Changing your habits can be hard without the right tools. This is especially true for alcohol because habits are, by definition, subconscious thought processes. Through her methodical research of the latest neuroscience and her own journey, Annie Grace has cracked the code on habit change by addressing the specific ways habits form. This unique and unprecedented method has now helped thousands redefine their relationship to drinking painlessly and without misery.
In The Alcohol Experiment, Annie offers a judgment-free action plan for anyone who's ever wondered what life without alcohol is like. The rules are simple: Abstain from drinking for 30 days and just see how you feel. Annie arms her readers with the science-backed information to address the cultural and emotional conditioning we experience around alcohol. The result is a mindful approach that puts you back in control and permanently stops cravings.
With a chapter and journal prompt devoted to each day of the experiment, Annie presents wisdom, tested strategies, and thought-provoking information to supplement the plan and support your step-by-step success as you learn what feels good for you. It's your body, your mind, and your choice.
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What’s your all-time favorite drink? The one you can’t wait to get your hands on at the end of a long day or on Friday night? I bet if you think about it hard enough, you can even taste it right now. Taste is a innocent reason for drinking. After all, no one thinks twice about eating ice cream or nachos. They taste good! And our favorite alco-holic beverages are the same way. But for the sake of this experiment, let’s dig a little deeper.
Many people tell me they really like the taste of their favorite drink. I get it. I was a red wine girl all the way. Maybe you’re a margarita lover. Or maybe you enjoy the taste of a good scotch on the rocks. Let’s name this belief:
“I drink for the taste.”
I know a woman who drinks a shot of Baileys in her coffee every morning before she drives her child to school. She doesn’t think it’s a big deal. It’s just a shot, and nothing else makes her coffee taste as good. Her concerned husband tried to get her to try Baileys-flavored coffee creamer, but she insists it doesn’t taste the same. But if you think about it, she’s not actually tasting a lot of alcohol— it’s mostly the flavorings, cream and sugar. So what do you think? Is she truly enjoying Baileys for only the taste? Or is there something else going on?
In order to gain clarity around your beliefs, you need to look back at the past and figure out why you have this belief in the first place. Where did it come from? There are no right or wrong answers here, and everyone is different. So ask yourself, what observations and ex-periences have you had in your past that might have made you believe alcohol tastes good? Maybe it’s something as simple as watching your parents pour themselves a drink at the end of the day. Or observing how they drank glass after glass in the evening. Why in the world would they drink it all the time if it tasted so bad? They’re smart, right? They’re grown-ups. So it must taste good, or they wouldn’t keep drinking it.
I have a friend from France whose parents made sure she drank a little wine with dinner from the time she was eight years old. She hated how it tasted, and told her parents so frequently. But they con-tinued to press on, saying she would appreciate the taste when she got older. The implication was that when she became more mature and grown- up, she would enjoy the taste of wine. We all want to appear more grown up when we’re kids, don’t we? Sure enough, over time my friend became a great wine lover and now drinks it every night.
Think back to your first drink and remember the experience. What were you drinking? Maybe it was wine at dinner when you were young. Maybe it was champagne on New Year’s Eve when you were allowed to stay up until midnight for the first time. Maybe you snuck into your parents’ liquor cabinet with a friend on a dare. Or maybe it wasn’t until much later— maybe your first beer was in college. Regard-less of when it was, think back to your first sip. Did you actually like it? Or did you choke and sputter, maybe even spit it out?
Who was with you at the time? Was it a friend you wanted to im-press? Was it a parent you wanted to make proud? Were you trying to find a place to fit in with a new group of people? If you’re like the vast majority of people I talk to, your first experience tasting alcohol was not pleasant. You didn’t like it. But someone was there to say, “Don’t worry, it’s an acquired taste. You’ll get used to it.”
So take a few minutes to write down where your taste for alcohol came from. What was it like the first time you tried a new beer or hard liquor? Was it always an amazing taste you immediately loved? Did you acquire the taste over time? Or did you fake liking it because you wanted to impress someone?
Now that you have an idea where your beliefs came from, let’s play detective and look at the internal and external evidence. This evidence will help you decide whether your belief that you like the taste of al-cohol is true or whether you have been fooling yourself.
People have some pretty intense reactions when they taste alcohol for the first time. They talk about it burning on the way down. They wrinkle up their nose because it doesn’t even smell good. Their eyes start watering. They might even spit it out. Why? One of the major reasons we don’t like the taste of something is because it’s harmful to us. We don’t like the taste of rotten food because it can make us sick. Well, what’s going on when you have a hangover? You’re sick! Our taste buds react negatively to alcohol to protect us from a harmful substance.
Let’s think about the idea of acquiring a taste for something. Whatever your drink of choice is, you probably didn’t like it immediately. But your body allowed you to get used to it. Why? Because your brain assumes you have no choice in the matter. If you did, it would make no sense for you to keep drinking. So your body does the logical thing—it makes it easier for you to deal with the taste. You acquire it. Which, if you think about it, is the same thing as becoming immune to alcohol.
Let’s look at it another way: My brother has a goat farm, and whenever I walk into the barn, there’s an intense unpleasant odor. As my sister-in-law says, it smells “very goaty.” But guess what? My brother and his family don’t even notice the smell anymore. Because they’ve gotten used to it. They have to go into the barn to feed the goats, so their brains no longer register the odor. That doesn’t mean they like it. But they have, over time, gotten used to it.
If you did happen to love the taste of your first drink, it was prob-ably something fruity or creamy that was more sugar than anything else. Am I right? Some drinks go down more easily than others. Straight alcohol is ethanol. The same stuff you put in your gas tank! A few sips will make you vomit and a few ounces of pure ethanol will kill you. I think it’s safe to say you would never go suck on the end of a gas pump nozzle because it tastes good! No matter what your favor-ite drink is, the alcohol makes up only a small percentage of the liquid. The rest is flavorings, sugar, carbohydrates, and other additives.
Now of course there are things we appreciate as adults that we did not appreciate as children. We clearly grow a more refined palate as we age, but let’s not kid ourselves: If we were purely drinking for the taste, we could certainly find other substitutes that are similar and wouldn’t cause any of the side effects alcohol causes. I am intolerant to gluten and I’ve managed to find plenty of substitutes that aren’t exactly the same but are now a natural part of my life and don’t create the stomach pain gluten does. The fact is ethanol doesn’t taste good. Consider this: When scientists want rats or mice to drink alcohol for a study, they have to force-feed them because they will not naturally opt to drink it.
So are you honestly drinking it for the taste?
If not, then why are you drinking it?
You’ve almost certainly observed characters in the movies and on TV enjoying the taste of alcohol, or giving a satisfying burp and a smile after chugging a beer. Even if the actors are actually drinking whiskey-colored tea, the message still gets across—it tastes good. We all tend to choose our alcohol to match our identities. If we’re refined and classy, maybe we drink red wine. Or if we like old cowboy mov-ies, maybe we lean toward whiskey. Of course, if you’re an interna-tional spy, you’ve got to order a martini—shaken, not stirred. We identify with the characters and tend to like the same drinks they like. I used to love chugging Guinness and was so proud of my chugging ability. It made me feel tough and like “one of the boys” in that mas-culine work environment.
Maybe you see yourself as a discerning wine lover, and your cellar has become a status symbol. If that’s the case, you probably pride yourself on your ability to discern the toasty-smoky-oaky flavors with their fruity or floral overtones. Or whatever. Here’s a fun fact— the American Association of Wine Economists conducted a study of more than 6,000 wine drinkers. In this blind taste test, they discovered that people cannot tell the difference between cheap wine and expensive wine. In fact, most people preferred the taste of the cheaper varieties. And you know what else? The same blind research later found that people can’t tell the difference between pâté and dog food!So what about the argument, “alcohol enhances the taste of my food”? Do we say that about any other beverage- and- food combination? People say milk enhances the taste of cookies, but could that be because we physically dip cookies into milk? No one dips their steak into their wineglass. The truth is, alcohol is actually an anesthetic. It numbs our ability to taste, making it more difficult to savor our food.
Imagine we could remove all the physical and emotional effects of alcohol. If it couldn’t actually make you drunk, would people still drink it? There’s a body of pretty convincing research suggesting they wouldn’t. It tastes bad. It’s poisonous. Drinking for the taste is conve-nient, innocent excuse. At the end of the day, is it a possibility that there’s something more going on with your drinking than just the taste? Humans are incredibly adept at lying to themselves and believ-ing their own stories. It’s possible that you actually do love the taste of a cool, frosty margarita. But is it really the alcohol you like? You may not have tried a delicious virgin margarita, but the truth is, they taste as good, maybe even better! And you’ll be surprised and empow-ered by how much you enjoy yourself without the tequila—or the hangover.
This may be the most important part of the ACT Technique. Here you want to dig into the turnaround or the opposite of the belief. You’ll want to take the time to come up with as many ways as you can (at least three) that the turnaround is as true or truer than the original belief. In this case the opposite of “I drink for the taste” is “I don’t drink for the taste” or maybe even “I don’t like the taste.” Now it’s your turn to come up with as many ways as you can that the turn-around is true in your life.
Table of Contents
Day 1 What's Your Why? 23
Act #1 The Taste of Alcohol 30
Day 2 It's Not What You Give Up, But What You GAIN 36
Day 3 Why We Think We Like to Drink 46
Act #2 Alcohol and Sleep 53
Day 4 Dealing with Discomfort 57
Day 5 What Are Cravings, Really? 65
Day 6 Why Willpower Doesn't Work for Long 74
Act #3 Alcohol, Relaxation, and Stress Relief 83
Day 7 Your Experiment and Your Friends 86
Day 8 How Alcohol Affects Your Senses 94
Day 9 The Power of Self-Talk 101
Act #4 Alcohol, Our Culture, and Society 113
Day 10 Dealing with Sugar Cravings 120
Day 11 The Alcohol Culture is Shifting 129
Act #5 Alcohol and Happiness 136
Day 12 Your Incredible Body and Brain 143
Act #6 Is Alcohol Healthy in Moderation? 149
Day 13 Let's Talk About Sex 155
Day 14 Staying Mindful in the Midst of Chaos 163
Act #7 Alcohol and Parenting (a.k.a. Mommy Juice) 170
Day 15 Social Life and Dating 178
Day 16 The Power of Belief 187
Act #8 Alcohol Is My Friend 195
Day 17 Relieving Boredom Without Drinking 200
Day 18 Why Tolerance Is Literally a Buzzkill 208
Day 19 Dealing with Depression 216
Day 20 Our Headline Culture and the Science of Sharing 224
Day 21 Hey, Good Lookin'l 232
Day 22 Drinking Due to Unmet Needs 240
Act #9 Alcohol and Sadness 247
Day 23 Alcohol's Effect on Your Health 252
Act #10 Alcohol and Anger 260
Day 24 Are Addictive Personalities Real? 265
Day 25 Setbacks and the Way Forward 272
Day 26 Liberation vs. Fixation 278
Day 27 Is Alcohol Really Poisonous and Addictive? 284
Day 28 The Truth About Moderation 293
Day 29 Tough love 301
Day 30 What's Next? 311
One Final Word 324