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.

Secondhand Drinking IS Childhood Trauma

There’s been a great deal of new research about the role childhood trauma plays in changing the neural network wiring of a child’s developing brain. I think Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris does one of the best jobs explaining (in 15 minutes!), “Childhood trauma isn’t something you just get over as you grow up … the repeated stress of abuse, neglect and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain.” I urge you to watch her TED Talk linked below:

Now to tie this to my article title,

Secondhand Drinking Is Childhood Trauma

Childhood trauma includes verbal, physical, emotional abuse; physical abuse of a mother; untreated parental substance misuse/addiction; neglect; untreated parental mental illness to name a few examples. Secondhand Drinking (and Secondhand Drugging) refers to the negative impacts of a person’s drinking behaviors on others. Drinking behaviors include: verbal, physical, emotional abuse; neglect; domestic violence while under the influence; and driving while impaired to name a few examples. You see the connection. Secondhand drinking IS childhood trauma.

And why is this so important to understand?

The Presence of Childhood Trauma Sets the Stage for the Development / Presence of Key Risk Factors for Developing Addiction

People are not born alcoholics (or drug addicts). Addiction is now medically understood to be a chronic relapsing brain disease. It takes substance misuse chemically and structurally changing a person’s brain, which in turn makes that brain more susceptible to any of the five key risk factors. By the same token, the presence of any of the five key risk factors makes a person’s brain more susceptible to misusing substances once substance use begins.

secondhand drinking IS childhood trauma

One in four children lives in a home with a parent(s) who abuse alcohol or other drugs. NACoA

The five key risk factors for developing addiction include: childhood trauma, social environment, mental illness, early use and genetics. For details on these five key risk factors, visit NIDA, NIAAA, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and HBO’s, The Addiction Project > “Why Do Some People Become Addicted?

A child experiencing secondhand drinking | secondhand drugging is put in the position of developing / experiencing / having three of these five key risk factors: childhood trauma, social environment, and genetics. That child’s SHD experiences might lead to a fourth risk factor, mental illness, such as anxiety or depression. Thus for that child, four of five may be present before s/he even has their first drink or drug use, which carries the potential for the fifth key risk factor, early use.

Understanding Childhood Trauma and What You Can Do to Prevent | Counter Its Impacts

Please find the following resources (just a few of those now available), in addition to the information shared by Dr. Burke Harris in her TED Talk above:

We Are Teachers Staff article, “10 Things About Childhood Trauma Every Teacher [and Every PERSON] Needs to Know,”

“With trauma, the symptoms go largely unrecognized because it shows up looking like other problems: frustration, acting out, difficulty concentrating, following directions or working in a group. Often students are misdiagnosed with anxiety, behavioral disorders or attention disorders, rather than understanding the trauma that’s driving those symptoms and reactions.” WeAreTeachersStaff  

Jane Stevens, founder of ACEs Too High, article, “Got Your ACE Score? (and at the end, What’s Your Resilience Score?,”

“There are 10 types of childhood trauma measured in the ACE Study. Five are personal — physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect. Five are related to other family members: a parent who’s an alcoholic, a mother who’s a victim of domestic violence, a family member in jail, a family member diagnosed with a mental illness, and the disappearance of a parent through divorce, death or abandonment. Each type of trauma counts as one. So a person who’s been physically abused, with one alcoholic parent, and a mother who was beaten up has an ACE score of three.” Jane Stevens ACEs Too High

Christine Cissy White’s article, “Boston’s architect of community well-being: Pediatrician Renée Boynton-Jarrett,”

“This new science of human development includes the epidemiology of childhood adversity, how toxic stress from childhood trauma can damage the structure and function of a child’s developing brain, how toxic stress embeds in a person’s biology to emerge decades later as disease and violence, how the effects of toxic stress can be passed from parent to child, and how resilience research is showing how the brain is plastic and the body wants to heal.” Christie Cissy White

Melinda Clemmons, “Communities Come Together to ‘Change Minds’ About Childhood Trauma,”

“Accordingly, the name ‘Changing Minds’ refers to the campaign’s intent to change attitudes and beliefs as well as the notion that brains can change, and that children who have been traumatized can heal.” Melinda Clemmons

Preventing Secondhand Drinking | Secondhand Drugging to Help Prevent | Raise Awareness About Childhood Trauma…

… and thus preventing the influence of these five key risk factors for developing addiction. Check out my February 23, 2013 article, “Secondhand Drinking Prevention.”

And if you are interested in the concept of secondhand drinking, check out the series I wrote for Alcohol Awareness Month, April 2014:


Zero Drinking to Prevent Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder | FASD – American Academy of Pediatrics

I was deeply troubled by the push back to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation that women abstain from drinking alcohol during pregnancy to prevent Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. [See American Academy of Pediatrics’ Clinical Report on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) published online 10-19-15].

The push back was the topic of Nancy Shute’s October 26, 2015, NPR Morning Edition story, “Why Do People Get So Bent Out of Shape About Drinking While Pregnant?

American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders | FASD

American Academy of Pediatrics recommends zero drinking during pregnancy.

American Academy of Pediatrics recommends zero drinking during pregnancy in order to prevent Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

Quoting from this report:

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is the general term that encompasses the range of adverse effects associated with prenatal alcohol exposure. The diagnostic criteria for fetal alcohol syndrome are specific, and comprehensive efforts are ongoing to establish definitive criteria for diagnosing the other FASDs. A large and growing body of research has led to evidence-based FASD education of professionals and the public, broader prevention initiatives, and recommended treatment approaches based on the following premises:

  •  Alcohol-related birth defects and developmental disabilities are completely preventable when pregnant women abstain from alcohol use.
  • Neurocognitive and behavioral problems resulting from prenatal alcohol exposure are lifelong.
  • Early recognition, diagnosis, and therapy for any condition along the FASD continuum can result in improved outcomes.
  • During pregnancy:
    • no amount of alcohol intake should be considered safe;
    • there is no safe trimester to drink alcohol;
    • all forms of alcohol, such as beer, wine, and liquor, pose similar risk; and
    • binge drinking poses dose-related risk to the developing fetus.

Push Back Comments to Zero Drinking During Pregnancy to Prevent Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

For this I invite you to read the comment stream on Nancy Shute’s October 19 news report, “Pediatricians Say Absolutley No Drinking While Pregnant,” — the one that triggered the push back explosion.

Why I’m So Troubled

If the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends zero drinking during pregnancy based on new research findings, what possible reason makes sense to play Russian Roulette with FASDs – something that is 100% preventable – by choosing to drink? This is not in judgement of woman who chose to drink during pregnancy, based on previous medical understandings that an occassional drink during pregnancy was okay. It’s about people arguing the risk of imposing FASD on an unborn child is worth the risk given this new research.

As a person who has been studying the neuroscience of substance use disorders, stress, secondhand drinking and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder for over a decade, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of following the AAP recommendation. Risking the LIFETIME ramifications for one’s child, let alone the forever ramifications for an entire family when a child is born with FASD, in order to drink during pregnancy makes no sense.

As Janet Williams, a profession of pediatricts at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, was quoted as saying in Ms. Shute’s article, “The choice is really between your desire to have a desirable effect from alcohol versus the risk of lifetime harm to the baby. That’s the choice.”

Please check out the Centers for Disease Control’s Facts About FASDs for more on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

Using the Science of Stress to Change Emotional | Physical Health

In my work with various groups and individuals, it’s been my simplification of the science of stress that has especially resonated for many of my clients, because stress is the underpinning of the impacts of secondhand drinking and often of alcohol and other drug misuse, as well as the success of one’s recovery.

So I was particuarly taken with Maria Popova’s July 20, 2015, article, “The Science of Stres and How Our Emotions Affect Our Susceptibility to Burnout and Disease.” Ms. Popova does a beautiful job of explaining “how our minds and bodies actually affect one another” within the context of stress and Dr. Esther Sternberg’s book, “The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health and Emotions.” As Ms. Popova writes in her article,

…[N]o researcher has done more to illuminate the invisible threads that weave mind and body together than Dr. Esther Sternberg. Her groundbreaking work on the link between the central nervous system and the immune system, exploring how immune molecules made in the blood can trigger brain function that profoundly affects our emotions, has revolutionized our understanding of the integrated being we call a human self. In the immeasurably revelatory The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health and Emotions (public library), Sternberg examines the interplay of our emotions and our physical health, mediated by that seemingly nebulous yet, it turns out, remarkably concrete experience called stress.

Understanding emotions through the Science of Stress

Understanding emotions through the Science of Stress

Why Understanding the Science of Stress can Help

As my readers, audiences and clients report, it’s understanding the science of stress that has given them the tools to re-wire, to heal their brains and thereby heal their physical and emotional health. I enourage to read Ms. Popova’s article and leave you with one last quote – in this case, one of her quotes of Dr. Sternberg’s, “Rather than seeing the psyche as the source of such illnesses, we are discovering that while feelings don’t directly cause or cure disease, the biological mechanisms underlying them may cause or contribute to disease.”

Click here to read…

National Child Abuse Prevention Month 2015

National Child Abuse Prevention Month 2015 officially opened with President Obama’s proclamation calling upon “all Americans to observe this month with programs and activities that help prevent child abuse and provide for children’s physical, emotional, and developmental needs.” The President continues, saying, “A strong, stable family is the best foundation for a promising childhood, and when parents and caregivers have support — from loved ones, friends, and their community — they are more likely to provide safe and healthy environments for children.”

As part of the celebration and throughout the year, communities are encouraged to share child abuse and neglect prevention awareness strategies and activities and promote prevention across the country.

Given the role childhood trauma (verbal, physical, emotional abuse; neglect; sexual abuse; absent or drug/alcohol addicted parent) plays:

this is an incredibly important national celebration!

Sharing Success Stories About New Ways to Prevent and Counter the Impacts of Child Abuse in Celebration of National Child Abuse Prevention Month

Fortunately, there is a great deal of awareness of late about the ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experience(s)) Study conducted by the CDC and Kaiser Permanente, thanks to organizations like ACEsTooHigh. And this awareness is moving mountains, so to speak, when it comes to how we should prevent child abuse AND what we can do to counter its effects once done.

The following is a random selection of recent news stories reporting on new ways of preventing and countering the impacts of childhood abuse. I’ve been studying this issue for more than a decade and what has been happening in the recent 5 to 10 years is remarkable and demonstrates what we can do when we understand brain development and the impact of childhood trauma on that development.

  • A murderer at 14, Then a Lifer, Now a Man Pondering a Future,” by Erik Eckholm, April 10, 2015, The New York Times. In his article, Mr. Eckholm writes, “In the 2012 ruling, the Supreme Court did not say life terms were never appropriate. But, building on earlier rulings that ‘children are different,’ and citing research on brain development, the court said sentencing must take account of mitigating factors like the offender’s background and age, and consider the potential for change.” Click here to read more…
  • “MN High School Screens Students for ACEs to Develop Trauma-Informed Education,” by Jane Stevens on April 10, 2015, ACEsConnection. In her article, Ms. Stevens writes, “’It forced me to identify the real issues facing the students at Paladin,’ notes Irwin [Leisa Irwin, Executive Director of Paladin Career & Technical High School in Blaine, MN], and it was deeper than poverty, or if they were behind in their grade level, or if they were on probation, or if they were designated learning disabled because they were on a special education plan.” Click here to read more…
  • Juvenile Jails Adopting ACE- and Trauma-Informed Practices,” by Ed Finkel on March 29, 2015, ACEsConnection. In his article, Mr. Finkel writes, “Youths convicted of offenses that land them in facilities to serve out their sentences have a disproportionately high number of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).” To read his article and learn about a number of excellent programs doing this sort of work, click here…
  • Moving Parents and Children Out of Poverty: a Two-Generation Approach,” by Child Trends, March 24, 2015, Quoting from this article, “…parents are critical to children’s healthy development. The first few years of a child’s life are crucial in order to ensure their healthy development, and children need stability as well as responsive and nurturing relationships.” “…Children can also affect parents’ ability to succeed. When children are sick or having difficulties at school or other problems, parents working in jobs without paid leave may not be able to fully attend to them without compromising their employment.” Click here to read more…

  • Though not an article, this organization, The Reset Foundation‘s, approach is another noteworthy example of what’s being done differently, now. Quoting from their website, “Instead of serving time in a dehumanizing prison environment, a sentenced young adult lives at a Reset campus, focused entirely on academics, career, and healthy living. We create a positive, 24/7 environment that supports a whole student’s learning and growth.” “At full scale, Reset campuses are designed to cost no more per student per year as prison. We partner with local and state governments to serve students using diverted funding that would have paid for their incarceration.” Click here to visit their website for more…

Help Raise Awareness About National Child Abuse Prevention Month has made it easy to continue prevention messages throughout the last two weeks of April – simply copy and paste these messages, for example:

Sample Facebook messages

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time to recognize that we each play a part in promoting the social and emotional well-being of children and families in our communities. Learn more on the National Child Abuse Prevention Month website.

Encourage your mayor or governor to issue a National Child Abuse Prevention Month proclamation. They can use the 2014 National Child Abuse Prevention Month Proclamation as a model.

Want to raise awareness about the importance of child abuse prevention? Add a National Child Abuse Prevention widget to your agency’s website.

Have you downloaded the 2015 Resource Guide: Making Meaningful Connections? Available on Child Welfare Information Gateway, the guide supports service providers in their work with parents, caregivers, and their children to strengthen families and prevent child abuse and neglect. Learn more here:

Download the National Child Abuse Prevention Month activity calendars to learn how you can promote child well-being throughout the month of April. The calendar is available in English and Spanish on the Child Welfare Information Gateway website.

Watch real-life stories from prevention programs across the nation. Visit the National Child Abuse Prevention video gallery, and share with your friends, family, coworkers, and community.

Sample Tweets

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Visit the NCAPM site to learn more:

Add a National Child Abuse Prevention Month widget to your blog to raise awareness about the importance of prevention:

We can help promote the social and emotional well-being of children & families. Visit the NCAPM site to learn more:

Watch real-life stories in the NCAPM video gallery to see what prevention programs are doing nationwide:

Check out the NCAPM activity calendars to learn how you can promote child well-being during April.

Or visit their website for more information.