Why does alcohol overcome my procrastination?
August 21, 2005 7:38 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone have any insights into the neuroscience behind alcohol's success in helping me overcome procrastination?

I don't mean a large amount of alcohol. Even a third of a standard drink is enough to make something go "click". This is a recent discovery, so I don't think it's a behavioural response, and under normal conditions I can tell when I have had such a small amount of alcohol, so I don't think it is a placebo effect.

Related to this, the more stimulants I have the more I procrastinate, and I am one of those people who at about 10 or 11 at night can finally sit down and start doing things.

If there is some neurochemistry involved in this, are there any non-alcoholic, non-pharmaceutical things I can use to replicate the effect?
posted by hifimofo to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Hmm, IANANeurobiologist, but perhaps the little bit of alcohol is enough to slow odwn your brain enough to the point where it is easier to ignore distractions -- when you are going at full speed, the little things distract you from the task at hand, but your slightly buzzed brain can (or is forced to) let them slide right on by, keeping you focused on your work.

Just a wild guess. I am not a drinker, but I am a world-class procrastinator, so perhaps I should test out the theory some time.

Perhaps a very small dose of any narcotic would have a similar effect -- like 1/2 or 1/4 of a sleeping pill?
posted by Rock Steady at 7:47 PM on August 21, 2005

I think to get at the root of the situation you need to know more about why/how you procrastinate. If you're doing it out of nervous tension, the need to make everything just right before you begin, the fear of failure, stress over the things you feel you Have to Do, then I can easily see how a little loosening beveraje would ease you into productivity.

Procrastination isn't always a matter of laziness or lack of energy, nor is writer's block. Often, they're caused by too much thought or nervousness. Since "procrastination" and "productivity" are hard to quantify in neurological terms, I'm not sure how much more detail you'll be able to get on it. Interesting question, though.
posted by scarabic at 7:57 PM on August 21, 2005

I'm in the same way - I'd sometimes even study in a beer joint during law school (actually had better lighting and tables than the cafe next door). About 1/3 a beer would help me forget how boring the reading was and actually get it done. I think it worked like both Rock Steady and scarabic suggested -- by slowing down your brain and thereby shutting off distractions, including tension & nervousness.

I recommend the book The Now Habit to understand why you procrastinate & how to stop.
posted by footnote at 8:12 PM on August 21, 2005

Personally speaking, caffiene gets me hyper and my thoughts racing, so I'm unable to sit still, focus and concentrate on getting something done. I've never tried it, but I imagine a drink would just take the edge off, allowing me to relax, take thoughts one at a time, and get the job done.
posted by geeky at 8:38 PM on August 21, 2005

(I don't mean I've never tried alcohol, I mean I've never tried it to stop procrastination. I usually drink alcohol for the opposite effect -- to accomplish nothing :)
posted by geeky at 8:40 PM on August 21, 2005

Response by poster: I don't want self-help books, I want science.

And a pill.

Failing a pill, I want some kind of neuro-transmitter analog/precursor that I can eat.

Extra points if it is tasty.
posted by hifimofo at 9:15 PM on August 21, 2005

Why not just a hip flask, then? You've found the drug that works for you already.
posted by footnote at 9:18 PM on August 21, 2005

I second that your procrastinating is likely due to anxiety of some sort - you may very well be absolutely unaware of the trigger. Alcohol is a pretty good anti-anxiety med. You can see this in bars all over the world where people who normally are somewhat socially phobic, come roaring out of their shells after a few.

It's just a guess, but I would suspect that you are removing the anxiety that is keeping you from starting tasks, or thinking too much about something and getting lost in the minutia because of worry.

I'll have to try it myself, as the only treatment I have stumbled across is waiting to way past the last minute and the adrenaline kicks in and I become super focused and can whip out great stuff in no time. It's tough on the system, so avoiding that roller coaster ride would be good.
posted by qwip at 9:56 PM on August 21, 2005

This is fascinating, as I have had procrastination problems and was unaware of this.

My two cents? Alcohol lowers inhibitions. Procrastination is, essentially, an inhibition to your work.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 10:23 PM on August 21, 2005

cold medicines can have the same effect on me.

There's a reason there are so many alcoholic writers.
posted by mecran01 at 10:40 PM on August 21, 2005

Response by poster: Am I the only reductionist in here?

Given the small amount of alcohol, and the "not starting until late at night" (which I should note is not adrenaline driven, which would increase my procrastination, but quite possibly the lack thereof) I think the signs point towards something, be it a high level construct or not, which can be controlled, or at least modified.

What I have read says part of alcohol's effect is "it limits the actions of the neurotransmitter glutamate, which usually excites activity in the brain. Second, it elevates the activity of the inhibiting neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)".

Which to me, combined with the fact that stimulants increase my procrastination, and the very low level of alcohol involved, suggests that my procastination may stem from over-supply of glutamate and/or under-supply of GABA.

So I posted thinking someone might know how to get the same effect in other ways. If not, I will dust off the hipflask, as suggested.
posted by hifimofo at 11:37 PM on August 21, 2005

Best answer: I don't know the answer, but the "smart drugs" group in Usenet will have a better answer for you:

rec.drugs.smart, search for "writers block"

Also, not to piss you off, but some of the most research-based stuff on writer's block that I've read has been written by Boyce, particularly "work habits of productive scholarly writers" which I will mail to you for a SASE.
posted by mecran01 at 5:22 AM on August 22, 2005

[mecrano1 - would you mind posting citations to those articles here?]
posted by footnote at 7:49 AM on August 22, 2005

Best answer: You can always supplement GABA.
posted by Blue Buddha at 8:53 AM on August 22, 2005

hifimofo - I have the same problem as you, however, I've never found any sort of anti-procrastination properties in alcohol. Someone recently suggested that my procrastination was possibly a symptom of ADD and advised me to try ADD meds. I just started taking strattera (the non upper variety of ADD meds) but it is too soon to notice any help from it.

Perhaps you should talk to a doctor about the procrastination/alcohol connection. Together you might find a solution (possibly in pill form) that is more socially acceptable than a flask (I would be willing to bet money on the fact that "it helps me work" is not going to work as an excuse when caught sipping from the flask on the job/at school)
posted by necessitas at 9:13 AM on August 22, 2005

meditation might help, I use that when I'm procrastinating because of panic.

on the other hand, I usually procrastinate meditating as well.
posted by puppy kuddles at 11:26 AM on August 22, 2005

Response by poster: Thank you mecran01 and Blue Buddha, I follow up on those links.
posted by hifimofo at 3:54 PM on August 22, 2005

Sleep deprivation has the same effect on me. Inexplicably, my energy level rises and I feel the urge to do all those things I push aside during normal hours -- being creative, cleaning the kitchen, doing my taxes.
posted by gentle at 8:24 PM on August 23, 2005

Get to work, Jimmy!
posted by strawberryviagra at 8:31 PM on August 31, 2005

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