From Chapter One of the book
How to Quit Drinking Without AA

How to Quit Drinking without AA

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A Disease Controlled by Diet

Is alcoholism a disease? There’s much confusion.

Pull up a barstool beside any alcoholic drinker and ask whether he thinks he has a disease. He will tell you no, even though he may be quick to admit he’s “an alcoholic.” But ask any recovering alcoholic in A.A. He’ll tell you he has a disease and he’ll tell you he has this disease whether or not he’s drinking.

Each of them is partly right. Alcoholic drinking starts a disease process. This process progresses when you’re drinking. It stops when you stop drinking. And when you stop drinking, you can heal much of the damage from the disease if you change your diet.

Alcoholism fits the definition of disease. Like other diseases, alcoholism impairs your health by damaging your cells. Like other diseases, it interrupts your body’s vital functions, causing specific symptoms. And like other diseases such as cancer, if it’s allowed to continue long enough, it’ll kill you.

But as a disease, it has an ironic twist. The agent causing the disease acts like a medicine that cures the symptoms. Alcoholic drinkers actually feel healthier when they’re drinking. Pain and sickness seem to disappear. Unfortunately, the sense of health is artificial. When you drink, you relieve yourself of the symptoms only. Meanwhile, inside your body, a disease process rages.

Drinking wears out your body and actually speeds up the aging process. Your cells live their lives in the fast lane of high blood-sugar and toxic invaders, grabbing a few thrills, but choking on the poisons. You get physically sick more often. Or you feel some slight sickness which lingers and is hard to pinpoint.

When cells don’t get sufficient nutrients, or if the cells are harmed too often by toxins in the blood, they stop performing important functions. After awhile, whole groups of cells begin giving out, and organs begin to fail. Especially susceptible are the brain, heart, liver, pancreas, intestines, kidneys, and stomach.

Metabolism Revisited

The disease itself depends on a problem in metabolism. The problem seems innocent enough. Your liver is simply slow on one step of normal alcohol metabolism: the breakdown of acetaldehyde.

The build-up of acetaldehyde also boosts the brain’s production of isoquinoline, a strong sedative similar to morphine or heroin that calms us deeply and kills pain. This added sedative effect greatly increases alcohol’s addictive power. It drives us to drink. Thus the damage continues, the disease progresses, and the metabolic problem gets worse.

Metabolism and Diet

Metabolism is intimately connected to diet. Your body metabolizes food for one main purpose: to get vital nutrients to all the cells. To serve this purpose, your body can metabolize many different foods and can learn how to gain nutrients from almost any kind of food you give it. Metabolism also helps to rid the body of any unwanted toxins.

Yet your personal metabolism works differently from anyone else’s. Studies show that each individual has a unique biochemical make-up and that individuals differ greatly from one another in the way they metabolize various kinds of food. To give you an idea how much possible variation there is, researchers have currently identified over 3,000 metabolic substances (called “metabolites”), and over 1,100 enzymes. Each individual has her own unique proportions of all 4,100 of these biochemicals.

Also, the mixture of biochemicals varies for each kind of food you ingest. For instance, the biochemicals your body produces to metabolize carrots differ somewhat from those it uses for potatoes. Furthermore, your body’s biochemicals vary from day to day, and vary depending on what you last ate and even how long ago you ate it.

One more thing: Your body uses quite different biochemicals to metabolize the different classes of foods—meats, grains, vegetables, beans, fruits, etc. As you might have guessed, you need a whole different biochemical preparedness to handle alcohol, sweets, drugs, chemical additives, and toxins. In fact, too many excesses from this group can cause your metabolism to break down, and begin to make mistakes. For instance, too much sugar too often can cause hypoglycemia. The pancreas begins overreacting (producing too much insulin) when each new burst of sugar hits the bloodstream.

But your body adjusts to whatever diet you give it. The most frequent foods in your diet come to be expected. Biochemical pathways get established the more they are used. Thus, if your body doesn’t get an expected food, you actually begin to crave it.

Your body becomes addicted to the foods you give it the most. Your metabolism so completely adjusts to your regular diet that any change from this diet becomes increasingly difficult. Ask anyone who has attempted a major shift in diet. For instance, if you eat meat regularly, your metabolism will take a long time to adjust to a vegetarian diet. Although the same nutrients are available, your body doesn’t have the biochemical preparedness. The ability is there. Your body can metabolize vegetarian meals. But to gain the same efficiency with a new diet can take from one to seven years.

The important thing to remember is this: Metabolism depends on diet. You can change your metabolism if you change your diet. It will take a long time to change your metabolism significantly, but you can feel incredible improvements after just a few months. You’ll discover the kind of changes you need to make in the chapter on diet.

The Alcoholic Diet

Almost all alcoholic drinkers suffer from malnutrition. Given the amount of alcohol in their diets alone, they don’t stand a chance of gaining proper nourishment. Why? Alcohol robs the body of vital nutrients.

This happens in two ways:

  1. The alcoholic diet leaves little room for nutrient-rich foods. Alcohol is a food itself—with calories but no nutrients. When too many of your diet’s calories come from alcohol, you don’t have much appetite left for other foods.
  2. When you burn calories, your cells require nutrients and burning the “empty calories” of alcohol forces your cells to use reserve nutrients they have stored—especially the B-vitamins and vitamin C. By drinking heavily on just one occasion, you can completely deplete these reserves.

Alcoholic malnutrition kills slowly. Cells weaken from starvation and become disease-prone. Your behavior can even become bizarre, your thinking impaired. After awhile, one of your organs will give out. If it’s a vital organ, chances are you’ll die.

But if you change your diet, the disease process will stop. The latest research links diet to all major diseases (heart disease, cancer, stroke) and most minor diseases you can think of. But how does diet cause such a long-range debilitating disease as alcoholism? At the root of the dietary problem lies addiction. The alcoholic diet is unbalanced because of various food addictions. The alcohol itself is a dual addiction: a food addiction and a drug addiction.

Food addiction, like drug addiction, depends on a biochemical craving. Your body’s biochemistry becomes so dependent on a particular food that it grows to expect that food. As with drugs, some foods are more addicting than others. Also, when you stop consuming an addictive food, you experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can be mild, such as headaches, muscle aches, back aches, cramps, diarrhea, constipation, confusion, irregular pulse rate, anxiety, nausea; or more acute, such as dizziness, extreme emotional upset (tears, anger, depression), paranoia, minor convulsions (shakes and tremors), and wild fluctuations in blood pressure.

Nutritionists classify sugar and alcohol as foods because they have calories. This is the only reason for the classification. But as “foods,” they are seriously lacking, for neither sugar nor alcohol has any nutrients to help with their digestion. For practical purposes, sugar and alcohol are the same food. One beer has about the same instant caloric value as ten teaspoons of white sugar.

Among “foods,” alcoholic beverages and sugar foods are probably the most addicting you can find. But the additional drug effects of alcohol make it more addicting than sugar. So when you quit drinking, you must withdraw from both addictions: the food (or sugar) addiction of alcohol and the drug addiction of alcohol.

You can withdraw from the drug effects in a short time. Depending on the amount of alcohol you drink, severe withdrawal symptoms will last for one to three weeks, and minor symptoms will continue for a few months.

You will begin your withdrawal from the sugar addiction if, when you stop drinking, you stop eating sugar-foods as well. In this case, cravings for both sweets and alcohol will diminish after a few weeks, and disappear after six months to a year. If you stop drinking, yet continue to eat sugar foods, your hypoglycemia will drive you crazy with regular cravings for alcohol and sweets.