Excessive Alcohol Use Kills 88,000 Americans Annually | What Can WE Do to Stop This?

Excessive alcohol use, either in the form of binge drinking or heavy drinking, led to approximately 88,000 deaths annually in the United States from 2006 – 2010. (Source: CDC>Excessive Drinking, accessed 8/11/17) This is equal to 241 deaths per day.

In view of these statistics, which I find staggering, as is the fact they’re not widely known by the general public, I offer the following suggestions to answer the question, “What can WE do to stop this?” Because it’s going to take the “WE.”

Understand Excessive Alcohol Use

Excessive Alcohol Use Kills 88,000 Americans Annually | What Can WE Do to Stop This?

Excessive alcohol use is considered binge drinking or heavy drinking.

“I only had a couple of drinks,” or “We each had a drink and then split a bottle of wine.” These kinds of statements are common when someone gets into trouble as a result of how much they’ve had to drink. Sometimes the speaker is absolutely baffled at being pulled over for a DUI or having a hangover in the morning because they are sure they’d only had a few.

So understanding what’s considered “low-risk” drinking can help a person avoid excessive alcohol use.

According to the NIAAA>RethinkingDrinking website,

  • women should not exceed 7 standard drinks/week, with no more than 3 of the 7 on any day
  • men should not exceed 14 standard drinks/week, with no more than 4 of the 14 on any day.

These limits are to help a person avoid the excessive drinking (binge drinking/heavy drinking) that lead to the 88,000 deaths per year in the U.S. reported in my opening statement. Binge drinking is defined as drinking 5 or more standard drinks on an occasion for men or 4 or more standard drinks on an occasion for women. Heavy drinking is defined as drinking 15 or more standard drinks per week for men or 8 or more drinks per week for women.  Most people who drink excessively are not alcoholics or alcohol dependent. (Source: CDC>Fact Sheets – Alcohol Use and Your Health, accessed 8/11/17) In fact, according to the CDC, more than half of these 88,000 deaths were due to binge drinking. (Source: CDC>Excessive Drinking, accessed 8/11/17)

As for “standard drinks,” in the U.S. a “standard” drink is any drink that contains about 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of “pure” alcohol. And it’s the “pure” alcohol that’s the concern as it contains the ethyl alcohol chemicals that interrupt the brain’s cell-to-cell communication, and it’s this cell-to-cell communication that controls everything a person thinks, feels, says and does. Some common standard drink sizes are 5 ounces of table wine, 12 ounces of regular beer, 8-9 ounces of the IPA kinds of beer, 1.5 ounces of “hard” liquor (vodka, scotch, bourbon, tequila).

Often common drinks or beverage containers people serve and/or consume at parties or restaurants contain more than one standard drink as listed below. Not understanding this can cause a person to drink more than they’d planned.

  • a margarita = 2-3 standard drinks
  • a martini = 1.5-2 standard drinks
  • a “stiff” scotch on the rocks = 2-3 standard drinks
  • a bottle of table wine = 5 standard drinks.

To find out how many standard drinks there are in your favorite cocktail, click here, and in your favorite alcohol beverage container, click here.

Understand How the Body Processes Alcohol

Why is this so important to understand? Because alcohol (the ethyl alcohol chemicals in alcoholic drinks) is not processed like other foods and liquids. It is metabolized (processed) by enzymes in the liver. It takes the liver about one hour (often up to two depending on other variables, such as weight, gender, having eaten, stage of brain development or medications) to metabolize the ethyl alcohol in one standard drink.  So if a person consumes 3-4 drinks, it’ll be roughly 3-4 hours before their body is clear of all alcohol. While alcohol waits its turn to be processed by the liver, it is “sitting” in body organs, like the brain. It’s this sitting in the brain that changes how a person thinks and behaves because the ethyl alcohol chemicals in the alcohol beverages consumed interrupt neural networks and therefore normal brain functioning.

Assess Your Drinking Pattern

NIAAA Rethinking Drinking’s website has an anonymous, online, 2-question drinking pattern assessment that can be found here. Another assessment is the AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Test) by the World Heath Organization.

Know that Alcohol Works Differently in the Teen Brain

Excessive Alcohol Use Kills 88,000 Americans Annually | What Can WE Do to Stop This?

Alcohol (and other drugs) works differently in the young brain that it does in the adult brain due to key brain developmental processes occurring age 12-25.

Little did we know until the Decade of the Brain (1990s) and the Decade of Discovery (2000s) that the brain could take until the average age of 24 for boys and 22 for girls to fully develop. Little did we know that the kinds of brain developmental activities that occur from ages 12 – early 20s, often through 25, explain why teens do the things they do (seek risks, not consider potentially negative outcomes, for example) and why excessive drinking can be so problematic for young people’s brains.

In my fourteen+ years of studying brain research and writing on brain development and the brain disease of addiction, understanding the whole story about puberty and the brain’s evolution [see Image 2 in article linked below] gave me the pieces that finally completed the puzzle on how/why teens do the things they do and how/why their peers are so influential and why all of this is so instrumental in the development of a more serious drinking problem.

To explain why it’s so important we understand puberty and what it does in the brain, check out my posts, Want to Get Through to Teens, Talk to Their Brainsand Give Their Brains a Break – Underage Drinking Prevention.

And by the way, the Europeans don’t have this whole underage drinking issue figured out, either. In fact it’s a huge problem there, as well. So check out the 2015 European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs.

And one more point, here, treating an adolescent with alcoholism is not the same as treating an adult – primarily because of the developmental processes the adolescent brain goes through. For more on this, check out NIDA’s Evidence-Based Approaches to Treating Adolescent Substance Use Disorders.

Understand that People Develop Alcoholism (aka Alcohol Use Disorders)

Excessive Alcohol Use Kills 88,000 Americans Annually | What Can WE Do to Stop This?

A person develops the brain disease of alcoholism. Find out how and why – click here to order

Thanks to all of this brain research, it’s now understood that addiction (of which alcoholism or alcohol use disorder is one) is a developmental, chronic, relapsing brain disease. People are not born alcoholics, nor do they choose to become one. They develop it and often that’s because of the myths, stigma, misinformation and shame that surrounds the disease of alcoholism. To debunk these myths, please check out my eBook, Crossing The Line From Alcohol Use to Abuse to Dependence.

And for more on how alcohol works in the brain and what makes addiction (alcoholism) a brain disease, check out NIDA’s Drugs, Brains and Behaviors: The Science of AddictionYou might also want to check out The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health (released 2016).

Lastly, I’d shared what NIDA recommends for treating adolescent addiction (alcoholism) above, here’s the link to NIDA’s>Principles of Drug [alcohol is considered a drug] Addiction Treatment: a Research-Based Guide for treating adults.

Understand Secondhand Drinking

One last thing for now… it’s important to understand the very real impact of a Excessive Alcohol Use Kills 88,000 Americans Annually | What Can WE Do to Stop This?person’s drinking behaviors on others – especially family members and close friends. And that is secondhand drinking, which affects 90 million Americans. These impacts are related to stress – the stress a person dealing with a loved one’s drinking behaviors experiences. These stress related impacts can include: depression, anxiety, stomach ailments, cardiovascular problems, sleep disorders, muscle aches, skin problems and so much more. To learn more, check out my eBook, Secondhand Drinking: The Phenomenon That Affects Millions

You might also want to check out my article, What to Say to Someone With a Drinking Problem.

For more information…

Awareness is half the battle, and there are many resources to help reduce excessive alcohol use, so if you have a question or wonder about what I’ve written here, please feel free to call me at 650-362-3026 or email me at lisaf@BreakingTheCycles.com. I’m happy to talk with you or help you find the answers you need.


Overcoming Addiction | Linda Dahl

Overcoming addiction, which is now understood to be a chronic, often relapsing brain disease, can be gut-wrenchingly hard. And that’s so often because of the secrecy, misinformation and shame that surrounds this particular disease as a result of common beliefs that it’s a choice or moral failing or as simple as “just stop.” It’s not. It’s complicated.

Overcoming Addiction | Linda Dahl

Linda Dahl, author of The Bad Dream Notebook, shares how a chance encounter helped her daughter in overcoming addiction.

Writing about this topic and what it’s like to be the mother of a daughter trying to overcome her drug addiction is today’s guest author, Linda Dahl. I invited Linda to share this piece after reading her Harper’s Bazaar article, “How I (Finally) Learned to Talk to My Drug Addicted Daughter” (check it out – it’s excellent). In addition to writing articles for major publications, Linda’s latest novel, The Bad Dream Notebook, which “unflinching [talks] about the ways the disease of addiction can torpedo a family…leavened with dollops of humor,” has just been released.

Linda is the award-winning author of seven previous books of both fiction and non-fiction. She writes about challenging personalities and difficult issues, reflecting her interests in the arts and addiction and recovery. She has two children and lots of animals and lives in an old farmhouse in upstate New York, where she serves with several organizations that work to educate young people about and help them recover from drug use dependency.

For more about Linda Dahl, check out her website or follow her on Facebook.


Overcoming Addiction: How a chance conversation helped my daughter recover from her drug addiction By Linda Dahl

Overcoming Addiction | Linda Dahl

Check out Linda’s newly released book, The Bad Dream Notebook

I had an appointment with a guy at my bank to see about getting a lot of money. Mona (as we’ll call her), my smart, kind, sociable teenaged daughter, kept relapsing. She had “graduated” from pot and alcohol to pain pills, cadged from medicine cabinets or bought at her suburban high school and then to heroin. We had tried therapy, addiction counseling, outpatient and inpatient recovery programs, but the drugs kept winning. You’re probably thinking: That would never happen to my child. It doesn’t happen to good kids with good parents. Except it does. As I learned in the crash-course that every parent of a drug-dependent child faces, it’s a whole different world out there today.

I knew firsthand how the need for more and more of a mood-changing substance – in my case, booze – can wrap its silken, then scaly, wings around you. The brain fog of denial that there’s a problem digs its heels in even as the problems mount. I’ve been in recovery for many years but I will never forget the despair that my addiction brought me. And yet, it couldn’t prepare me for how much worse it is when it’s your child.

Finding Effective Addiction Treatment

When I went to that appointment at the bank, my family was about three years into Mona’s drug “problem,” as I then called it. I was a mess and I knew it. I’d become a single parent after my husband died from cancer originally diagnosed as back pain. I had started smoking – little cigars, of all things – after decades of stopping and relied on sleeping pills at night. I subsisted on pizzas and reruns of “Law and Order.” But I had little time or energy to grieve. Losing her father was even more traumatic for Mona. It sped up her addiction. She got in trouble with the law, she stole from me, she wrecked a car. The list goes on.

I was trying my best to pull myself together and find help for Mona, but like most of the hundreds of thousands of parents in the same situation, I didn’t know the right questions to ask or where to find answers. I didn’t know that treatment approaches can vary wildly in quality and effectiveness and that there aren’t national standards to evaluate recovery centers and hold them accountable. Like so many others, I had to learn on the fly. Anyone who’s had to grapple with the health care system for treatment of a disease knows it’s often an overwhelming process. I was to find that even though the current opiate addiction crisis is one of America’s worst epidemics ever, many health care professionals still lack the knowledge to correctly diagnose and refer patients to the best treatment.

I was fortunate: Help came for Mona and me where I least expected it – from the man at the bank. He had been warm and helpful in the untangling of my late husband’s estate, so I guess that’s why I opened up to him about why I needed a pile of cash. I told him I’d used up our health insurance but I had to find yet another rehab and, please God, one that would really help my daughter not just get off drugs, but stay off them.

Gender-specific addiction treatment, women and addiction

That’s very interesting, he said…His sister, as it happened, was a leading research scientist in the biochemistry and hormonal fluctuations that so negatively affect drug-dependent women. And more than that: she’d helped design a small women-centered treatment center with state-of-the-art, evidence-based techniques to guide addicted females to a healthy sense of themselves and a real chance at a clean and sober life. It wasn’t the kind of institutional rehabilitation center that continues to base its methods on the original model targeted for white middle-aged men in the 1930’s and 40’s. Nor was it some fancy spa place, he warned me. But that was OK because it offered hope.

A year later, Mona graduated from treatment there and a strong aftercare program. Today she celebrates six years of recovery, crediting her experience at that little women’s recovery center with giving her the solid foundation she badly needed. She says she learned to trust again, to find a way to talk about her shame, sadness, and all the other baggage that comes with addiction.

As a country, some of us are still debating whether addiction is a shame-inducing moral failing or the chronic mental disorder deemed by science. But the conversation is shifting away from shame and blame, if only because the crushing, unending number of fatalities is forcing that change. From 1999-2015 (the latest available government numbers), over 61,000 Americans between the ages of 12 to 25 died directly from drug overdoses. As the numbers go up every year, young women are the fastest-growing group of addicts, partly because they’re more likely to be given prescriptions for highly addictive opioid painkillers. Yet over and over, parents who, like me, don’t know much about the warning signs and symptoms of drug dependency continue to find ourselves confronted with a bewildering array of choices about helping our children recover.

I found what Mona needed by chance, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Many parents form or join organizations that advocate and provide resources about effective drug education, prevention and the most effective science-based treatment options. We owe it to our children to be prepared.


Selected Resources


Loving Our Addicted Daughters Back to Life: a guidebook for parents

Get Your Loved One Sober: Alternatives to Nagging, Pleading, and Threatening

Everything Changes: Help for Families of Newly Recovering Addicts


Partnership for Drug-Free Kids

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

The Addict’s Mom

15 Minutes Can Change Your Life

Change [including how one deals with a loved one’s addiction or with a loved one deeply affected by secondhand drinking (aka codependency)] begins in the mind. As such, a person can use their mind to change their lives. To help readers better understand this concept, Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT, shares the following post. To read her longer version, please click here.

Darlene is the author of Codependency for Dummies and Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You, and her latest eBook is titled, Dealing with a Narcissist, 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People. She can be reached at info@darlenelancer.com or you may wish to follow her on Facebook or visit her website www.whatiscodependency.com.


15 Minutes Can Change Your Life by Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT

15 Minutes Can Change Your Life

Darlene Lancer, author of “Codependency for Dummies,” shares her post on how to change your life with just 15 minutes a day.

Our thoughts are powerful – for better or worse. Thoughts can set off chain reactions that build self-esteem or undermine it. Authority over our mind is the ultimate power. “Mind is everything. What you think you become,” said Buddha. Thoughts affect not only our mental health, relationships, and the ability to achieve our goals, but also our physical health – our digestion, circulation, respiration, immunity, and nervous system.

Next are our actions. Change begins in the mind, but is manifested and amplified by our actions. How we behave can change our thoughts and feelings. They change us. Spend 15 minutes doing the following each day, and watch your whole life change:


Mindfulness brings awareness to our thoughts. It’s merely the ability to observe our thinking in a dispassionate, neutral way. Research has shown that mindfulness mediation has numerous benefits, including:
• Reduced rumination
• Reduced stress
• Increased working memory
• Increased ability to focus
• Increased empathy
• Increased self-esteem and self-compassion
• Reduced reactivity
• Increased cognitive flexibility
• Increased relationship satisfaction
• Increased speed of information processing
• Other benefits. Mindfulness has been shown to enhance self-insight, morality, intuition and fear modulation, and other health and brain functioning benefits.

Shining the light of consciousness on our mental process differs from being caught up in thoughts and the stories we create and react to as if they were true. Observing thoughts tends to dissipate unhelpful, repetitive ones and helps free us from self-judgment and the need to control. Mindfulness also brings us into the present moment, in contrast to the focusing on achieving or fixing things or being lost in obsessive thoughts about other people, the past, or future. It increases our ability to question, challenge, replace, or stop our thoughts and actions. In this way, we’re better able to make constructive changes and avoid repeating past mistakes.

Mindfulness also changes how we perceive reality, so that events don’t automatically affect us and our self-concept. We develop the ability to experience reality in a non-evaluative manner and less reactive way. Because our self-worth is less dependent on external reality, we’re able to embrace our inner-self rather than relying on others for validation. There is evidence that high levels of mindfulness correlate with higher levels of self-esteem and more secure self-worth.

This skill represents a higher level of awareness and consciousness. (You can take a quiz to score your degree of mindfulness.) Like learning any skill, it takes practice. Meditation or another spiritual practice can develop mindfulness. There are many types of meditation. Some involve chanting, walking, qigong, yoga, or breathing exercises, described in more detail in Codependency for Dummies, as well as the many other mental, emotional, and physical benefits of meditation.

Encourage Yourself

According to research, how you speak to yourself can have a huge effect on self-esteem. Self-talk can improve or ruin your mindset, mood, relationships, and job satisfaction and performance. Self-criticism is the biggest obstacle to good self-esteem. To overcome self-criticism, the first step is becoming conscious of your negative self-talk. Mindfulness helps, but so does writing down your negative self-talk. (See 10 Steps to Self-Esteem: The Ultimate Guide to Stop Self-Criticism.) Start replacing the negative with positive, self-affirming statements. Beware, however, that if you tell yourself things you don’t believe, your efforts can backfire. Your unconscious is very literal and doesn’t distinguish between what you tell yourself and what others say to you.

Make a Gratitude List

Cultivating “An attitude of gratitude” has numerous health and psychological benefits. Among them, studies show that it will:
• Increased quality sleep
• Increased time exercising
• Increased vitality and energy
• Increased physical and psychological health
• Increased empathy
• Increased self-esteem
• Increase productivity and decision-making ability
• Increased resiliency in overcoming trauma
• Reduced depression (by a whopping 35%)

It can be hard to feel grateful when you don’t, especially when you have depression, anxiety, trauma, or physical pain. An easy way to begin is to keep a daily journal, and write 3-10 things you’re grateful for. In doing this daily, your mind will start looking for things each day to add to your list. In this way your outlook on life begins to change. You’ll have even greater benefits if you do this with a friend, sponsor, or your partner and read your list aloud. Here are more tips on developing gratitude.

Make a Plan

Not only has research shown that goal setting increases both motivation and performance, it also enhances positive feelings and our sense of well-being, self-efficacy, success, and job satisfaction. Each day write daily objectives. For me, it works better to do this the night before. If you have a lot on your mind that interferes with falling sleep, making a to-do list can get them off your mind. It’s important not to abandon yourself. When you don’t feel like doing something, like paying bills or exercising, do it anyway. Larger goals require more thought and planning, but research shows that the more difficult the goal, the greater the pay-off. This makes sense since the greater achievement would build more self-confidence and self-esteem. When you have a bigger goal, break it down into small, daily, actionable steps.

Do Esteemable Acts

Actions count a lot. Doing things in line with your values that raises your self-esteem and elevates your mood. Conversely, doing things that make you feel ashamed or guilty undermines self-worth. Aside from living in accordance with our values, such as not lying or stealing, making an effort to do things that build self-esteem pays off. (See How to Raise Your Self-Esteem.) Plan to do one each day. Examples are:
• Writing a thank you note
• Sending birthday cards
• Calling a sick friend
• Cleaning out a closet
• Staying on top of filing, bill-paying, etc. (not procrastinating)
• Volunteering to help someone or a group
• Setting a boundary
• Speaking up about your wants and needs
• Showing appreciation to others
• Apologizing when you’re wrong
• Making a special meal
• Self-care, including keeping medical appointments

All this may sound like too much and too time-consuming, but mediating a mere 10 minutes a day develops a healthy habit. It can take less than 5 minutes to write goals for the day, a grateful list, and negative and positive self-talk. At the end of the day, you can write three things you did well, and feel grateful and proud. Go to sleep with a smile, knowing that you improved yourself and your life. 🙂

©Darlene Lancer 2017

My AA Family – They Loved Me Until I Was Able to Love Myself

There is a great deal of confusion, stigma, shame and discrimination surrounding addiction and addiction treatment and recovery. Yet those who have the chronic, often relapsing brain disease of addiction and are in recovery live healthy, productive, engaged lives — the same kinds of lives as people who do not have this disease. But all the words and definitions and explanations in the world are not as powerful as the people themselves. To that end, we are grateful to the people in recovery who have decided to share their experiences so that we all may put a Face to Addiction Treatment and Recovery.

It is my great pleasure to share my good friend and HR Director for Change Addiction Now (United We CAN), Regina Eversole’s, story in today’s post and thank her for joining the Faces of Recovery on BreakingTheCycles.com. Regina can be reached by email at ReginaE@changeaddictionnow.org.

My AA Family — They Loved Me Until I Was Able to Love Myself by Regina Eversole

My recovery started at a hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio, May 2000. My drug of choice was alcohol.

My AA Family - They Loved Me Until I Was Able to Love Myself

Regina Eversole found recovery through the 12 Steps of AA and the love of her AA Family.

By the time I found myself at the hospital my body was already starting to shut down. I had the shakes really bad; I was dehydrated, malnourished and my liver was damaged. The doctors were at the point of putting a feeding tube down my throat if I didn’t start eating. I spent a week in the hospital while they worked to get my physical body working again.

While the doctors were trying to mend my body, they brought a physiatrist in to speak to me. He spent every day talking to me about recovery. To this day I still remember his exact words to me: “There is nothing wrong with you, except you need recovery, you need to leave this hospital and find an AA meeting.” That is exactly what I did. Once I was physically okay, I left the hospital, and the very next day went to my first AA meeting.

I remembered being scared, ashamed and confused. However, it didn’t take long for me to feel right at home. The people in those rooms were telling my story. I finally found those who understood me. They accepted and embraced me. I immediately obtained a sponsor and started working the steps (one thing for me was that I was able to take what worked for me and leave the rest).

I can’t explain it, but as soon as I was able to admit to myself and others that I had a problem, all cravings and desire to drink were gone. (Even today that floors me because I had lost everything to this disease and was in active addiction close to 20 years and all the sudden all those desires were gone!)

I was always told to do 90 meetings in 90 days, so that was my goal. I worked, went to meetings, hung out with those in the groups, and before I knew it, I was going to one to two meetings a day, every day, for almost 9 months.

Fourteen days before my 9 months anniversary, I was hit by a car which left me in the hospital for 7 months and resulted in me losing my right leg above the knee. I remember being more scared of getting addicted to the pain medication then I was living without a leg. They brought a retired nurse who had been in the program for 20 years to talk to me because I wouldn’t take the pain meds. Her exact words to me were, “Your body needs this medication to heal, and if you get addicted, that is what we are here for.”  I started taking the meds but still was terrified because I didn’t want to go back to active addiction.

My AA family surrounded me during that 7 months. I literally had numerous visitors every single day. They came to my hospital room and had meetings. I found my strength through those around me. They loved me until I was able to love myself.

I never got addicted to the pain meds (which I think was a miracle!).  And once out of the hospital, I continued going to meetings. Before I knew it, those days turned into months and those months into years.

I now have 17 years of continual recovery. I don’t know why AA worked for me and doesn’t for others. I just know it did. I don’t attend meetings on a regular basis these days, but I do work with addiction and recovery on a daily basis.

In closing, I want to remind readers that this is my story of recovery. One thing I have learned over the years is that one path does not work for everyone and that’s okay. There are a lot of different variables that go into finding the right path to recovery for each individual. For me, it was the 12 Steps of AA and my AA family.

Untreated ACEs Can Make Addiction Recovery Difficult

Compare the changes in the Smart Phone of 2007 to the Smart Phone of today, 2017. Radical, revolutionary, life-changing, who could have imagined? The superlatives to describe this comparison are endless.

Those same superlatives can be applied to the changes in our understanding of the human brain; changes that explain how ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) can cause a person to develop addiction (aka substance use disorder) and how untreated ACEs can make addiction recovery difficult.

This brain research explains:

  • how the brain works, wires, develops, and maps to control everything we think, feel, say, and do
  • how alcohol or other drugs, trauma, toxic stress, genetics, and environment can negatively change or influence that wiring, development, and mapping
  • how addiction, aka substance use disorders, is a developmental brain disease that starts with substance misuse changing brain structure and functioning, making the brain more vulnerable to the five key risk factors for developing the disease [these risk factors include childhood trauma (adverse childhood experiences, aka ACEs), social environment, mental illness, early use, and genetics]
  • how childhood trauma (adverse childhood experiences, aka ACEs) can cause toxic stress and how toxic stress can actually change a child’s brain architecture, negatively affecting their lifetime physical and emotional health
  • how a person must heal their trauma (ACEs) in order to heal their brain and thereby improve their lives
  • that the brain is plastic, meaning it can rewire, it can heal from the impacts of substance use disorders and trauma-related toxic stress.

Treating ACEs for Success in Addiction Recovery

As important as these brain research advances and findings are to understanding the disease of addiction and what it takes to effectively treat it is the ACEs [Adverse Childhood Experiences] Study. This study measured the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on a person’s health across a lifetime.

According to SAMHSA’s paper, “The Role of Adverse Childhood Experiences in Substance Abuse and Related Behavioral Health Problems,”

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are stressful or traumatic experiences, including abuse, neglect and a range of household dysfunction such as witnessing domestic violence, or growing up with substance abuse, mental illness, parental discord, or crime in the home. ACEs are strongly related to development and prevalence of a wide range of health problems, including substance abuse, throughout the lifespan.

Untreated ACEs Can Make Addiction Recovery Difficult

Untreated ACEs can lead to the development of addiction (aka Substance Use Disorders) and make addiction recovery difficult.

Daniel D. Sumrok, MD, FAAFP, DABAM, DFASAM, began incorporating the ACEs questionnaire in his practice after learning about the ACEs study. Dr. Sumrok is the director of the Center for Addiction Sciences at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Medicine. As reported by Jane Ellen Stevens in her article, “Addiction doc says: It’s not the drugs. It’s the ACEs – adverse childhood experiences,”

He [Dr. Sumrok] says: Addiction shouldn’t be called “addiction”. It should be called “ritualized compulsive comfort-seeking”.

He [Dr. Sumrok] says: Ritualized compulsive comfort-seeking (what traditionalists call addiction) is a normal response to the adversity experienced in childhood, just like bleeding is a normal response to being stabbed.

He [Dr. Sumrok] says: The solution to changing the illegal or unhealthy ritualized compulsive comfort-seeking behavior of opioid addiction is to address a person’s adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) individually and in group therapy; treat people with respect; provide medication assistance in the form of buprenorphine, an opioid used to treat opioid addiction; and help them find a ritualized compulsive comfort-seeking behavior that won’t kill them or put them in jail.

Click here to learn more about Dr. Sumrok’s approach to helping his patients succeed in recovery by treating their ACEs, as well as the outstanding work being done by other doctors across the country: Dr. Karen Derefinko, Dr. David Stern, and Dr. Altha Stewart.

And to get your ACEs score, click here.

For more on what it takes to effectively treat addiction, check out NIDA’s Principles of Effective Treatment.