Child of an Alcoholic – a Legacy of Untreated Secondhand Drinking-Related ACEs

Each April since 1987, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) has sponsored Alcohol Awareness Month to increase public awareness and understanding, reduce stigma and encourage local communities to focus on alcoholism and alcohol-related issues. This year’s theme is “Connecting the Dots: Opportunities for Recovery.”

In honor of this year’s theme, I’d like to connect a dot that is often overlooked in my opinion — the Legacy of Untreated Secondhand Drinking-Related ACEs and the role it can play in developing alcoholism and frustrating one’s attempts to recover.

As I shared in my post of the same name appearing on ACEs Connection

I am the Child of an Alcoholic

My mom didn’t stop drinking until age 79. She died at 84. There was no warning, no lingering illness. She died two days after an unsuccessful emergency surgery. But we had five years during which she did not drink, after forty-five years during which she did.

You see, my mom knew she had a drinking problem. So did we, the rest of her family. There were times when she fought mightily to stop or control it. There were times when the rest of us fought mightily to help her. She even succeeded in cutting back or not drinking for periods of time, which convinced her and us that she really wasn’t an alcoholic(1). None of us knew alcoholism(1) was a developmental brain disease; a chronic, often relapsing brain disease. None of us knew one of the key risk factors for developing the disease is childhood trauma. None of her primary care doctors who saw her over the four+ decades her disease marched on ever diagnosed it.

Ironically, my mom was also a 17-year cancer survivor when she died. She knew to do (and did) self-breast exams. She found a lump and immediately contacted her doctor; her doctor immediately ordered a biopsy; and she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000. She had a mastectomy, went through chemotherapy, lost her hair, and showed such courage and grace in her battle to recover. (If you’ve ever witnessed someone recovering from cancer, you know what I mean by “battle.”)

But cancer was a disease people and their doctors understood. Symptoms and having the disease were openly talked about and medical protocols were routine. There was no denial, secrecy, lying or self-judgment.

This was not the case with my mom’s other disease – alcoholism.

The opportunity for an earlier recovery from alcoholism for my mom would have been:

  • understanding and treating her adverse childhood experiences (unknowable at the time because the ACEs Study had yet to be done)
  • knowing that alcoholism is a developmental brain disease (unknowable at the time because the science was not, yet, available)
  • understanding the legacy of untreated secondhand drinking (SHD)-related ACEs.

Preventing an Alcohol Use Disorder – one of the Legacies of Untreated Secondhand Drinking-Related ACEs

Child of an Alcoholic - a Legacy of Untreated Secondhand Drinking-Related ACEsUnderstanding the connection between ACEs and SHD and their connection as possible risk factors for developing addiction (alcoholism) can help a family prevent alcohol use disorders going forward.

It was this connection and finally understanding that alcoholism (addiction) is a brain disease that set my mom free. She could embrace the fact that she didn’t “choose” to become an alcoholic just as she didn’t “choose” to have breast cancer; nor was she weak-willed, immoral, uncaring or any of the other adjectives used to label persons with this particular disease.

 

Breaking The Cycles – Changing the Conversations

To close this post I want to share one of my mom’s greatest gifts to breaking the cycles of untreated SHD-related ACEs and untreated ACEs in general. It happened during one of our phone calls.

She said to me, with deep emotion, “Lisa – please – please use my story – our story – to help others.”

And so I am.

There wasn’t enough time for my mom to heal from her ACEs, nor for she and I to develop the mother/daughter relationship I now have with my two daughters. Our experience is so different because of the healing work the three of us were able to do to change the legacy.

But my mom started her process by breaking the denial, secrecy, lies, and self-judgment about her alcoholism and its root causes. And it is the four of us together – my mom, myself, and my two daughters – who have now changed the legacy in our family. As such, we pass forward not lies but the truth, not self-judgment but self-compassion, not secrecy but openness, not denial but seeking awareness. Something I didn’t even understand let alone could have imagined possible just fourteen years ago.

To read the full article, please click The Legacy of Untreated Secondhand Drinking-Related ACEs.

_______________________________

Endnote:

(1) Current terminology defines any drinking pattern that exceeds “low-risk” limits as an alcohol use disorder (AUD). In other words, the more commonly used terms most people are familiar with — binge drinking, heavy social drinking, alcohol abuse and alcoholism — are all considered alcohol use disorders (AUDs). Alcoholism is the most severe of the AUDs. 

Additionally, a person with the most severe AUD is no longer referred to as an alcoholic. Rather s/he is referred to as a person with an alcohol use disorder. I like this distinction. It allows us to see the person with an AUD as a person, first, and then second, as a person with an AUD.

When referring to alcoholism, it is also currently correct to use the term Substance Use Disorder (SUD). A substance use disorder is either alcohol or other drug misuse.

Inaccurate | Misleading | Incomplete Information About Drinking Alcohol is Inexcusable

One of my biggest frustrations is the continued inaccurate, misleading, incomplete information about drinking alcohol that repeatedly appears in the news, medical practices, treatment program descriptions, and our social and cultural environments (school, workplace, community, legal and law enforcement, religious practices, family, political arena and the like).

Take this April 6, 2017, article appearing on USA Today’s Network, How a drinking habit becomes a drinking problem.”

In my opinion, it neglects to use readily available, 21st century neuroscience and alcohol misuse-related scientific research to accurately:

  • define a drinking problem and describe alcoholism as but one example of a drinking problem
  • define alcoholism as the developmental chronic brain disease it is and explain what it takes to develop this disease
  • explain why it is the complex nature of this brain disease (in other words, it’s the disease – alcoholism – itself) that makes it so difficult for a person with alcoholism to understand the kind of help they need.

Now I grant you, this is not a long article and likely the author was asked to write a 700 word piece. But what was written perpetuates the old, inaccurate, misleading and incomplete information about drinking alcohol. And that’s a problem — a huge problem.

For example, the article starts with this opening statement:

Battling addiction of any kind might be best referred to as a lifelong journey. “Journey” is a word addicts will tell you describes the treatment plan they must follow every day of their lives.

Inaccurate | Misleading | Incomplete Information About Drinking Alcohol is Inexcusable

Inaccurate | Misleading | Incomplete Information About Drinking Alcohol is inexcusable with the abundance of neuroscience and alcohol misuse-related scientific research now available.

This opening section continues with a list of some of the reasons a person starts drinking in excess, and then it presents the following header and paragraphs:

Is it a problem?

So, for the occasional drinker, how much a night is too much? And how do you know if you have a problem?

The answer varies, because no two alcoholics are the same. What they drink will differ, as will the amount they drink.

By this point, I was incredulous. Seriously? The author gives a title of “How a drinking habit becomes a drinking problem,” and then launches into battling addiction and developing alcoholism, as if the only drinking problem to be concerned about is alcoholism.

Then the writer asks how much a night is too much for the occasional drinker [emphasis added] and explains “[t]he answer varies, because no two alcoholics are the same.”

This is patently misleading and incomplete information.

The occasional drinker generally does not have a drinking problem, assuming the writer is defining the occasional drinker in his mind as someone who stays within “low-risk” drinking limits. These limits are defined by the NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) as no more than 7 standard drinks a week, with no more than 3 of the 7 on any day, for women, and no more than 14 standard drinks a week, with no more than 4 of the 14 on any day, for men. A standard drink is defined as 5 ounces of table wine, 12 ounces of beer, and 1.5 ounces of 80-proof, “hard” liquor.

In fact, according to the NIAAA’s research…

The Majority of People with a Drinking Problem are not Alcoholics

When a person exceeds “low-risk” drinking limits, they are considered “at-risk” for developing a more serious drinking problem. Common terms to label these drinking problems include: binge drinking, heavy social drinking, alcohol abuse, and alcoholism. All alcoholics go through a period of “at-risk” drinking, but not all “at-risk” drinkers become alcoholics.

But it was the third section in the article, “Treatment,” that put me over the top on my frustration meter and prompted me to write this post. Again, quoting from the article:

The journey toward sobriety only begins when the drinker admits there is a problem. 

And herein lies the problem…

Inaccurate, Misleading, Incomplete Information About Drinking Contributes to a Person’s Lack of Awareness About the Problems with Their Drinking

The alcoholic generally knows at some level they have a problem. But they think they should be able to control their drinking like other people who don’t have problems when they drink alcohol or who manage to regain control after an occasional binge. So they try to drink less to prove they can control it, which does nothing to address their underlying chronic brain disease (alcoholism).

In other words, the alcoholic’s problem is not only their drinking, it’s also the chronic brain disease, itself. [FYI – the medical definition of addiction, whether it’s an addiction to alcohol or other drugs, is that it is a chronic brain disease.] Thus understanding the disease can help a person understand the nature of their problem and be more open to getting the kind of help they need to fix it.

Dr. Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), has given a wonderful explanation of all this. It was part of her “Addiction: a Disease of Free Will” lecture given at the 168th Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association (2015):

…[describing] addiction as a chronic brain disease, is sort of a theoretical concept. Say that you have two parents with a very sick child, and they go to the hospital, and the doctor says, “Your child is in a coma because he has diabetes.” And he explains to them that diabetes is a disease of the pancreas, a chronic disease of the pancreas. This does not explain why that child is so severely ill. What explains it is the understanding that the cells in the pancreas can no longer produce insulin, and we need insulin in order to be able to use glucose as an energy source, so without it, the cells in our body are energy-deprived—which explains why this child is so sick.

So when we speak of addiction as a chronic disease of the brain, what does it mean? How does it help us explain the devastating changes in behavior of a person that’s addicted, where even the most severe threat of punishment is insufficient to have them stop taking drugs, where they are willing to give up everything they care for in order to take a drug? How does “a dysfunction in the brain” help us understand that?

Dr. Volkow goes on and provides great detail on how brain science has informed us.

And this is where I get frustrated. Articles like this USA Today Network article perpetuate the inaccurate, incomplete, misleading information about drinking, drinking problems, causes of drinking problems and the myriad of variations thereof. This is what allows the disease of alcoholism to progress in some individuals. It’s also what provides a “cover,” if you will, for the kinds of drinking problems that are not alcoholism but are detrimental to the drinker’s health and to others on the receiving end of their drinking behaviors.

The other kinds of drinking problems include: binge drinking, heavy social drinking and alcohol abuse. Drinking behaviors are behaviors that result when a person drinks more than their liver can metabolize (get rid of) and the excess ethyl alcohol chemicals in the alcoholic beverages consumed changes brain functioning until they are metabolized by the liver. This changed brain functioning results in drinking behaviors (behaviors the person likely wouldn’t engage in if sober), such as: driving while impaired, verbal/physical/ emotional abuse, and unplanned or unwanted sex, sexual assault. Thus it’s not just alcoholism that’s a drinking problem. It’s any drinking pattern that results in drinking behaviors.

News journalists, medical practitioners, treatment program providers, and spokespersons in our social and cultural environments (school, workplace, community, legal and law enforcement, religious practice, family, political arena and the like) need to get on board with the new facts if we’re ever going to help people understand all of this.

Bottom line…

Inaccurate, Misleading, Incomplete Information About Drinking Alcohol is Inexcusable Today

It’s inexcusable because it perpetuates all the stereotypes about drinking habits, drinking problems, alcoholism, alcoholics, and treatment that have us so stuck, todayIt’s inexcusable because there is 21st century neuroscience and alcohol misuse-related scientific research that is readily accessible from a host of national and international organizations.

To name just a few, these organizations include: the U.S. Surgeon General’s office, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the American Board of Addiction Medicine, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Additionally, there are hundreds of public agencies, non-profits, medical schools and brain institutes across the country and around the world conducting and reporting this kind of alcohol-misuse related research, as well.

It is their collective research that allows the rest of us to accurately:

  • define a drinking problem and describe alcoholism as but one example of a drinking problem
  • define alcoholism as the developmental chronic brain disease it is and explain what it takes to develop this disease
  • explain why it is the complex nature of the brain disease of alcoholism (in other words, it’s the disease itself) that makes it so difficult for a person with alcoholism to understand the kind of help they need.

As for why I singled out this article over other similar articles, it’s because of the reach it had.

According to USA Today Network’s August 17, 2016, press release, the USA Today Network reached 110MM unique visitors in July 2016. In other words – it has a big, big reach. And thus an article appearing on the USA Today Network has a big, big reach and a big, big opportunity to perpetuate inaccurate, misleading and incomplete information about drinking alcohol.

They also have a big, big opportunity to get it right.

So What is Accurate Information About Drinking Alcohol

As you can imagine, I’ve written about that, too 🙂

Much of the research I reference above is more fully explained with resource links in these two posts:

I appreciate you reading this post and encourage you to share it. Only with accurate, complete, science-based information about drinking alcohol can we truly help people who drink too much, whether or not they’ve developed the chronic brain disease of alcoholism.

Note: to be clear, current terminology generally defines any drinking pattern that exceeds “low-risk” limits as an alcohol use disorder (AUD). In other words, the more commonly used terms most people are familiar with — binge drinking, heavy social drinking, alcohol abuse and alcoholism — are all considered alcohol use disorders (AUDs). Alcoholism is the most severe of the AUDs. 

Additionally, a person with the most severe AUD is no longer referred to as an alcoholic. Rather s/he is referred to as a person with an alcohol use disorder. I like this distinction. It allows us to see the person with an AUD as a person, first, and then second, as a person with an AUD.

How Do You Know if Someone’s Drinking is a Problem

How do you know if someone’s drinking is a problem? Short answer: “If you are talking or concerned about it.” What do I mean?

The only reason a person would be worried about another person’s drinking is because that other person’s behaviors change when they drink. Their behavioral changes are called drinking behaviors.

Drinking behaviors occur when a person consumes more alcohol, thus more ethyl alcohol chemicals, than their liver can metabolize. When this happens, the ethyl alcohol chemicals interrupt the chemical portion of the brain’s cell-to-cell communications. This suppresses normal neural network functioning responsible for judgment, memory, pleasure/reward, emotions, breathing…. In other words, it changes a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

How Do You Know if Someone's Drinking is a Problem

How Do You Know if Someone’s Drinking is a Problem

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just the drinking pattern of alcoholism that causes these behavioral changes, although alcoholism is certainly one. Binge drinking, heavy social drinking, and alcohol abuse (terms now grouped together as alcohol misuse and/or alcohol use disorders) also cause drinking behaviors. Some of the drinking behaviors include:

  • crazy, convoluted accusations and illogical arguments
  • verbal, physical and/or emotional abuse
  • bullying; neglect
  • driving while impaired
  • domestic violence.

Why Does Knowing Whether a Person’s Drinking is a Problem Matter

Short answer: “There is a direct impact – a second-hand effect – on the people confronted and/or coping with drinking behaviors.” These second-hand effects include:

  • being on the receiving end of drinking-related verbal, physical or emotional abuse; neglect; bullying and believing it’s the “real” person coming out, not understanding the behaviors are the consequence of chemical changes in the brain
  • being seriously injured by an impaired driver
  • feelings of anxiousness, hopelessness, walking on egg shells because of the uncertainty, worry, fear, anger, concern triggered when in the sphere of an impaired person’s drinking behaviors
  • being on the receiving end of domestic violence or a sexual assault by a person whose brain functioning has changed under the influence of alcohol.

Moms, dads, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, children, grandchildren, grandparents, boyfriends, and girlfriends exposed to and/or coping with these sorts of drinking behaviors experience physical, emotional and quality of life impacts because the drinking behaviors trigger their stress response system. When this system is repeatedly activated, their stress becomes toxic, and they experience many of the following stress-related symptoms:

  • stomach ailments
  • insomnia
  • anxiety, depression, frequent or wild mood swings
  • chronic neck and/or shoulder pain
  • frequent headaches, migraines
  • chest pain, palpitations, rapid pulse
  • increased anger, frustration, hostility
  • feeling overloaded, overwhelmed, helpless, hopeless

I call this second-hand effect secondhand drinking (SHD). For more on this, check out “The Fight-or-Flight Stress Response – Secondhand Drinking Connection.

Now… back to the original question, “How do you know if drinking is problem?” If you’ve agreed with my short answer, “You’re talking about and/or concerned about it,” then you’ve seen some of the drinking behaviors I mentioned above. And that is your answer. Drinking really is a problem because it’s not “normal” to change behaviors when drinking. And that’s because staying within low-risk or moderate drinking limits typically keeps a person from exhibiting drinking behaviors.

Definition of “Moderate” or “Low-Risk” Drinking Limits

For Women:  No more than 7 standard drinks in a week, nor 3 of the 7 in a day
For Men:  No more than 14 standard drinks in a week, nor 4 of the 14 in a day.
A standard drink is defined as 5 ounces of table wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1.5 ounces of liquor (e.g., vodka). Often “drinks” served at  parties or in bars or restaurants  contain more than one standard drink.

Lisa Frederiksen explains the three stages of substance misuseWhat Knowing Low-Risk Drinking Limits Can Do For You

1. Helps you understand when your loved one’s brain is likely changed by the ethyl alcohol chemicals in alcoholic beverages, thus their behavioral changes are not their “normal” (unless that’s how they behave when they’re not drinking).

2. Helps you avoid the unnecessary, unproductive and down right destructive exchanges that can occur when you try to make sense out of the actions and behaviors of someone who has exceeded low-risk drinking limits — especially the “per day” limit.

This 2nd reason can be especially important and makes more sense when you understand the next section.

Blood Alcohol Content Explained

Alcohol is not digested like other foods and liquids. It bypasses the digestive system and enters the bloodstream through the walls of the small intestine. Because alcohol dissolves in water, the bloodstream carries it throughout the body (which is 60-70%) water, where it is absorbed into body tissue high in water concentration (like the brain) and highly vascularized (meaning, lots of blood vessels – like the brain).

The ethyl alcohol chemicals in alcoholic beverages are metabolized by specific enzymes produced in the liver. This is the process by which ethyl alcohol chemicals leave the body. The liver can only metabolize a certain amount of ethyl alcohol per hour, which means it leaves the bloodstream more slowly than it enters. Because the brain controls everything we think, feel, say and do, ethyl alcohol chemicals “sitting” in the brain until the liver can metabolize them changes the chemical portion of the brain’s electro-chemical signaling process (in other words, how brain cells talk to one another, aka neural networks). This in turn changes neural networks (cell-to-cell communications) responsible for a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

A very GENERAL rule of thumb is that it takes about one hour for the liver to metabolize one standard drink. A standard drink is defined as 5 ounces of table wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. Using this very GENERAL rule of thumb, it will take four hours to metabolize four standard drinks — even if the drinks were consumed back-to-back, and it’s been over an hour.

BUT, no two people will necessarily metabolize alcohol in the same manner. Drink for drink, people who weigh less, for example, will have more alcohol concentration in their system than someone who weighs more. People who have lower amounts of the liver enzymes that metabolize ethyl alcohol chemicals will take longer to metabolize the same amount of alcohol as someone else. Additionally, genetics, whether taking medications, having a mental disorder, and stage of brain development will also have an influence on how one person’s liver metabolizes and/or their brain responds to ethyl alcohol chemicals. [See related post for more on this stage of brain development concept, “Underage Drinking – How Teens Can Become Alcoholics Before Age 21.”]

The key message is the liver can only metabolize a certain amount of alcohol per hour. Until the alcohol is metabolized, a person still has ethyl alcohol chemicals in their bloodstream, which means their brain’s electro-chemical signaling processes are still being changed. Hence a person’s decision-making capabilities are being changed, as well. In this manner, a person who’s had too much to drink may actually “choose” to drink and drive, or to keep drinking because “they feel fine,” or engage in any number of other destructive behaviors because of the convoluted “thinking” caused by ethyl alcohol chemicals’ impacts on electro-chemical signaling processes.

Knowing that it is a person’s exceeding low-risk drinking limits – especially the per day limits – that is causing the drinking behaviors is what can help you avoid a whole lot of endless, pointless talk or angst about nothing you have any control over — namely, the drinking behaviors. When a person drinks more than their brain and body can processes, they affect the very areas of their brain needed to think straight and act responsibly.

By keeping this in mind, you will know that as a person exceeds low-risk drinking limits, there is…

  • no point in having a ‘serious’ discussion,
  • no point getting into a fight about their drinking behaviors, and
  • definitely every reason not to get in the car with them (yes, a woman consuming 3 or a man consuming 4 drinks in a two hour period will likely register a .08 BAC).

For more information on drinking patterns…

check out NIAAA’s website, “Rethinking Drinking.” Another resource to check out is the World Health Organization’s Alcohol Use Disorders Test (AUDIT). To see how a clinician might interpret the test results, check out the WHO AUDIT PDF, pgs. 19-20.

 

 

Tough Love – Harmful or Helpful?

Tough love – does it hurt or help a person with an addiction, aka substance use disorder (SUD), get the help they need?

I regularly get some form of this question – generally because there’s so much confusion about what it means. Unfortunately, there is no single definition of tough love applicable to addiction.

For some family members, it's difficult to forgive and forget a loved one - even after years of sobriety.Some experts believe tough love means to cut off all support and contact in order to help a loved one hit their bottom and thus seek help. Others believe there is some middle ground, such as paying their rent or car payment so they have housing and transportation to and from a job (when they get one). And still others believe it’s staying in contact, expressing your love and support and willingness to help when your loved one reaches out for help with seeking treatment.

For a majority of family members, some or all of these approaches are tried at one time or another. And for some, there’s no other answer than, “I’ll do anything I can because not to could mean they’ll get worse, or worse, yet, they’ll die.”

To help those with whom I work as a family addiction education consultant and/or recovery coach, I ask the following questions, and in our work together, we answer them. I say, “in our work together,” because there is no one nor right way to support or help a loved one with addiction, aka substance use disorder, but there are some common road blocks to success no matter where a person falls on the “tough love” continuum.

What do you think addiction is?

Answers vary from poor choices, lack of willpower, it’s a disease (but I don’t see why it’s considered a disease), to name a few.

The “correct” answer is, “Addiction is a developmental, chronic, often relapsing brain disease.” Whew! That’s a mouthful, I know, but it’s a complicated disease, as are most chronic diseases, for you see, disease, by it’s simplest definition is something that changes cells in a negative way. When you change cells in a body organ, you change the health and functioning of that organ. Addiction changes cells in the brain — the organ that controls everything a person thinks, feels, says, and does. Check out the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) > “The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction: The Basics.”

Does your loved one have any of the five key risk factors for developing addiction?

These risk factors influence how a person’s brain develops — in other words, how their brain cells talk to one another and map repeatedly used neural networks as their “go-to” thoughts, feelings and behaviors. These are important concepts to understand because addiction is a developmental brain disease. The key risk factors include:

  • genetics (are there persons in the immediate or extended family with addiction (substance use disorder?)
  • early use (did they misuse the substance(s) during adolescence and/or early adulthood?)
  • childhood trauma, aka ACEs — adverse childhood experiences — (did the person experience verbal, physical, emotional abuse; neglect; parental divorce; parental substance misuse?)
  • mental illness (does the person have bipolar, depression, anxiety, or ADHD, as examples?)
  • social environment (what was the home/social environment like; how were substances used by others in the family?)

Understanding these helps a person appreciate that treating/changing the treatable risk factors (e.g., childhood trauma, mental illness, social environment) is critical to relapse prevention and success in long-term recovery.

Do you understand the characteristics of addiction – what makes it addiction vs substance abuse?

The four key characteristics of addiction include: tolerance, loss of control, cravings, and physical dependence. Understanding these helps a person appreciate why anti-craving medications, behavioral modification therapy, and medically supervised detox may be necessary to successfully treat addiction.

Are you familiar with the concept of “setting boundaries?”

You’ll likely have heard this expression and perhaps told you need to set better boundaries. If you’re not familiar with it or are having trouble setting boundaries with your loved one, check out my post, “Setting Boundaries YOU Can Live With.”

Are you aware of the many methods of effective addiction treatment?

In other words — there is no one size fits all. For more on this, check out NIDA’s Principles of Effective Treatment.

Tough Love - Harmful or Helpful?For more information on the above and other related concepts…

…consider my Quick Guide to Addiction Recovery: What Helps, What Doesn’t.

No one can answer the tough love question – “Is it helpful or harmful?” – for you, but answering these kinds of questions is a start towards answering the question for yourself. Additionally, critical to helping you answer this question is recognizing how deeply you’ve been affected and appreciating that you need support and help, as well. Unfortunately, to address what that might look like is beyond the scope of this blog post.

Always feel free to contact me at 650-362-3026 (PST). There is no charge for the initial call.

Using Brain Science to Change Your Mind

Brain science is a powerful tool one can use to change their thoughts, feelings or behaviors – seriously!

For followers of my blog, you know my enthusiasm for one of the most profound discoveries I’ve learned which is how the brain wires, develops and maps. And it is this understanding that has helped me and those with whom I work or who read my blog actually re-wire their brains, creating new brain maps to heal their brains and change their thoughts, feelings and behaviors around substance use disorders, mental disorders, co-occurring disorders, and secondhand drinking-related stress impacts.

One of the authors who also embraces this science and whose work I admire greatly is Debbie Hampton, author of Sex, Serotonin, and Suicideand founder of The Best Brain Possible. “After decades of depression, a serious suicide attempt and resulting brain injury, I not only survived, but went on to thrive by discovering the super power we all have to build a better brain and joyful life. If I can do it, you can too. Let me inspire and inform you to do the same. No brain injury required,” she says.

Using Brain Science to Change Your Mind

Author Debbie Hampton, founder of The Best Brain Possible

So I want to share Debbie’s perspective on this by highlighting a few concepts she shared in her February 14, 2016, post, “How Your Mind Shapes Your Brain,” appearing on her blog, The Best Brain Possible:

Every second of your life, every single thing of which you are aware – sounds, sights, thoughts, feelings – and even that of which you’re not aware – unconscious mental and physical processes – can be directly mapped to what’s happening in your brain. Over time, patterns emerge and actually shape your brain’s form and function. What you do, experience, think, hope, and imagine physically changes your brain through what’s called experience-dependent neuroplasticity.

Every minute of every day, you are literally shaping your brain.

How Neuroplasticity Physically Happens
What you pay attention to, think, feel, and want, and how you react and behave contribute to shaping your brain because of the specific ways your brain is activated over and over again in each activity.  Neuroplasticity is physically accomplished as follows:

  • Active brain regions get more blood flow, since they need more oxygen and glucose.
  • The genes inside neurons get more or less active depending on the frequency with which the neuron fires.
  • Neural connections that aren’t active weaken and wither. Use it or lose it.
  • The synapses, connections between neurons, get more sensitive when routinely activated simultaneously, and new neurons are formed, producing thicker neural layers, in busy regions. Neurons that fire together, wire together.

The same principles that apply to physical exercise modifying your body work for neuroplasticity. A single yoga class or running three miles one time isn’t going to get noticeable results – except some brutal soreness. But months of practicing yoga or lacing up your running shoes will gradually have lasting effects on your body.

To read more of Debbie’s article and learn how to turn on neuroplasticity and make it work for you, click here.