One Year No Beer Podcast Episode 094 – Increasing Your Understanding with William Porter
Changing your relationship with alcohol is a process, and the more you understand about how your body works, how alcohol works, and what the interactions between alcohol and your body actually do, the more tools you’ll have available to you to make the adjustments that you need to make. Today’s guest, William Porter, has not only learned a lot about alcohol and how it works, but he’s also written a book on the subject to share the information.
William is the author of Alcohol Explained, and he joins the podcast today to talk about his own journey with alcohol and the process of writing the book, as well as answer some questions from the community about alcohol.
“I think if you understand something, you got a far better chance of getting to grips with it.”
During today’s podcast, William talks about how he began drinking at a young age and how it impacted his life. He explains how he kept drinking even after he managed to quit smoking, and how the resources that helped him quit smoking weren’t quite as effective at helping him to give up alcohol. He discusses in detail what he learned about how alcohol affects the mind and body, why it’s so difficult to quit, and why it causes some of the feelings that it does.
William also talks about the reasons why he doesn’t recommend moderation and why he doesn’t believe that approaching alcohol with a moderation mindset works. He also answers some important questions about things like dealing with sugar cravings, how to talk to other people about drinking, and what kind of sober tools he uses.
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WILLIAM PORTER’S LINKS
Alcohol Explained: http://www.alcoholexplained.com/
Ruari: Today, I'm joined by William Porter. If you haven't heard of this chap, he is a phenomenal author, has written two books now which I'm so pleased to be introducing you to. Who’s also an ex-paratrooper, father of two boys—I don't know which one of those is tougher—and wrote the books. William, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today. How are you doing?
William: Very good. Thank you for inviting me.
Ruari: Why don't you go into a little bit of background? You're still a lawyer in your full-time job and you've written these two phenomenal books. The second one, is it out yet? Are we nearly there?
William: It's out. It's up and going.
Ruari: Fantastic. Give us a bit of background to you and how you got into writing these phenomenal books.
William: I started drinking, smoking both together when I was about 14, which some people think that's really young but in the UK it’s pretty much par the course range.
Ruari: It was late. I was 12.
William: I started then and I came across Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking in my late teens or early 20s. I was really impressed with it. It was just a tip of the whole subject of smoking and drug addiction. It looks to it in such a pragmatic and rational way, and I really enjoyed it. I quit smoking but continued drinking. I read most of his other books as well. I really liked what he did.
But I think for me, he didn't quite hit things on the head as well with his drinking book as he did with his smoking book, and there were a few things that just didn't tally up to me. One of them was that he said there's no physical withdrawal from alcohol, which I didn't agree with. He also said that the reason when you start drinking, that it's hard to stop because you become dehydrated and you get thirsty. Again, that didn't quite tally up with me.
I kept drinking for probably another 20-odd years. I think I have that mindset that he instilled in analyzing things and trying to make sense of it. Things went down the line. My drinking became heavier and heavier. I joined the Reserve Battalion Parachute Regiment and served out in Iraq. That was a bit of an acceleration to my drinking as well and I found that getting married and having kids caused my drinking to up as well.
I stopped drinking just over six years ago when basically things just came to a head and I just stopped and looked at things and thought, “This entire aspect of my life is not doing me any favors.”
Ruari: Amazing. Tell me about the lead up to deciding to stop drinking? What was going on and then what was your experience when you finally cracked it?
William: I'd say there's a few accelerate. I think everyone drinks at their certain level whatever it is, and it might last that way for quite a while. But then if things change within your life, quite often your drinking increases, and I think this lockdown is a classic example of people who are drinking at a certain level. The lockdown comes in and the rules are out of the window, and suddenly they start drinking more.
For me, serving out in Iraq was quite a big one because I was nervous about going. You do build up training and dispersed with chunks of leave. The leave, I was just out drinking all the time. Then again when I came back, there were two months where I came back with nothing much to do, a big build-up of salary. I wasn't going back to work for a couple of months, so again I get to drinking virtually all the time.
Having kids (I think) puts a huge amount of pressure, anyway. I was drinking too much then and that caused increased arguments at home. That drove things into ahead in the end. It was getting to a point of if I wasn't going to quit drinking, there was going to be serious problems with my marriage and that's pretty much where I got to with it.
Ruari: That's interesting because similarly to myself, it was not the problem for me in my marriage, but it was absolutely masking the problem and I knew it was causing that friction. I guess in a way I'm almost grateful that the partner I had who felt the way she did and is so strong-minded she […]—Jen, hello to you—just wouldn't put up with it. I'm lucky because it really forced me to think and think it through and then make the decision. Of course, it was life-changing. In making that decision, you're a lawyer. Lawyer's drink, right? They drink like fish.
William: Generally they do.
Ruari: Did you get sacked?
William: To be honest, I’ve been working in the city for 15 years or so now and those 15 years, things have changed massively from what it used to be. It's still a long way from probably where it needs to be, but for example, now certainly in my sector anyway, I found that business lunches, the majority of people either don't drink or just have very small amounts because it's just not the done thing now. Where 15 years ago, business lunches […] drinking for the whole rest of the day. It has changed a lot and it's still heading in that direction, but there's still a long way to go with it.
Ruari: Absolutely. There are still some industries behind. […] although has changed dramatically. Five years ago it was still getting very smashed up on lunches and it has changed a lot now, but there's still a fair bit of that going on, and there's still lots of industries where that is definitely continuing. What prompted you to write the book? Where did you get to with the book, the first one?
William: When I started drinking, I had a lot of the mechanics of alcohol, and why we drink, and why we want to keep drinking when we start drinking and all that in my mind. I've actually been to a few AA meetings before I got to stop. Primarily because I wanted to get more information and (of course) when you think about stopping drinking, AA is the big name. I thought about going to AA. They will have the extra information because […] a lot of the mechanics of how alcohol starts to grip us, but there were still some gaps in it.
So, I went to AA looking for answers and it's a great program for certain people. It wasn't for me because it didn't provide those answers. It's a spiritual program and I was looking for more of a pragmatic explanation (if you like) of how things got to where they're at. But what I realized in being in AA meetings primarily is that lots of people have so many questions about it and so many people sit there and say, “When I start drinking, I can stop. I keep reaching for a drink.”
I’m thinking I kind of have the knowledge why they're feeling that. What I basically got to is a lot of people are in my boat. They want answers. They want to understand the problem and I think that's natural in a good way of going about things. I think if you understand something, you got a far better chance of getting to grips with it.
Ruari: Changing it.
Willam: Yeah. I thought to myself that I probably ought to write the book and I put it off for so long […] particularly what I want to do. I eventually got around to it and actually it was quite cathartic for me because I think they say if you want to know a subject, teach it. If you want to know a subject, also write about it because when I went to them and set it out, I realized that there were things that didn't add up and there were things missing. I started to uncover a few more pieces of the jigsaw puzzle and I think I solidified things in my own mind a lot better through writing it.
Ruari: Absolutely, the journey of discovery, researching, and learning all about it. Tell us a bit about the physiological effects because this is really something that you know well and I think most people don't understand, so give us an intake to that.
William: The basic physiology behind drinking. When I'm talking about physiology, obviously I'm talking about how alcohol affects us as human beings. When I'm talking about us as human beings, I'm talking primarily about the human brain. We need to cover off just very briefly how the brain works. I'm not going to go into massive details about the science, but essentially the human brain creates and excretes its own chemicals, drugs, and hormones.
A lot of things you've all heard about like adrenaline and endorphins, all these chemicals created in our brain are released. The brain works by a way of something called homeostasis. Homeostasis is just a delicate chemical balance. All of these different drugs, chemicals, and hormones are all inside us all the time in different quantities. They create this balance and when the balance is as it should be, we feel resilient, confident, happy, and things are working as they should be. That's the human brain.
Alcohol is a sedative and depressant. When I use the term depressant, I'm using it in a chemical sense as something that decreases or inhibits nerve activity. It has this sedative effect on us. That's why we end up intoxicated if we drink a lot and when we have one or two drinks, we generally feel more relaxed and calmer. That's the depressant or sedating effects of the alcohol. That's all well and good, and most people are comfortable with that.
What you then need to factor in is that the brain isn't just a passive lump of putty. It reacts to things. One of the things it reacts to is the sedating effects of alcohol. When you drink, the brain tries to counter the sedating effects of alcohol. Now there's a huge amount of these chemicals and drugs that are within us, but it helps to put them into two main categories which are depressants, which are things that calm things down, and stimulants that speed things up and make you feel more awake.
Because alcohol is a depressant, your brain seeks to counter it by increasing the stimulant. Think of it as a weighing scale, a pair of scales or a seesaw or something, when you push depressants side up artificially, your brain seeks to counter it by pushing the stimulant side. When the alcohol wears off, you’re left overstimulated. That's a symptom and that's what gives you that post-drinking anxiety. The colloquial term anxiety, that's the explanation for it. It's a chemical reaction caused by the previous drinking.
That's the main physiological basis of it and that's what I refer to as the alcohol withdrawal. It's that period when the alcohol is worn off. You're left overly stimulated from the previous drinks. One of the points of that is several. This obviously leads to lots of different explanations, but one of the points there is your brain has a limited amount of these chemicals, so when you first starting out at 14 years old, 12 years old, or whatever it is you first have an alcoholic drink, your brain doesn't have that much ability to counter the depressant effects of the alcohol. Consequently, you get intoxicated very quickly.
Over the years with increased drinking, your brain becomes more and more proficient at countering the depressant effects of the alcohol. The result of that is twofold. Firstly, that's what tolerance is. That's why you can drink more. Your brain is better able to counteract the poisoning and depressing effects of alcohol.
The other side of that coin it’s exactly the same side of the same coin is that the withdrawal gets worse. That's why in later years when you're drinking, you find maybe you wake up three or four in the morning feeling really anxious and worried about what you've done. That's purely the alcohol has worn off and the stimulants are holding its way. You can't sleep and you deal with anxiety.
Ruari: Wow. There you go. That definitely explains that. Talk about some of the other physiological effects. When we decide to change our relationship with alcohol, when we start to remove alcohol, what starts to change?
William: The usual way people want to change their relationship with alcohol and it's the same with a lot of drugs is not a question of taking the drug, you start to realize it's gotten out of control or there are too many negatives to it so quit it. The usual process is to take the drug, realize this is having too many negatives, seek to moderate, fail to moderate, and then quit. That's the obvious thing to do with drinking is people approach drinking, it's getting out of hand and it's too many negatives so I'll try and cut down. There are a few points there again that this physiological thing feeds into.
Firstly, forget about the majority of […]. From a simple science perspective, if you're sat down one evening and you say to yourself, “Right, I would particularly like the relaxing effects of an alcoholic drink,” when you drink an alcoholic drink, after half an hour or so, it's worn off. You're then back to where you started. There's always a tendency to keep reaching for another one, but when you look at how it affects you physiologically when it wears off, it leaves a corresponding feeling of anxiety. For every reaction, there's an equal and positive reaction. Whatever relaxing you'll get from alcohol, you then have increased anxiety afterward. If you're having the first drink, you need the second one twice as much and so on and so on.
Ruari: It begets itself.
William: Yeah. There's another aspect of that as well because if you're a regular drinker and let's say, for example, you're drinking a bottle of wine a night, so every night for a year, you drink a bottle of wine. Your brain is used to countering the alcohol in a bottle of wine. If you then say to yourself, “I'm just going to have one glass,” your brain hasn't coped up yet so you have the one glass but your brain is countering the expected bottle which is why a lot of times when people are drinking fairly heavily and they start to cut down, they can't sleep at all and that's the overstimulation that they're used to. It makes it even more difficult. So often it's way easier actually to quit entirely than to try and cut down because of these physiological processes.
Ruari: Right. That's really interesting. How long does it take when you remove it for those things to start to move? How long does it take for physical cravings to disappear after you've…
William: The physical side of it, when you quit drinking, it's a three-stage process or four stages if you're a regular drinker. If you're like me who's a binge drinker, what happens is you stop drinking, you need the alcohol to leave your system first and that, depending on how much you drank, is anything up to 12–36 hours but it's usually 12–24 as the maximum. But then, actually, your problem starts when the stimulants hold their way and again, that's anything from 3–5 days in the worst case. After that is when you start to feel normal.
Ruari: It's amazing that it's not the actual alcohol. It's the body's reaction to the alcohol that you're withdrawing from over the longer period when you—
William: Exactly. Yeah, that's it. It's not the alcohol per se, it's your body's reaction to it. In fact, if you look at it, if you took someone who had never drunk before and gave them a couple of bottles of wine, they'd be seriously ill, if not killed. The body's ability to deal with an increasing amount of poison is causing the issue in the first place.
Ruari: Yeah, absolutely crazy. You talked in the first book about how it all is not as it seems when you go out for drinks with friends and that whole social part. Talk about that a little bit.
William: That comes into trying to get into what we actually get from alcohol and as you can see, what I've been discussing just now, for regular drinkers a lot of the pleasure of drinking is actually relieving withdrawal. If you're left untreated, your brain is in overdrive because it's seeking to try and work on the depressing effects of alcohol. When the alcohol wears off, you're really anxious all the time.
For regular drinkers, there are two ways to get rid of that anxiety. One is to wait a couple of days for it to disappear but a far quicker and far effective way to get rid of it is to have another drink because then you're correcting the balance by introducing more of a chemical depressant. For regular drinkers, a lot of the pleasure in drinking is actually relieving the anxiety caused by the previous drink. You need to explain that to people—
Ruari: Is it just the anxiety or is it another thing?
William: I call it anxiety but it's almost like an out of sorts feelings.
Ruari: The overall depressant, feeling low.
William: The best way of articulating it is mental resilience, so when you're at your best, you feel confident and problems may come along and they may be horrible. You may not be able to cope up with them, but the majority of those problems you can cope with, and get on with, and you maintain a sense of humor. That interrupting that chemical balance is knocking away at your mental resilience so you're more likely to just not be able to cope up with things, and you can't be bothered with things, and it's that kind of, I call it anxiety. I suppose that's as good as any but it's kind of the erosion of your mental ability to cope with things, your resilience.
Ruari: It's a hard thing to realize. You imagine it had that label on it or people actually did the math. Imagine on the bottle it was like the cigarette warning, “This is going to make you more depressed. Find it harder to cope tomorrow. This is going to make you feel depressed and anxious.” Will you be like, “Huh? Okay.”
William: This is I supposed one of the purposes of the book. If you ask most people why they drink, it relaxes me. It relieves my anxiety. It's sociable. It helps me sleep. It's healthy. All of those reasons are actually completely on the other side. They're reasons not to drink because they’re completely false.
Ruari: That's right. It creates the fact that you're saying that in the first place because you're regularly drinking. What's interesting to hear from you is that it's the chemicals released, that you're out of sorts because you've gone too far to counterbalance the alcohol that has released and you're left with the brain out of sorts.
William: That's the reason, regular drinkers. A lot of people understand that, but what they can't get away from is yes but alcohol is really good when you go out with your friends and you have a drink and there's no feeling quite like that. Being out with your mates, having a few beers, and really having a good laugh.
Now, the science behind this is that the brain releases endorphins in certain situations, and endorphins are usually released when you're doing something that's good for the species or good for you. Sex, exercise, eating, all of these things, you get an endorphin rush. One of the things that give you an endorphin rush is socializing. If you are relaxed and with people that you will relax and socialize with, you get an endorphin rush. The key here is you have to be relaxed with them, start to unwind, and enjoy it. That's when endorphins start to flow.
We are all creatures of society. When we're going out, even with […], that first part, you have some degree of nervousness because you worried about what people think of you or if you'll say something stupid. A lot of people when they get to social occasions, they're not just gushing and chatting. It takes a bit of time to warm up.
With those two things in mind, usually without alcohol, you would go out, you'll feel slightly nervous, but as you relax into the evening, you'll get that endorphin rush. The problem is, in our society, alcohol is mixed with virtually every social occasion. What happens is you'll go to a social occasion and alcohol being a sedative and an anesthetic, will emit the ties that feeling of nervousness. The immediate outcome of that is you'll get that endorphin rush. When you are drinking with your friends, that's not an alcohol high. Alcohol can open the gates to allow you to get that endorphin high but the really good feeling you get is not alcohol. It's being with your mates and it’s the endorphins.
If you're in any doubt about that, this is an ideal time to put it in the test. We're in lockdown and you can't meet your mates anyway. It's a really powerful thing to do. Take the amount of drinking you would normally drink with your mates, sit on the kitchen table, no TV, no book, no music, no nothing. Just drink it.
If you're drinking a lot recently, there will be a pleasant comforting feeling as you will […] the ties with the previous withdrawal. But actually when you get past that, alcohol isn't a particularly pleasant feeling anyway. It leaves you slightly dull and slightly confused. You'll get some weird tunnel vision. It's not a particularly enjoyable experience.
That's the explanation for the social side of drinking. […] and social occasions. It doesn't at all. Actually, it can work to counterbalance that because if you get a group of people that are out socializing and not drinking, the endorphin buzz will carry on through the evening. When you're drinking the alcohol actually anesthetizes the endorphin buzz, so you miss out on that. If you watch drinkers—again, this is really powerful when the lockdown finishes—if you go out, stay sober, and watch people, drinkers will be happy and friendly for the first hour or so. Later on the evening, they start to get argumentative, grumpy…
Ruari: Anxious, edgy.
William: Yeah, exactly. The dynamic changes slightly. Actually, all drinking does is give you slightly quicker endorphins buzz that you would otherwise have got, now several hours or a bit later on in the evening, anyway, you continue to drink.
Ruari: Yeah. Really interesting to hear it just laid out like that. I guess it's definitely one for reflection. That's the thing, isn't it? It's taking a time to start and change your relationship with alcohol to reassociate these things that you thought going out and being sociable equals drinking alcohol, having fun. That was direct math for you.
Actually, you start to learn how to have real fun and joy that doesn't involve alcohol and go hang out with your friends. Do something different where you've got a heightened chance of releasing endorphins like go-karting, climbing, hiking, play squash, or whatever it is. You're out there releasing endorphins through exercise, spending time with your mates, and realizing there was no alcohol involved here. I think that's the journey we certainly help people to go on. Really, we're very intrinsically linked with exercise. That's a key part of our challenge.
I want to ask you about some of your sober tools that you're going through the book. Before I do that, what I'm going to do, I mentioned to my crew, the community that we're doing a podcast interview, and I asked anybody if they have some questions for you and there are lots. Some people just have that one.
William: Again, going back to what I was saying previously, every alcoholic drink that has ever been drunk by anyone has a corresponding feeling of anxiety after it. The problem with it, if you have, say, a half-pint or a glass of wine, that anxious feeling is going to be fairly minor. A lot of people won't even realize it's there because alcohol makes you feel slightly dizzy anyway and mixed with feelings after which you might very easily miss out on it.
This brings me onto a slightly different topic which is subconscious. The subconscious is a term you hear all the time, particularly, when talking about giving up alcohol. It's almost just like a catch-all thing that people use when they don't quite know what their brain is doing with things. I use it in a very specific meaning. That's when if you do something repeatedly with the same response, it becomes automated.
The most obvious example is when you're driving. If you are a driver, if you tend to your right foot on the brake pedal, it will slow the vehicle down. If you're a regular driver and you find yourself in a vehicle, the driver is either driving too fast or tries to […] vehicle in front, you keep finding your leg tensing. It's that learned response. How many years have you been driving? Your brain has learned response, tensing the right foot will slow the vehicle down.
When you stop drinking, if you only ever have one or two drinks, then stopped, you're probably not even aware of that withdrawal being there. That's still less what you associate having another drink would get rid of. If you're someone, for whatever reasons, is brought up to drink more, of course in the UK we have a huge drinking culture on Friday and Saturday nights. The usual thing is you're going to absolutely have it on a Friday. Then, you're trying to drink your way through the hangover on a Saturday.
Over the years, with constant drinking, what your brain—your subconscious—eventually learns is when that withdrawal kicks in, another alcoholic drink will get rid of it. The problem is, when you learn something, you cannot unlearn it. It's that simple. If you have got to the stage where your subconscious associates that withdrawal for alcohol—I'm not talking about the chronic withdrawal of the alcoholic, I'm just talking about the slightly anxious feeling you get as the drink wears off—when you associate that with being really buy another drink, you're constantly fighting a losing battle. Whenever an alcoholic drink starts to wear off, you would want to have another one.
The best way of articulating it is every drug has a period where the addicts can take it before they become fully addicted. Because alcohol is consumed by drinking it, it takes the longest to hit our bloodstream. It takes longer for the subconscious to associate drinking a drink with relieving the previous withdrawal. People who can have one or two and stop are simply early-stage drinkers. They may be early-stage drinkers their entire lives. The way you graduate from that is to stop drinking when the alcohol is wearing off. That's when your brain starts to associate the drink with relieving withdrawal.
Ruari: You do believe that people can moderate?
William: No. It's theoretically possible but it's always going to be fighting a losing battle. I think when the alcohol starts to wear off, you would want another drink. Theoretically, yes, you can do it, I supposed. I think it is always fighting a losing battle. For me personally as well, the problem is people start to obsess about drinking and not drinking.
From what I have found from personal experience and also from people in the alcoholic Facebook group, when people moderate, they were obsessed with drinking as when they were drinking all the time. They're obsessing with, “Can I have another one? Can I not? When do I drink? When do I don't drink?”
I'm not a proponent for it. People have written a lot of times and said, “I’ve read your book. I understand it. I still think it's possible.” I said to them every single time, “My book is just information. It's not dogma. It's not follow these steps.” I say, “You've got the information. If you want to try it, do it. If it works, come back to me and tell me.” Whatever I've made out of this book, if I can find a way for people to moderate, I'll make 10 times the amount.
Ruari: The good news is that I'm moderate. I drink as much as I want whenever I want, but I usually choose not to have a drink. That could mean that I could go to a social occasion, drink absolutely nothing and be completely happy.
In our house, we have a whiskey cabinet. I used to collect whiskey. Booze is a part of my identity. Most of those bottles are all still full. They sit right beside the living room. I never touch them. There isn't the, “Oh, I really desire that.” That's what I did to change my relationship with alcohol. Maybe I should be the study for your third book that we can co-create together, seriously, about what actually it takes for somebody to.
The bit that made me really excited is that you said, “Theoretically, it's possible.” The reason why I know is because I also know lots of people who moderate, but they don't call it moderation. They just don't really drink very much and they're very happy in that place. Some of those people did really used to drink a lot but not that many of them. Ultimately, if you've had a very intimate relationship with alcohol, it's going to be very difficult for you to get to a place of moderation.
We don't actually call it moderation. I don't like the word moderation. I think it comes with a lot of baggage. Exactly as you said, people are searching for it when actually, they're just looking for removing alcohol for an extended period of time and changing that relationship.
I'd love to mind-meld with you more on this. Maybe we'll spend more time together in working out how this is possible and how we help other people do it. The environment is absolutely key. For many people, their environment is very difficult to change. That environment might be family. It might be a partner. It might be work. It might be these things which are causing you to behave that way. I think doing the deep work which is understanding meaning, purpose, getting inline with your values, having contribution, those are really important things. Also, dealing with those traumatic experiences. I think that the long road of discovery which you can take yourself through, takes a long way towards going to a place of finding control.
William: I think when you start to examine it, going back to what I was saying before, actually it doesn't relax me and it doesn't help me sleep, when you start to get to that, your desire to drink diminishes. It's not a question, necessarily, of resisting temptation.
Ruari: Exactly. I just got no interest. The thing is the math has changed. The math has completely changed. This drink equals a good night's sleep. That used to be math. The math is not there anymore. This drink equals […] sleep. (Excuse my French. I’m allowed to swear; it’s my podcast.) And that’s where my math is now.
Having a glass of something with a meal is unheard of in our house. Actually, my wife really nicely cooked me beef tonight. Beef, mash potato, that would be a recipe for red wine. It was always having a steak, red wine. That math isn't in my brain anymore. It doesn't even come in. I don't have to fight it. That is the thing. I really want to help more people find that place. Like you, in a never-ending discovery of how we can help people find that place if it is possible.
Terry says, “How does it feel to have written the best book of the genre?” After Ruari’s book […]. He did say that, honest. No, he didn’t.
William: It's an interesting one. It feels good, I supposed.
Ruari: Well done.
William: Thank you.
Ruari: “Why is alcohol so powerful? It impacts such a high proportion of our society and it controls ourselves. Is it because all the media, social acceptance, unlike, say, cocaine and other drugs?”
William: I think that exactly answers the question. If you go back—what is it—200 years, you can go up to the chemist and you can buy heroin, cocaine, and everything. They used to sell tonics to pick you up that had cocaine in them. You used to buy things for children that have morphine in them to stop them from crying. Drugs are everywhere and we just use them as we saw fit. Over the years, people have realized that these are bad things. You shouldn't give them to children and you shouldn't take cocaine just because you're feeling tired. We kind of got there with all of them.
The last two big ones—nicotine and alcohol. Nicotine, over the last 50 years, is getting booted out the door, but for me alcohol is the last bastion of acceptable drug addiction. It's lagging behind everyone else.
Ruari: Totally. Sugar is there. We haven't awakened to sugar yet. After sugar, we've got gambling and social media. Technology addiction is on its way.
William: Absolutely, yeah.
Ruari: I was speaking to a gaming chap. He was like, “Very soon, we will be releasing 10 times more chemicals than any physical drug is releasing.” With the ability of technology, virtual reality, all of that stuff. Technology addiction is going to be a very, very, real epidemic.
We'll move off that one. That's the next thing, helping people with technology addiction.
We answered this one, I think. “What's happening in our bodies in those first few weeks of stopping that might explain the crushing fatigue, difficulty sleeping?” It is that the brain and the body's chemical reaction. Is all withdrawal from brain chemicals?
William: Yes. As I say, the alcohol leaves, then you've got the overstimulation period. That's the period where you can't sleep and you can't eat properly. The problem is when that weighs off, if you're a regular drinker, don't forget that if you're drinking every day or every couple of days, those stimulants have been highing you for the whole time because you're drinking more before the last one has fallen off. When you finally quit the good, they're gone.
You've had these massive amounts of stimulants in your system for the last few years and now gone. It's equivalent to drinking seven or eight cups of coffee a day and then cutting it out. You suddenly […] can't sleep enough. The additional period of the couple of weeks, whatever, is where you […]. The usual thing is you've got an actual hangover, then you've got anxiety, then you've got chronic exhaustion where you're just tired all the time. Your brain's fuzzy and all the rest of it. When you get out of that, that leads you back to normal. That's the usual process.
Now, if you're binge drinking, you don't have that last one of feeling tired all the time because you haven't had the stimulants […] all that time. That's basically what the process is.
Ruari: Brilliant. Rachel says that she actually loved the chapter about food, nutrition, and weight loss. Do you have any tips for reduced sugar cravings?
William: Not really. I think understanding is key. One of the big things we need to appreciate is natural sugar is good and processed sugar is bad. A lot of people just think that sugar is sugar. […] fruit because it's high in sugar. Natural sugar is […].
Ruari: Define natural sugar for me. You're talking about the white stuff you get in lumps for your tea?
William: No. The stuff that's naturally occurring in fruit. Processed sugar goes into your system a lot quicker than natural sugar. We're all designed to eat natural sugar. Your body releases insulin. It's in your bloodstream to remove the sugar and to process it.
Ruari: Is honey natural sugar?
William: Yes, I think so but don’t quote me on that.
Ruari: Honey and fructose in fruits are fine? Any other processed sugars out?
William: Yes, because it goes into your system a lot quicker. The insulin goes in to remove it, expecting a similar amount to keep coming in. Of course, it doesn't. It sucks out too much sugar. You go through that up and down. Of course, if you're doing it all the time, eventually, your body doesn't know what's going on. It gives up making insulin at all which is diabetes. Unfortunately, I don't have any huge tips for it other than…
Ruari: Other than understanding why. “The book is so precisely written, the arguments are so well researched, and set out so clearly and objectively.” Oh, this is written by William Porter. “To what extent was Mr. Porter's legal background helpful in writing the book in this way? Did having a mental trait to think so clearly and investigative helped in your early recovery?”
William: Yeah. I think that's exactly right. One of the things you do as a solicitor, when you get information, you take nothing for granted. You go right back to square one in absolutely everything, which is what I pretty much did with alcohol. When you do that, you get to a very, very, different place to society's view of it generally. Yeah, I think that's probably correct. I supposed, yes, it's that lawyer's mind. I think it also goes back to, if I've got to thank anyone for it, is Allen Carr.
Ruari: Allen Carr? The smoking book?
William: Yeah. I think that was the thing that was taking his approach of stopping with something and thinking actually, “What is this? What was it doing?” or the rest of it, I think that's exactly right.
Ruari: Have you ever reached out to him?
William: No, he's dead.
Ruari: He's dead. I guess what I meant was, have you ever reached out to him then? I should've said.
William: No, I haven't. I kind of thought about it.
Ruari: I did reach out to Jason Vale because he was instrumental a number of times. I just wanted to say thank you but never heard back. Maybe one day.
William: I think […].
Ruari: What do you think about the marketing of alcohol, in particular, to women, and especially mothers and the patriarch, targeting the alcohol to encourage and increase a number of females to drink more?
William: That, I would have to say, is completely out of my realm of expertise, I'm afraid. […] in marketing. She’s […] better than I could.
Ruari: There's a couple of questions about moderation. We've answered that and we've got some interesting different ideas. I don't think that they're that different and that's what great, that you said theoretically it's possible, but the question is how. I'm really excited to, over time, dive into that more with you.
Vicky says, “This is the book that made the whole journey succeed for me. I needed the rational, scientific, understanding provided so brilliantly. Just a big thank you for me.” There's one other piece. This is from Scott, “Around my son's drinking habits, which I'm sure is similar to many younger people. He's interested in the alcohol-free journey but he doesn't feel he has any reason to be concerned. I don't feel that the book covered this situation. What are some of the dangers of someone who only drinks about once a month or a Saturday night but does binge drink on these occasions? As they only drink about once a month, are there potential dangers? Should I be doing anything with my son?”
William: I would say, yes. Don't forget, nobody starts off having a problem. Everyone starts somewhere and ends up drinking more and more. The time to address it is as early as possible, really, and it's got an easy catch-22 situation because why would you want to do anything about it if it's not a problem? At that time, the problem is much more difficult to do anything about.
All you can really do is explain things. It can help because presumably, he's drinking while he's socializing. It might be worth running through just the basics on, “You know what? You can socialize and enjoy it without drinking.” Writing off the next day is difficult because the problem is always the same when you’re growing up, what do you want to do.
I was in a podcast and someone said, “If you could go back in time and tell yourself something about drinking, what would it be?” I was like, “Nothing. I wouldn't have listened to anybody.” It is difficult. I suppose all you can do is drip bits of information and hope that something […].
Ruari: Yeah. They're already doing everything that they need to do. That is, in parenting, what I've discovered, is it doesn't matter what you say. It only matters what you do because they're probably going to emulate you. By being who you want them to be is the perfect example because you're giving them an option. You're giving them a visibility of, “Huh, there is that way but I could also be this way.” I totally share that with you there.
I also think that you struck something perfect there. Perhaps, encourage them to try doing some events with friends, maybe even different social friends, that doesn't involve alcohol so that at this early embryonic time, they're not just making fun equals alcohol, which is certainly the math I did in my head.
William: Yeah. I think that happens to a lot of people. You get to a stage where you have to have alcohol to socialize. You may drive if you have to but you kind of approach it thinking, “I want to drive tonight. I want to enjoy myself.” It's best not to get to that stage at all. If you can continue socializing without drinking, you're keeping it […]. You're keeping the practice in.
Ruari: Yeah, completely. Tell us about some of your sober tools.
William: There's a few of them. One of them, I think, I alluded to earlier which is watching people when they're drinking. It's one of those cliches of drinking that drinking is borrowing happiness from tomorrow. It isn't borrowing happiness from tomorrow because that suggests you're having twice as good a night now and paying for it the next day. If that was the mechanic, I would still be drinking because I would be fine to have a doubly good night. The fact of the matter is, that's not how it works.
A really powerful thing to say is to watch people when they're drinking. You have that initial joking, laughing, or rest a bit. It very quickly turns. I find particularly off the eating. If people have eaten, things start to slow down and they start to become groggy. The whole dynamic changes. I think that's something really powerful to keep at the front of your mind.
Going back to what I was saying about alcohol being the last bastion of acceptable drug addiction. If you think about a drug, the reason anyone's addicted to a drug is because they believe they need it to cope with or enjoy life. Yes, you have the physical withdrawal but take that psychological side of it. People have very deeply-held beliefs that they need that drug to cope with or enjoy life.
To me, that makes alcohol one of the most difficult to quit because we're bombarded constantly with the fun side of drinking, drinking to socialize and the rest of it. You turn on the TV and people have sat there drinking while they're socializing, social media images. I think it's very important as well to start looking behind those. Don't take it for granted. Usually, people are posting social media images because they're trying to justify something they're not entirely comfortable with. That's pretty much what it is. I think that's a very important thing to do as well.
One of the biggest things, I think, it's not just me saying this, but to play it forward. To think ahead of how things will go. Usually, that's people saying to themselves, “Do I want to drink or play it forward tomorrow morning when I wake up feeling rubbish?” It actually works, I think, to play it forward on a much quicker basis. If you do take that drink, what you're actually going to get is a slightly dull feeling followed by an increased amount of anxiety which you, then, have to suffer or take another alcoholic drink to relive it, and become increasingly intoxicated.
If you're socializing, don't forget, if you're saying to yourself, “But, I want a drink because I love that buzz I get with my mates,” give that 15 minutes and you'll have that anyway. You don't need alcohol to do it. Playing it forward is very important but don't just play it forward to the following morning. Play it forward as it would actually happen.
Ruari: That's really interesting. I love that.
William: Don't forget as well, I think we're craving. If you've analyzed what a craving is, it's essentially you fantasizing about having an alcoholic drink. It is a fantasy. When we start craving something, we don't see the reality of it. We build it up to be something much bigger than it is. With alcohol, in fact, with any drug, it's the idea, not the reality, that attracts us back into it. That's a topic of conversation, academic-wise, to death and take another hour. There's a tendency of people to criticize what they have and to idealize what they don't have. If you're not drinking, it's very easy to idolize it and think it's a massive, wonderful thing, when in fact, it isn't. Just be realistic about it. It's massively powerful.
Ruari: I love that. Awareness and being aware. Almost parachuting out and seeing it from above rather than feeling like you're in it. When you're watching people, or you're watching yourself, or you're watching your feelings, your cravings, is to just pull yourself out of it and get aware. That's why picking up your book is so fantastic. It gives you the real science behind this that you can then apply to the moment and think, “Now I understand what's going on in this process.” Amazing stuff.
William, you've got a free Facebook group, Alcohol Explained. You also have two books now, Alcohol Explained and Alcohol Explained 2. Is that right?
William: Yeah. Imagine […].
Ruari: Brilliant. What's next for you?
William: Getting through the lockdown. My job intact, I think, will be a good start. That's it at the moment. Whenever I finish a book, I always think, “That's it. I've got nothing more to write about.” Then, something else occurs. At the moment, I can't really see much else at the moment. Just limping from day to day at the moment.
Ruari: There's a lot of that going on in the world. It's pretty crazy. Do you have any comments around the alcohol right now? Coronavirus? Any thoughts you have for the moment?
William: No. Certainly, from my perspective, I remember someone in the Facebook group saying, “How do you get through this without drinking?” I remember thinking, “How do you get through this with drinking?” It's difficult enough time. The thought of not sleeping properly, being hungover, and grouchy, I can't imagine doing it.
I have two young kids and I'm trying to work. I'm just about making more way through it. If I hadn't slept, forget having a chronic hangover, if I have a couple of glasses, just tossing and turning all night, I'll be grouchy. I just genuinely don't see how people are doing it. I think, like you, my biggest tip is exercise. That's the thing that gets me through an awful lot. Fortunately, over here in the UK, we are allowed out to exercise. I would just say, make the most of that.
Ruari: Brilliant, amazing. Where can everyone find you? Facebook group, Alcohol Explained.
William: The best place to start is on the website which is alcoholexplained.com. There are bits of pieces on there, articles, and links to various things. The first five chapters of the book are on there as a PDF. You can go on and read those if you're interested.
Ruari: Fantastic. Good man. Thanks so much. Thanks for the work you do. We'll definitely be doing more stuff with you. I'm excited down the tracks. Thank you so much for coming to the podcast.
William: Thank you very much. Cheers.