Addiction – Whose Fault Is It?

In families with untreated addiction where no one really knows what “it” is they are dealing with — is it a character defect, a moral weakness, a lack of love and respect or is it really a brain disease, like “they” say it is — all concerned spend endless hours blaming and shaming and slicing and dicing and mincing words. And it is that which drives the family disease of addiction. For often society, and the family member(s) themself(ves), believe there is something they (the family member) can do to make their loved one stop. And the underpinning of it all is that no one (typcially) understands addiction for what it is — a developmental, chronic, often relapsing brain disease that starts with substance misuse. It is the substance misuse that changes brain function, which in turn is what makes one person’s brain more susceptable to the five key risk factors for developing the disease (genetics, early use, social environment, mental illness and childhood trauma). And at the same time, it can be the five key risk factors that will cause one person’s brain to interact differently with substance use as compared to another’s, which in turn contributes to the development of addiction. Not only all of this, but if the underlying contributing risk factors are not treated (as in the case of mental illness, for example) in addition to stopping the substance use, it’s extremely difficult to sustain long-term recovery. [These two sources shed more light on these concepts: The Addiction Project and NIDA’s Princples of Effective Treatement.] All this to say – blaming and shaming do NOT help.

So it is my great pleasure to share’s Nadine’s guest post in which she asks, “Whose fault is it anyway?” Nadine is the owner of Virtually Nadine, a virtual assistant company that provides online administrative support and social media management to addiction specialists and social service organizations. She specializes in working with leaders in this undervalued and overworked field to help them deal with the time consuming process of running an organization. You can connect with Nadine on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, or her website.

Addiction – Whose Fault Is It Anyway? by Nadine Herring

Nadine Herring asks and answers the question, "Addiction - whose fault is it?"

Nadine Herring asks and answers the question, “Addiction – whose fault is it?”

When it comes to addiction and the reasons for it, it’s so easy to point to the family, but are we really to blame? The following appeared in my April 17, 2015 article, “The Blame Game,” published on my website, Virtually Nadine.

I have a confession to make: I watch Dr. Phil, pretty much on a daily basis. I know, I know…but I like to watch a good train wreck to wind down my day and this show never fails to disappoint.

While there have been some truly cringe worthy episodes that make you wonder why they would even put them on the air, there have also been some good episodes so things tend to balance out.

The Dr. Phil show likes to specialize in shows that deal with family dysfunction: whether that be from divorce, parent-child issues, or its favorite topic – addiction. Now let me start by saying that I think Dr. Phil’s heart is in the right place when he takes on these topics, but I don’t always agree with his methods especially when it comes to dealing with the family members of addicts.

A typical addiction episode of the Dr. Phil show usually involves the family member or friend of the addict reaching out to Dr. Phil for help in dealing with the addict. They usually have tried every option (so they say) and are reaching out to him as their last hope for their loved one. The family member(s) will usually come out first, tell their story and then the addict will be brought on stage to tell their story. Once both parties are on stage, it doesn’t tend to go well and lots of arguing and yelling ensue. Now Dr. Phil can step in and shut this down immediately and facilitate a calm, rationale conversation but that wouldn’t make for good television, so he tends to let them go at it for a while before he cuts to commercial.

Once back from commercial, Dr. Phil will talk with the addict to dig into the story a little deeper and try to find out how and why they got started using. More yelling and name calling is done, and Dr. Phil usually turns to the family member(s) and starts to go in on them, and the blame game begins. As the sibling and spouse of former addicts, I take great offense to this and usually get so angry watching him insult, patronize, and downright shame the family, that I have to change the channel!

I’m going to speak from my experience and tell you that my brother and sister’s addiction had NOTHING to do with how they were raised. My three sisters and I, along with my brother were raised in a very loving, close, two-parent home and there was no dysfunction in our family. Now my brother was the oldest, so I can’t speak to how his addiction started, but I did notice that he seemed really different to me once he got out of the army. My brother joined right after high school and was stationed overseas for a while in Asia, and I honestly think that’s where his drinking problem began. Though I was very young when he came back, I definitely noticed a change.

As for my sister, we are only 14 months apart and were extremely close, so I was there from the beginning of her addiction. I know exactly how her addiction started, and again it had nothing to do with her family life! My sister started hanging with some very shady friends who got her started with marijuana and it very quickly progressed to harder street drugs. She left home at a young age, but my parents did everything they could to help her, and I would even follow her around to try to make sure she was safe, but her friends and her addiction were more powerful than our love for her. For YEARS she would go in and out of rehabs, in and out of our lives and there was nothing we could do.

So when I see Dr. Phil jumping all over some of these families who have genuinely done everything they know to do and come to him for help and he blames them for their loved one’s addiction, it makes me upset and sad because my family has been there.

We’ve watched our family members sink deep into the abyss of addiction and tried everything we could to help them. We watched as our family was torn apart and relationships were destroyed. My parents watched their only son and I watched my brother who I idolized, slowly drink himself to death, and when he finally got sober, watched him die way too young from cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 49. I watched the pain, devastation and stress of my parents as they wondered where their youngest daughter was and if she was okay. We lived for years dreading a late night phone call because we just knew it would be the police calling to tell us that she was dead. Unless you have lived with and loved an addict, you will NEVER understand how this feels.

Fortunately for my sister and our family, her story has a happy ending and she has been clean for over 10 years now and we are so very proud of her and the strength it took for her to make it through her addiction alive; her story is truly amazing.

I know that my family is not to blame for the addictions of my brother and sister and while I commend Dr. Phil for his efforts in trying to help addicts, he is doing them no favors when he tries to play the blame game with their families.

Recovery Can Be a Gift

Addiction affects an entire family and so does recovery.

I first ‘met’ John McMahon, PhD, who lives in the UK, when he replied to my blog post, “After Years of Sobriety, She/He Won’t Forgive or Forget,” recently. We exchanged a few emails, and I learned that he and his wife, Lou, a counselor, founded the website,, to provide help and support to people living with an alcoholic. I invited them to write a guest post and share a bit of their backgrounds. Between them they have, if not an unique experience then certainly a highly appropriate background.  Lou is a counsellor with a private practice.  She also has first-hand experience of alcohol abuse and its effects in her own family.  She is a classically trained musician, a graduate of the Royal College of Music, London, and a singer / songwriter who has made 7 albums and toured the UK, USA and South Africa giving concerts and workshops. John is a PhD in psychology.  He has practiced as a therapist and has designed and run treatment programs for addiction problems. John has also been clean and sober since 1984 and has been involved in teaching and organising treatment for almost as long.

John and Lou can be reached by email at

Recovery Can Be a Gift by John and Lou McMahon

John and Lou McMahon, founders of, and authors of today's guest post, "Recovery Can Be a Gift."

John and Lou McMahon, founders of, and authors of today’s guest post, “Recovery Can Be a Gift.”

Living with an alcoholic is hard. So it is hardly surprising that partners and families of alcoholics dream of the time when the drinking finally stops. In their minds everything will then be great, the drinker will return to the person that they love and life will go back to normal.

For most people at the beginning of the recovery process there is still, unfortunately, a considerable amount of work to be done if the relationship is going to thrive. Remember that there has been a lot of mistrust and emotional and perhaps even physical damage done over the years. There have been arguments, promises made, promises broken, hopes raised and hopes dashed. These things take time to heal. There are also the problems that can arise from the adjustment to a new way of life for both you and the drinker. Think of it as now the storm has passed, it is time to repair the damage.

Unrealistic Expectations of Sobriety

It has been difficult hanging on and keeping the faith over the years. You may have spent quite a lot of time dreaming about when he stops drinking and your life gets back to ‘normal’. You may have very definite ideas what that ‘normal’ will entail.

One of the dangers here is that you may set yourself up for a disappointment. It may be that your expectations, while understandable, are unrealistic. It is possible that you have a vision of family life that is either not shared by your partner or that he cannot deliver even if he does share it. It may also be the case that she doesn’t actually know what your dream is. Over the years your communication has almost certainly suffered; that is something that needs to be repaired. Talking through what you both want and expect from each other may be revealing and help to clarify your new roles and status. It may be difficult at first as you are probably not very accustomed to sitting and planning together. You have probably had to take the responsible role and now your partner may want to ‘share’ that role.   That could be a relief, but it could also be difficult to relinquish the control.

Rather than have high expectations you may find yourself at the other extreme. After having your hopes built and then being disappointed so many times, you may feel reluctant to allow your hopes to be built up too far as it is painful to have them crushed again. Indeed, you may take the view that having no hope is easier to deal with as it is a state that, while not comfortable, is at least familiar.

Again this is an understandable reaction to the roller coaster ride of uncertainty that has been your life. However, beware that you don’t become too cynical. He probably needs support, especially in the early days of recovery and so may take your negativity as a sign that you don’t believe or appreciate the changes he has made, or that you just don’t care. However it is important to stress that, it is not your responsibility to keep her sober, but it is in your interest to provide support and encouragement.

Walking on Eggshells

You may find that your ex-drinker is experiencing difficulty adjusting to a new sober lifestyle and feel that they are reacting irritably to any interaction. So you may feel that you need to monitor your every word or action in case she becomes negative and has a drink. If you are living like this then you probably feel that nothing very much has changed from the drinking days. We are sure that this is not what you dreamed or hoped for when he got sober.

If you feel that you are walking on eggshells, perhaps you should start by asking yourself, why you are doing that. You know from experience that worrying about her drinking, policing etc never got her sober. So it is unlikely that worrying about whether he is going to drink is going to keep him sober!

Obviously you do not want her to return to drinking and all the misery that the drinking brought. However please remember that you are not responsible for her staying sober or drinking. If he should drink it is completely his choice! Be supportive and positive but remember that you have a life as well and you should live it. Besides she needs to take responsibility and that can be difficult if you are fussing around her. Letting him get on with his recovery may be the best thing for both of you and will allow you both to grow.

Dealing with the Past

It is not only the drinker’s feelings that need to be monitored. Time and again you have heard the promises and assurances that drinking is over and this is a new beginning. Having lived on the emotional rollercoaster, it takes time to develop trust again. It will probably develop much more slowly than the drinker would like, but it has to be earned.

Ironically once trust has actually been regained can be one of the crisis points in the recovery relationship. Having started to relax into a way of life that does not include drinking, the partner may access all the feelings that were evoked by years of drinking but were never addressed openly. Anger, rage and resentment can burst out into this new ‘safe’ environment which may be flashpoint but could lead to deep healing.

The drinker may feel that the anger is unjustified as he is sober now and all that is behind him, besides he said sorry. Nevertheless these feelings will demand to be expressed and the healthiest way to do that is with the drinker. If he can listen to his partner’s feelings at that stage without excuses and justification then there is an opportunity for growth within himself and the relationship. However that is not an easy task; maybe he can view it as making amends. Otherwise there is a danger that it will always be the unspoken obstacle to the relationship.

Recovery Needs Work

The quality of the recovery, for both of you, will depend on the effort that you make in these early stages. Depending how you approach it, it can be a wonderful time of new opportunity or a time to pick over old wounds. We don’t minimise the problems in any way, we have been there, so we know the issues. However there is a chance here to build a relationship that doesn’t disappoint, that doesn’t bring shame, that has good channels of communication and that makes you both happy.

Most people go through life without questioning their hopes, values and dreams too much, locked into patterns of behaviour that were established years before. Although it may not seem it at the time, recovery can be a precious gift. For if you approach it in a positive fashion you can reinvent your relationship, create a new way of life, a new you and a new us. However this will not just happen automatically when the drinking stops. It will take time and effort but it is worth it.

National Substance Abuse Prevention Month – Where To Start

“The majority of those who have a substance use disorder started using before age 18 and developed their disorder by age 20,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) > Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment: A Research-Based Guide » Introduction.

Given this fact, “What does effective substance abuse prevention look like — is it awareness programs in middle school and/or high school? — is it ‘Just Say, “No”? or it is __________________?” 

In my opinion, based on my twelve years studying, writing and speaking about 21st century brain research as it relates to brain development, adolescent behavior, mental illness and “all-things” addiction, effective substance abuse prevention should involve the following:

  • Helping Parents and Parents-to-Be Understand How the Brain Develops In Utero through Age 25
  • Helping Children, Teachers and Others of Influence in a Child’s Life Understand How the Brain Develops In Utero through Age 25
  • Helping All Concerned Understand Substance Use Disorders

To celebrate National Substance Abuse Prevention Month – October 2015…

Listen to Michael Botticelli, Director of National Drug Control Policy’s, message:


And, browse through some of the key information I’ve found and/or used and/or written that addresses the three areas I listed above:

Child's brain goes through critical developmental processes aged 5-20 and continues until around 22 for girls and 24 for boys. Source: NIDA, "Cormorbidity: Addiction and Other Mental Illnesses," p. 4

A child’s brain goes through critical developmental processes aged 5-20 and continues until around 22 for girls and 24 for boys. Source: NIDA, “Cormorbidity: Addiction and Other Mental Illnesses,” p. 4

Helping Parents and Parents-to-Be Understand How the Brain Develops In Utero through Age 25

  • U.S. National Library of Medicine > MedlinePlus > Fetal Development – as you read through this, you’ll learn at which stages brain development occurs In Utero, which is why it is so important for a woman to avoid drugs or alcohol during pregnancy and follow other medical recommendations for maintaining a healthy pregnancy.
  • NIDA Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction > Drugs and the Brain > Introducing the Human Brain – this explains how the brain works, which explains why drugs and alcohol (and other influences, such as genetics, childhood trauma, mental illness) can change the way a child’s (or an adult’s) brain works.
  • Partnership for Drug-Free Kids > The Teen Brain – you’ll find an explanation of the adolescent brain and it’s development. I also urge you to check out the Parntership’s Parent Tool Kit.
  • CDC and Kaiser Permanente > Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Study – an important study explaining the role of adverse childhood experiences on brain development and long-term wellness. This study is now being used as the basis for “trauma-informed” programs in schools, juvenile justice, communities, and for this information, I urge you to explore the website, ACEs Too High.
  • Lisa Frederiksen > Want to Get Through to Teens | Talk to Their Brains – one of my blog posts to help parents talk to their teen by using simplified brain research.

Helping Children, Teachers and Others of Influence in a Child’s Life Understand How the Brain Develops In Utero through Age 25

In addition to the information presented above, check out:

  • NIDA > Parents & Educators for a wealth of information and free resources to help teachers, parents and others of influence in a child’s life talk with children at various ages about their brains and the influence of alcohol and other drugs on their brains.

Helping All Concerned Understand Substance Use Disorders

One of the most important ways to prevent substance use disorders is to understand how they develop. It’s not simply the use of a drug or alcohol. Understanding how substance use disorders develop will help parents, educators, youth and others of influence in a child’s life understand what “it” is that they are trying to prevent. For this, I suggest you read:

Celebrate October as National Substance Abuse Prevention Month

…by sharing this post and any other information you may be aware of that can further the conversation – prevention is stopping it before it starts.

Thank you!

Saving Jake | Interview with Author D’Anne Burwell

D’Anne Burwell’s smart, athletic son—raised in a loving and prosperous home—begins abusing OxyContin as a teenager, and within a year drops out of college, walks out of rehab, and lands homeless on the streets of Boulder.

Struggling with fear, guilt, and a desperate need to protect her son, D’Anne grapples with her husband’s anger and her daughter’s depression as the family disease of addiction impacts them all. She discovers the terrifying links between prescription-drug abuse and skyrocketing heroin use. And she comes to understand that to save her child she must step back and allow him to fight for his own soul.

Saving Jake, D’Anne Burwell’s powerful new book, gives voice to the devastation shared by the families of addicts, and provides vital hope. Above all, it is a powerful personal story of love and redemption.

It is with great pleasure that I share D’Anne Burwell’s interview…

Why did you write Saving Jake?

Author D'Anne Burwell, Author of "Saving Jake: When Addition Hits Home."

Author D’Anne Burwell, Author of “Saving Jake: When Addition Hits Home.”

To offer hope. I remember when I first learned my 19-year-old son was addicted to OxyContin, then heroin, I felt sick with fear. I wanted to crawl under my covers, pull the sheets over my head, and not get out of bed. One minute I was the mother of a smart, athletic, kid who’d gone off to college with a bright future, and suddenly I was the mother of a drug addict. That’s an awful lonely place to be… until I realized there were thousands just like me. Just like him.

During the worst, I read until I was dizzy. Every bit of knowledge about addiction helped get me through. But there weren’t enough books written by parents. There’s real power in stories. We’re wired to remember stories much more than data, facts and figures. If I tell you the most rapid growth in heroin addiction, according to the Substance and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), is occurring among young people under age 21, it might register. But if you read a story about a mom discovering the terrifying links between OxyContin abuse and heroin addiction in her teenaged son, it will make an impact.

I’ve written Saving Jake to share hard-won knowledge. As my son gains time in recovery, I’ve realized how essential it is for stories like ours to be told. Prescription drug abuse leading to heroin addiction is screaming from the headlines. Families everywhere are trying to figure this out on their own. I’m honored to add my voice to the thousands speaking out about the current crisis of addiction.

Besides struggling parents, who else would benefit from reading Saving Jake?

Everyone! Soaring addiction is a national crisis and we’re all in this together whether we want to be or not. If people had a better understanding of what’s happening, positive change might happen quicker. Readers will come away with knowing more about addiction, they’ll gain compassion for a struggling person and empathy for the family who often has to deal with stigma, shame and silence.

Parents, family members and friends will immediately identify with the raw emotion in Saving Jake but I also want to reach the greater public. There are so many misconceptions around the disease of addiction. A big one is, “addicts use because they want to” so they get what they deserve. And with that thinking, we all get bogged down in arguing about choice vs. responsibility when we need to be talking about solutions, we need to be learning from the science of the brain, and we need to be implementing treatment programs instead of housing addicts in jails.

What are 5 things in your book that might surprise a reader?

1. Taking care of yourself will often help the addict.
2. Lying, stealing and manipulating are symptoms of the disease of addiction.
3. An addict is not bad, lazy or immoral; he or she is sick and needs treatment.
4. Treatment works, though it may take multiple attempts.
5. OxyContin is a synthetic opiate and highly addictive. Kids get it easily and some move on to heroin because it’s cheaper than Oxy and readily available.

I’ll stop there and hope readers will pick up the book and read the rest!

Could you share some lessons you learned along the way? In other words, what might help other parents going through the same thing?

Well, much of the story is me scrambling to learn as fast as I can. Once I realized my son was derailing himself from college, distancing himself from relationships, losing weight, and always broke, I felt driven to fix his problems. I really had no idea about addiction. Attending the family week at his first rehab, helped me learn he wouldn’t “be fixed” in 30 days which was a devastating realization. We all wanted to get back to our nice lives, put his drug use behind us. Instead, we learned this would be a long road, that addiction was a disease of relapses, that our son would need a lot of support over a long period of time to get back on track. On top of that, he was naturally feeling invincible at 20, not wanting to listen to his parents, and like so many others, he would fight the information he’d learned in treatment, ignore the fact that he would need to stay clean and sober. His brain was telling him he didn’t have a problem.

Time went on. I felt crushed. Fear for his life consumed me, especially when he walked out of several rehabs. I slowly learned that while I could convey my love, encouragement, and boundaries, helping him in any other way robbed him of feeling the consequences of his choices. To me, it felt like doing nothing, watching him go it alone, standing with my arms hanging loosely at my sides hoping he would live. And yet—learning from support groups, therapists, and his rehab counselors—if I focused on my own life, it allowed him the space to take responsibility for his. That change in me, to let go, turned out to be the light to follow out of the deep dark woods.

Your story includes your entire family struggling. Describe a bit about what your husband and daughter went through.

Wrestling with my son’s addiction tore us all apart. My younger daughter became depressed feeling as though her older brother had abandoned her, as she was left alone to watch her parents agonize. My husband threw himself into work—something he could control—while I obsessed about how to save my son. It seemed that addiction would crack our marriage in half. We found a therapist who specialized in addiction who helped focus us on our marriage. She emphasized that we wouldn’t be of any use to our son if we weren’t together on boundaries.

Eventually, I began to see that each of us was grappling with Jake’s addiction in a different way. Realizing there was no right or wrong way helped me get free of my misplaced anger and resentment. Each of us experienced on-going fear, stress, anger and sadness differently. But we’re all doing much better…there’s lots of forgiveness and love.

Why did you title your book Saving Jake when you learned you couldn’t really save him?

As much as I tried to save Jake from pain, from drugs, from himself, it was the hardest of lessons to learn—in the face of enormous everyday worry and fear—that I HAD to step back and let my child fight for his own soul. I titled the book Saving Jake because I couldn’t. He had to do that for himself.


Saving Jake by D'Anne BurwellCurrently ranked #1 in New Releases in the category of Drug Dependency Recovery on Amazon, with 5 Stars reviews, you can read D’Anne Burwell’s book in paperback or on Kindle: Saving Jake: When Addiction Hits Home.

And check out the Early Praise…

“A brave and powerful memoir… Rooting for Jake on every page, we come to share in his struggle and in his family’s hope for recovery.” — Katrina Kenison, author of The Gift of an Ordinary Day

“Too much shame and silence surround addiction. Burwell’s terrific memoir will move dialogue forward on one of the top health problems of our time.” — Greg Williams, director of The Anonymous People

“Exquisitely detailed, this book chronicles the tortuous journey to recovery for both addicted  individuals and all those who love and care for them.” — Katherine Ketcham, co-author of Broken and Teens Under the Influence


To learn more about D’Anne and her story, connect with her on her website or log in to Facebook and follow D’Anne Burwell on her page, D’Anne Burwell.

Recovery Today Online Conference – September 21-25

Join me at the Recovery Today Online Conference September 21 – 25, hosted by the incredible Sherry Gaba, LCSW, Psychotherapist, Certified Recovery and Transformation Coach. Sherry has worked in the field of addiction and recovery for the past decade and is VH1’s Celebrity Rehab Expert and a media expert on CNN, HLN, Inside Edition, Showbiz Tonight, Inside Edition and the Bio Channel.

Sherry is a dynamic interviewer and sure to bring her guests and their subject matter to life in a meaningful way that can help YOU – whether you are the person struggling with a substance use disorder, the person who loves them or the person in long-term recovery looking for added insights.

Recovery Today Online Conference Speakers







Lisa Frederiksen keynote speaker

Lisa Frederiksen – honored to be one of Sherry Gaba’s Guests for the 2nd Annual Recovery Today Online Conference!

Sherry’s line-up of Speakers and their Interview Topics for this dynamic, free online conference, include:

      • Christopher Kennedy LawfordThe Power of Recovery – Realizing Yourself & Maximizing Your Life
      • Janet Bray AttwoodDiscover the Effortless Path to LIving a Passion-Filled Life
      • Marilyn BradfordEnding Addiction Once and For All
      • Joan Borysenko, Ph.D.The Resilient Brain and the Wisdom Mind
      • Crystal Andrus MorissetteThe Emotional Edge – Working with Your Inner Addict and Rescuer Archetypes
      • Caroline Sutherland“Recovery from Food Addiction”
      • Colin TippingThe Fast-Track to Breaking Free from Addiction with Radical Forgiveness
      • Dr. Jamie Marich, Dancing Mindfully in Recovery: Transforming Trauma Through Creativity and Movement
      • Colette Baron-ReidRadical Acceptance – The Key to Transformation in Recovery
      • Jeff JayNavigating Grace: Sustaining Recovery Through Grief and Loss
      • Sunny Daw JohnstonNo Mistakes – Everything Happens for a Reason
      • Jennifer MatesaThe Awakening: Sexuality and Recovery
      • Jon GriffinAuthentic Living with Sound Healing
      • Lisa FrederiksenSecondhand Drinking – the Other Side of Alcohol Misuse
      • Kenny Pomerance & Ron TannenbaumCan 12 Steps be done Virtually?
      • Greg HannleyIt’s Treating the Underlying Issue That’s the Key
      • Sherry GabaWake Up Recovery
      • Andy Dick, Celebrity Bonus Interview!

Sign up for this NO COST Event with Some of the Best Known Experts

Whether you are newly sober, have had years of recovery, love an addict or alcoholic, or are a professional in the recovery field, Wake Up to Healing and Hope during the 2nd Annual Recovery Today Conference! Discover the power within you to overcome any addiction whether its substance abuse, love, sex, food, internet addiction and/or co-dependency.

Please join me by clicking here to Sign-up Today!