casual drinking

Sam s, modified 7 Years ago.

casual drinking

Posts: 51 Join Date: 12/15/13 Recent Posts
Hey everyone,
Wondering how casual drink/drug(or other addictive behaviour) use effects practice; specifically does it render it's results inert or does meditation somewhat improve the symptoms of the user (which may drive them to the substance in the first point) Or some place middling? The obvious answer I know is to go sober but for one reason(excuse) or another it's may not be possible in this time and place. If you could put yourself in the shoes of a user, what would you do first, quit the drink or continue to 'middle'? Or too complex to answer? If anyone can provide insight, I'm all ears right now.
thumbnail
Daniel M. Ingram, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: casual drinking

Posts: 3176 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
It's really hard to answer that question without knowing more about the person and what you mean by "casual drinking".

I have alcoholic patients who come in all the time and say they just drink two drinks per night, but they put a cup of alcohol in each of those drinks. I see people constantly who say they can't be alcoholics as they just drink beer, even though they drink 12/day. I have people who are astounded that I think their 6 shots of whiskey each night when they get home from work is alcoholism, as they say they don't drink while at work. So, I have, through long years of getting to know the hyper-rationalizing capacities of people who have some truly unfortunate relationship to alcohol, become wary of its power to warp the perceptions of people who otherwise might be smart and capable.

The fact that you are asking the question could just be that you are a hyper-cautious drinker who worries that two beers on a weekend might somehow magically derail meditation practice, which it won't, but then you could be in the much more common category of people who are trying to figure out a way to rationalize addictive behavior. Care to disclose enough about how much you actually drink and what it is and when to get a handle on what you are really asking?

Then there is the problem with recommending casual drinking to someone, given that about 10% of people who attempt casual drinking will progress to some degree of alcoholism. Then there is family history. For example, if you are Native American, probably shouldn't ever touch alcohol in any quantity. Parent an alcoholic? Probably shouldn't touch the stuff, as it definitely runs in families. Have a history of addiction to other substances? Probably should be wary of alcohol.

On the other hand: have a 20 year history of perfectly responsible mild and occasional drinking with no wiff of addiction issues? You're most likely ok, but no promises can be given, as plenty of people like that can have some adverse life event that somehow pushes them over the edge. I see them all the time in the ER.

The facts of describing yourself as a "user" and one who is not in a time and place to go "sober" raise red flags in my sensitive ears.

Thoughts?
thumbnail
No-Second-Arrow Z, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: casual drinking

Posts: 58 Join Date: 8/14/13 Recent Posts
For people who do need help, maybe this teacher can help
http://dharmaseed.org/teacher/100/

Sorry, I can't seem to name url's at the moment.
I don't know anything about him, as I never dealt with alcohol problems (I drank maybe 1 glass a month, so the switch to the fifth precept from the buddha was an easy step to take, a couple of years ago). But he shows up regularly on the podcast list from Dharmaseed, so that's a good sign.emoticon
thumbnail
Dream Walker, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: casual drinking

Posts: 1329 Join Date: 1/18/12 Recent Posts
Sam s:
Wondering how casual drink/drug(or other addictive behaviour) use effects practice;
Meditating while drunk is not too useful and meditating while getting drunk interferes with both activities. The biggest problem is meditating hung over...mostly a waste of time in my experience. Having explored this I can say that you will not often get to your cutting edge place in practice the day after drinking heavily (like 6-10 drinks in a night). The day after that you can practice again and get to the cutting edge but I rarely got traction to push further. This is only a problem if you follow the progress of insite and are actually shooting for stream entry...it's gonna go slow (probably) but not impossible (I did it with active addiction).
Sam s:
specifically does it render it's results inert or does meditation somewhat improve the symptoms of the user (which may drive them to the substance in the first point)
The good news is that if you are working on addiction actively with meditation if can work well for most people (from a little to a lot). It really depends on what you are doing though...Urges are phenomena just like any other. You can see thru them like any other and observe that they are impermanent, not you, and cause dukkha....urges are very clear and easy to grasp so try vipassana. Then observe and do nothing with the urges and directly rewire the brain's urge connection to pleasure. Urge surfing guided meditation link --> http://depts.washington.edu/abrc/mbrp/recordings/Urge%20Surfing.mp3

Sam s:
The obvious answer I know is to go sober but for one reason(excuse) or another it's may not be possible in this time and place. If you could put yourself in the shoes of a user, what would you do first, quit the drink or continue to 'middle'?
I'd find some guidance and help in this very complicated issue; I was lucky and found a Mindful recovery group close and started going. Look here for one ---> http://www.buddhistrecovery.org/meetings.htm
There are also Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) therapists around some places.
Whatever you choose, keep meditating in whatever capacity you can... in my experience it does help. (I found a daily practice necessary and walking meditation during urges a fantastic alternative)
Good Luck,
~D
Sam s, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: casual drinking

Posts: 51 Join Date: 12/15/13 Recent Posts
Thank you for all the replies. I don't have any illusions about my intake, I have filled in enough online forms to know that I'm 'out of control', not massively but enough. Without wanting to pathologise what may be a casual problem for me, I'm sure it is eating into my meditation results. I'd hoped that meditation would set me free as if by magic, but it hasn't to be. The 'buzz' of meditation isn't always a good enough substitute for that liquor feeling.

So you've left me with some helpful responses, I don't have time right now to go through them all but will certainly pursue them and get in touch where possible. While things aren't desperate by any means I feel the need to stop and haven't been able to accomplish this by myself yet. I will check through your thoughtful posts more carefully later and try and come to decision about what to do next.

As an aside, sometimes when hungover I've had some pretty interesting insights, and sometimes I've 'cured' the hangover. I know this doesn't justify it btw, just thought I would say.
thumbnail
Dream Walker, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: casual drinking

Posts: 1329 Join Date: 1/18/12 Recent Posts
Sam s:
I'd hoped that meditation would set me free as if by magic
You have to use magick to get magickal results....meditation helps lots but you still got to get ready to quit and do so.
Sam s:
As an aside, sometimes when hungover I've had some pretty interesting insights, and sometimes I've 'cured' the hangover. I know this doesn't justify it btw, just thought I would say.
Awesome, and this is only one reason you should keep meditating...lots of benefits...
Good luck,
~D
thumbnail
Not Tao, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: casual drinking

Posts: 997 Join Date: 4/5/14 Recent Posts
If you really are addicted (which, from your posts, it seems like you may be) then you should look to therapy for help.  There are a lot of things you can do on your own without seeing someone if you really don't want to.  I've been able to make big strides with arachnophobia and an anxiety disorder just by reading the literature online and practicing techniques at home.  You need to be honest with yourself about these things, though.  You're the only person who can change your own mind and solve your own problems.  There are a lot of support groups for these things, too, which can be helpful.

The way I see it (this is my approach to practice) we're all addicted to many things and we need to face these things if we really want to be free from our clinging minds.  Deal with this sooner rather than later with whatever means work for you, and use meditation as a way to clean up the residue.  Also, if you're drinking a lot, don't try to quit cold turkey!  That can be very dangerous to your body chemistry.  Seek help if you're at this level or you could hurt yourself with a seizure and withdrawals.

If you're addicted on a more mental or social level, this is exactly the sort of thing you're trying to investigate with meditation - don't run away from it!  Concentration states can be a nice "high", but, personally, the best feelings I've gotten from meditation came from realizing that, even though the problems were still there, I had found peace within them.  This peace is the magic you're looking for to help cure your addictions.  When you realize you don't need to change anything about your situation - even the feeling of "I need a drink" - and you can simply be content with the way things are in your mind, you loosen the grip of those desires that were driving you.  Over time those desires just wear themselves out and you're left with the unshakable feeling that you can't be broken by anything.  The magic you're looking for lies within the feeling of "needing" itself, not a replacement for the buzz you get with the alcohol.  A buzz, or a high, implies a low that is being replaced or run away from.  Meditation helps you step out of this high and low cycle into the release of equanimity - a feeling of pure contentment without burdens, since it doesn’t rely on any mind state or outside influence to maintain it.

Check out these articles, they might help you understand why addiction works the way it does:
http://mindhacks.com/2012/12/21/wanting-vs-liking/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incentive_salience

Essentially, "wanting" and "liking" are two separate parts of the brain.  Addiction happens when your tolerance levels for a drug rises - reducing the "liking" - and the "wanting" is further stimulated by continued usage.  The only way to break this spiral is to remove the source.  It will probably be unpleasant, but in the end it'll be worth it since you will be free from the malfunctioning "wanting" circuit.  I think this works on many levels with almost everything we do, and lies at the core of "self improvement" practices as well.
 
Good luck with everything.  I hope this was helpful in some way. emoticon
Sam s, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: casual drinking

Posts: 51 Join Date: 12/15/13 Recent Posts
Thanks Not Tao, Dream Walker, et al. I guess drinking weaves a amgick of it's own on me at the moment.

Not Tao your post helped me to see what I've been doing and allowing myself to do in a different light. I realise that when I meditate when drunk (I'd be lying if I'd say alcohol was the only issue) I realise that I'm not cultivating 'love' or anything else, just enjoying the feeling of being loved up and have found a way of jointly doing this using a combination of concentration and substance use. I've decided to try and take a slightly tapered approach to quiting over the coming weeks, although I don't think healthwise it is necessary psychologically it may make it easier. 

So where I am is limiting the use for the first week to evening, and using the 'urge surfing' link during the day when I get temptations (thanks again Dream Walker-very helpful) for a week or two tops, then using it 5 full days a week for two weeks, then going CT on it. Then of course meditating as much as poss between. I'll report back in again shortly.
thumbnail
Not Tao, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: casual drinking

Posts: 997 Join Date: 4/5/14 Recent Posts
I realise that I'm not cultivating 'love' or anything else, just enjoying the feeling of being loved up and have found a way of jointly doing this using a combination of concentration and substance use.

I think a good way to approach altered states is to realize that drugs don't do anything more than encourage your brain to do something it can do on its own.  You don't need the alcohol to reach blissful mind states, it may just seem like it helps you because it makes you relax.  Its possible that doing it without the alcohol will give you more focus to reach even deeper tranquility and release.  Don't think of it as giving up alcohol, instead think of it as cultivating a more readily accessible tranquility.  The jhanas can become very easy to enter if you learn to let go of judgments and hindrances that are disturbing your mind - make this an all day practice!  Alcohol probably does that for you, so it seems like something you need, but just remember the mind it creates for you and duplicate that when you meditate sober.  Be relaxed and uninhibited.  There are some stories out there about how the jhanas spontaneously cure people's addictions.  The Buddha even points to jhana as removing the "lesser mass of stress" - which is sensual desire.  Essentially you're replacing one addiction and desire with another, but getting addicted to jhana will, at worst, cause a sore butt if you sit too long.  That's much better than a hangover any day. emoticon
 
Just remember, it’s all a mind thing - you can do it on your own.  And when you do, it’s all the more impressive, because you realize it “belongs to you” and it’s not just some chemical.  Thinking about the mind-state that alcohol gives, and what that mind state allows you to feel/be, could lead you to some insight about the things you need to change to enjoy these good feelings all the time.  Challenge those inhibitions you have, challenge the ill-will, insecurity, and aversion that alcohol erases for you, and you can become the person you feel that you are when drinking.
Sam s, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: casual drinking

Posts: 51 Join Date: 12/15/13 Recent Posts
Thanks Not Tao, that is helpful indeed. I've found various practices helpful over the years for myself. If I'm honest it's not just alcohol that's the problem and I have trapped myself in a bit of a web, though I feel I am coming out of it. Interestingly I saw an article about 'dharma drunks' today on Wildmind and think I might fork out for one of the buddhist recovery books going around, they look helpful for putting it in context and also having practices to work with the urges. I will bookmark this page and come back here in time and pick out the wisdom from your posts.

Cheers all. Metta.
Sam
thumbnail
Andrew Mayer, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: casual drinking

Posts: 61 Join Date: 11/7/13 Recent Posts
My own desire for alcohol rapidly diminshed since I started my regular sits. The numbing nature of it is *very* apparent to me now, and with the noting practice I find the hole it opens up in my awareness to be more annoying and distracting than pleasant. Having that perspective has also really changed my experience of being *around* people who are drinking as well. I feel a lot of compassion for people as I see them trying to free themselves by numbing their thoughts.

I've simlarly curtailed my use of plant-based intoxicants, although the reasons behind that are different. I'd much rather find those states myself than be deposited somewhere that I have no idea how to get to or get away from on my own power. I'm glad I've visited them, and it's good to know they're there, but I've become much more interested in being a resident of the altered states of me than a tourist.
Sam s, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: casual drinking

Posts: 51 Join Date: 12/15/13 Recent Posts
Andrew Mayer:
My own desire for alcohol rapidly diminshed since I started my regular sits. The numbing nature of it is *very* apparent to me now, and with the noting practice I find the hole it opens up in my awareness to be more annoying and distracting than pleasant. Having that perspective has also really changed my experience of being *around* people who are drinking as well. I feel a lot of compassion for people as I see them trying to free themselves by numbing their thoughts.

I've simlarly curtailed my use of plant-based intoxicants, although the reasons behind that are different. I'd much rather find those states myself than be deposited somewhere that I have no idea how to get to or get away from on my own power. I'm glad I've visited them, and it's good to know they're there, but I've become much more interested in being a resident of the altered states of me than a tourist.

Very glad you found your way Andrew. I still struggle with some yearning to quell that anxiety, to put me to sleep, to make me enjoy. I agree that meditation is putting a dent in it, bu not a big one. I liked your thoughts about observing other people doing it to themselves, I didn't think to see it as suffering particularly, although it clearly is.
thumbnail
Bailey ., modified 6 Years ago.

RE: casual drinking

Posts: 267 Join Date: 7/14/11 Recent Posts
It was wierd at first being sober around my friends when we went out.  However, I got used to it and now I am just as charming and have just as much fun as they do if not more.  Meditation helps in two ways.  It will provide a base of unattachment/equinimity.  This will help keep your good feelings up because it provides a base that your feelings will not go below.  Like having a base of 0 instead of a negative number. The other way it helps is that the more you meditate and the further along the pay you go the more energy you get.  And by energy I mean something like qi.  So instead of getting your good feelings from the alochol you will get boosts in good feelings and charisma from the qi.

The other side of it is that drinking will hurt your meditation inevitably.  If thats a choice you want to make that's fine, completely up to you.  Insteaed I suggest trying to make a compromise.