Here is the full transcript of actress Claudia Christian’s TEDx Talk: How I Overcame Alcoholism at TEDxLondonBusinessSchool conference. This event took place on April 29, 2016 at London.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: How I overcame alcoholism by Claudia Christian at TEDxLondonBusinessSchool
I’ve been in the entertainment industry for over 30 years. I was a very light drinker in my 20s.
In my 30s, I was a social drinker, and somewhere in my early 40s, I developed alcohol use disorder, which is abbreviated AUD. We don’t really use the term alcoholism that much anymore, because it’s too narrow of a term. AUD covers everything from the occasional binge drinker to the chronic daily drinker.
I started to realize that something was very wrong with me when I was always the last person standing at the bar or at dinner parties when everybody else had switched to coffee, I was still quaffing wine. Yeah.
I realized then that I definitely had a problem, so I decided that I would just go cold turkey, sober, and I did. But what I didn’t realize is that could cause what’s called the alcohol deprivation effect, where once the honeymoon period of sobriety wears off, you’re left with constant physical cravings for alcohol.
So think about it. You drive by a liquor store, and you’re triggered, you want a drink. You walk by a pub, and you get angry because you can’t go in there and have just one drink. You start isolating from your friends and families because they drink.
Developing AUD was an incredibly confusing thing for somebody who, admittedly, likes to be in control. I was definitely not in control of this at all. In fact, I was swept up in a nearly decade long battle with something I refer to as “the monster”.
Addiction is a monster, and it affects every ethnicity, social class, race, sex, age; it doesn’t matter. You can be the most disciplined person in the world. When it gets you, it has you. “It” is in control.
When I finally realized that I was not in the driver’s seat, that the monster was, I sought out every single treatment I could possibly find or afford. I went to rehab for $30,000 to basically drink wheat grass and do tai chi. I went to talk therapy for over two-and-a-half years for 200 bucks a session.
I actually sought out a hypnotherapist who claimed that he had cured a member of the Grateful Dead — that was 400 bucks an hour. I went to 12 different meetings of AA in two different countries. I went macrobiotic. I got my chakras realigned. I tried veganism. You name it, I tried it, and I prayed. OK, I prayed until my knees were black and blue, and I still kept relapsing, time and time again.
I mean, I think that in the years that I was suffering from AUD and really battling it, I probably relapsed close to 20 times. And each relapse became more difficult to recover from, and they got worse and worse and worse.
And here’s the thing: I wasn’t drinking because I had a crummy childhood, or because I was suffering from any personal trauma. I mean, if you look at it from the outside, I had a great life! I was in my chosen career. I had a beautiful home. I had friends and family who loved me and supported me.
I was drinking because I was physically addicted to alcohol. That’s it. Once I started, I could not stop drinking. I have addiction on both sides of my family, and the genetic predisposition coupled with engaging in the behavior, which for me is drinking, made me an addict.
I knew one thing for sure after trying all of these treatments, and this became very clear: doing equine therapy or tai chi in some swanky beachfront expensive rehabilitation facility was not going to fix my biological addiction.
By the end of 2008, I had six months of sobriety under my belt, and that’s when the addict started to talk to me in my head. That’s the insidious thing about addiction, is once you have a bit of sobriety under your belt, you go, “Hey, I’m not an addict”. It whispers to you, “Go ahead, have a drink. You’ll be able to control it. Just one drink”.
So I listened to that idiot in my head, and I went out to dinner that night, and I had a glass of wine. And I came home, and I was so chuffed, “Well, look, the idiot is right. I’m not an addict. I only had one glass”. Right.
Day 2, I had two glasses; day 3, I had three glasses… plus I picked up a bottle to bring home and drink on the way home. Day 5, I was in a full-blown binge; I was drinking anything and everything, I would have probably drunk vanilla extract if I had it.
When I was finally too ill to drink one more drop of alcohol, I did what I always did: went cold turkey and tried to detox. This time, something went very wrong.
I started to suffer from seizures in my body. I lost all control of my motor controls. I couldn’t stand up; I couldn’t get dressed. So I called a friend, and she took me to my one and only medical detox. Where, I got to tell you, I was not treated very well. In fact — until they had my $3,000 — they finally gave me my medication that I needed to stop shaking.
At that point, I felt so humiliated and so down and so embarrassed by the whole experience that I checked myself out and I left. On the way out, there was this little stack of flyers for all these different various treatments for AUD. One of them was for a shot, and this shot promised to eliminate all cravings for alcohol. The shot was over $1,000 a month, but at this point, I would have sold my soul to get better.
When I got home, I Googled that shot. It turns out that the main ingredient in it is Naltrexone, an FDA approved, non-addictive, safe medication that’s been used to treat AUD since 1994. As I was searching, a book popped up: the rather boldly named The Cure for Alcoholism, by Dr Roy Eskapa. And there was this little sample chapter, so I read the chapter, and I was absolutely hooked. This made complete sense to the science lover in my head. It described a treatment called The Sinclair Method, or TSM, where one takes an opiate blocker, you wait for an hour so the medication can get into your bloodstream and brain, and then you drink alcohol. Sounds counterintuitive, I know, but hear me out.
Usually when an addict drinks, they get a huge reward from alcohol, and that’s what makes them want more and more and more. But if you drink an opiate blocker, like Naltrexone, or Nalmefene if you’re here in the UK, instead of the alcohol reinforcing the addictive synapses in the brain, the opiate blocker blocks the endorphins from activating the part of the brain responsible for addiction. It’s as if you have a huge room of endorphins living in your brain? Right?
And every time you drink alcohol, those endorphins rush through the door, and they raise hell in your brain and your neuro pathways. The opiate blocker stops those endorphins from even leaving the room. It slams that door, and it locks it, so they can’t even get out and play.
Over the course of a couple days, or weeks for some people, the body is slowly detoxed, drinking levels dramatically decrease because your cravings for alcohol subside.
I didn’t have a doctor that would prescribe me Naltrexone back then. In fact, when I mentioned it to anybody, they said, “What?” So I ordered my pills from an Indian pharmacy online, 50 mg of hope. Took a couple of weeks for the pills to come to me, and when they did, I got to tell you I was scared out of my mind because I thought, “What if it doesn’t work? What if it makes me relapse again? What if it’s a worse relapse than the last one?”
But at this point, I was so desperate… I took my chance. So I took the pill; I waited the hour; I poured myself a glass of wine, and it was a miracle. I mean, the wine just sat there while I ate my dinner. There was no head games, no compulsion, no “I want more, more, more” — nothing.
I took a couple of sips, and I went, “Meh I’m done”. It was a complete miracle. Three months into TSM, I had my true aha moment. There was this billboard — I hate this billboard — near where I lived in Los Angeles, and every time I drove by it, it had a huge glass of red wine on it, which was my particular poison, massive glass of red wine, every time I drove by that billboard, it would trigger me.
If I was in drink mode, it would trigger me, I’d go, “I want more”. If I was in sober mode, I would drive by that billboard, and I’d go, “Uh, damn it, I can’t have a glass of wine”.
This particular day, I drove by that billboard, and my brain said to me, “That’s just a billboard”. I can’t even explain to you what a profound moment this was, because it meant that my thought processes were normal again. It meant that my brain was fixed. It meant that I was me again.
Six months into TSM, I was mostly sober, except for the occasional planned drink one hour after taking Naltrexone. TSM worked so well for me that I decided to contact Dr Roy Eskapa and thank him for writing his book. I also asked him to thank the American researcher Dr. David Sinclair, whose life’s work, quite literally, saved my life. I asked him, “What can I do to help spread the word about this treatment?” He said, “Well, why don’t you write a book?” So I did. That’s when my journey of discovery really began.
I found out that the World Health Organization estimates that a person dies — 3.3 million people die every single year from alcohol-related causes. That’s more than malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS. I also found out that multiple researchers estimate that 80% to 90% of people suffering from AUD do not seek treatment, and many of these people don’t seek treatment because they’ve been falsely led to believe that they have to give up alcohol for the rest of their lives, which to a 20- or 30-year-old can be utterly daunting, not to mention kind of unrealistic.
I also found out that of the 10% who do seek treatment, up to 90% of those people are relapsing within the first four years! I mean, what other treatable disease can you think of that has this abysmal of a success rate? Studies show that tough love and humiliating an addict, or making them hit rock bottom is not helping them; it’s actually making people worse. As Dr Keith Humphreys from Stanford University said, “It’s remarkable that people believe what’s needed is more punishment. If punishment worked, there wouldn’t be any addiction. It’s a punishing enough experience”. He is absolutely right. It is punishing.
If we addicts had a normal disease, we would be treated with sympathy and comfort; instead, we’re faced with a barrage of “Why can’t you just quit? Just say no,” and a complete lack of understanding or compassion.
Many people suffer for much longer than I did, but the majority of us suffer for about a decade before finding help. So, why do so many people believe that a long-term battle with alcohol addiction can be simply stopped in 30 days or less with nothing but talk therapy and willpower? It’s amazing. It’s amazing.
The World Health Institute estimates that a person dies every ten seconds from alcohol use disorder. Is our current treatment system really the best we can do? The Sinclair Method has a 78% long-term success rate.
Imagine a world with 78% less alcohol addicted people. Imagine the profound impact that would have on our society: 78% less broken families, 78% less abused children, lost days of work, insurance costs, accidents, and on and on and on.
The Sinclair Method uses science to empower your friends, your family, or even yourself to achieve recovery. Thanks to the Sinclair Method, I was able to Ctrl-Alt-Delete my addiction to alcohol. I am no longer powerless. The monster is no longer in control. I am.
TSM works wonders for alcohol-addicted people. It is my dream to see it become a go-to, regularly offered treatment for those in need. I encourage all of you, I beg you to please help spread the word of this lifesaving treatment. And let’s give addicts the option they deserve.
Thank you very much.