Considering Alcohol Use in the Scope of Habit Formation
As we noted at the beginning of our Reframe program, there are several schools of thought when it comes to addiction and substance use. The Self-Medication Model posits that habitual alcohol use is primarily driven by a need to medicate some sort of physical or emotional ailment. The Disease Model views addiction as a disease, a medical issue based on family history and predispositions. The Learning Model sees addiction as something that we learn over time, and can also unlearn. Perhaps one of these models resonates with you more than others, but for many of us, it may be some combination of all three. (Plus the multitude of additional theories not covered in our time here.)
A helpful framework to add to your toolbox when understanding alcohol use, is habit formation. After all, don’t they call any sort of vice a “bad habit?” The truth is, a lot of habitual alcohol use comes on slowly, as it becomes more and more ingrained in your daily habit. Perhaps you started drinking one glass when you started cooking dinner, a couple times a week. Then daily, then more than a glass, and so on. But it often begins with that first piece of habit formation: opening a bottle before you cook dinner.
Just as we got in the habit of doing that funny little ritual every time we run a yellow light (just me?), we got in the habit of having a glass of wine in the evening. But the difference between the yellow light ritual and the glass of wine, is that the yellow light ritual is not an addictive substance that alters your brain chemistry.