’ll learn: 


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Episode Transcript

Best of: Your brain is a mullet [00:00:00] Welcome back to this special throwback episode of the alcohol to be on point podcast. This episode actually. It was originally released back in June of 2021. I think it was like episode 16. It was one of my first ones. But I think that it's worth listening to again, because it's, it's so [00:01:00] helpful for understanding. Your brain and why it's so hard to quit. Why do we drink more? When we tell ourselves to stop, you know, why can we logically know. We don't want to drink, but then we just seem to keep drinking. So I think it helps to understand. How your brain works, why you think the way you do. And then I will give you some tools for how to manage that and step away from the urge to drink. And this is just one of the tools that I share in alcohol a day. Which is that monthly program I do to help you take a break from drinking. And I just want to invite you. If you want to join an Alcoholiday, I'd love to have you. You can go to and join the next one. I hope you find this episode helpful, and I will talk to you next week. [00:02:00] I'm really excited to do this solo episode. It is about your brain and how your brain relates to drinking and habits. And I just find it really helpful because basically Your brain is doing exactly what it was born to do. I mean, you are normal. You are not broken. Our brains are just, they're superpowers. They've been evolved over time to function for us and yeah, we may be stuck in this habit loop of drinking. Stopping drinking, wanting to stop drinking, you know, we might be stuck in it, but there's a reason, and we'll get into it. So first of all, I read this really interesting statistic, and that is that 98% of everything we know about the brain has been discovered in the last 13 years. I had no idea. And so what? 80% of what [00:03:00] scientists thought was true about the brain before 1995. That's when I graduated high school, by the way. That's been found to be false or misleading. So there's all this new information about our brains. And I think that's just amazing. I am not a neuroscientist, so I just want to preface this whole episode by saying that I am a nurse. I do have a medical background. I do have a psychology degree. And I am a health coach and I do study habits. So that's a little bit about my background, but what I wanted to do is just take what I know about the brain and just make it simple for you to understand. And if there is a neuroscientist listening, I'd love to have you on my show. I really would like to talk more about our brain and addiction and habits and all that good stuff. So let's talk about the brain. Basically, your brain is a mullet. It looks and functions like a mullet. And for those of you, you who [00:04:00] don't know what a mullet is, it's a fantastic haircut that men got. I don't know if it's come back or not, but it was kind of like an 80s redneck southern haircut where the, the hair was cut really short in the front and then kept really long and flowing in the back. So it's, it's been known to said, say business in the front. Party in the back. And that's what your brain is like. So the front part of your Brain. That's the business side. That's got your cortex. And that is the thinking side. That is what does all our decision making, our problem solving, our creativity, our discovery. It's basically like your internal computer. It helps you sort, process, and store information. So that's that business working logical side. And then that back part of your mullet. Or your brain is the party side, and that's [00:05:00] the side that's all about emotions, it's about sex, it's about eating, it's, it's primitive, it's got your primitive structure, your brain stem and then it also has the limbic system, which is technically in the, Kind of more in the middle of the brain, but the limbic system is that emotional side of us. The brainstem, like I said, that's like your reptile brain. That's your, what you, you know, we all have some kind of brainstem, all organisms, all animals. And basically that's, that's what's responsible for many of our vital functions of life, like breathing, just being conscious controlling our blood pressure, our heart rate, our sleep. It's just all that automatic stuff we don't have to think about because the thinking, that's the front, that's the mullet of our brain, that's the business party in the back. Okay? So why, why does that matter? Well, I think it's a really useful tool for explaining why we [00:06:00] might want to quit drinking. Why that's a logical, healthy choice going on in that front business side, but also why we give in to our party side because that's that backside and it just wants to survive, party, eat, fight, drink, sex, everything to keep us going. And, and so just to break it down a little bit more, basic survival. What, what organisms need to survive is either moving us away from pain or it's moving us towards pleasure. And that's for all organisms, even if you don't have a brain. All organisms function this way because it's how we survive. We are either moving away from pain or towards pleasure. So even an amoeba, and, and that's like that one celled creature you learned about in science class, it's one of the simplest life forms on the planet. If you look at an amoeba under a [00:07:00] microscope, and there's a little food particle, I don't know what amoebas eat, but let's just say there's a little piece of food. You can actually see it like moving towards the food and food for the amoeba is pleasure. It's moving towards food. And then if you were to add like a drop of sulfuric acid to its environment, then that amoeba is going to move away from that acid, away from death. It's moving away from pain. Strange side note, my sister had an amoeba in her eye from contact solution for months. She could not get rid of that critter. That critter wanted to survive. And she had to give it some kind of acid to put it in pain. Kill it. So, again, we're always moving towards pleasure or away from pain, and that's in regards to drinking as well. So, if you think about pleasure, that would, could be sex, food, drinking. Pleasure feels [00:08:00] good, and it releases those feel good hormones. And then pain, when we drink because of pain, We're basically drinking to avoid pain, so that might be the pain of anxiety, that might be the pain of like a new social situation, maybe you're dating maybe you had a bad day at work, stressed with the kids, like, we don't like to feel that way. Don't like it at all. What does drinking do? It numbs it out. It gets rid of it. It gets rid of it so quickly. So that brings me to a big question that you may have noticed when you try to stop drinking. You may have noticed paradoxically That you end up drinking more. Why is that? Why when we're like, ah, I'm done, I'm not going to drink, we end up drinking more? Well, that's that party side. That's, that's that limbic system, party side of our brain, and it does not like being told what to do. And it doesn't [00:09:00] matter who's telling us, if it's coming from ourself or others. The party side of the brain does not like statements or words like, don't you ever. It does not like absolutes like. Always, or no, or you better, you have to, oh, you have to, those really get the party side fired up. And it basically goes, oh hell no, oh no, and it, and it perceives it as a threat. And when we feel a threat, the limbic system stimulated and our fight or flight response kicks in and it becomes uncomfortable and it becomes painful. And that's what we're feeling with a craving. And, and we've kind of made it even more painful when we've told ourself, you can never have a drink again. You, you will never drink again. You have to stop drinking. It just fires up [00:10:00] another side of ourselves and uncomfortable again. And guess what? Relieves that pain. And provides the pleasure, drinking. Ah, we've just made it even more of sustainable habit because quitting drinking causes us pain and drinking. relieves the pain. So that one substance, alcohol, is both causing us pain and relieving pain. And, and that's what makes it so tricky. And, and it's also created more and more of like this habit loop in ourselves where we have created this pain system that's really hard to get out of. But again, You're not broken. Your, your body, your brain is doing exactly what it's supposed to do to survive. So next we're going to talk [00:11:00] about neuropathways in your brain. And so those are like the roads and highways in your brain. And when you build a neuropathway, you could think of that as a habit. Some are very automatic, like brushing your teeth, taking your pills every day, taking a shower, you know, you, you don't have, driving, driving has become very automatic and that's just created this really efficient road in your brain to get shit done, right? And so what you have done with your drinking is you have built the Audubon, you know, that super fast highway for moving towards pleasure and away from pain. So anytime you feel stressed, Oh, your brain's like, I just, a drink will relieve that. And it's going to get on that highway and feel better right away. Same with pain, you know, well, we did talk about pain. That was stress. Let's get on the highway. Let's feel [00:12:00] better. Same with pleasure. Oh, it's, it's my daughter's 10th birthday. I'm going to have a drink to celebrate. Woo. What can I add to this? Like I'm on the, the pleasure highway. And so when you are trying to change a habit, That is why it's so hard because you've built this really efficient, fast, smooth road in your brain and now you need to build a new one and, and that, that's difficult. I mean, I'm living in Boise, Idaho. We have a lot of road construction around and I think you know how difficult it is to build a road. You got to dig it out. You got to lay the. You gotta do the dirt. You gotta leave the gravel. You gotta do the asphalt. I mean, it's a pain. And so that's what's happening when you're trying to create a new habit of not drinking. When you feel uncomfortable. When you feel stressed. When you're at a party. You, you're building a new road essentially. And the [00:13:00] old road is still there. And it's faster to get to where you want to be. Right? You want to be out of this uncomfortable feeling of social awkwardness. Well, I could take this really quick road in the form of a corona. A bad choice of a drink. I mean, really, but anyway, I could have a beer. I could have a glass of wine and I will feel better. I will be away from the pain of the social anxiety and I will feel pleasure with the dopamine release when I do take that drink and it will work for a little bit, right? But then your logical, your thinking part of the brain, the business side of your mullet, it knows like, but if I drink during this party, Probably not going to have one drink. I'll have two. I'll have four. I'm going to feel like crap the next day. And I have to work the next day and I have to get up early. But, but your party side's like, dude, no, we're partying. We are [00:14:00] partying. And it's... It's overrun. You know, you wouldn't think that the, the party side of your brain is more powerful than the thinking side of your brain, but it kind of is because it has so many automatic functions. It's quick. It's so quick. The thinking side is not as quick because it's, it's thinking, you know, it's taking time. It's analyzing. It's running the numbers. It's the business side. It's working. Party side is just like time to go. Time to get our rage on so that's what makes it hard when we're trying to stop drinking. It's just so easy to have a drink, go on that same road and not build our new road. So again, when you're constructing that new habit, that old road is still there. And that's why it's so easy to fall back to that habit. You know, if you're, if you're forging a path through the forest. You gotta cut down all [00:15:00] those trees and obstacles and, and it takes some time to make that new habit. But you know that, oh, there is a shortcut. There's a faster way. Maybe I'll just go there today and then the next day I'm gonna go again. I'm gonna go again I'll get back to making my new road I'll get there, but then you go back to your your Audubon because it's it's pretty freaking cool and fast But still the you want that forest so that's why it takes so long And so many attempts to quit drinking. I mean, that's one way you can think of it. There are people that have, I think they call it spontaneous sobriety, that just quit drinking. They're done one day. I don't know what's going inside their brain, but somehow they do that. But for most people, It takes some time to build a new road. It takes practice, and it takes consistency. And so, that's where sometimes, you know, what was helpful [00:16:00] for me as I was getting rid of my drinking habit was I would still be real close to my Audubon. Real close to that road. I would still be, like, coming home from work stressful day, or going to a party. But instead of drinking alcohol, I would drink a non alcoholic drink, like an N. A. beer, or a, a wine, like a No Way Rosé some kind of alcohol free substitute. And so that's where substitutes come in, because you're still close to that road that you've built but you've removed one part of it, so you're getting closer and closer to your new habits. But also just, you know, like I talked about before, you could be down your new habit road for years. Years you could be driving down your new road and, and you know, you've already laid the groundwork, it's smooth now, it's, it's another [00:17:00] Audubon, it's another highway. Sometime you might want to go back and take that other route. It's still, it doesn't go away. So whatever neural pathways we make don't go away, but we can create new ones. So, that's definitely something to keep in mind. And so, one of the things that you notice is that triggers or cravings can lead us back down those other roads. So, like I said, that could be a stressful day, it could be at a party, it could be you got into a fight, it could be it's 4th of July, it could be it's your birthday, it could be you got divorced, it could be so many reasons. It's just a lot of different things, again. driven by pain and pleasure. You know, again, you're either going towards pleasure or you're going away from pain. And so what happens is you feel that craving, that desire to relieve the pain and feel good right now. And that's what a craving is. And a craving is uncomfortable.[00:18:00] And, and we end up giving into it because it's easier, it's quicker and we feel better and we're relieved. We get our dopamine release. The party part of our brain is happy, and it actually shuts down the business part. It's like, hey, I clocked out. It's time to party. We done. And again, it was the alcohol that caused the pain, and it was also the alcohol that relieved the pain. So I wanted you to think of another way to think of cravings, which are also feelings, and that's the fact that they don't last. So no feeling less. Nothing lasts forever. I mean that includes sorrow, but that also includes joy. And so when you're thinking about craving, think of it like a fart. You know, it might sneak up on you. I come on strong. It stinks. It lingers, but then it dissipates. So don't give in to a fart, right? And another [00:19:00] way we can get through this uncomfortable feeling of a craving is to create a mantra. Got very woo on you, huh? But a mantra, it's basically just a statement. It's a slogan. It's something that you can repeat frequently so that it can just help you concentrate. It can help center you. It can help you calm down. And think through the situation you're in, and it can help you unclutter your mind, give you time to analyze the situation. So basically, it's, it's a way to not have the party side of your brain take over. So, so when you are in that situation where you have a craving for a drink, you can stand in the moment. And that allows the party side not to take over, and you can say a mantra. And what helps is to say a mantra you believe. If you don't [00:20:00] believe it, it's not going to work, right? And so you want one that has meaning and enough significance that you're going to remember it and you're going to use it. So an example could be, I will not drink today. I will not drink today. And you just repeat it to yourself. You know, you're at that party and you're just, maybe not out loud, but you could. I will, I am not drinking today. I am not drinking today. But say it over and over in your head. It could be, I'm taking care of myself. I'm taking care of myself. I'm making good choices. I'm making good choices. I'm moving forward right now. I'm moving forward right now. Like some kind of mantra that you believe in. And those mantras just help you maintain control. And they help you slow down your reaction, because like I said, that back party part of your brain is so quick, it's so quick to go towards pleasure or pain that it doesn't allow the thinking part of your [00:21:00] brain to really work anymore once party's taken over. So it helps you maintain control, it helps you slow down your reaction. It helps control your impulses. It helps avoid shame and blame. There's a lot of shame and blame with drinking. And there's a lot of like, Ugh, why can't I say every day, every morning. I say, I'm not going to drink tonight. Mm mm. You know, but five o'clock rolls around and you're feeling kind of uncomfortable, kind of anxious, antsy, for whatever reasons, it's the end of the day, all your friends are drinking everybody drinks. You know what? I'll just have one. Not allowing the thinking side, which is which has made a decision in the morning, like that you're not going to drink and why not? Well, because it hasn't been serving you. You don't want to feel like crap. You don't want to increase your cancer risk. You don't want to have [00:22:00] a risky one night stand. You don't want to get in a fight with your spouse. You don't want to have your kids see you drunk. You know, that's all that is going on up here in your business side of your brain, of your mullet. And then the back party side's like, I don't give a shit, like, I want to feel good. And it takes over. So those mantras can come in real, real handy. So find one that works for you. And then another tool is, is taking that pause, like I said, and you can do that using mindfulness. , we have a hard time living in the present, accepting the present and being in the now and accepting it as it is and not how we want it to be. And, and that's, that's the conflicting part inside our, our brains. It's like, we want. to feel good. We want to resolve this argument. We [00:23:00] want spouse to listen to us. We want our kids to behave but they're not. And, and so being in mindfulness present moment allows us to just sit with it and observe it without judgment and, and just accept it for that moment and uncomfortableness that it may be because just like a fart. It will pass. It will pass. I guarantee it. It will pass. And, and that's why I'm so big on practicing not drinking. Because it's not automatic. It's not one of the most automatic things we do. And, and listening to this podcast, I think you've heard, like, it's your brain. And it's your brain working very efficiently, it's doing what it's supposed to do, it's not broken, you're not broken, you do have the capability of changing it. And that's what's so [00:24:00] powerful about our brains too, like we used to think that we Our brains were stuck kind of like concrete and that they couldn't be changed, that we, we lost brain cells, that we couldn't learn new things after a new, after a certain age, couldn't teach an old dog new tricks. We all now know that that's not true. Our brain can change. It's called neuroplasticity and it can change and we can change and we can get over it. our drinking habit. We can do this. We have the power, and it is through practice, and it is through thinking, and it does take time. [00:25:00]

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