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Inspiring Success on the Road to Recovery

Friday, March 2, 2018

High Stakes, High Risk, Bad Bet


Gambling is everywhere. It can be found online, state lotteries, race tracks, sporting events, casinos and even in convenience stores. It is often mistakenly assumed compulsive gambling is not a real addictive disorder — since the individual who is repeatedly placing bets is not consuming a potentially lethal chemical substance.

Truth be told, gambling has ruined thousands of lives since staking wagers first came about.

Gambling addiction has been repeatedly proven to wreak just as much havoc in the lives of sufferers as many substance dependency disorders. While physical consequences may not compare, the emotional and mental torment of this addiction has been known to completely devastate the addict, resulting in lasting and severe consequences in many areas of life.

For our in-depth look into gambling addiction, we spoke with one of the leading gambling addiction experts in Arizona, Bobbe McGinley of ACT Counseling and Education. — Barbara Brown, Publisher. 

What are the differences between a problem, compulsive, and professional gambler?

A problem gambler would be someone who recognizes to some extent the need to stop gambling and they are able to resist. They are able to recognize the need to abstain due to problems related to their gambling. A clear indicator would be if family members are mentioning the amount of time or money spent on gambling. This clearly could be called a problem. There is still balance in the problem gamblers life. Gambling is not their total focus.

A compulsive gambler is described as a person whose gambling has caused growing and continuing problems in any area of their life. Some factors that contribute to compulsive gambling include impulsivity, inability to cope with life’s issues and susceptibility to depression.

A professional gambler sees the gamble as their employment,  even life skill. Professional gamblers sit down at a card table for example, and “go to work.” Although they don’t always win, they do not experience the same outcomes in their life as problem and compulsive gamblers do for the most part; and do not report to have those experiences. Professional gamblers present themselves to have the financial resources more often than others who gamble.

How does one go from being a social gambler to a compulsive gambler?

Gambling problems and the habits underlying this disorder can be attributed to some aspects of an individual’s personality and to outside factors such as current environment. Many different factors may contribute to the development of a gambling problem that can interfere with a person’s life, or in more severe cases of pathological gambling, consume a very significant portion of an individual’s time and end up as a detriment to the individual in most cases.

A family history of pathological gambling or lessor gambling problems likely affects development of a gambling problem. Like alcoholism, heredity may play a role. Genetic predisposition may work through the trait of impulsivity to influence gambling. The more impulsive one’s family members are, the more likely an individual will be too. If family members were pathological gamblers, their impulsivity level might be high, and this might indicate the predisposition for someone to become a pathological gamblers.

Isn’t problem gambling just a financial issue?

Financial issues are often the outward sign of a gambling problem. When gambling becomes uncontrollable, the problem gambler will spend even more money, attempting and usually failing, to win back their losses.

Many problem gamblers believe money is both the cause of, and the solution to their problems, so they continue to play in spite of the losses, believing they can fix all the problems with just one more “big win.” Sadly, there can never be enough “win” to solve the problem of the addiction, because it is an emotional illness, not a financial one.

For this reason, the real solution is for the gambler to face their addiction, not just the money problems it creates.

Treatment and support resources can help a gambler stop, and with abstinence, the stress from financial pressures will begin to be relieved. Long term solutions will require hard work, debt repayment and careful planning — but the finances of a problem gambler and their family can recover over time.

What are the warning signs? 

Signs of a gambling problem include but are not limited to: Feeling the need to be secretive about gambling; having trouble controlling gambling habits; gambling when one cannot afford it; friends and family express concern about the gambling. Because gambling can cause depression, anxiety and self-harming tendencies, several physical signs are to be watched for. Depression and anxiety sometimes lead to sleep deprivation, which may result in pale skin, weight gain or loss, acne and dark circles under the eyes.

How many people in the United States are problem gamblers?

As with all data, certain trends or patterns of behavior start to surface within a given population. Gambling statistics are no different.

Some prevalent trends show: the likelihood of developing a gambling addiction increases 23-fold for people affected by alcohol use disorders; over 80% of American adults’ gamble on a yearly basis; three to five gamblers out of every 100 struggles with a gambling problem; as many as 750,000 young people ages 14 to 21 has a gambling problem.

Who is likely to develop a problem?

Research suggests individuals under the age of 35 may be more prone to developing a gambling addiction. One of the most likely reasons is the fact younger individuals are more likely to seek out new sensations and act impulsively.

Although younger people tend to have an increased risk for compulsive gambling, older individuals are also at risk. Senior gamblers are often more likely to play in order to relieve unwanted feelings such as loneliness or anxiety. Additionally, seniors now have wider access to wagering through gambling websites and apps, providing more opportunity for an addiction to develop from the comfort of their home.

Some prescription drugs raise the risk for impulsive behaviors, which in turn increases the risk for a gambling addiction. Parkinson’s Disease and Restless Leg Syndrome are often treated with medications known as dopamine agonists. Research suggests people taking these particular drugs may be more likely to demonstrate impulse control problems and disordered gambling behavior.

What are your thoughts about gambling on social networking sites and free play?

Many games played on social networking sites have gambling-like elements — even if no money is involved. While games don’t involve money they introduce the principles and excitement of gambling. On first look, playing games like Farmville, may not seem to have much connection to gambling activities, but the psychology behind these games are similar.

Getting rewards every time someone gambles or plays a game leads to people becoming bored quickly. However, small unpredictable rewards lead to highly engaged and repetitive behavior for those playing such games. There is no money changing hands but teens, especially, are learning the mechanics of gambling and there are significant questions about whether gambling with virtual money encourages positive attitudes towards gambling, especially in young people.

It has been argued, based on the available literature, it may be important to distinguish between the diverse types of money-free gambling being made available — namely social networking modes (on social networking sites) and ‘demo’ or ‘free play’ modes (on internet gambling websites).

Initial considerations suggest these may be different in nature and impact. For example, players gambling in social networking modes may experience a different type and level of reinforcement than those gambling in ‘demo’ mode on an internet gambling site. On some social networking sites, the accumulation of ‘play money’ or ‘points’ may have implications for buying virtual goods or services or being eligible for certain privileges. This may increase the value and meaning of the gambling event to the individual.

The psychosocial impact of this new leisure activity has only just begun to be investigated. Social networking sites have the potential to normalize gambling behaviors as part of the consumption patterns of a non-gambling leisure activity and may change social understandings of the role of gambling among young people.

From your experience working with gamblers and their families, other than financial losses, what kind of toll does this behavior take?

Trying to deal with the stress and tension brought on as a result of the gambler’s behavior jeopardizes the bond among family members. When a spouse, children, siblings and other family members can no longer trust the gambler, feel no sense of security, have no confidence in the gambler or even fear for their future, the result is a breakdown in the family relationships.

Endless lies, staying out late or not coming home at all —  to threats, manipulation, violence or domestic abuse all contribute to the dissolution of family ties.
Shame, avoidance of friends, secrecy and trying to hide the pain further magnify the isolation family members feel as a gambler’s behavior gets more and more out of control. Anxiety, guilt, shame, depression, insomnia, behavioral problems and emotional insecurity begin to afflict all the family members closest to or living in the same environment as the problem or compulsive gambler.

With tensions escalating at a dangerous pace, the arguments and emotional outbursts may end in violence. With no trust in the gambler, no belief in their word, the spouse of the gambler often withdraws from the relationship in the form of sex.

How easy is it to get hooked?

One reason for gamblers becoming addicted, particularly early on, is the experience of an early big win. The buzz in winning such a large amount can sometimes be overwhelming and the fact it arrives so early means the player thinks it is easier to land such wins — than what it really is.

In the same manner that turning to alcohol, drugs, or smoking is seen as a release, people can often turn to gambling to seek escapism from their daily troubles. This is especially true if the person in question has recently suffered a bereavement, divorce, job loss, or experienced a similar high-stress situation. Gambling becomes the little bit of emotional freedom from the stress that tortures them, instead of maintaining a control, they lose track of their wins and losses which can quickly turn very cataclysmal.

There is still a lack of conclusive evidence about whether gambling addiction is more of a biological or social condition. The risk factors are beyond doubt, but whether the problem of gambling addiction lies with the individual, society, or with the gambling industry itself, remains unanswered.

What does it take to hit bottom?

You hear people talk about having to hit ‘rock bottom’ before they can quit. Every one has their OWN rock bottom (many have stopped without reaching quite the bottom others have). Many gamblers have spent a great deal of time thinking about this particular question. If they could put their finger on it, they would have saved themselves a great deal of misery. They say it’s when they can’t seem to stop, that they knew they could not be satisfied with life if they could not gamble, even if they or their family desperately wanted them to stop. In the back of their mind, they know they have to stop and deal with life’s issues no matter how difficult. It is at these times, with these thoughts they realize it has gotten as bad as it ever needs to get, no amount of money has ever been the fix…..at this point many gamblers can say they have hit rock bottom.

Why do gamblers bet more after a loss? Do they believe a string of losses makes a win more likely?

Gamblers will tell you they are fully aware they may win a lot of small battles but in the long run they lose the war! Gamblers see near losses as very encouraging and are likely to continue playing. A near miss is a signal they are acquiring skill, so it makes sense the brain processes the near miss as if it was a win. The problem is when gamblers confuse a game of skill with a game of chance.

Nearly winning doesn’t help explain what someone should do the next time around. Gamblers find these near misses unpleasant; they find them more aversive than complete misses, but when you ask them how much they want to carry on, they want to continue. They’re very distressed by what’s happened, but the next thing they do is bet again. Researchers are trying to understand that paradox.

Is part of the appeal of gambling its unpredictability or a way to “get rich quick?”

It may be hard to understand the draw and appeal of gambling to so many intelligent people. The odd flutter here and there can be harmless but for a growing number of people with a gambling problem, it’s not just their finances at stake.

Gambling addiction has been linked to poor mental health, crime, alcohol problems and weaker employment and educational attainment. Once a gambler gets on a winning streak, no matter the duration, they believe luck will continue to carry them through, or their skill is more than what the game can throw back at them. There are dreams of being wealthy of course, for so many gamblers, and if they had ever won before major losses they did feel they “got rich quick” in many instances. Gamblers will tell you the unpredictability is definitely part of the excitement. They forget gambling should be about entertainment and having fun once the addiction has taken over. Whether they ever saw it as a way to make money, it’s not a way to get rich quick and it’s not a way to get out of debt.

Is the brain affected?

The brain is an interesting and intricate organ consisting of billions of cells compartmentalized into regions and functions. Unlike drug addictions, there is still much to be known about how pathological gambling affects the areas of the brain and how neurotransmitters communicate with each other.

The prefrontal cortex is the region of the brain that is tasked with decision-making. It plays a significant role in controlling a person’s impulses and appropriately evaluating long-term rewards versus immediate ones. Studies have shown gambling addicts have developed a problem in this region of the brain, disrupting proper processing which allows the person to perceive risks and rewards correctly. With compulsive betting, risks and rewards are not rightly communicated as the person leans toward short term and immediate rewards. This wrongful estimation leads them to disregard negative consequences and signals gamblers to follow their impulses.

The effect of drug substances on neurotransmitters and how much of it is produced by the brain is well-documented in drug addiction. However, little is known about how they are specifically affected when it comes to compulsive gambling. Neurotransmitters primarily involved in feelings of euphoria, pleasure, energy, impulse and excitement are dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin. Problem gambling changes the production of these chemicals in the brain which affects the ability to control impulses, creates a certain high, or peddles the feeling of wanting more. Risky activities such as gambling can enable the production of more endorphins in the brain, leading gamblers to experience a euphoric state similar to the high the drug users feel. This high or thrill, enabled by the increased production of endorphins, can explain the motivation to continue gambling.

Increased tolerance is common in cases of drug addiction, and it also manifests in the behavior of pathological gamblers. If a drug user’s increase in tolerance is shown in the higher intake of a substance, the gambling addict’s increased tolerance is seen in their behavior of taking bigger and riskier bets. This is due to the effects that gambling does to the brain’s reward system, particularly the ventral striatum which is hailed as the mind’s reward center. Studies have shown problem gamblers are observed to have lower activity in this part of the brain, causing them to engage in risky behaviors to stimulate these reward pathways; the stimulation of such will eventually allow them to feel high.

The development of greater tolerance is also closely related to how neurotransmitters work since dopamine is an active chemical involved in this function.

After someone has been off the bet they may be required to attend an event where gambling is available, what is the best way to not jeopardize recovery?

Unfortunately for men and women with gambling addictions, opportunities to indulge in this potentially self-destructive pastime are endless. It wasn’t always this way, but when internet gambling websites became plentiful and are now a click away it’s easy for recovering compulsive gamblers to easily plunge into the abyss.

Making the decision over and over not to gamble is the only way to preserve the integrity of the recovery plan, and it can be quite a challenge. Wherever there is addiction, there are always risk factors for relapse. There are events, circumstances or even individuals that can trigger a recovering gambler’s fall from grace. The gambler must identify these triggers and drag them out from the shadows of the subconscious and into the light. Doing this drains them from the power to sabotage recovery.

A key ingredient of gambling addiction is emotion. Gambling plays a role in helping addicts manage difficult emotions. Staying away from gambling venues is another way to maintain abstinence. Strong boundaries with families and friends to not encourage any gambling activity is critical. Gamblers need to be clear about their relationship to money and ask for help managing their finances if necessary. Staying away from any alcohol or drugs, which affect judgement and reduce impulse control, would be another tool to remaining safe and not gambling.

In the early phases of recovery from gambling, it is highly recommended the gambler not attend any type of gambling venue for their own piece of mind and financial safety. If this is absolutely not possible, the gambler would benefit from confiding in someone near and use them as support person throughout the event.

What are the first steps a person must take to stop the downward spiral of gambling addiction?

While no one chooses to have an addiction, it is important to choose when to break free of the addiction’s hold. If someone becomes addicted, their entire life can be impacted. They face financial ruin, the loss of their home or business because of gambling debts, the ending of a marriage or loss of child custody, or the downward spiral that can lead to additional addictions and psychological ailments. This is why it is so important to recognize a problem as early as possible and find help for treatment the gambling addiction. 1-800-NEXT STEP provides resources; Gamblers Anonymous provides meetings with support all over town, the Division of Problem Gambling provides resources for gambling therapists all over the State of Arizona. The first step would be to reach out!

What are the social consequences of gambling?

Social consequences are a very real part of gaming addiction. Addicted gamers spend so much time playing that their personal relationships get neglected and sometimes disappear altogether. Among addicted gamers who are married, up to 50 percent report a strain in their marriage as a result of their addiction.

A quick search online for information about video game addiction yields stories detrimental, and potentially harmful, social decisions people have made because gaming takes priority above all else.

It’s not just neglect that costs additional gamers their relationships. Some of them talk so much about their game of choice — to the exclusion of everything else — that people no longer want to be around them. They can’t, or wont, engage in real world conversations or be a source of support or encouragement to friends and family. Because their friends talk about other things, they begin to feel left out, which in turn causes them to feel irritated or offended. It doesn’t occur to them they’ve chosen to be left out be devoting all their time to gaming.

Some of the physical consequences of gaming would include losing sleep because of playing so much and simply not having the energy to invest in relationships. Lack of sleep also makes the gamer irritable and difficult to be around. The lack of social interaction that results from obsessive gaming can have long-term social consequences. The social awkwardness created by the isolation of gaming addiction, unfortunately, feeds the addiction. The gaming addict will likely retreat back to their online world where relationships are easier and already waiting.

Gaming addiction is serious. While there is much debate about whether it is a diagnosable disorder, there is clearly a segment of our society for whom gaming is more than just a casual pastime. These people need friends and family members who care enough to intervene and try to help them break the addictive cycle.

Are there as many women as men with a gambling problem?

While it is not unusual to view gambling addiction as a problem that primarily impacts men, many women struggle with it. Experts estimate that one out of every three gambling addicts is a woman.

Although women develop the addictions at somewhat lower rates than men, they appear more likely to do so later in life than males.

It is critical for individuals, families, and health care professionals to recognize and address this condition in women. Research suggests women become addicted to gambling quickly; often within a year from when they first start placing bets. In contrast, it takes men an average of four years to develop a gambling addiction. This highlights the importance of getting a woman with gambling problems into treatment as soon as possible.

Are most families usually supportive of their loved one seeking help or is their trust shattered?

The tragedy of gambling addiction reaches far beyond the more than 15 million Americans who are problem or pathological gamblers. Employers, work associates, and friends often pay a steep price as well. However, it is family members who bear the brunt of the pain and misery that accompany this addiction. In addition to material deprivations, family members frequently experience the trauma of divorce, child abuse and neglect, and domestic violence. Children left home alone when they are not capable of taking care of themselves, is not uncommon. Studies have shown problem gambling is as much a risk factor for domestic violence as alcohol abuse.

Families are confused in the beginning if they do not know what is actually happening to their loved one. Most families will try to support the gambler in abstinence and will become actively involved in picking up the financial pieces. When the abuse or violence becomes a feature of the relationship the family member must make a different decision and that would include making sure they and the children are safe from any violence or abuse.

Is it true gambling has one of the highest rates of suicide?

Suicide is a very real and all too common consequence of problem gambling. No other addiction has as high a suicide rate according to the National Council on Problem Gambling. They estimate that one in five gambling addicts will attempt to kill themselves, about twice the rate of other addictions.

With an estimated two million compulsive gamblers and four-to-six million problem gamblers in the U.S., the potential for larger numbers of suicide deaths brought on by gambling is significant.
There are several reasons why gamblers may pay the ultimate price. Unlike other addictions, such as drugs and alcohol, there is no physical effect on the body. The amount of financial devastation you can wreak plays a big role.

Problem gamblers also often suffer from associated disorders that exacerbate their struggles. Substance abuse issues or problems with depression and anxiety are frequently “co-occurring” among those who have a gambling addiction. Gambling addicts will share about feelings of despair, helplessness and hopelessness, which may determine if previous suicide attempts have been made or if suicide has been rehearsed. Asking direct questions will provide information to facilitate building a support system and addressing the suicide risk. It is essential to conduct a thorough evaluation and encourage family members to provide information and support, where possible.

Gambling is about financial loss, who pays for treatment?

In some cases, the gambling addict reporting for therapy can pay for their treatment process. In others, a gambling addict’s insurance policy will pay for their treatment process, at least short-term.
In Arizona the Division of Problem Gambling provides an opportunity for counselors to apply for a contract that provides the financial resources to treat the addicted gambler and their families, considered affected persons. The website of the Division of Problem Gambling provides information about the resources of finances that in turn are distributed to counselors to provide treatment and their attention to Education and Prevention as well as Treatment.

The list of providers is on their web site as well as community activities that the Division of Problem Gambling attends to continue to research and support the compulsion to gambling and effects on the gambler and their families.

Need help?
The Arizona Division of Problem Gambling problemgambling.az.gov/
Gamblers Anonymous Phoenix - www.gaphoenix.org

Bobbe McGinley has been working in the field of Chemical Dependency since 1988, and she has worked with Problem and Compulsive gamblers since being Certified by the Arizona Council on Compulsive Gambling, Inc. in 1996 and Nationally Certified in 1999. Beginning her career at the Hazelden Foundation, Bobbe moved to Phoenix as Senior Counselor at Progress Valley, IV, and then went on to became the Addictions Program Director at Charter Hospital, and Program Manager for Trimeridian, Inc. Bobbe works in private practice, where she is now Clinical Director, Counselor and Consultant at her agency: ACT - Counseling & Education. For more information call 602-569-4328 and visit www.actcounseling.com for locations and services.

How to Stop Paying the IRS Penalties and Interest

Renee Sieradski is a Tax Specialist, visit www.phoenixtaxhelp.com or call 602-687-9768.

Tax Season is upon us and people are generally stressed about having to gather their tax documents and fearful about whether they will owe money or get a refund.
Those who skate stress-free thru tax season know a little secret: Plan ahead and pay in “REAL TIME”

What is “REAL TIME” when it comes to taxes?

The truth is that the IRS doesn’t want you to pay taxes by April 15th of the following year when your tax return is due. They require you to pay taxes in the year that you earn them, in real time. The concept of paying or owing by April 15th of the following year is largely an urban legend. Paying your taxes on April 15th is a grace period, but it comes with a hefty penalty, called the Failure to Pay penalty. Failure to pay means put simply, you didn’t pay your taxes in REAL TIME, in the year that you earned them.

For Employees

If you are an employee, make sure you are having the correct amount of taxes withheld from your paycheck. You can do this by either checking with your tax preparer or by claiming fewer exemptions on your W4 that you give to your employer. I personally think that the W4 worksheet needs to be revised because it trips folks up into claiming far more exemptions than they should. All of my clients find it confusing. So here is a very simple way to skip the worksheet at the top half of the W4 and just fill out the important parts: If you don’t have any side income and just have a full-time job, your tax advisor may just have you claim one exemption. If you have children that you can deduct on your tax return, add these to you, but only if no one else is claiming them.

For Self-Employed Persons

If you’re self-employed, and no employer is withholding and paying taxes for you, then it is up to you to do this yourself. Again, with the concept of REAL TIME, when you earn you money, the IRS gives you a slightly easier way to pay your taxes, quarterly.

This means you can pay your entire year in four installments. The due dates are 4/15, 6/15, 9/15 and 1/15 of the current year that you are earning the money. Another way to think about the logic of paying your taxes when you earn the income is as follows: If you were an employee, when would you pay your taxes? They would be deducted from your paycheck as you earned the income every week or every two weeks and then swiftly wired to the IRS. If you think of it this way, then the concept of paying your taxes as your clients pay you is not a new idea. You own a company and IRS requires you to pay the when you earn your money.

Ideally, when you file your income tax return in April, it should be a break even return, or very close to it. This is the best way to save you money and not pay penalties and interest.
In order to avoid penalties, the IRS requires you to pay in the greater of the following quarterly: 100% of the previous year’s taxes or 90% of the current year’s taxes. The IRS allows this calculation because they know that business owners are making estimated projections and as a result, you can use the prior year as a guideline and then increase your estimated withholdings if you are having a better year.

I had a client in my office this week and I was explaining the concept of REAL TIME payment of taxes to save money on interest and penalties, and my client replied, “So I should pre-pay the IRS?” “No, I replied, pay them in REAL TIME, when you earn the money to avoid penalties and interest when you file your tax return the following April.”

It is actually not viewed as pre-payment to pay the IRS in the year that you earn your income. If you do not pay in REAL TIME, you will be subject to Failure to Pay penalties.
In summary, I encourage you readers to turn over a new leaf in 2018 and choose a drama free tax season. After all, as recovering people, we want to take the shame and fear out of finances, and choose to live our lives with less drama and more calm, right?

Join the American taxpayers who sit back and relax during tax time, knowing that they have paid their taxes and that their April 15th filing will be just that, a paper filing with little or no taxes due or refunded.

Words Matter: Why We Don’t Say “Addict”

Have you noticed more people are saying things like “person with a substance use disorder” or “someone who’s addicted to drugs” instead of “substance abuser” or “addict”? There are reasons for that. Seeing the whole person

Some words carry bigger meanings than we may realize. “Substance abuser,” “drug user,” or “addict,” for instance, make it sound like the person being described is nothing but their substance use disorder, drug use, or addiction. But that isn’t true, of course. Each and every person has many qualities, likes and dislikes, hopes, dreams, stresses, and relationships.

Saying “person with a substance use disorder” is more accurate. It means you’re describing a real, complete, and complex person—one who happens to have that disorder.

Words like “addict” are misleading in another way, too. We know that addiction is a disorder that happens in the brain. The first time a person takes a drug, it’s their choice — but what happens in their body and brain after that may be less and less under their control. Some people are simply more likely than others to develop a drug problem.

Why it is important to realize this 

Using words that separate a person from their substance use disorder can reduce the shame some people feel about having the problem — and make it easier for them to seek help.

One study even found that highly trained doctors and therapists who treat people with substance use disorders were slightly more likely to recommend punishment for people who were described as “substance abusers,” and more likely to recommend therapy for those described as “people with substance use disorders.”

Remember: When you talk or even think about people who have a substance use disorder, the words you use matter.

Diving Deeply

By Dr. Dina Evan

Dr. Evan specializes in relationships, personal and professional empowerment, compassion and consciousness. 602-997-1200, 602-571-8228, Dina.Evan@gmail.com and www.DrDinaEvan.com

Most people stay in the shallow end of life, deciding at some point to never take a risk, avoid any conflict, fly low, and fearfully with judiciousness they veer away from anything that causes them discomfort.  No conflict. No truths. No uncertainty. That decision was never an option for me.

I was thrown into the soup early on. Mine was a smack you up the side of the head and learn to sink or swim beginning. So, I did, swim that is, and the water was deep and without choice. There were no shallow ends to play in. There was only getting behind the wheel at age eleven to check my passed-out mom into Camelback hospital again or chasing her rapist all over town after he blew through my brother and I at our front door as we came home. By the time I was three, I knew everything in the world, my world, was not just fine and superficial was never an option.

After leaving home at 13, I grew older and wiser. I began to wonder if my mom’s alcoholic dad and her four alcoholic brothers were the reason she could not breathe without a drink. Was it in her DNA or was I simply never able to offer more than whatever was in her can of Coors? I left home at thirteen and it wasn’t until years later I also learned she was my finest teacher and our short-lived life of hardship together was an enormous gift.

Without the valuable experiences of life with mom, I might have never understood that tissue thin offers nothing of value to genuine soul work, that unvarnished truth is the foundation of every real relationship and the fastest way out of pain is straight through it. My mom was a master teacher and because of my metaphysical beliefs, I also believe she had contracted with me, to offer her life of pain so that I could learn these things.

Today, as I approach the end of my life, I reflect on a panorama of deeply connected moments, with soul deep cohorts, and a family, the majority of whom, know the value of and are committed to entering into discomfort temporarily, for the sake of healing and love. I am so grateful for each of them. And I hope you will give yourself the gift of that as well. But how?

The first step is to own everything; every hardship, every painful experience and everything for which you are still blaming someone else. Try to explore the possibility that you created everything in your life in service to your own soul and figure out what you have learned or need to learn from your experiences.

Remove the word you from your vocabulary. Start by listening to your intuition. Trust it. When you feel something is not being said, try saying, ‘I feel there is something unspoken that we need to talk about. Would you help me discover what that is?’

Be brave enough to take ownership of your wise mind. If you are met with denial, simply respond by saying, Would you be willing to talk with me about it if you discover something after you check in? Remember this is never a fault-finding mission. It’s about deepening your relationship with truth and authenticity.

Speak from an I space 

For instance, if your partner is a horse’s patoot, instead of telling him or her you think they are, try saying, “You know what I really need in my right partner is. (truth, support, more romance etc.) would you be open to trying that?”
Tell the truth no matter what. The only exception to this is of you are simply truth telling your truth to get rid of the guilt you feel, rather than to create healing.
On the other hand, don’t use the excuse that you don’t want to hurt anyone else. The truth doesn’t need to be delivered with a sledge hammer. For instance, if your partner says, Do you like this one on me? You can respond with, I really like the red one better.
So why dive in the deep end of life? Because you’ll stop being bored and that is where you will find your courage, your integrity and your real purpose. Isn’t that what you came here to do?

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Cherish each moment in recovery

During my first few days and weeks newly sober, I was terribly frightened; and the ‘too scared to live and too scared to die’ feelings overwhelmed me. I was certain entering a 12 step meeting would mean the end of life as I knew it—and thankfully it was.

With a commitment in my heart to stop destroying myself and those who cared about me, I took a step forward.

A power greater than myself must have told me to dedicate one day, just 24-hours to this sober thing, and for reasons beyond my understanding at the time, the first 24 hours without a substance has woven into close to 28 years.

The way I had been living was nothing short of reckless, dangerous and selfish. I was a blamer, a victim and my own worst enemy.

Being in blackouts, believing the lies I told myself, and trying to convince anyone who would listen, I wasn’t an alcoholic, “I just over did it again.” Oh the excuses I came up with.

It is extremely important for me to remember my bottom like it was just the other day, it keeps me grounded and grateful, willing and honest.

In recovery, I’ve learned what gratitude means; what service is; that asking for help doesn’t make me weak; I can tell my story and not feel shame; I’ve learned the power of forgiveness and being forgiven; that I can’t change you or the world to suit my wants and needs; and a connection to a Higher Power is always available when I need it most— that is the one and only constant in my life.

Today I can lean on you and you can lean on me. We share our history and we laugh and cry and most of all we feel grateful having another chance to do it right. By right, I mean staying on this amazing journey clean and sober.

Let’s stay on the path together and see what happens next and cherish every moment along the way.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Interweaving Cycles of Addiction and Trauma

Adapted from newly released Unspoken Legacy
Claudia Black, Ph.D., Senior Fellow of The Meadows and Clinical Architect of the 
Claudia Black Young Adult Center at The Meadows

When most of us wake up in the morning, we can reasonably assume that our home, our family, our job or school, and our primary relationships will still be there when we go to bed that night. We can also expect that the way someone treats us that morning will be more or less how he or she treats us that evening. Our world is generally stable, and we expect it to stay that way. And, most of the time, it does.

This is not true in an addicted family, where nothing is ever stable or predictable. Everything is confusing and unknown; anything can happen at any time. No one knows who is responsible for what because the normal boundaries have been shattered. No one has any idea how to make anything better. And everyone is constantly anxious, frightened, worried, and confused. You never know when something small—a dirty plate in the sink, a bad haircut, a thermostat set a degree too high—might turn into a catastrophe. As a result, family members become apprehensive about the smallest decisions. Meanwhile, outrageous and hurtful things and major, deeply important life decisions may go ignored and unaddressed. There is no more perfect recipe than this for creating trauma.

A Steady Diet of Trauma

When a family is ill with the disease of addiction, its members are much more likely to experience trauma than non-addicted families. That trauma is also likely to be more serious and more painful, and it is likely to take longer to heal. In short, addiction worsens every dimension of trauma.
Addiction creates chronic losses for everyone in the family system: a loss of trust, connection, intimacy, stability, honesty, fun, clear communication, safety, and healthy boundaries. And that’s just in the earlier stages of addiction. As the disease progresses, family members also lose jobs, relationships, financial stability, health, and sanity. Children often lose their childhoods by being forced to take on adult family roles. Sometimes people lose their lives.
As one loss gets compounded upon another, the result is usually trauma. In addition to the many losses, chronic emotional abuse is especially prevalent in addictive family systems. It can take any or all of these forms:

  • Verbal abuse (ridicule, name calling, etc.)
  • Severe criticism and blaming
  • Lack of expressed love, care, and concern
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Shaming and humiliation
  • Broken promises
  • Lying
  • Unpredictability
  • Sudden rages or ravings
  • Overly harsh (or outright cruel) punishment
  • Being forced into physically dangerous situations (such as being in a vehicle with an impaired driver)
  • Breakup or abandonment of the family

The Trauma of Physical and Sexual Abuse

In homes where there is substance abuse, kids are 2.7 times more likely to be physically and/or sexually abused. In a related study, in which I was one of the researchers, we found that in alcoholic families fathers were 10 times more likely, mothers four times more likely, and siblings twice as likely to be physically abusive to a child or sibling.
There’s more. In a family where there is substance abuse, daughters are twice as likely to be sexually abused than in other families; sons are four times as likely to be sexually abused — both by family members and by people outside of the immediate family. My clinical experience suggests that usually there is more than one abuser.
We don’t have good statistics on physical and sexual abuse in homes where there is a process addiction, but my forty-plus years of working with addicted families suggests that the numbers are similar.

Here is what else we know about abuse in addictive family systems:
The ultimate act of physical abuse is murder; however, far more common abuse involves being hit, slapped, shoved, kicked, pinched, or slammed against a wall.

In addicted families, discipline or punishment can often turn into abuse. This typically takes the form of extreme and inappropriate punishment. For example, forcing a child to stand on one foot for ten minutes, and then beating him when he falls over. In other cases, addiction can turn a somewhat less harsh punishment into abuse, such as when a child is sent outside to stand on a cold porch for a few minutes to “think things over,” and then left there all night because her parents have passed out. Often a punishment isn’t particularly severe, but it is inflicted capriciously on a child who has done nothing wrong; the addict in the family is simply scapegoating the child.

Sexual abuse is both overt and covert. Overt sexual abuse involves sexual touch. Covert sexual abuse of a child involves no touch, but can take many other forms, such as shaming them about their body or sexuality; sexual name calling (such as calling her a whore or a slut); graphic sexualized joking; exposing the child to pornography; or using sexual innuendo. For example, Dad tells his thirteen-year-old daughter, “You are so hot looking. I wish I were your age, so I could have a shot at you.”

The more frequent the abuse, the more likely the victim is to minimize and rationalize it. As sixteen-year-old Kailie told me, “No, I wasn’t abused. My mom didn’t mean to break my jaw when she hit me.”

When a child has two addicted parents, the likelihood of physical or sexual abuse is substantially greater than when only one parent is an addict.

In addicted families, abuse is especially hurtful on days of celebration, such as holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations. Often the celebration itself gets undermined, revoked, or denigrated.

When physical and/or sexual abuse occurs in an addictive family system, people usually assume the addict is the abuser. But this is not necessarily the case. Surprisingly often, a parent or sibling who does not suffer with addiction is the abuser.

It should come as no surprise that families impacted by addiction tend to experience higher-than-average rates of murder, suicide, premature death, accidental death, house fires, car accidents, gun accidents, other forms of serious injury, and serious illness. For the survivors in the family, any of these can create trauma.
It’s hard to find an emotional middle ground. People vacillate from one extreme to the other, often over-responding, withdrawing, or running away. People have trouble staying in the present and in their bodies. They either live mostly in their heads — reliving the painful past or imagining a horrible future — or entirely in their emotions, consumed with fear, anger, or dread.

Overlooked and Discounted Trauma

In addicted family systems, people don’t just act in ways that tend to evoke trauma responses. They also tend to respond with less love, caring, and support whenever a traumatic event occurs. In a moment of crisis, family members may be unable to solve problems, perceive options, seek resources, or even pay attention. This can be particularly damaging for children.

As fifteen-year-old Darlene walked home from school, a gang of boys approached her. They grabbed her and tried to drag her into the woods, but she managed to break free and run home. Gasping and in tears, she told her mother what happened. Her mom just lifted her martini and said, “Well, honey, you learned something important about boys today, didn’t you? Now leave me alone for a while. I’m watching my favorite TV show.” In the space of a few minutes, Darlene was traumatized twice—first by the boys, then by her mother.

Seven-year-old Jonathan was walking to school with his friend Abbie on an icy winter day. Suddenly a slow-moving car skidded off the road and struck Abbie. She fell in a heap by the roadside. People gathered around Abbie and did what they could to save her life, but she died an hour later in the emergency room. Throughout the event, everyone ignored Jonathan. This was partly understandable, because there was a dying girl a few feet away. But Jonathan’s experience of watching his friend die was traumatic for him nevertheless.

Jonathan’s trauma never got addressed. Everyone — his classmates, his teachers, his principal, his parents, and even the driver of the car, who was also traumatized by the event — focused on Abbie and her family. When Jonathan tried to tell his parents how hurt and confused he felt, they told him, “Do you realize how lucky you are? That could have been you who died. Count your blessings that you got to school without a scratch.” Then they lit up a joint.

It took Jonathan two more decades before he finally got treated for depression. Only then did he have a chance, for the first time, to talk about “little Jon,” who had watched his friend die.

Kevin was born with cerebral palsy. He was a bright and inquisitive child who was normal from the waist up, but needed many surgeries on his legs. As a result, he was in and out of hospitals until he was in eighth grade. While his mother was often with him in the hospital, what he remembers most was her incessant crying — not about him, but about his father, who was an alcoholic and a compulsive gambler.

Today, Kevin recalls the hospital nurses and orderlies fondly. But he doesn’t remember his father ever coming to the hospital. Nor does he remember his mother touching him much or doing anything to comfort him. He recently told his therapist, “I don’t know whether Mom came to the hospital to be with me or to escape Dad. I felt safe in the hospital, not because of Mom, but because of the nurses and because Dad wasn’t there.”

Painful and difficult things occur in every child’s life. Parents can’t protect their children from every painful event, but they can respond in a manner that lessens the negative impact. Unfortunately, in addicted families, children are often denied caring and empathy at vulnerable times. As a result, traumatic events usually affect them with full force.

It’s common for people with unhealed emotional trauma to turn to addictive substances or compulsive activities in an effort to medicate or numb their pain. Listen to some addicts describe the forces that first pulled them into addiction:

Jack: There was one reason I ever ingested alcohol, and that was to get blithering numb. Eventually, after deciding alcohol was uncool since that’s what our parents did, I started taking drugs. I would take anything to not feel.

Dana: When I did coke, I had no fear.
Hunter: I drank to relax. I was so uptight, always needing to be hypervigilant. I drank to relieve the pain. I drank to hide and to mask the way I felt. I was so anxious all of the time. I knew I was screwing up, but I didn’t know what else to do.

Hannah: After being in so many foster homes, and after suffering sexual abuse at the hands of one of my foster parents, I wanted to die or, at the very least, disappear. The one source of power I was able to find was in my relationship to food. Restricting my calorie intake enabled me to wield power and control over food. At the same time, by losing weight, I was able to slowly disappear.

Lyle: My father raged and was abusive. By age eleven, I found what my father had — power in his raging. It protected me from my fears, my sense of unworthiness. Rage gave me the high, the power —and masturbation was my anesthetic. They worked in tandem for years.

Each manifestation of addiction offers its own unique way of hooking people. Food offers solace to a child who is hungry for love or attention or to anyone who feels isolated and alone. Starving can be a way to become less and less visible, in order to hide from deep inner pain or from a flesh-and-blood abuser. Cocaine can make someone who usually feels helpless, powerless, and talentless feel powerful and capable instead. Marijuana can help a chronically anxious person relax and feel comfortable.

The Trauma/Addiction Cycle

As mentioned previously, addiction often encourages trauma, and trauma can encourage addiction. This process can become what is often called a vicious circle or a negative feedback loop, with trauma contributing to addiction, which in turn fuels more trauma, which encourages still more addiction, and so on.
Here are some examples of how this process plays out in peoples’ lives:


Brent grows up with a father who is highly critical and nothing that Brent does is ever good enough for him. He routinely compares Brent to his two older brothers, who are both excellent athletes and who consistently get high grades. (TRAUMA)
In contrast, Brent struggles in school, and Brent’s father repeatedly accuses him of being stupid and lazy. (TRAUMA) (Later, in his twenties, Brent discovers he has a learning disability.) Brent’s mom — a professional singer who is on the road most of the time — is distant, busy, and preoccupied. (TRAUMA) She leaves most of the child rearing to her husband.
In high school, Brent becomes part of a group of close friends who spend much of their time partying together. Together, they find solace in drinking and smoking weed. (USING DRUGS TO SELF-MEDICATE) Brent especially likes that they don’t have to please their parents or, at least, don’t try to. By the time Brent is twenty-five, he is addicted to alcohol and pills. (ADDICTION)
One night, as he drives home from a party with his buddy Gary, his car hits a patch of ice and spins out. Brent does his best to regain control of the car, but he has had four beers and his reaction time is slow. The car tumbles into a deep culvert. Gary breaks both legs (TRAUMA); Brent suffers a serious brain injury. (TRAUMA) He is put on pain pills, which only further fuel his out-of-control drug use. (ADDICTION)


At age fourteen, Jenna is raped by three assailants. (TRAUMA) Her parents report the crime to the police, but Jenna is terrified, ashamed, and in shock, and refuses to talk about it with anyone.
Soon after that, her attendance at school becomes sporadic. At age fifteen, she begins periodically cutting her arms with razor blades. By age sixteen she is using pills and by age eighteen, meth. (ADDICTION) By the time Jenna is twenty, most of her friends are fellow addicts. On her twenty-first birthday, her boyfriend sells her for sex to their dealer in exchange for drugs. (TRAUMA)


Kim grows up with a severely alcoholic father and a hypercritical mother. (TRAUMA) From the time Kim is in kindergarten, her mother is preoccupied with Kim’s size and weight.
Soon after Kim turns nine, her dad goes into rehab and stops drinking. A month after that, her mom reveals that she has had a longtime boyfriend, and runs off with him. (THE TRAUMA OF ABANDONMENT)

For the next eight months, Kim’s parents fight over her in an angry and acrimonious divorce. (TRAUMA)

At age fourteen, Kim finds herself exercising excessively to keep herself thin. About once a month, she binges on tons of junk food, then sticks her finger down her throat and vomits it up (Bulimia Nervosa).

She also begins to party hard – drinking excessively and taking large amounts of opiates. One night, when she is drunk, she passes out and is raped by several of the guys at the party. (TRAUMA) One of them posts a brief video of the rape on social media. (TRAUMA)
Kim’s humiliation, shame, and inability to reach out to parents continue. So do her partying, her bulimia, and her drug use. And so do the sexual assaults. (TRAUMA)
By age twenty-four, Kim uses heroin and alcohol addictively. (ADDICTION) By age thirty-one, she has tried to kill herself three times.

Where and How Do I Begin?

Trauma and its many consequences do not need to be a life sentence. Healing is possible. The most common question people ask at the beginning of their journey is “Where and how do I begin?” The answer is to begin with where you are and what you are willing and able to do.
 If you feel you need to take immediate action, this might mean finding a therapist or a recovery group or going to a treatment center. It might mean talking to someone you trust, a spiritual leader, a friend, your neighbor who attends twelve-step meetings, or an addiction counselor. It might mean a process of self-reflection and journaling. Often it is a combination.

Jordan, who was sexually abused repeatedly by family members as a child, begins by reading about substance addiction in families. Before she begins any personal work, she wants to understand the family dynamics of drug abuse and addiction. She intuitively knows she will eventually need to look at and heal the wounds of her sexual abuse; but she’s not ready to do that.

Michael used cocaine addictively and is now a Narcotics Anonymous member with five years of abstinence and recovery. Although he’s done a good deal of work addressing his addiction, he is only now beginning to slowly and gently probe his unhealed trauma. He decides to put his toes in the water by going to a Co-Dependency Anonymous meeting and reading about codependency.

Cecily has been receiving both cognitive behavior therapy and anti-depressants for her depression and anxiety. She now seeks out a trauma therapist skilled in EMDR.
It’s important to understand that if you are in active addiction you won’t get very far in your healing until you are addressing the addiction too. Active addiction sabotages any chances to experience long term healing from trauma.

More than anything you need not do this alone. Addiction and trauma are both about disconnection. Healing is about reconnection to self and the ability to allow other people to be there to help shine the light and provide hope when it’s hard to do that for yourself.

(Note: Part 2 will be featured April 2018)

Unspoken Legacy is available on Amazon.com

Claudia Black Ph.D. is a renowned addiction author, speaker and trainer — internationally recognized for her pioneering and contemporary work with family systems and addictive disorders. In addition, her groundbreaking treatment program at the Claudia Black Young Adult Center is focused on treating complex addiction and mental health issues faced by youth, ages 18-26. These young adults struggle with unresolved emotional trauma, addictions, or have a dual diagnosis. Because Claudia is passionate about helping young adults overcome obstacles and strengthening families, she remains actively involved with the treatment team, the patients, and their families.
She is also a Senior Fellow at The Meadows Treatment Center, the nation’s premier program for treating trauma, alcohol, sex and drug addiction, as well as panic and anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, codependency, depression, bipolar disorder and eating disorders. Visit https://www.claudiablack.com and https://www.themeadows.com. For immediate needs call 866-424-5476.

Update: AZ Advocacy

By Angie Geren

January 11th proved to be our most successful Addiction and Recovery Advocacy Day. Over 67 people met with their representatives and 35 confirmed meetings with individual legislators, Advocates, Senators, Representatives were scheduled. Discussions included Public Health Focused Addiction policy, what this would look like for Arizona and how it can help combat the opioid crisis in which we are currently entrenched.

Arizona is in a prime year for addiction and recovery advocacy as Governor Ducey declared a Public Health Emergency in June 2017 and his office and Department of Health Services have been working on recommendations that culminated into the Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act which was passed and signed into law, January 26, 2018. Arizona is the 41st state to have a Good Samaritan 911 law protecting people who call 911 for a drug overdose from being arrested, $10 million of that funding will be in the newly created Substance Use Disorder fund — used for those who are underinsured/uninsured, new prescribing guidelines, prevention education funds, and mandated medical professional education. Arizona seems poised to be on front lines of fighting this epidemic however there is so much more work to do. The provisions in the passed Act rely heavily on preventing on opioid addiction which is just a small piece of the puzzle.

What is Public Health Focused Addiction Policy?

  • Policy focusing on treating addiction instead of incarcerating;
  • Looks at the whole picture instead of individual symptoms;
  • Reduces stigma, thereby increasing the likelihood of people seeking treatment;
  • Protects the safety of people by seeing them as patients in need of assistance.
  • What can Arizona do if they truly wanted to have a robust policy that adequately treats addiction thru the health system instead of the criminal justice system? 
  • Pass HB2389 which would allow syringe access programs to operate;
  • Pass Sober Living Home Regulations and Pass a Ban on Patient Brokering;
  • Reject HB2241 which would create mandatory minimum prison sentences for heroin sales;
  • Continue to work with individuals and organizations focused on recovery to find innovative solutions and provide quality care;

We need your voice to join us. We are the ones who are most affected and have the story to help educate our legislators on what addiction really is and that recovery is possible. I encourage you to stay updated on the progress of these bills at www.addictionhaven.com/arizona-advocacy