Why You Feel Like Getting Drunk After A Big Disappointment
At first, I had no problem going to an election night watch party that featured a fountain with wine dripping from the eyes of a Donald Trump photo. It was a cool idea, and it would make for a fun Instagram photo.
About halfway through the night, though, when it became apparent the race was closer than we'd all been told, closer than the data predicted, I noticed myself getting a little thirsty.
My eyes began to wander back toward the Trump fountain.
"If I was going to get drunk tonight, a great way to do it would be by drinking Trump tears," I thought to myself.
I quickly grabbed my bag, thanked the host and booked an Uber home.
Once there, I continued watching the coverage, which became more and more hopeless. I remembered we had a spare bottle of gin in the cupboard from a gift bag my boyfriend had been given a few weeks ago.
I got up from the couch and noticed my mouth literally watering as I opened the cupboard to throw the gin out, and I made a snap decision to throw it out in the trash outside my building instead of the one under the sink.
People all over the country who voted for Hillary and deal with addiction have had a hard time staying sober with the results of this election.
According to New York Mag, while the causes of addiction are still unknown, the scientific reason for this desire to relapse is tied to the functioning of dopamine in the brain, which is tied to pleasure-seeking behavior.
Let's say you're given a Christmas bonus for work every year, and you use that Christmas bonus to plan a trip with your Love-Bucket-Sugar-Pie.
The dopamine levels in your brain will rise around the holidays every year, and they will peak when you finally get that reward.
Then one year, with no explanation, you don't get a Christmas bonus. When you ask your boss about it, she tells you it's because you didn't earn one.
The dopamine levels in your brain plummet, and you go home and get smashed through New Year's.
When Obama was elected and then reelected, the reward of having him in office made me feel euphoric.
Dopamine levels in my brain tied themselves to each circumstance leading up to the announcement of his presidency: gathering in front of the TV, Rachel Maddow's excited hand gestures and hearing the polls confirm what I believed.
On Election Day, it was dopamine that caused me to expect that when all those factors lined up in a similar way, I would feel that reward again.
But this is where dopamine becomes just as misleading as the fucking polls.
Not only did I not get the reward I expected, but I also got the disappointment of being wrong. The dopamine drop got a lot steeper.
That dopamine drop is key to the connection between relapse and disappointment from a neurological perspective.
The moral of the story is this: If you're feeling disappointed by this election and you're in recovery, don't drink or relapse over it.
You might feel like you're experiencing an existential root canal, but take it day by day. Buy a block of cheese or chocolate and dig in if you need to.
If you know someone in recovery, it helps to reach out to them and grab coffee. Addicts love coffee. We will get through this.