Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Aren't All Lives Worth Saving?

Something's been bothering me for the last month and I finally decided to put it "out there" and, hopefully, see what other people think.

On March 31st it was announced that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)--the body of the U.S. government that regulates automobile safety--would require rearview cameras in all cars by 2018.

According to the article I read in the Detroit Free Press, "On average, there are 210 fatalities and 15,000 injuries caused by back-over crashes each year, and more than half involve children under the age of 5 or adults age 70 or older, the [NHTSA] said." I'm all for saving human lives, so I think requiring this technology on all cars is a great idea.

But when I read a little further in the same article, I read this: "By requiring all vehicles to be equipped with [rearview cameras], NHTSA estimated automakers can prevent between 13 and 15 deaths and as many as 1,300 injuries annually." That's when I started thinking.

Here we have a United States government agency mandating auto manufacturers to include technology on all of their cars in order to save an estimated 13 to 15 lives a year. The car companies have no say in this matter. They have to do it. Consumers have no say in this matter either. Any car purchased in 2018 or beyond will have a rearview camera as standard equipment. It doesn't matter how much money it costs the automakers to add the camera or how much money it adds to the price of the vehicle. This is an NHTSA mandate and that's that.

Like I said earlier, I value all human lives. And we should do anything we can to save them. But here's what irks me.

The government is mandating every automobile company out there to comply with a regulation that will save about 14 lives a year. Meanwhile, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Drug Overdose in the United States: Fact Sheet:

"Deaths from drug overdose have been rising steadily over the past two decades and have become the leading cause of injury death in the United States. Every day in the United States, 105 people die as a result of drug overdose, and another 6,748 are treated in emergency departments (ED) for the misuse or abuse of drugs. Nearly 9 out of 10 poisoning deaths are caused by drugs."

Simply put, drug overdoses now kill more people in the United States annually than motor vehicle crashes.

My point is not that preventing 14 deaths a year by requiring backup cameras in cars is a bad idea. My point is that the government should be doing more to reduce the number of lives lost to drug overdoses each year.

Again, according to that CDC fact sheet:

"In 2010, 30,006 (78%) of the 38,329 drug overdose deaths in the United States were unintentional, 5,298 (14%) of suicidal intent, and 2,963 (8%) were of undetermined intent."

More than 30,000 deaths from unintentional drug overdoses in 2010. THIRTY THOUSAND. And that was four years ago. You can bet that number is higher now. Yet the government still drags its heels when it comes to working to reduce that startling figure. Where is the sense of urgency to save those lives?

A Drug Policy Alliance fact sheet entitled The Drug Control Budget came out in February of this year. Here's an excerpt from that fact sheet (the bold-facing of some text is my doing):

"The Obama administration says that drug use should be treated as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue. Yet its budget and its drug policies have largely emphasized enforcement, prosecution and incarceration at home, and interdiction, eradication and military escalation abroad. Even what the government does spend on treatment and prevention is overstated, as many of its programs are wasteful and counterproductive. 

The federal drug war budget totaled roughly $25 billion in 2013, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has requested an even larger budget for 2014. An additional $25 billion is spent at the state and local levels on the drug war every year.

A significant majority of this annual budget--nearly 60 percent--is devoted to policies that attempt to reduce the supply of drugs, such as interdiction, eradication and domestic law enforcement. Only 40 percent is devoted to treatment, education and prevention--what is commonly known as 'demand reduction.' Almost nothing is spent on life-saving harm reduction services.

The 2014 budget request is no different. It contains the same basic ratio of supply-to-demand – nearly 60:40. These distorted funding priorities have not changed significantly under the last several administrations.

Supply reduction efforts have proven ineffective, costly and destructive, and have distracted from proven strategies to reduce the harms of drug misuse. Despite incarcerating tens of millions of people and spending more than a trillion dollars in the past forty years, drugs remain cheap, potent and widely available."

That information is pretty eye-opening, don't you think?

So why isn't the government going all out to help save 30,000 lives a year? Where are the "rearview cameras" for the people dying from drug overdoses? Where is the money for adequate treatment, education, and prevention efforts? Why do we continue spending so much money on the ineffective "War on Drugs," prosecution, and incarceration of drug users? Sending people to jail for using drugs doesn't help them. Treatment does.

In a "Sober Conversations" podcast interview with Gary Mendell--the founder of and a father who lost a son to an addiction-related suicide--Dr. Herby Bell asked a great question:

"We've got end-stage kidney disease where hemodialysis is necessary. We see dialysis units on more and more corners of America because people need this to sustain their lives. . . . Why aren't [we] seeing places called 'recovery health centers' in every metropolitan market so that people can have less barrier to entry and receive the care they need--from acute to managed care--over the course of time, so that the capital outlay isn't as much but people are getting the managed care that they need? Why isn't that showing up?"

Gary Mendell's answer was hopeful:

"To transition to the country that you just laid out, to an America where there are these health centers, very prevalent so people can access them, we now have the legislation in place with the Parity Act and the Affordable Care Act . . . It now has to be implemented. . . .The legislation is now there. But people need to know about it and it needs to happen."

Maybe, just maybe, if the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act and the Affordable Care Act can both kick into high gear, things will start to change and lives will start to be saved. Let's hope so, because there are far too many people dying from a disease that is treatable. The government needs to wake up and attack the problem properly.

Let me know your thoughts on this subject by commenting below.


P.S. I also believe the government should be requiring more safeguards and responsibility from pharmaceutical manufacturers and monitoring/limiting how many prescriptions doctors write for potentially addictive drugs; especially opioid pain relievers. The fact that teenagers go to the dentist to get a couple of teeth pulled and often times walk out of the office with a prescription for Vicodin is troubling to me. But that's for another blog post.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Grateful for Another Opportunity

I'm so happy to share the news that I will be heading to New York City the weekend of June 20th to undergo training in Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) through The Partnership at and the Center for Motivation and Change (CMC). CRAFT is a skills-based program "designed specifically to empower family members. It teaches them how to take control of their lives, and as part of this process to change their interactions with the substance user in ways that promote positive behavioral change."

CRAFT is used by the CMC in their system of treatment and is the foundation for their fabulous book Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change.

I will be training with nine other parent volunteers. When our training is complete, we will perform "CRAFT-Based Peer Support" as members of the Partnership's Parent Support Network. In a nutshell, this means that we will be helping other parents whose children are battling addiction.

This is yet another opportunity for me to do more in the addiction/recovery field, which I'm so passionate about. I am beyond grateful and honored to have been chosen to participate in this training and to become a Parent Support Network Coach.

Life is good.

"We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give." ― Winston Churchill

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Poem (of Sorts) in My Pocket

Today is "Poem in Your Pocket Day," which is part of National Poetry Month. On Poem in Your Pocket Day, people are supposed to select a poem, carry it with them, and share it with others throughout the day.

Here's a little known fact: I carry a poem in my pocket--actually in my wallet--EVERY day. It's a poem my son wrote and posted online on April 3, 2007. It's entitled "A Poem of Sorts." I don't even think he knows I saw it, let alone printed it out and stuck it in my wallet.

The poem is biographical, deeply personal, dark, and self-deprecating (but not at all in a humorous way). I remember crying when I read the poem for the first time; it broke my heart and made me so sad to read how my depressed and addicted son felt about himself.

I decided to print the poem out and carry it with me to remind myself that my son had strong feelings about himself. They were torturously negative feelings, but they were his feelings. I think the poem, as upsetting as it was to me, validated my son's actions in a way. It made me realize that there was a firestorm of activity going on inside his brain and made me understand--at least a little bit--why he was doing some of the things he was doing. It might sound crazy, but having that poem in my wallet brought me a little closer to my son and his condition.

More than seven years later, I still carry the poem in my wallet. As my son approaches 22 months of sobriety, "A Poem of Sorts" now serves a different purpose: it's become a reminder of how bleak things were for my son and how far he has come on his journey. It also reminds me to appreciate every single day of my son's sobriety and happiness, and to live in the moment. Because today is really all we have.

Yes, today is Poem in Your Pocket Day. And you're supposed to share the poem you have in your pocket with others. But I'm keeping mine to myself.

"If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry." --Emily Dickinson

Monday, April 21, 2014

Powdered Alcohol: A Disaster Waiting to Happen

Over the weekend I saw a link on Facebook to a post on Gawker talking about a new powdered alcohol product called "Palcohol." To be totally honest, I thought the post was a joke. Maybe a gag left over from April Fool's Day. But upon further review, I soon discovered it wasn't a joke. Palcohol was indeed a real product and the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau had just approved it.

WTF? Seriously???? I was beyond outraged when I found this out.

I was even more outraged when I looked at the cached version of Palcohol's website. The version that was up on the web for everyone to see before the government approved the product, but which was quickly edited to a "nicer" version after approval was granted. It's almost like the company wasn't expecting government approval. Unfortunately, that cached page has vanished now. But I took screenshots of it before it went bye-bye:

I don't know if the above photos will open large enough so that you can read them, but let me help you out with some of the wonderful things said on that page.

The initial text on the page says: "Palcohol...because liquid alcohol isn't always convenient." The text then goes on to say, "Imagine the possibilities" and proceeds to list seven things. Among them:

2. Maybe you're a college football fan. So many stadiums don't even serve alcohol. What's that about; watching football without drinking?! That's almost criminal. Bring Palcohol in and enjoy the game.


5. Have you ever gone to a movie theater and wished you had a drink? I know!


6. We've been talking about drinks so far. But we have found that adding Palcohol to food is so much fun. Sprinkle Palcohol on almost any dish and give it an extra kick. Some of our favorites are the Kamikaze in guacamole, Rum on a BBQ sandwich, Cosmo on a salad and Vodka on your eggs in the morning to start your day off right. Experiment. Palcohol is great on so many foods. Remember, you have to add Palcohol AFTER a dish is cooked as the alcohol will burn off if you cook with it...and that defeats the whole purpose.

And the final item in the list...

7. Let's talk about the elephant in the room...snorting Palcohol. Yes, you can snort it. And you'll get drunk almost instantly because the alcohol will be absorbed so quickly in your nose. Good idea? No. It will mess you up. Use Palcohol responsibly.

Nice "possibilities," huh? Here's the way I interpret the items I listed:

1.) Use Palcohol so you can drink where you ordinarily wouldn't be able to.

2.) Use Palcohol on food items so you can get drunk while you eat and no one will notice.

3.) Palcohol can be snorted. (Sure, they're saying it's not a good idea; but they already let the cat out of the bag.)

When I went to the Palcohol Facebook page and posted what I thought of their product, I got a very interesting response. You won't be able to see it on their Facebook page, because they deleted it shortly after I posted it, but again...Here's a screenshot that I think you'll be able to read:

So, the original wording on their website was "just a draft and not meant as our message." Oh, really? That kind of surprises me since the website--and the initial copy that went along with it--was out there for everyone to see while the government was deciding whether or not to approve the product. It was only after approval--and after Gawker called them out on it--that Palcohol changed the text on their website.

What bothers me most about the original words on the Palcohol site is the flippant tone of the message, which is pretty much--in my opinion--"Look at the ways you can use this stuff to get yourself messed up in ways you really shouldn't."

Enough with the company, though. I "get" that this is America and that people have a right to dream and create products in hopes of striking it rich. And to a lot of people and businesses it doesn't matter if you end up screwing people up or killing them in the process. Like Puff Daddy said, "It's all about the Benjamins." That's sad, but so true.

What gets me incredibly pissed off about this whole Palcohol thing is that a United States government agency approved it. Maybe it's just another "alcoholic beverage" to them. But I wonder if anyone actually stopped to think about the opportunities for misuse and abuse that this product brings to the table.

I can see people--and by people I mean those of legal drinking age AND minors, because I think this product will have loads of appeal with teenagers--adding this crap to their already alcoholic drinks. "Hey, let's see what happens when we add Kamikaze to a beer!" Let's face it: a lot of kids will think of this product as a novelty, a sort of alcoholic Kool-Aid; and they will experiment with it.

I can also see people using it on food as a way of disguising the fact that they're "drinking." Kids could take this stuff to a high school football game, sprinkle it on their hot dog or nachos, and voila! They're getting drunk without anyone noticing it.

And what about people sprinkling this garbage on other people's food and in other people's drinks...without their knowledge? Did anyone on the government bureau think of that possibility when considering whether or not to approve Palcohol?

Perhaps the most disturbing possible misuse/abuse of this product is people snorting it. Snorting a drug--even powdered alcohol--is a quick and easy way to get it into your blood stream for a maximum high. That's why some people snort heroin, or cocaine, or crushed up prescription pain killers. The dangers of snorting this powdered alcohol would be huge. Quite simply, alcohol is not meant to be snorted. And again, I realize the Palcohol people are saying not to snort their product (wink, wink); but they certainly put it "out there," didn't they? (FYI: One person posted in a Facebook thread last night that if they were still using they would probably inject Palcohol.)

I could go on and on about this shit. (Pardon my language, but that's what this stuff is: shit.) There are so many products already on the market that are trying to grab hold of teens and get them to drink (think flavored vodkas, for example). Do we really need yet another product to entice our young people and possibly lead them down a wrong path? I think not.

Because I so strongly disapprove of this powdered alcohol product, I've done a couple of things.

1. I've started a petition to try and convince the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to reconsider their approval of Palcohol. I know this is an uphill battle, especially since the approval has already been given. But you can't change anything if you don't try, so I'm at least trying. I started the petition yesterday and 189 people have signed it as of the time I'm writing this post. That doesn't sound like very many, but I'm hoping people will share the petition on their Facebook pages, tweet it to their Twitter followers, and email it to their friends and relatives. If you agree that Palcohol is a garbage product with potentially awful "side effects" for society, please sign the petition and share it. (Note: Every time someone signs the petition, an email is sent to the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.)

2. I've also started a Facebook page called "We Oppose Palcohol." As I type this post, the page has 75 "Likes." Again, not many. But if you're on Facebook and like the page, then share it with everyone you know, maybe we can bump that number up a bit. There is definitely strength in numbers.

If you think a campaign like this can't be successful, please think again. I worked hard on a campaign to get Urban Outfitters to stop selling prescription-drug-related merchandise in their stores and on their website; and it worked. I also worked tirelessly on a campaign to get a Los Angeles boutique to stop selling jerseys with the names of commonly abused prescription drugs on the back of them; and it worked.

Sometimes if enough people make enough noise, they can change things. So how 'bout you come make some noise with me? Let the Palcohol people know what you think of their product and see if you can get yourself blocked from their Facebook and Twitter pages, too. And sign and share my petition, and like and share my We Oppose Palcohol Facebook page. Together, maybe we can at least shake things up a bit.

Thanks in advance.


UPDATE (4/21/14, 8:21pm)

News broke late today that the previously issued government approvals for Palcohol "were issued in error." That came from Tom Hogue, a representative of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. However, no further details were released. The Palcohol people seem to think it's just a matter of having to resubmit labels. But that's not clear. In any case, I believe we need to keep fighting this powdered alcohol product. This means continuing to sign and share the petition and Facebook page. We can't assume this product is "dead." Because it may just be delayed.

Click on this link to read an Associated Press article about the erroneous Palcohol approvals (via ABC News).

"It's the action, not the fruit of the action, that's important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there'll be any fruit. But that doesn't mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result." --Mahatma Gandhi

I have no words.

An Interview with...Me

I was very humbled when Cathy Taughinbaugh--the amazing woman behind the website Cathy Taughinbaugh: Finding Peace After Addiction--asked to interview me a couple of weeks ago.

Who, me? Really??? Of course I agreed to do it. It was a great opportunity to get some of my thoughts out to a wider audience; and get some excellent publicity for this blog.

Cathy is highly respected in the area of addiction and recovery and she does great things. It was an honor to be interviewed by her. You can read the interview at the link below. After you read it, please check out the rest of Cathy's site. It's full of great information and super helpful resources.

How One Father Survived His Son's Addiction: Meet Dean Dauphinais


Final "Beyond Addiction" Book Winner

Hi, all. My apologies for not announcing the final winner in the Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change giveaway until now. I got caught up in cooking/eating Easter dinner with my family last evening.

The winner this week is Kathy E. I will email her today and send her book out to her.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the drawings for this wonderful book. And a big thank-you again to the great people at the Center for Motivation and Change for donating the books.

Again, I highly recommend Beyond Addiction to anyone who has a loved one going through addiction. I think it could be your life preserver.

I will leave you with one simple line from the final section of the book, entitled "Live Your Life":

"You don't have to deny the problem at hand in order to take care of yourself and enjoy other parts of your life."


Friday, April 18, 2014

Last Chance to Win "Beyond Addiction"

When the Center for Motivation and Change sent me four copies of their fabulous book Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change, my initial plan was to give away one copy each week in April.

I've given away two copies already, and this week I'll draw a name at random for copy number three. But I have decided not to give away the fourth copy on my blog. Instead, I am going do what my friend Ron Grover--a fellow Partnership at National Parent Partner and author of the terrific blog "An Addict in Our Son's Bedroom"--did with his extra copy of the book: I am going to donate it to my local library.

I live in a community that, for the most part, likes to pretend it doesn't have a drug problem. Unfortunately, I know differently. My son was a part of this community and walked just a few blocks from our house, across the Detroit border, to buy his heroin. He bought pot from someone in our community. And when he first started using drugs he told my wife and me that he could buy any drug he wanted from kids at school.

Just because people in my community don't want to acknowledge or talk about our drug problem doesn't mean it doesn't exist. So maybe my last copy of Beyond Addiction will be able to help a parent who is experiencing something they feel they have no one to talk to about. Maybe someone who has a loved one struggling with drug or alcohol abuse will go to the library looking for help and actually be able to find some.

In any case, this week's drawing--which will take place on Sunday evening--will be the last chance you have to win a copy of Beyond Addiction on my blog. If you want to put your name in the hat, send me an email through my blog using the "Contact Form" that appears in the column on the right-hand side of my blog (between the "Most Popular Posts" and "Blogs I Follow" sections). If you entered any of the previous drawings, you are already entered for the final drawing; but you can get a "bonus" entry by emailing me again.

Thanks to everyone who has participated; to the Center for Motivation and Change for donating the books; and to Ron Grover for the idea of giving a copy of the book to my local library.

I will wrap up this blog post with a couple of lists from Beyond Addiction. Both of these appear in the book's introduction, which is entitled "Hope in Hell."

Ten Evidence-Based Reasons to Have Hope

1. You can help.

2. Helping yourself helps.

3. Your loved one isn't crazy.

4. The world isn't black-and-white.

5. Labels do more harm than good.

6. Different people need different options.

7. Treatment isn't the be-all and end-all.

8. Ambivalence is normal.

9. People can be helped at anytime.

10. Life is a series of experiments.

And, finally, what I consider to be a great list for anyone, whether you have a loved one with a substance abuse problem or not. In fact, I printed out a copy of this list and stuck it in my wallet:

Things You Can Change

How comfortable you are right now
How optimistic you are in general
What behaviors you encourage
How much you argue
How often you smile
How much you sleep
How strong you feel
Your habitual reactions
Your tone of voice
What you pay attention to
Your point of view
The atmosphere in your home
How isolated you feel
How you deal with stress
How much you worry
Your heart rate
How you spend your money
How you express concern
What substances you use
How you help
How you get help
What kind of help you get
The first thing you do when you wake up in the morning
Whether anything good happens today
How much you enjoy life

That last one is a doozy. I suggest we all remember it.


"We're optimistic because the evidence supports many ways to help, and we're optimistic because there's plenty of evidence that optimism helps. People don't try what they don't think they can do. This book is about what you can do." --From the introduction of Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Can Help People Change

(Note: Excerpts from Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change are Copyright © 2014 by Psychological Motivation and Change Group, PLLC. All rights reserved.)

Monday, April 14, 2014

My Wife Shares Her Story with Heroes in Recovery

Just a quick post to let you know that my amazing wife has shared her story--actually a "Top 10" list--on the Heroes in Recovery website.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that my wife is my rock. I couldn't have navigated through our son's addiction without her help. It was a team effort, but she was definitely the team captain. I'll never be able to thank her enough.

To read her story, just click on this link:

Read my wife's story of recovery here.

Also, if you have a story of recovery to share--either your own or a loved one's; or how you recovered from a loved one's addiction--please contact me through my blog. I can walk you through the process of getting your story published in the "Heroic Stories" section of the Heroes in Recovery site. I will even do a phone interview with you and write your story for you if you'd like.

Real recovery begins with real stories from real people. Let your story help someone who needs it.


"The greatest marriages are built on teamwork. A mutual respect, a healthy dose of admiration, and a never-ending portion of love and grace." --Fawn Weaver

My beautiful wife (hiding under a cool hat she made for my nephew, who loves fishing). 

"Beyond Addiction" Book Giveaway: #3 of 4

This is the third of four chances to win your very own copy of the Center for Motivation and Change's fabulous new book, Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change.

While reading this book, I wondered how my situation with my son might've been different if I had even a few of the tools outlined in its pages available to me at the time. Hindsight is 20/20, but I think things in our family--especially early on--would've been much calmer if Beyond Addiction was around seven or eight years ago.

To get in on this week's drawing, send me an email via the "Contact Form" that appears in the column on the right-hand side of my blog (between the "Most Popular Posts" and "Blogs I Follow" sections). Simply tell me you want to be in the drawing. At the end of the week (Sunday evening), I will put the names of all the entrants into a bowl and choose a winner at random.

One more thing: If you entered a previous drawing and didn't win, I will leave your name in the bowl for the next two drawings. But you can also email me again and get an extra entry in the next drawing. It's a little "loyalty bonus."

(Note: I understand that some of you may be reluctant to share your name and email address with me, but it's the only way I can get in touch with you to let you know if you've won. I assure you that I will not share your information with any individuals or organizations.)

Now, on to this week's excerpts from Beyond Addiction.

Today I want to share excerpts from two chapters of the book: Chapter 10--entitled "Reinforcement: The Driver of Change"; and chapter 11--entitled "Consequences." Believe me, there is so much thought-provoking information in this book that it's very difficult to choose what to share. So I'm really just pulling out highlights that I think will give you a taste of what Beyond Addiction is all about. The book goes into way more detail on these topics.

That said, here's some content from the "Reinforcement" chapter:

"Reinforcing constructive, non-substance-related behavior is the core strategy of CRAFT [Community Reinforcement and Family Training]. You can choose to respond to your loved one's positive, nonusing behaviors in a way that will increase the likelihood of these behaviors reoccurring. At the same time, you can choose how to respond to his negative behaviors, including but not limited to substance use, in a way that reinforces it or not.

"The two most powerful things you can do to help promote change are:
  1. Reward your loved one for positive behavior.
  2. Ignore or withdraw a reward for negative behavior."
"Reinforcement is happening between people every second, consciously or unconsciously, planned or unplanned, with more and less positive results. We are social creatures and we influence each other in every interaction we have, whether we mean to or not, and whether or not we succeed in the ways we meant to. . . .If reinforcement is happening all the time anyway, why not harness it to change things for the better?

"Currently, you may find yourself in a cycle of punishment, nagging your loved one to stop using, giving him the silent treatment, slamming things around, yelling, and so on. Unfortunately, these (understandable) responses create a negative reinforcement loop. As you carry your distress around with you and fixate on the problem, you naturally end up nagging, withdrawing, and otherwise punishing . . . even during the times when he is not using. Still mad about the last time he was high, you’re punishing him two days later. The situation often deteriorates to the point where people with substance problems get the same punishing reaction from those who are worried about them whether they are intoxicated or sober, using or not.

"Not only does this pattern not work to decrease the substance use, it can indirectly influence your loved one’s decision to continue using. Seeing that he gets yelled at when he uses and yelled at when he doesn’t use, he may decide to go and use because 'it doesn’t make a difference anyway.' Meanwhile, the substance itself continues to have a powerful reinforcing effect on your loved one and his choice to use. Reinforcement got you into this loop--and it can get you out."

And from the "Consequences" chapter:

"Reinforcement is the currency of behavior change. On one side of the coin is positive reinforcement: rewarding your loved one’s healthy, connected, constructive, and sober behavior--the strategy of the previous chapter. In this chapter we look at the other side, or what to do with the behavior you don’t want. What can you do when there seems to be nothing to reward--when he comes home high, or she sleeps through her alarm, or he turns loud and belligerent after too many drinks at a family dinner?

"You can apply the same principles of reinforcement, but in reverse. That is, just as you paired positive behavior with positive consequences to encourage it, negative behavior paired with negative consequences will discourage it. The combination of these strategies is more powerful than either alone. Negative behaviors don’t simply vanish by themselves; they tend to come up even during the process of positive change. It takes time to learn to stay sober instead of using, to work out instead of stressing out, to go home instead of going all night. Given a mix of behavior that you don’t want and behavior that you do, it helps to learn to work with both to effect change."

"Families that we work with usually fall into one of two camps. Some are reluctant to let their loved one have any negative experience, while others think their loved one is 'getting away' with too much, or 'has it too easy,' and isn’t experiencing negative consequences enough. While both of these perspectives are understandable, neither is particularly accurate or helpful. People learn from negative consequences, and it’s helpful to let them do so (within reason). On the other hand, even if you and others have been insulating your loved one from the negative effects of his behavior, swinging the opposite way to punishment isn’t the best strategy either. You can suppress behavior with punishment, but this doesn’t eliminate it; it usually just goes underground."

Allowing Natural Consequences

"With this strategy for dealing with behavior you don't want, you don't do anything, but just step out of the way and allow it to happen. . . .Allowing natural consequences channels, or rather avoids diverting, any negative consequences to maximize their naturally deterring effects. Even more than withdrawing rewards, allowing consequences helps your loved one understand his behavior as his choice. He learns that changing his behavior is his choice, as opposed to something you are pushing on him all the time.

"Natural consequences are the direct outcomes of your loved one’s substance use that he would experience if no one interfered. They’re the costs he naturally incurs by using. They can be emotional costs, such as depression, anger, shame, or feeling out of control; physical costs such as sleep disruptions, agitation, or injuries; and what we call structural costs: loss of relationships, financial problems, legal problems, and so forth. The costs of using may range in severity from mild headaches or embarrassments to deep shame and major deprivations like getting fired or losing custody of a child.

"For most people, using or overusing substances results in negative consequences that pretty quickly convince them to limit use to moderation or no use at all. For most people, the costs just don't seem worth it. For others, the benefits of using are greater and/or more numerous, and the negative consequences are fewer and/or less--because their brains are more rewarded by a substance, or life feels more painful to them in one way or another that a substance relieves, or their social group uses more heavily, or any of the other reasons people use. But you would not be reading this book if there were not also significant negative consequences to your loved one's use, and the goal here is to let those consequences speak for themselves. In cost-benefit terms, you aim to not get in the way of or prevent the costs from occurring."

Definitely food for thought, right? I wish someone had fed this information to me years ago!

Thanks again to the Center for Motivation and Change for sending me books to give away. If you're interested in winning your own copy, shoot me an email. Good luck!

(Note: Excerpts from Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change are Copyright © 2014 by Psychological Motivation and Change Group, PLLC. All rights reserved.)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

This Week's "Beyond Addiction" Book Winner

Congrats to Jessica V., whose name was randomly selected as this week's winner of a copy of Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change

Check back here on Monday for another excerpt from the book and another chance to win a copy. I have two more copies to give away!


Cooking Dinner for Men in Recovery

Today I am cooking dinner for 15 or so men who live in a local sober living house. The house is supported by a great organization called Families Against Narcotics (FAN) and was started one of the group's founding members. It's a safe place for men seeking recovery in a 12-step program.

This sober living house isn't one my son lived in, but that doesn't matter to me. Cooking dinner for a bunch of guys who are working the program is no big deal to me. I am grateful that my son is in long-term recovery and will do anything I can to help--not enable--others who have chosen to go down the recovery path. Sober living played such a key role in my son getting clean and sober. This is my way of giving back.

So I'm about to throw 12 seasoned chicken breasts on the grill, and when they're done I will proceed with making chicken enchiladas and Mexican style rice and beans. Throw in some chips and salsa and some cookies for dessert and the guys will be all set.

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” --Muhammad Ali

Phase one, underway.

Monday, April 7, 2014

My Latest Blog Post for Heroes in Recovery

I feel like it's been raining cats and blogs lately.

My latest blog post for the Heroes in Recovery website went live today. It's called "Getting 'Stuck' as a Result of Addiction," and in it I discuss my son's addiction and how I think it negatively impacted his maturation.

To my knowledge, there isn't any scientific proof that young people get "stuck" emotionally at the age they are when they start using drugs. But many experts subscribe to the theory. And from what I've experienced with my son, I believe it to be true.

If you get a chance, go check out my blog at Heroes in Recovery--this is the direct link--and let me know your thoughts on the subject by leaving a comment over there. You can also give the post a rating by clicking on the little stars at the bottom of the blog. (The star you click on is the rating you give it.)

Finally, if you'd like to share your story of recovery on the Heroes in Recovery website, please get in touch with me and I will help you through the process. Or you can share your story directly through the website. If you go that route, please mention at the start of your story that Dean referred you.


"Beyond Addiction" Book Giveaway: #2 of 4

Welcome to the second of four chances to win your very own copy of the Center for Motivation and Change's fabulous new book, Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change.

I truly love this book and encourage you to read it, whether you win a copy through my blog or not. Beyond Addiction is based on CRAFT--Community Reinforcement and Family Training--the research-supported, evidence-based, clinically proven approach to helping families of substance abusers. Is there a good chance that you'll find the CRAFT approach radically different than everything you've heard before? Yes. But when you read about it and give it a chance to sink it, it starts to make a lot of sense.

To get in on this week's drawing, send me an email via the "Contact Form" that appears in the column on the right-hand side of my blog (between the "Most Popular Posts" and "Blogs I Follow" sections). Simply tell me you want to be in the drawing. At the end of the week (Sunday evening), I will put the names of all the entrants into a hat--actually, it's a mixing bowl from IKEA--and choose a winner at random.

Oh, one more thing. Here's a new little twist I decided to add to the rules: If you entered a previous drawing and didn't win, I will leave your name in the IKEA mixing bowl for upcoming drawings. But you can also email me again and get an extra entry in the next drawing. It's a little "loyalty bonus."

(Note: I understand that some of you may be reluctant to share your name and email address with me, but it's the only way I can get in touch with you to let you know if you've won. I assure you that I will not share your information with any individuals or organizations.)

Now, on to this week's excerpt from Beyond Addiction.

This excerpt comes from the "Start Where They Are" chapter in the "How to Help" section of the book. It talks about why staying calm is better than yelling when communicating with your loved one.

Setting the Stage

(An Invitation to) Stop Yelling

"The tone you take with your loved one has an impact, often more than the words you use. Our number-one recommendation: Stop yelling. It is our version of the Hippocratic Oath--'First, do no harm'--a deceptively simple instruction but one that our clients often say is the hardest thing to change even when they understand why they should.

"You may find yourself yelling with the hope of discouraging your partner from coming home late and intoxicated, or any number of other reasons. What may not be so obvious is that yelling may undercut his motivation to come home sober, if to him it means 'This is what I come home to.' Similarly, yelling may be your desperate effort to communicate your despair and pain ('You always do this; you never change') but what you may be inadvertently communicating is that you don’t believe your partner is capable of change, which he may take as a reason not to bother. While yelling may sometimes achieve your goals, it almost always makes you the bad guy, the one with the yelling problem. The takeaway of an interaction in which you yelled will most likely be how mean and out of control you are rather than what your loved one could do differently.

"In a fascinating study, researchers discovered that a single act of confrontation by a therapist resulted in increased alcohol consumption by patients twelve months later. You are not a therapist, but the reasons harsh words don’t work are the same at home."

And some more:

"It is a lot to ask of you to be nice, flexible, and collaborative at times like this. It may seem like too much, until you see how it works. We’re not asking you to stuff your real feelings about your loved one’s substance use. We want you to express your feelings--your true feelings, and your whole feelings. But we want to teach you to express your feelings in ways and places that will be constructive for you. Ask yourself if yelling (or cold-shouldering, belittling, hectoring, and any other expression of hostility) has worked in the past--to change anything or to make you feel better beyond that moment. If you’ve run that experiment and seen the results, it might be time to try something different.

"We don’t expect that you’ll never yell again. We present this as an absolute because we hope that having a clear, simple intention will help anchor you when the water gets choppy. The chapter on positive communication to come will show you in detail what you can do instead of yell. The point here is that positive communication depends on your trying not to yell, and on being able to stop once you’ve started. Yelling less is better than yelling more. We invite you to approach each interaction as a fresh opportunity to not yell, regardless of what came before it."

Amen. While dealing with my son's addiction over the years, I finally came to realize that yelling is definitely not the right approach. If you're a "yeller"--and believe me, it's an easy trap to fall into--you might want to consider a fresh approach.

Words of wisdom, for sure. Having a loved one who is suffering from addiction is not easy. Beyond Addiction, I believe, can make it easier.

Thanks again to the Center for Motivation and Change for sending me books to give away. If you're interested in winning your own copy, shoot me an email. Good luck!

(Note: Excerpts from Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change are Copyright © 2014 by Psychological Motivation and Change Group, PLLC. All rights reserved.)

"First, do no harm."

Sunday, April 6, 2014

First Book Giveaway Winner

Congratulations to Sandy S., who was the randomly selected winner of this week's copy of Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change.

I've emailed Sandy and will send her book out as soon as I get her mailing address.

Check back here this upcoming week (week of April 7th) for another excerpt from the book and another chance to win. Remember: I'll be giving away a copy of the book each week in April.


The Greatest High School on Earth

(Note: A version of this blog post appears on The Huffington Post's blog site as "How a Change in Schools Transformed My ADHD Son's Educational Path.")

This post has absolutely nothing to do with my older son and his addiction/recovery. But it has everything to do with my younger son and an amazing place that I now routinely refer to as "The Greatest High School on Earth." A place that has been a huge part of my family's overall recovery.

When my wife and I walked into the Leelanau School's academic building on March 21st to get our schedule for parent-teacher conferences, they handed us a pack of graduation announcements. My first thoughts were, "Graduation announcements? Are you kidding me??" I felt like I was dreaming. But I wasn't. This was really happening. And I got a bit choked up.

Our relationship with the Leelanau School, a strength-based experiential high school for boys and girls who simply learn differently--especially those with dyslexia, ADD, ADHD, and similar learning differences--began in August of 2012. It was the summer between our son's sophomore and junior years, and my wife and I were looking for an alternative learning environment for him.

Our son has ADHD and anxiety, and had spent 9th and 10th grade at our local public high school. While this high school is consistently rated as one of the best high schools in the United States, it was not a good fit for our child and his circumstances. Even with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in place, school was pretty much a disaster for him. The school would give our son "accommodations"--extra time to take tests, the ability to turn homework in late, etc. But he was still being taught in mainstream classrooms, often times with 30 or more kids. He did not get the individualized attention he needed. As our son so eloquently put it one day, "What difference does it make if I get extra time to take tests if I don't know what I'm doing?"

My wife and I decided we did not want to send our son back to the same high school. We knew he was capable of performing so much better academically. Sure, the local school is known for high test scores and having students go on to prestigious colleges and universities. But if you aren't a "normal" learner, none of that matters. In fact, if you're not a normal learner you tend to get lost in the shuffle and--I hate to say it--kind of forgotten. Not only were our son's grades suffering, but the whole experience was making him more anxious. It was incredibly frustrating for all of us.

Enter the Leelanau School in Glen Arbor, Michigan. Just before our son's junior year was to begin, we arranged to visit the school and made the five-and-a-half-hour drive from our home in metro Detroit to the school's beautiful campus on Lake Michigan in Leelanau County. In addition to meeting with the director of admissions and the director of personal growth and development, we were given a tour of the campus by a super friendly alum.

We learned that the school's strengths lie in their dedicated faculty and small, supportive boarding school environment. Their mission? "To support the discovery of individual potential through academic, physical, and personal development of students who learn differently."

We also saw some cool things. Like dogs. Not just a couple of dogs. Lots of dogs. And not just dogs roaming around outside the school buildings, but dogs roaming around inside the school buildings. It turns out that lots of the school's faculty and administrators have dogs, and they are free to make themselves at home at the school. The therapeutic qualities of animals is something the school believes in.

They also believe in sustainability, which is why they have their own greenhouse and chickens, to grow produce and get eggs for use in cafeteria meals. Lastly--but certainly not least--the campus is astonishingly beautiful. I mean jaw-dropping beautiful. It sits on acres and acres of heavily wooded land with the Crystal River running right through the middle of it. It also has its own private Lake Michigan beach. Truly an idyllic setting snuggled up against the "Most Beautiful Place in America."

While we were driving back home after our visit, our son stated so eloquently: "I think this school could change my life."

And change his life it has.

Our son has gone from feeling "lost" in school to feeling welcome. From getting poor grades to getting excellent grades. And from not wanting to go to school to absolutely loving it. He has blossomed into an excellent student, developed lifelong friendships with fellow students from around the world, and done things he never would've done in public school, like performing in plays; playing music and singing in front of crowds; writing songs; performing slam poetry for his senior project; and even dying his hair blue at one point.

He has done these things because he feels comfortable in his environment; an environment where all the students like and support each other and where teachers and administrators give the individualized attention students like our son need. It's more like a large family than a school. The staff members recognize that kids have different learning styles and work extremely hard to maximize every students' potential. They don't just teach the kids; they help them grow and mature as individuals, develop life skills and independence, and prepare for the next chapter in their lives.

Speaking of that next chapter, our son found out a week or so ago that he was accepted to Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I can't begin to tell you how proud my wife and I are of him. I can also honestly say that this never would've happened if it weren't for the Leelanau School. They've taken a once-struggling student with lots of potential, tapped into that potential, and shaped him into a "different" kid...all while letting him keep the unique qualities and personality traits that make him who he is.

So when I refer to the Leelanau School as "The Greatest High School on Earth," I absolutely mean it. The impact it has had on our son's life is immeasurable. Two years ago, I couldn't even imagine him being in the position he's in today. But whaddya know. It's really happening. And come June 7th, when I'm sitting in the audience watching my son and the 20 or so other members of the Leelanau School's Class of 2014 graduate, I guarantee that I will be crying like a baby. And the tears rolling down my cheeks will be filled with pride, joy, and undying gratitude.

One caveat: The Leelanau School is not cheap. In fact, it's quite expensive. They do, however, offer substantial financial aid to those families that need it. Even with that assistance, though, my wife and I still had to ask family members for help. Heck, we even asked friends and complete strangers for help via a GoFundMe campaign. That wasn't easy to do, and we kind of agonized over the decision before a "whatever it takes" mentality kicked in. We've also scrimped and saved quite a bit over the last two years to come up with the balance of the tuition and money to pay for extras like field trips, weekly allowances, etc. But looking back, every penny we saved and all the solicitations for donations we made were so worth it. The Leelanau School is the best educational experience we've ever had. My wife and I both wish we could go back to our high school years and spend them there.

If you want more information on the Leelanau School, I urge you to visit their website or give them a call at 231.334.5800 or 800.533.5262. If you'd like to make a donation to the school to help future students get the education they need, you can visit the school's online donation page. Note that the Leelanau school is a private, non-profit school, so all donations are fully tax-deductible.

UPDATE: My son graduated from the Leelanau School on June 7, 2014. He is now a freshman at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

"We must meet our students exactly where they are with exactly the brains they have right now. We must use all the tools we have available to us and not expect them to fit into a mold or all behave exactly the same." --Dr. Gene R. Carter

Sunset at the Leelanau School on April 5, 2014. Looking out at Lake
Michigan and SleepingBear Point. (Photo Copyright © 2014 by
Robert Karner.Used with permission. All rights reserved.)

Saturday, April 5, 2014

It's the Little Things

This will be short and sweet.

Last night my son posted this as his status update on Facebook:

"Truth: The best things happen to you when you least expect them. Definitely needed that boost today. Life ain't all that bad."

So I sent him a quick message to see what was up.

He messaged back and told me he got a raise at work.

His first raise ever.

Recovery is a wonderful thing. I will continue to be grateful and keep the faith.


"The little things, the little things mean everything." --Matthew Ryan

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Of Lottery Winnings & Younger Siblings of Addicts

This blog post was born out of a series of events that happened recently and ultimately got me thinking. (I do that a lot. Maybe too much?) Please bear with me while I share with you how my crazy brain works sometimes. And please read to the end, because that's where my main point finally comes across. :)

Last Friday, my wife and I joined our younger son, a high school senior, on his first-ever college visit. We went to check out Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Aquinas is the only college our younger son has applied to (so far). The folks at his high school thought it would be a great fit for him because of it's small overall size--about 1,500 students--and small classroom sizes. The more intimate learning environment would be, they think, a good fit for someone with ADHD.

When we arrived at "AQDay," we were looking at it as a general opportunity to visit a college and see what things were all about. After all, we didn't even know if our son would be accepted to the school. (His first two years of public high school were less than stellar and his overall GPA has suffered because of that.)

We were greeted by an admissions counselor who pulled us aside to welcome us. After we exchanged pleasantries, she handed us an envelope with some documents inside. When I opened the envelope, I was a little bit confused. The papers inside were telling us how much financial aid we would receive. I looked them over briefly and then asked the counselor, "Is this how much money we'll get if [our son] is accepted?"

The counselor gave us kind of a funny look and said, "He already has been accepted. Didn't you know that?" Well, we didn't know that. The news came as a total surprise to us because our son had not received an acceptance letter yet. Evidently, that letter was "in the mail."

As pleased as I was to learn that my son had been accepted by Aquinas, my whole outlook on the day changed in an instant. My brain went from thinking I was there for a casual visit to thinking, "Oh, my God. How am I going to pay for this?"

I tend to stress out a bit about money, especially these days. The whole being unemployed thing tends to make me panic even more than I usually do when it comes to finances. (Imagine that!)

We continued on with the tour of the Aquinas campus and attended a few breakout sessions. But I couldn't get my mind off the money thing. After two years of boarding school, some of which was financed by friends and complete strangers via a GoFundMe campaign, my wife and I do not have large sums of money lying around. In fact, we don't have much money at all. And I'm looking for a job. Ugh.

My brain was preoccupied with the money thing from the moment I heard that our son was accepted until we pulled into the driveway at home later that night. The next morning it was time to get online and start looking for scholarships my son might qualify for. Later on, it was time to go buy a lottery ticket. I don't play the lottery very often, but I thought, "What a great thing winning a large sum of money would be in light of what transpired yesterday."

My mind then started thinking about what I would do with the money if I ever did happen to win the lottery. (That's always a fun game to play, right?) Being that my wife and I are not extravagant people, things like buying his and her Lamborghinis and a Tuscan villa are not on my imaginary list of things to do with lottery winnings. I did come up with a few uses for the money, though:

*First and foremost, I'd pay for my younger son's college education. If my older son decides to go back to school, I would pay for that, too.

*I'd buy my mom a little house and make sure she had enough money to live out her life. My mom and dad were not wealthy, and when my dad died last year there was no inheritance for anyone. Zip. Zero. Zilch. So my mom is struggling a bit right now. And she's such a great person who's had such a positive influence on my life.

*I'd make a substantial donation to the Leelanau School. I honestly believe that this is The Greatest High School on Earth (more to come on that in a future blog post). It changed my younger son's life and I want it to be able to change the lives of other kids with special learning needs for years to come.

Those are three things I came up with off the top of my head. That's what I'd do with a large amount of money if I won it. My wife and I don't need a mansion, yacht, airplane, or whatever luxuries some people buy with lottery fortunes. We are simple people and are more about helping others these days.

That mentality is what led me to a fourth thing:

*Start a foundation to help younger siblings of people who have struggled, or are struggling, with addiction.


Younger siblings of addicts are amazingly special people.

Addiction is a family disease, and there's no doubt that it eats away at families in every way possible: emotionally, physically, financially. It affects everyone in the family, too: mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles. But I don't think anyone is affected as much as younger siblings are, because they are so innocent and vulnerable. They really don't know what's going on with this person who means so much to them, or why it's happening.

My younger son was exposed to my older son's addiction for about seven years; from the time he was about 9 until he was about 16. Those are pretty formative years and I regret that our younger son had to experience what he did during that time.

He idolized his big brother and for seven years or so he watched him struggle. He also watched his mom and dad struggle. Through no fault of his own, he was frequently put on "the back burner" while we dealt with the beast known as addiction as it tightened its grips on our older son.

My younger son witnessed so much during those years. He saw his brother go from being a happy, athletic teenager to a depressed soul dependent on drugs. He saw him drop out of high school. He saw him go to multiple rehabs and hospitals. He watched and listened to horrible confrontations in our home. He was a victim of his brother's stealing, whether it was his "piggy bank" getting cleaned out without his knowledge or the family video game console getting traded for drugs. He saw police officers come to our house on a number of occasions. He was, as a young child, caught up in something he never asked to be a part of.

Watching my older son fight the demons of addiction was heartbreaking for me. But watching my younger son have to deal with those same demons secondhand may have been even harder.

I remember one night in particular, shortly after my wife and I found out that our older son was using heroin. Our younger son was upset and crying in our arms. "I don't want [my brother] to die," he said. That about ripped my heart out.

Yet through it all, my younger son handled things pretty well. I'd be lying if I said I don't think he'll be impacted by what he went through for several years to come. But even though he was adversely affected, he was always supportive of his brother. When he was 15 and his brother was in rehab in Palm Springs, California, my younger son not only accompanied me and my wife to Family Weekend at the facility, but actively participated in it. I remember how impressed the facilitator was at my younger son's maturity and sense of compassion.

Unfortunately, an older sibling's addiction also has a negative financial impact on younger siblings. While trying to help an addicted child, parents burn through money like nobody's business. They spend thousands and thousands of dollars on rehab treatment, hospitals, therapy, intensive outpatient programs, sober living houses, special medications, etc. Sometimes they even spend money on college classes that, unbeknownst to them, never get attended. By the time the younger sibling of an addict gets to the point where they need help financially, their parents are quite frequently tapped out. And, once again, the sibling--through no fault of their own--gets moved to the back burner, at least temporarily.

That's pretty much the situation in my world today. Money's too tight to mention, I need a job, and my younger son wants to go to college next year. I never graduated from college, so I'd love for my son to have this opportunity. Whether or not we'll be able to help him financially, though, is a big question mark at this point. We are investigating scholarships, talking to the college's financial aid department, seeking advise from those in the know, etc. But it might be a couple of months before we know one way or the other.

All of what I just talked about is the reason why I'd love to start a foundation to provide financial assistance to younger siblings of addicts. They are innocent victims in the clusterf*ck that is addiction. Their older brother or sister is afflicted with a disease, their parents do all they can to help fight the disease, and the younger sibling gets stuck with the short end of the stick. How wonderful would it be if there was a place for these kids to go to get some help with college tuition or other things?

If I ever win the lottery, I promise you that I will make that happen.

Who knows? Maybe I'll try to make it happen even if I don't win the lottery. (Does anybody have Bill Gates's email address??)

P.S. My older son is 21 months clean and sober today. Just typing that makes me smile from ear to ear.

"If you're not making someone else's life better, then you're wasting your time. Your life will become better by making other lives better." --Will Smith