Detox cleanse: about addiction and superstition

A reader asked:

I’m a freelance web developer, meaning I get minimal sleep and live a very stressful lifestyle.
I work on average 14hours per day, drink tons of coffee and red wine to keep me sane.
I just finished a project and thought I might go a 1 week detox to get myself back on track.
What do you think, are these on/off detox cycles good or bad?

I answered on that post that I don’t think this on/off detox cycle is a good thing, however I do think that the respite from alcohol will do his body good.

There is something to alcohol in our culture that not many people are aware of. Did you know that the alcohol consumption has increased about 200% in the West over the past century? This has partly to do with increased wealth of course. The hardest hit are not the factory workers, but upper class, highly educated people.

My reader fits the profile precisely: with a high stress job he feels alcohol helps him survive mentally and emotionally. Addicts always justify their addiction – I don’t know if my reader is an alcoholic (the definition includes the question: does it disrupt your life?) – but then my chocolate addiction never made it to chocoholics anonymous either. Even if it’s not technically an addiction, it’s still unhealthy to use alcohol as a relaxant daily.

I really have trouble with the rationalization though: it’s well known that alcohol is a dis-inhibitor, it helps people relax. It is not known to help people think more clearly though, which the job of web developer DOES require.

My reader’s story reminds me of my dad, except that my dad has my mom to remind him to stop working after 9 (or something) at night. And he does, because he knows that the mind needs a break in order to function well. As a computer scientist creative solutions to math-like problems are what make his articles publishable. And it’s on down time that those creative solutions come up. When the conscious brain is doing something else there’s room for what the unconscious has been putting together.

Back to addiction. I started on chocolate in my late teens as a help in dealing with the issues I had to deal with. The usual teenage angst. I felt entitled to it as a solution.
And, being a teenager, I felt that whatever it was my body needed, I ought to give it. This lead me straight down the path of addiction, till I ate a bar of chocolate daily.

I learned the hard way that the body can be trained to want the wrong things.

What does all this have to do with superstition? Well, research shows that superstition works.

In other words, the lucky charms appeared to be giving people the confidence to aim higher and keep trying. The belief, however tenuous, that there may be something to a particular superstition could help release nervous tension.

This may be because superstitions allow us the illusion of control in what is a scary, random world. Perhaps that’s why superstitious behaviours to bring good luck are so common: they can sometimes work.

I fear that this often combines with addiction: when alcohol has been used as a talisman for success in the past, it’s harder to quit when it starts disrupting our lives. I can empathize with the stress of a freelancer: I am a freelancer too. You never know when your next job is coming, where from or even whether you’re going to get a next job at all. This stress likely makes dependence on superstition more likely, even more necessary. However, there are more harmless superstitions to choose from than alcohol as a booster of performance. Wearing a ring or pendant with your birthstone for instance.