It’s a Saturday morning. You wake up. You look around you. You feel hot. What is the time? Geez, it’s almost midday? What was I supposed to be doing today? Geez, I have a lunch date in one hour! But wait, where is my handbag, my car keys, my car?
Does this make your toes curl? Do you remember these feelings? Then being consumed with guilt and shame? Seeing yourself in the mirror, that puffy face, pale, make up smudged, lipstick all over the show? Headache, nausea? But you take a shower, get dressed, apply new make up and go and do it all over again!
The thoughts of these nights and days to tend to fade. Especially if you decide to get sober. You start to forget all the bad feelings and what happened to your so-called reputation. You just remember the good times – that good Chardonnay and dancing on the tables, that excellent Pinot Noir and sitting outside until 2 am. That fun time on the beach and then in the bars, drinking and having a blast? You forget the falling down parts, the crashing the car parts, and the losing face, losing everything parts.
Welcome to the Fading Affect Bias (FAB)
This phenomenon is called the Fading Affect Bias. We can blame FAB for making us start drinking again, when we have had a break or tried to get sober. We decide that we will moderate, yes, we can! It was never so bad, my drinking, I will start again, slowly, and only have one here and there. Know the story?
Read on! This is officially known as the Fading Affect Bias and it is when unpleasant or negative emotions fade away over time, more than pleasant things. In other words, human survival depends on our memories, or memory losses, to keep us sane. Simply by remembering only the good bits do we manage to cope better and feel more positive about life. This is in general. What happens when alcohol is brought into the mix?
Research has found that this phenomenon may strengthen the need to drink alcohol again after giving it up or trying to moderate. Because the unpleasant emotions connected to the drinking and the behavior it caused do fade from memory, and the drinker then wants to drink again because he or she thinks all will be well and they will cope and they won’t get affected by the alcohol.
According to Walker, Vogl and Thompson (1997), the Fading Affect Bias (FAB) is the tendency for unpleasant emotions to fade more over time than pleasant emotions… FAB is a healthy coping mechanism that improves the overall positivity of life.
People who quit drinking do feel sad for months, even years. This is called dysphoria and it can just be a sad mood that comes and goes or it can become a long-term sadness, a deep depression where suicide is a real threat. It is then linked to serious mental health disorders including bipolar and mania.
Dysphoria is the opposite of euphoria – it’s a “profound state of unease or dissatisfaction and may accompany depression, anxiety or agitation.”
The other phenomenon experienced by many people who quit alcohol is anhedonia, a term for an intense numbness of emotions, or loss of interest in most pleasures such as food, sex, social events, and music. It can be called emotional flat lining too.
I spoke to a man who has recently quit alcohol to get his viewpoint on all these terms, these emotional and mental phenomena, and to see how he relates to them.
Jean agrees with the FAB description and the research and he can recount a few personal experiences that relate to it. It is the story about a drinker giving up the booze for a year, then being encouraged to have just one, thinking he could do it, and going right back to that place where he was drinking too much again.
His mind forgot to remind him about all the bad times, the faux pas he made when drunk and the negative impacts that the alcohol continually had in his life. The FAB convinced him that he was fine and that he could moderate, yes sir. But can drinkers really moderate?
Moderation is for the Birds!
When Jean got engaged to his now ex-wife, she had some concerns about his behaviour when drinking alcohol at times. It escalated to the point where she said that if he didn’t address it, she would not marry him. So, Jean made a commitment to quit drinking or to make a big change (“not to make it a permanent quitting exercise at that point in time, but just to get control of the situation”). He bought one month’s prescription of Antabuse tablets and he stopped drinking completely.
“Once the one-month prescription was done, I decided I felt comfortable enough not to drink on my own, that I didn’t need the tablets to do that and that my willpower was good enough. It was, for a year. I successfully went through year-end festivities including New Year’s Eve and friends never even realized that I was on AF drinks. I felt comfy.”
BUT: the irony was that his now ex-wife, then fiancé, was drinking heavily then, on a slippery slope herself, and she encouraged Jean to have a drink with her which he remembers “was stupid.”
“I thought, ag, I’ll just have a glass and that wine tasted super sour to me so I thought I would be able to take it easy and that things would be fine and well, you know the rest of the story. The drinking progressively increased, ramped up, intensified and before I knew it, one evening I was locked out of the house, I had to break a window and crawl through it and embarrass myself again.” He married his fiancé and was back on the booze, never considering that he would stop again.
Reaching Rock Bottom Realisations
And then, just a few weeks ago, Jean experienced a rock bottom moment – he had another incident where horrible things happened, and ridiculous life decisions had a very negative impact on his life with serious consequences. He has since quit the booze and is hoping that this is forever.
“The illusion that you would be able to keep it moderated and controlled is a strong illusion – that you can control the alcohol – but inevitably that will fail.”
Deanne mentioned to me that she quit drinking for 14 days and was so proud of herself. She decided to have just ONE glass of wine out with friends one night and enjoyed it. She even felt smug that she had managed to just have one and wasn’t one of the women who ordered more glasses. She managed that night out but the thing is, her false beliefs were still there:
“I clearly remember my lowkey excitement when someone else was dithering about ordering another glass and I remember thinking, ‘Go on then, go on, go on, just order another one so I can too…’ She didn’t so I didn’t, so the only difference that evening was a tiny social nuance that for some reason I decide to conform…
Within a week, Deanne was back to drinking her usual amount of alcohol and realized that she was just not capable of enjoying an evening out without being drunk. She says that the moderation attempt phase for drinkers is a crucial part of figuring things out – it is just a pity it takes about a decade and involves so much self-blame and frustration!”
Says Janet Gourand,” I spent 10 years locked in the moderation trap all because I thought life would be miserable without alcohol – the marketing and the peer pressure well and thoroughly brainwashed me and of course now I understand that pull to moderate is due to Fading Affect Bias!”
For Jean, moderation worked at socials but it was the binge drinking that caught him and had negative effects on his life. He makes a good point about the FAB and what it feels like to read articles about this phenomenon.
“If you read this article through the eyes of a drinker, then your mind should be made up already. Moderate drinkers will not have to care about this article – reading an article like this is a sign that you have already identified a problem that needs to be addressed and you have already answered your own question.”
He recommends that such people find their tribe, their group of similar people who they can hang out with and share such issues. Often, families drink around those who want to give it up and then these ex-drinkers feel extra lonely and sad.
Quitting the Booze Forever is the Answer
“Complete abstinence comes in when you realise that you do have a problem – I do know some people who have been moderate drinkers for all of their lives and it just doesn’t concern them whatsoever – but once you have crossed a certain threshold like I did, then the juice is not worth a squeeze. It doesn’t make sense to even try moderation because inevitably you will just disappoint yourself again and start right back at day 1 again, “ says Jean.
Ruby Mehta sums it up so well in The Tempest when she links this FAB to drinking – this phenomenon can affect our sobriety because it distorts our perceptions of our drinking past, it convinces us that we were not that bad and that maybe it will be fine to have another drink one day. It removes the bad memories, the guilt, and the shame, the actions we performed to embarrass ourselves and anger or hurt others. It leaves the good memories and removes the negative ones. It is a human survival mechanism and maybe it serves drinkers negatively.
“The Fading Affect Bias refers to a psychological event where negative, painful memories recede much more quickly than positive, pleasant ones. This doesn’t mean that you don’t remember the moment, but the negative feelings associated with that moment may fade over time. …The Fading Affect Bias is one of the reasons why we may want to drink even after we’ve sworn never to drink again…
As time goes by, we can start to lose the initial spark of enthusiasm or determination to quit drinking and it starts to feel more like a chore than something new and exciting. We start to think about the good times we had drinking while downplaying the bad. Although sobriety gives us a lot of new, positive benefits, it can also bring a sense of loss. A lot of people experience these feelings in recovery, especially early on. And it’s during this time that the positive memories of your drinking days may surface, and whatever reasons you had for quitting in the first place seem less important.”
Do you relate to this information in any way? Are you desperately trying to be sober but the thought of another drink keeps looming and you think you can maybe moderate? I suggest that you join Tribe Sober instead of going it alone and using sheer grit and willpower.
When you join Tribe Sober, you will succeed because:
- You will see people who are struggling and you won’t want to go back to those difficult early days
- You will be inspired by other people who are developing new interests as they thrive in their sobriety
- You will make some Sober Buddies – connection is the opposite of addiction – it’s easy to feel a bit alienated as a non-drinker in our booze-drenched society – you need a Tribe!
Contact Tribe Sober today!