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Thirty years after joining the merry-go-round of drinking alcohol, my thumping head, nauseous stomach, and I, finally saw it for what it was: the biggest con trick on the planet. At that point I metaphorically got off the ride, left the fairground, and walked off into a beautiful sunny day. I’m still walking around in that beautiful sunny world, where it’s calm and peaceful, and the war of wants, and shouldn’t haves, and hungover regrets has stopped raging in my head.
I don’t head for the fridge as soon as I get home from work anymore, and don’t curse when I find only a half a bottle left there from the night before. I don’t worry about going out with friends and needing to remember to stop drinking after four drinks, only to have four drinks and forget to remember. I don’t ever wake up at 3am with a dry throat, and racing heart with a feeling of dread as I try to remember what I said and did the night before. I don’t have to deal with my guilt, or feeling stupid because I decided not to have a drink last night, but come wine o’clock my body went into autopilot as my brain decided to change its mind, and I did the very thing I promised myself that I wouldn’t do.
I don’t do any of that any more because I outsmarted the con artist that had held my confidence and trust for all those years. I outsmarted alcohol, and you can too. Alcohol has no control over me, as I now realise it once did. I am in complete control of every drop of alcohol that passes my lips. I consume exactly the amount of alcohol that I want to drink, which is exactly none.
You can get smart about alcohol, and you can get control over it. But before you can outsmart anything, you need to understand it. In the game of psychological warfare, knowledge is ammunition, and knowledge is power.
But wait a minute.
Surely, if there’s a problem with alcohol, then it’s the people who drink too much of it that have a problem. After all, isn’t the term ‘alcohol abuse’ aimed at the uncontrolled drinker and not the drink itself.
We all know that it’s alcoholics on park benches drinking meths from bottles in paper bags who have a problem. We know it’s them who need to go to weekly AA meetings and sit in a circle proclaiming their acquiescence to a lifelong disease and affliction that they battle in misery to control because they were born with some dodgy genes.
We know that we’re different and our kind of drinking belongs in a different world. Ours is a world of grown-up laughs, sophisticated choices, and wine o’clock normality.
We’ve all grown up knowing that drinking alcohol is the golden ticket to adulthood and more alluring than a first kiss. We spent the early years of drinking, proving we could drink like fishes, building up tolerance, and working hard for the badge of being a proper grown up alcohol drinker.
We learned that drinking is the multi-tasking doer of all things: it relaxes, relieves boredom, gives a whoop of joy, helps get over an argument, deals with our stress, fills our hours, brings us our friends, make social occasions fabulous, helps us throw off our clothes in the bedroom, makes us happy, makes us interesting, and the life and soul of the party.
We know all these things. Or we think we do. So why on earth would we need to outsmart it, when it does so much for us, our family, our friends, and everyone we know?
Because if it really did all those things, and there were no consequences, then it would be awesome, it really would. The problem is, as we all know, that if anything seems too good to be true, then it usually is. And alcohol is no exception. Yet virtually every drinker genuinely believes in a long list of benefits that alcohol brings them.
Since birth, we’ve been conditioned by society, media, and the people we know and love, to believe that drinking alcohol is not only normal, but expected. It is the only drug on the planet that you have to justify not taking. Because alcohol is a drug, although the fact is not widely advertised: you don’t see advertisements saying, ‘Drink Sauvignon Blanc this Christmas, it’s a highly addictive and poisonous drug.’
In terms of addictive power, alcohol sits beside heroin, cocaine and nicotine. It is second to heroin in the addictive stakes, scoring 2.2/3 where heroin scores 2.5/3.
In a UK study by David Nutt of Imperial College London in 2010, alcohol was found to be the most harmful drug on the planet based on 16 criteria relating to harm to the individual and harm to others. In the study, alcohol scored 72/100 compared to the second most dangerous drug, heroin, scoring 55/100, and crack cocaine which scored 54/100. Alcohol is not only harmful to us physically, it harms us psychologically, and it harms our families. Alcohol hurts the people we love.
Alcohol may be harmful, but we all know that in small doses it’s good for us. We’ve been told that it’s good for our heart to have a glass of red wine each day. Sadly, as medical knowledge expands, this is another bubble in the alcohol con to burst. The good stuff in red wine is resveratrol, which you can find in strawberries, grapes and blueberries to name a few sources, and these don’t come with increased risk of cancer to the neck, head, breast, colon, oesophagus or liver.
A study published in The Lancet in 2018 concluded that the level of alcohol consumption per week that minimises health loss is zero. Put another way, this means that for us mere mortals, the safe amount of alcohol to consume is none. The study used 650 data sources, and over 590 studies in reaching its conclusion. Alcohol consumption has now been linked to 60 acute and chronic diseases, and just one glass of wine per day has been linked to a 15% increased risk of breast cancer.
We may know that something is bad for us, but our minds have an amazing ability to convince us that inconvenient facts which stand in the way of us doing what we want to do don’t apply to us. The mild inconvenience of the negatives pale into insignificance compared to the enormous benefits that we’re convinced that we’re getting.
And then one day something changes. Some crisis occurs that affects us personally, and we decide that we have to do something different.
Right now, you probably believe that alcohol is an important part of your life. But you’ll also know that supping those glasses of wine or beer each night, or partying hard at the weekend, is causing a problem. Alcohol may be affecting your health, your work, or your relationship, or maybe all three.
You may be realising that the hangovers are feeling worse, or that you feel tired all day until a drink in the evening miraculously wakes you up.
Waking up full of remorse and anxiety, with a thumping head, and a questionable or even nonexistent recollection of last night’s events is far from fun, relaxing or stress-free. In fact, it’s diametrically opposite. And vowing never to do it again only to pour a glass of red wine at dinner isn’t good for long term self-esteem, either, as you find yourself in a constant cycle of internal mental battles, over which reaching for a glass always wins.
The result is that the real you, the conscious-minded part of you that doesn’t want to drink, fails. Always. And I know, because I always failed too. If I’d had a particularly boozy Saturday night with friends and felt hellish the next day, I’d be proud of myself that I didn’t have a glass of wine that evening. The fact that I was still feeling queasy from the night before didn’t enter my head as being the reason for my evening of abstinence.
When I decided to stop drinking for a while, like on a hungover 1st of January having decided to do a dry month, I’d start off feeling amazingly positive and determined. All my resolve and positive vision of self, drinking green tea every evening, was primed and ready for action. I would spring open the fridge and give the bottle of wine a ‘Ya boo,’ scoff before putting it firmly in the back of the cupboard, with a ‘See you in February,’ smile.
I’d go to the pub and loudly order a diet coke, telling the bar tender that I was doing Dry January. I might as well have stood on the bar, grabbed a microphone, and shouted to the room, ‘Look at me with my diet coke everyone! Look at me controlling alcohol. I’m not drinking Chardonnay or Merlot here today my friends, so I DON’T HAVE AN ALCOHOL PROBLEM.’ Thou doth protest too much.
By around the 20th of January I was usually bored with Dry January and poured myself a large chilled glass of white wine to celebrate my abstinence. A week later and I had my nose back in the fridge at wine o’clock, waking up on Saturday morning with a remorseful hangover.
For someone who is fundamentally a smart person, none of that made me feel very smart. And that’s the problem, drink makes a fool of everyone, even the most successful and well educated of us.
What you’re about to find out is that the whole package that is wrapped up in the glass in your hand is the result of a very clever and long drawn out confidence trick. It’s a confidence trick that has drawn you in, like it did me, and millions of others, and one that you have completely trusted.
All con tricks work because the con artist gains your trust, implicitly. You believe in them, who they say they are, and the benefits that you believe they can bring you.
The psychological brainwashing of addiction happens in the subconscious mind, and this is the part of your mind that says, ‘Oh go on then,’ when your conscious mind is sitting there with its arms crossed and a large banner with the words, ‘I’m not going to drink today’ emblazoned in bold lettering. This explains why we feel stupid when we’ve gone to such lengths, just to cave in five minutes later.
If you knew for a fact that you had been a victim of a con trick that had trapped you, would you want to get out?
Alcohol is the basis of a confidence trick of pandemic proportions, with millions of people across the world being caught out and being caught in the trap. Alcohol is embedded in every crevice of our society and for many it’s a trusted friend. It has won the confidence of people like you and me who genuinely believe (as I used to) that it adds value to their lives, and that life without it would be deficient. Alcohol is also the cause of inordinate suffering and misery for millions of people who find they can’t live with it and can’t live without it.
Alcohol is the con trick that is fooling the world. Intelligent, successful, strong-minded people are amongst the most common group to fall for the con and give their trust to alcohol. It’s only when you try to get out that the rope tightens, and you realise that you’re trapped. With minds yo-yoing between wanting a drink, and trying to stop having one, or just having less, most drinkers mistakenly blame themselves for being weak, and unable to control alcohol. People don’t realise that they are victims of a con.
Unless you’ve read a library of books on addiction, drugs and alcohol lately, then there’s a ton of stuff about alcohol that you are completely unaware of, just like I was. And you’re a bright person. You’re smart. I am too. I’ve got degrees, I’ve written books, run businesses and I’ve raised kids, but I was drawn in by the alcohol con, just like the millions of smart, intelligent, successful people who are still in the trap.
When people try to get out, the con trick keeps them trapped by adding layer upon layer of false confidences and beliefs.
People think they can’t live without alcohol, and life would be dull. A few years ago, the very idea of going to a party and not being able to drink would make me feel deprived, even before I got there.
Recently a friend came to stay, and twice before she arrived, I went to my local shops to get some last-minute supplies. Both times I had ‘buy wine’ on my mental list, because my friend is a drinker. Both times I completely forgot the wine. I ended up texting my partner to ask him to pick up some on the way home from work. A few years ago, I would have gone to the shop to pick up some milk and would have come through the door with two bottles of wine, and completely forgotten the milk.
I’m now free, and it feels great.
People talk about ‘giving up’ alcohol as though there’s something to lose, and I appreciate that right now that’s what you believe. It’s the reason that people are so fearful of facing the problems that alcohol is causing. It’s like the abusive partner who beats someone up only to hug them better. We all know that person is manipulative and can’t be trusted. The alcohol con is cleverer though, because whereas an abusive lover may shower someone with tangible gifts and benefits, there are literally no benefits to taking alcohol, and you’ll get smart to that later in the book.
I use the word ‘take’ in relation to alcohol interchangeably with the word ‘drink’, because drinkers drink to take the drug which is alcohol. Heroin is mostly injected, or smoked, and nicotine is smoked, or vaped. I know that you won’t like to think of it that way: taking alcohol, but that is what it is. If it makes you recoil, or feel aggrieved, that’s okay. You’ll find out later that’s just your subconscious mind, and it’s your subconscious mind that is the real victim of the confidence trick.
Alcohol, and everything that it embodies, is the con artist who has lied and continues to lie to you. Alcohol is the Pied Piper of Hamlyn who plays happy music full of promises of joy. And just like the piper it lures the followers, reeling them in, slowly, subtly, until the point when it’s got them, and it’s too late. It’s not too late for you though, and if you are prepared to get smart with alcohol then you’ll be in full control very soon.
Alcohol traps educated, capable, strong-minded people. The only abuser in the alcohol equation is the alcohol itself. It is not us who abuse alcohol, it is alcohol that abuses us.
Alcohol is the loan shark who lends you $20, then demands $30 in repayment, who lends you the $30 to then demand a repayment of $40. It is the loan shark who gives with one hand and takes with both, taking you ever further in debt while you try to get back to being where you were before you started.
It’s time to delve into the confidence and trust that we have put in alcohol and to unravel the greatest confidence trick of our time.