I recently chatted with Joseph, a Ria Health member, about his relationship with alcohol and his success with Ria and the Sinclair Method. You can listen to our conversation below, or read a transcript of it, which has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Katie: What is it that brought you to Ria Health?
Joseph: It’s sort of by happenstance that I found Ria. There’s not a lot out there in terms of alternative treatment for substance abuse or alcohol use disorder. I found One Little Pill, the film by Claudia Christian, when I was living in Shanghai. That brought me onto the whole naltrexone methodology. I read up on that, did a lot of my own research, and sort of pieced it all together from YouTube videos and books I ordered online. That led me to get a prescription for naltrexone from an Indian pharmacy—which is kind of sketchy and I didn’t always feel totally comfortable with it. But I did it because I was desperate at the time. Fast forward to July of 2017: I had a lapse in terms of my naltrexone use, and I wanted something that was more comprehensive and not just me piecemealing things together myself. I wanted a professional to do that. So I was on Google and I just started putting in those key words—One Little Pill, naltrexone, low-dose naltrexone, alternative treatment—and then Ria Health popped up. It was sort of a no-brainer.
The difference is like night and day in terms of how much I think about drinking.
Katie: So you came to us with a little bit of knowledge and experience and you were looking for more of a professional, comprehensive way to help guide you through this process.
Joseph: Exactly. I felt relieved. In the beginning, I felt comfortable with the self-diagnosis and the prescribing myself naltrexone, but as time went on I felt like there were missing pieces and I didn’t know how to put it together. And Ria Health had all of those things thought out by the professionals and a plan that’s all put together. Plus, the weekly check-ins are really great. I mean, you can’t do something like this alone. It works for a while, but I think if you’re looking for something that’s a long-term program with long-term success, you need to be part of a community and part of a team.
Katie: Which leads me to another question: How has Ria impacted other areas of your life?
Joseph: I think when you suffer from alcohol use disorder, you’re always thinking about alcohol. You dream about it. You’re constantly anticipating the next time you have the opportunity to drink, or you’re planning your schedule around when you’re going to drink next. I think what going through the Ria Health program has done is put alcohol on the back burner, and sometimes take it off the stove completely. I don’t think about it as often, and that’s been such a huge weight off my shoulders. It’s allowed me to grow in other areas of my life in terms of health and wellness and becoming more physically fit and psychologically fit. To be able to plan for the future more, whereas when I was in the throes of alcohol use disorder, I didn’t have a clear enough head to plan long-term. It was more moment-by-moment—and that’s not to say living in the moment. It was more like numbing out the moment and then just kind of coping with hangovers and not feeling good, and then waiting for that next moment to feel relief. Whereas with the Ria Health program and the support that I’m receiving, it feels like I don’t have to worry about that as much as I used to. Certainly it’s still a part of my mind, but it’s not something I obsess over and I think about so much of the time any longer.
Katie: That’s amazing. And did you realize how much planning around alcohol was taking up of your mindspace?
Joseph: No, I didn’t. And it scared me because at first I thought, “Woah. Why do I feel so different? Why do I feel so much freer? Why do I feel so much less worry?” It’s because I’m not as occupied. The difference is like night and day in terms of how much I think about drinking.
Katie: Wow, that’s amazing. And it’s almost like this new doorway opens up and you’re like, “What do I do now with this free time and energy?”
Joseph: The analogy I like to use is like you’re kind of stuck inside of a maze with a cover on top, the cover being the constant obsessive thoughts about alcohol that are uncontrollable. And when you take the lid off the maze, suddenly the light is coming in and you feel a little freer. You still might be in the maze but at least you have the light to guide you.
Katie: That’s a great analogy.
Joseph: I think you’re also right about how you don’t realize how much you’re planning your schedule around alcohol. I remember back in Shanghai, I’d be teaching and at around 3 o’clock I would start planning and plotting what I was going to do, what my plan of action was. Was I going to go to a bar or was I going to go home? Was I going to go with friends or was I going to go alone? Was I going to do this first or was I going to go straight there? It was all I could think about.
Katie: That brings me to another question: How did you try to cut back or moderate your drinking before naltrexone and what was that experience like?
Joseph: Before things got really bad I definitely had those moments where I was like, “Woah, I’ve been drinking too much, I’m going to cut back.” I’d try not to drink Monday through Thursday, but on Friday I’d allow myself to. So it’s Friday, and I’m, like, really balls to the wall, out of control, blackout drunk. It was almost as if I was storing up all of those drinks that I hadn’t had during the week and drank them all. I compensated for lost time. Does that make sense?
Joseph: It was almost more damaging in some ways because I would go totally overboard. I’d try to cut back and it always seemed to backfire. It was sort of like a rubber band: pulling, pulling, until there was a backlash. And the backlash was usually that I would drink the same amount and catch up, or I would drink even more than I normally would.
Katie: What was that experience like psychologically?
Joseph: I would feel like a piece of garbage, basically. I felt so guilty, so awful. Not to mention feeling physically beat up, like I let my body down. I just felt like a loser, and that’s a really hard space to exist in regularly. The sad part about it is that you get used to feeling down, you get used to feeling exhausted. I was in my mid-30s when this hit its peak, and it felt like 60-year-olds around me had more energy. And that was kind of a wake-up call. Like, geez, I know why I don’t have energy. It’s not like I have a cold. It’s not because I’m suffering from allergies. It’s because I drink too much. And that’s a hard realization to come to. That’s a hard pill to swallow.
I was in my mid-30s when this hit its peak, and it felt like 60-year-olds around me had more energy. And that was kind of a wake-up call.
Katie: Especially when it’s something like what you described: a vicious cycle where you try and try, and then you would binge and feel like garbage.
Joseph: It feels totally self-inflicted too. I mean, I don’t think most people that consider themselves alcoholics or are suffering from alcohol use disorder blame the disease. They blame themselves. I think that until you get out of the fog, you beat yourself up.
Katie: Exactly. And it’s not logical when you’re in the throes of alcohol use disorder. It’s a biological addiction. People will try to reason it away the best they can like, “I know better, I’m a healthy person, I’m successful otherwise.” But the urge to drink is just there and you can’t reason it away.
Joseph: Exactly. I have two master’s degrees. I’ve done pretty well in my life and I’d always thought, “You’re smarter than this, you know better. You have a mom that died of alcohol use disorder.” She had cirrhosis of the liver. So I’ve seen it and I should know better, but I’m still doing it and I feel like it has a hold of me stronger than I have a hold of it. It’s something you have to constantly manage. I don’t think it’s something that’s ever going to completely go away, which is exhausting on one hand. But the good news is there are tools and techniques that actually work rather than just using the abstinence model, which is really not very successful in the long run.
Katie: It’s not. And a lot of people have tried and tried and failed. There’s that moment where you really want to change, you really do, and you feel excited and inspired and you’re committed. And then the alcohol deprivation effect kicks in, and you feel deprived of alcohol the longer you’re abstinent.
Joseph: It doesn’t just go away, it grows stronger. Which is like a catch-22: You’re trying to do the right thing for yourself by ridding yourself of something that’s so toxic, and in the meantime, your body is actually craving it more and more. My sister, as a matter of fact, subscribes to the Alcoholics Anonymous methodology. And more power to her, right? The only problem is she relapses more times than I can count. When she relapses, she relapses hard. I’m talking about hospitalization hard. Looking at her, you would never know: she’s beautiful, she’s a professional. But she’s been to hell and back over the last 10 years with her alcohol use disorder, because she’s treating it with an abstinence-based model. Which, as with the rubber band, it’s going to snap eventually. And it does. I mean, in 10 years there have been literally more than 20 relapses. And not to focus on her or to shame her or her experience, it’s just, as an outsider looking in, I would much rather do the low-dose naltrexone method and taper off slowly but surely, and change my relationship with alcohol on a physiological level and spiritual level, versus just going to this program that was invented in the 1930s. Just quitting alcohol sounds very plain and simple, and speaks to some people. But if it’s so successful then why aren’t more people in AA staying sober?
I’ve done pretty well in my life and I’d always thought, “You’re smarter than this, you know better. You have a mom that died of alcohol use disorder….” But I’m still doing it, and I feel like it has a hold of me stronger than I have a hold of it.
Katie: Exactly. And that’s the story we want to change at Ria Health. There are evidence-based approaches that are out there that are shown to be tremendously more effective whether someone’s goal is to become a moderate drinker from a heavy drinker, or if they want to become abstinent one day. You can achieve that. We want to spread the word about these options.
Joseph: Absolutely, I agree. I think that’s really interesting because I’ve tried to talk to a few different family members about Ria Health and low-dose naltrexone and talk about the One Little Pill documentary and the Sinclair Method, and I have had so much pushback.
Joseph: It’s really interesting. And I don’t understand completely why. I have a cousin that’s a full-blown alcoholic and I’ve talked to him three times about it and he goes, “I just don’t want to take a pill.” And I said, “But you’re like walking misery. You’re in so much pain. Forget about the best life you could live, you aren’t even really above the surface.” But he would rather…I don’t know, it’s the mentality. First off, you have to want to change. I think that’s half the battle right there.
Katie: I think what you’re saying about not wanting to take the pill…. I think sometimes people think they’re replacing one problem for another with naltrexone. But in my experience, and talking to people, that is the farthest thing from the truth. Naltrexone’s a super safe medication, it’s been around for decades, it’s non-addictive. And for me it’s like a stepping stone to really get to where you want to be. It’s not a replacement for anything, but it’s almost like a guard rail for you to change your relationship to alcohol.
Joseph: That’s a good way of putting it, like a guard rail or even a safety belt. Would you want to drive in your car without putting on your safety belt? It’s a little bit awkward at first, but you get used to it and you don’t even think about it anymore, and if you do have an accident you’re most likely not going to die. Your chances decrease considerably. I think of low-dose naltrexone like that. The side effects also—I think the most I have ever felt was a little bit dizzy, but I lowered the dosage and I don’t even notice anymore. What I do notice is the urge to keep drinking is majorly reduced. Before, I was always looking at the size of the pour. Is that really a full pour? I would send glasses of wine back, I’d always want it to be a little bit more than a full pour. I wouldn’t be able to enjoy one glass because I was already thinking about the next bottle. Nowadays, when I take naltrexone before drinking, when I’m drinking my first glass, I’m thinking about the first glass. I’ll probably have a second or third on a special occasion, but I’m not obsessing over it. Before, I was always thinking about how I could order in a way that was inconspicuous, that wouldn’t make me seem like a lush—talk about taking up space in your mind. When you can’t connect with people because you’re too busy thinking about how to order more alcohol without seeming like you have a problem, that in itself is a problem.
When you can’t connect with people because you’re too busy thinking about how to order more alcohol without seeming like you have a problem, that in itself is a problem.
Katie: Totally. And now it sounds like you feel more free. Do you feel more of a release from the chains of alcohol that were kind of binding you and holding you down?
Joseph: Absolutely. And I also need to recognize that it’s not a magic pill. Like you said, it’s a stepping stone, it’s a seat belt. It’s not going to do everything for you. One thing my Ria coach taught me is to sort of delay gratification a little bit. Like if you take your naltrexone at 4 o’clock, and dinner or drinks are starting at 5, see if you could wait until 5:30 after you take naltrexone. You can delay by having every other drink be soda water or something. You play a little. You use different strategies to basically delay the gratification. It’s not taking it away completely, but it’s giving it to yourself in smaller bits and pieces, so that eventually you’re not expecting it all at once.
Katie: I think that’s really well said, being intentional around it. When you’re on naltrexone, it’s reducing those urges and desires, so you’re more likely to catch yourself when you’re unconsciously going for a drink or going to mask an emotion or something. I think that’s really important.
Joseph: Yeah, absolutely. Another thing that happens in the beginning and still happens sometimes now is that you pour yourself a glass and you realize as you’re pouring it: I’m doing this out of habit right now, I’m not doing it because I want it. You’re drinking out of a learned pattern. There’s no rule that says you have to drink it just because you poured it.
Katie: It’s like you develop different habits and patterns in relation to your alcohol.
Joseph: Absolutely. But it’s not linear. It’s not a linear process at all. It’s a roller coaster ride.
You pour yourself a glass and you realize as you’re pouring it: I’m doing this out of habit right now, I’m not doing it because I want it.
Katie: I’m curious, how have the people in your life been with you on this journey? Have they been supportive? What has that experience been like for you?
Joseph: When it comes to the Sinclair Method specifically, it’s a totally mixed bag of responses. Funny enough, my aunt—who’s a staunch Republican, quite conservative—is a humongous supporter. It’s not a liberal or conservative thing, but it’s just funny to me that her being this right-wing Catholic conservative, she’s still such a big supporter of this change in my life and the way that I am going about it. There are other folks that have been naysayers and very skeptical. And skeptical without trying to inform themselves, like, “Hey, I don’t really know about this, let me educate myself.” It’s more like, “Eh, that just seems like a gimmick,” or, “That just seems like it’s too easy to be effective or too good to be true.” The response has been totally mixed, but overall mostly supportive.
Katie: There may be those people who have an older mindset or they just want to go the traditional route of abstinence, and they’re not going to support you no matter what. Their mind isn’t open to it.
Joseph: It’s sort of like coming out of the closet. As someone who has come out of the closet many times, it feels like, “Geez I already had to come out the closet about my sexuality, now I have to come out about this?”
Joseph: [Laughing] Yeah! And sometimes it’s really exhausting and sometimes you don’t know what the response is going to be so you’re sort of walking on eggshells. And I don’t tell everyone. It’s really none of their business at the end of the day. I felt like, in the beginning, I needed to disclose it to everybody. And then I was like, why? What am I getting out of that? I’ll tell the people that are the nearest and dearest to me, but it’s not a big conversation that I have any longer. I like to have my Ria coach as an earpiece every week to kind of debrief and talk about the things that you and I are talking about right now. I have a few other people in my life, but that’s good enough for me. I don’t want to debate, I don’t want to try to change people’s minds. If you want to educate yourself, go for it. I’ll provide you with a lot of resources, but other than that, it’s not my job to convince you.
I’ve done so many [alternative treatments]. This is the only one where I actually found myself move forward and progress.
Katie: Right. And as you said earlier, it becomes like the seatbelt analogy. It’s a little uncomfortable at first, but once you adjust to it, it becomes second nature. You can still go out with people who may or may not know. You’ve taken your medication, and nobody needs to know. Nobody is going to know. They might notice I’m not getting blackout drunk anymore and be curious, but….
Joseph: Right, that’s always a good thing. I have the Claudia Christian…she had that little pill—
Katie: The keychain thing? Yeah!
Joseph: I found it online. It was $1.99, a little chrome piece that fits onto my key ring. My students have asked me what it’s for and I just say it’s to hold my important pills, and I leave it at that. It’s funny that no one comments on it. But it’s in case of an emergency. Like if I get invited to something I don’t want to turn down and I know there’s going to be alcohol there, I know it’s on me. I always have my keys on me, so I know it’s there, and I know I can take it an hour before, and I can be intentional about it and not have to miss out on fun times.
Katie: Exactly. And that leads me to my last question: For someone who’s embarking down this journey of wanting to change their relationship to alcohol, and maybe they’re stumbling a bit and don’t know what to do or where to go, do you have any tools or tips based on your experience?
Joseph: What I can say to anyone who stumbles upon this is try it for a month and see how it works for you. If you’re at a place where you’re thinking about it and it’s taking up a lot of headspace, then you’re probably in a place where it’s not going to hurt you to try, it’s only going to help you. I took so much time looking at alternative treatments and I’ve done so many of them, from hypnotherapy to silent yoga retreats—you name it, I’ve done it. This is the only one where I actually found myself move forward and progress. I’ve done the 12-step/AA model, I’ve done them all, and this is the only one where I have actually seen change on a physical, emotional, spiritual, psychological level. I was really and truly in a place of depression and hopelessness before this, and it’s really given my life a 180. Three years ago, I would’ve been a naysayer and I wouldn’t have believed in even a 10 percent change. But I was willing to do anything and try anything, and I am so grateful that I did. It’s inexpensive, it’s easy, it’s discreet, and you can do it in your own way and on your own time. You don’t need to go to a group, but you can rely on a community virtually or in person. It’s really up to you. Like I said, the benefits really outweigh any negative.
Katie: Thank you so much, Joseph. It has made my day to talk with you. I really feel your story is going to help people who are in that early stage, or even those who’ve started and want to hear from someone who’s been at it for a while.
Joseph: It was absolutely my pleasure, Katie. It’s a very complex and complicated process, but going down this road—the Sinclair Method road, through Ria Health—has simplified the process. Let the professionals handle it, you know?
Katie: Yeah, not Dr. Google, right?
Joseph: Not Dr. Google! It was a good initial start to this before Ria Health even existed, but thank god Ria exists now, because it’s going to be a godsend to many people out there.
Does Joseph’s experience resonate with you? Are you concerned about your relationship with alcohol? Ria Health uses FDA-approved medication and 24/7 support to help its members drink less. Learn more about how our program works here, and get started here.