February 3, 2018:
Hold your breath.
Go on, take a big gulp. Hold it until I tell you to stop.
What are you feeling?
First, discomfort. Then, disquiet. Then, panic. Then, the uncontrollable need to breathe. Independent of your volition. You need to breathe. And you're going to, no matter how hard you struggle not to.
OK relax, you can breathe again.
We've just learned by analogy how addiction works.
As you hold your breath your brain begins both firing and receiving neurochemical messages amounting to, "FUU-UUU-UUU-UUU-KK, things are wrong!!!" The messages become louder and louder as your need increases. Until they're screaming at you. Until the autonomic components in your nervous system take over, forcing you to breathe whether you want to or not.
This is the same neurophysiological mechanism as addiction. As your neurons become more and more starved for the neurochemical messages they're deprived of, new signals begin flooding your brain: the same messages of deprivation and panic you'll receive if you're starved of oxygen. Doesn't matter what you're starved of. Your system is missing something it needs. At some point, it's going to take over. It'll override your conscious decisions and literally steer you where you don't want to go.
By "literally" I mean fucking literally.
At an AA meeting I attended with my struggling addicted fiancée a young woman tearfully shared her story: her car drove itself to the liquor store, while behind the wheel she screamed "No! No! I don't want to go there!", pounding her palms on the controls. The panic portion of her brain overrode her conscious volition. Over her vehement objection it drove her there and she drank until she passed out.
One day I found my addicted true love on the bathroom floor, cross-legged, pounding and I truly mean pounding her fists into her temples. There was an opened but untouched pint of vodka before her. She was in tears — mortal, bone-deep agony — weeping to herself and to me, "I don't want this I don't want this I don't want this I don't want this."
She didn't want it. That was the truth.
She drank it anyway, and in her blacked-out rage she smashed me in the face so hard it detached both of my retinas.
Addiction is not a moral failure. It's a type of brain dysfunction in which neurophysiological communication between brain components is defective or damaged or disrupted, ultimately causing the cascade of faulty neurochemical messaging that results in unwanted behaviors.
There's still no cure for alcoholism. Although the mechanism is now understood. There'll be an effective treatment one day soon.