I had the wonderful honor to interview Lisa with Frederiksen. She is a deeply knowledgeable and accomplished author, speaker and consultant in the addiction field.
The alcohol and substance abuse among her own loved ones compelled her to research, reach out and become an advocate for affected families. She founded BreakingTheCycles.com in 2008 to be an abundant, judgment-free resource for education, intervention and prevention.
Angela: On your website, you describe how a loved one’s rehab experience propelled you into the world of addiction treatment and all of its facets. What emotions did you struggle with during this time?
Lisa: I would say the top three were anger, resentment and frustration. By the time the 2003 event happened, I’d spent several decades dealing with various loved ones’ alcohol abuse and/or alcoholism, so it was the culmination of a long, long road of trying to come up with “the fix” that would end the nightmare. Of course, the more I tried to change others, the more I became a person I hardly recognized, though at the time, I had no idea of any of this – other than I was angry, resentful and frustrated. I was also done. I’d finally hit my bottom, so to speak, and was ready to do whatever my loved one’s treatment team advised family members to do.
Angela: What advice and encouragement would you give to someone whose loved one is afflicted by the disease of addiction?
Lisa: As for advice: I would say learn as much as you can about the brain disease of addiction. It will help you appreciate they had no other “choice” but to do what they did because of the nature of this disease. Not only that, but this brain disease causes them to lie, cheat and steal from the people they love the most. Two wonderful resources for this information are: NIAAA, NIDA, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, HBO Collaboration: The Addiction Project and NIDA: Drugs, Brains and Behaviors: the Science of Addiction.
As for encouragement: know it can change – it truly can, and even if your loved one does not get the help they need, you can, and when you do, your life can become truly amazing. When I started down this road, I was very shut down emotionally and my world was a series of rigid absolutes, black and white, truth or a lie – you’re with me or you’re not. Today, I rock climb, scuba dive, ski, fly fish and regularly go dancing (my favorite is LindyHop, after rock-n’-roll, of course), and my daughters and I enjoy a relationship we could never have imagined 10 years ago. As for what I did, I found a therapist who specializes in the family side of this family disease and spent three years doing cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with him, joined Al-Anon, fully participated in the treatment center’s family program and researched everything I could find to understand this disease and to understand what happens to the family members.
Angela: You also express how you were driven to research and fully understand why addiction is a disease. Why exactly is it a disease?
Lisa: A disease by its simplest definition is something that changes cells in a negative way. This one changes how cells in the brain communicate with one another, and given the brain controls everything we think, feel, say and do, it’s those changes that change brain function and therefore a person’s behaviors (including their lying, cheating, stealing, breaking promises to stop or cut down).
Just as breast cancer or colon cancer or heart disease change the health and function of those organs, addiction’s cell changes in the brain change the health and function of the brain. This is because the chemicals in drugs or alcohol interrupt the brain’s neural networks. Neural networks are the way brain cells (neurons) talk to one another. They, in turn, exchange information with other neurons (cells) throughout the body via the nervous system.
This “talking” is done through an electro-chemical signaling process. This is easier to understand if you think of neural networks as strands of holiday lights. Anything that happens along a strand of holiday lights – a loose bulb, frayed wire, power surge – changes how that strand works. This in turn changes how all other strands connected to it work.
So think of drugs and alcohol as the “loose bulbs, frayed wires and power surges” that change the way the neural networks throughout the brain function, which changes a person’s behaviors.
Angela: What is second-hand drinking? What are five steps someone can take in order to protect themselves from it?
Lisa: Secondhand drinking (SHD) is a term to describe the negative impacts of a person’s drinking behaviors on others. These behaviors include verbal, physical or emotional abuse, driving while impaired, domestic violence or sexual assault, to name a few. SHD directly affects 90 million Americans, typically family members (spouses, children, parents, siblings), close friends or co-workers, boyfriends and girlfriends.
Using this term in lieu of terms like codependency / codependents or enabling / enablers helps those who have been deeply affected by years of coping with a loved one’s drinking or drugging become more open to doing what they need for their own health. I know, myself, one of the most frustrating things was the admonition not to talk about “it” or break “their” anonymity even though I’d been through the wringer.
For April as Alcohol Awareness Month, I wrote a 5-part series on SHD. I’d like to refer your readers to one of the posts, “The Fight or Flight Stress Response – Secondhand Drinking Connection,” to better understand what happens.
As for five steps to protect themselves, I hate to seem as if I’m trying to sell my book, Loved One In Treatment? Now What!, but this book can help. I refer your readers to this one because it’s short, yet it still explains the science and the how and the why – the things I needed in order to embrace doing what I needed to do to help myself, and in that process, help my loved one. By the way – this book helps whether your loved one is in treatment or not – it explains what has happened and can be done to heal both “sides” of this family disease.
Angela: How would you advise a codependent to go about confronting a loved one about their addiction?
Lisa: This is a tough question because everyone’s situation is different. Some are in life and death situations and others have more time. So it depends. Here are three books that may help:
- Beyond Addiction, A Guide for Families by Jeffrey Foote, Ph.D., Carrie Wilkens, Ph.D. and Nicole Kosanke, Ph.D.
- Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff
- Inside Rehab by Anne M. Fletcher
And here is a link to NIDA’s Principles of Effective Addiction Treatment.
Angela: For the last question, let’s focus on recovery and how very possible it can be! What are the three most important steps an addict must take in order to stay true to recovery?
Lisa: Absolutely – recovery is totally possible! In fact, 23 million Americans are living in recovery today! Check out ManyFaces1Voice&The Anonymous People Film.
- Understand your disease and accept in your heart of hearts that you have it, thus you will treat it the same way you would treat your cancer or heart disease if you had either of those.
- Know there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to addiction treatment so be sure you are getting or have gotten the treatment that’s right for you. Again, I refer you to NIDA’s Principles of Effective Addiction Treatment. This is so important because if you have a mental illness, for example, but it’s not treated at the same time as your addiction, you will likely relapse. If you are not getting help for an underlying condition, childhood trauma, for example, that can trigger a relapse. You may find taking any of the prescribed medications to curb cravings for your particular of choice drug (and alcohol is considered a drug) can make all the difference for your long-term recovery.
- Know it takes time – you are healing a brain – the organ that controls and is influenced by everything you think, feel, say and do, so have a long-term continuing care plan in place that addresses the items in #2.
I hope that you enjoyed this interview and have acquired more education and confidence in terms of addiction and recovery. Make sure to check out Lisa’s Twitter and Google+ for more information and inspiration.