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Unspoken Legacy: Claudia Black on the Destructive Impact of Trauma and Addiction within the Family

Dr. Claudia Black, one of the world’s leading experts on family systems and addiction, reveals the startling connection between the psychological injuries experienced in childhood and the long-term trauma and addictive disorders that are destroying families everywhere. In this in-depth interview, Dr. Black discusses how trauma and addiction literally change the brain, and why the unspoken effects of these conditions can reverberate for generations, uprooting family trees and perpetuating both shame and denial. But, recovery from trauma and addiction is possible, and Dr. Black illuminates a simple, yet powerful and effective process for both healing and creating a new narrative for living. This podcast coincides with the release of Claudia Black’s 16th book, ‘Unspoken Legacy’, a far-ranging examination of how the combination of addiction and trauma causes family dysfunction and why it’s one of the most potent negative forces in people’s lives. Filled with vignettes highlighting the various causes of trauma, ‘Unspoken Legacy’ helps readers understand the physiology and psychology of trauma and how it intersects with addition. The second half of the book covers the vital process for self-examination, and gives readers proactive steps for healing, recovery, and building healthier relationships.

The Lifelong Quest For Sobriety…The Ultimate Hero’s Journey—Part 58

Guest Blogger and long-time Council friend, Bob W. presents Part 58 of a series dealing with Alcoholism and Addiction from a Mystical, Mythological Perspective, reflecting Bob’s scholarly work as a Ph.D. in mythological studies.

In 1861, at the outset of the Civil War, poetess Julia Ward Howe penned the lyrics to The Battle Hymn of the Republic, to the tune of the earlier work, John Brown’s Body. Both were part of the Abolitionist movement, which had been trying for past decades to bring an end to Slavery in America. The initial stanza to Howe’s rendition is as follows:

Mine eyes have seen the Glory of the coming of the Lord.

He is trampling out the Vintage where the Grapes of Wrath are stored.

He has loosed the fateful Lightening of his terrible swift Sword.

His Truth is marching on…

In my view, the idea of the “grapes of wrath” in this song could be seen as the need for retribution against the institution of slavery, a deep felt sense that is coming forth into the consciousness of the people of America in a manner similar to that of a vintner bringing forth the sweetness of a wine by the crushing of grapes.  The virulence of this song and of Howe’s expressed opposition to slavery parallels the intensity that gripped the nation in the lead-up to the Civil War.  

Interestingly, John Steinbeck used these same words as the title of his 1939 Pulitzer Prize winning book about the plight of the “Okie” migrants from the Plains’ states to California, in the aftermath of the devastation of the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s.  I would see his vision as that of equating the “grapes of wrath” with the need to address the deplorable conditions imposed on these migrants in their flight from the Plains and their efforts to find a place of “home” in the wine and agricultural regions of California.  It is clear to many that Steinbeck thought just about as negatively toward the banks that he believed forced the Okies off their farms and out of the Plains and toward the large corporate farming companies and vintners that exploited them as migrant workers in California, just about as strongly as Howe and others might have thought of the institutionalized system of Slavery in America.

There is another parallel here for me.  Would it not seem logical to see our despicable behavior in the depths of our drinking and using as something similar to the “grapes of wrath.” How we behaved with the world around us, the pain and trauma we created for those we otherwise really did love, could be seen as negatively as Howe and Steinbeck saw their themes. To get sober and develop a sustainable life of sobriety, we had to trample those grapes, those legions of behavior, and repair the devastation that they created.  The fascinating play of the words of “vintage” and “grapes” and the volume of wine and spirits that attended our lives in our disease adds another fascinating element of synchronicity here.  We had to work to allow the authenticity of our inner most selves to emerge as wine does from the trampling of grapes.

How wonderful it is today that, as we work diligently to build a life in Sobriety and to allow the Truth of who and what we really are to fully develop, we are working for our own indomitable Truth to be “marching on…’

One Father’s Nightmare: His Daughter’s Life-and-Death Struggle with Addiction

In our premier episode, our guest, Bob C., shares an extraordinary story of his amazing efforts to save his daughter’s life during her 15 year odyssey with drug addiction and mental illness. At times, he thought he had lost her. But he also realized that desperately trying to save his daughter might just kill him. With other family tragedies swirling around him at the same time, he somehow found the solutions for staying alive and helping his daughter survive.  Bob’s hard-fought quest for understanding and answers is both inspirational and informative. It’s something every parent should hear.

The Lifelong Quest For Sobriety…The Ultimate Hero’s Journey—Part 57

Guest Blogger and long-time Council friend, Bob W. presents Part 57 of a series dealing with Alcoholism and Addiction from a Mystical, Mythological Perspective, reflecting Bob’s scholarly work as a Ph.D. in mythological studies.

In the evolution of these Notes, we have attempted to look at the afflictions of addiction and alcoholism both in the rampant untreated state and in the long, maybe lifelong process of recovery.  We have seen these journeys from a deeply mythic perspective, all aspects of them having stark parallels to the thousands of stories of heroes that attend the human experience.

In recent times, I have begun to see our journeys as coming in stages. First, we stop drinking or using. We deal with the pain, the minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day agonies of living without the substance or behaviors we used to medicate and escape.  Slowly, slowly, we begin to feel better and, in time, time itself seems to move along without those daily tremors of abstinence and deprivation.  Soon then we begin a second stage…that of working with a sponsor over the steps, one by one, embracing a Higher Power in personal terms and climbing the staircase of the Spirit, coming to understand our disease and its pitfalls in deeper and deeper terms.  We commit ourselves to service is small ways, supporting the Fellowship in daily chores and working with others.

In a few months or years, we move to a third stage, life in a container, a network of like women and men with whom we can live and be sustained with increasing ease and comfort.  As addicts and alcoholics, we are always at risk, but, in time, staying close to that Community, relapse becomes less and less of an option.  We begin to see the true meaning of the idea of a Sunshine of the Spirit. We begin to feel the overwhelming sense of gratitude for our Higher Power and the Fellowship that engulfs us.

Beyond this, I am beginning to see the idea of a fourth stage, maybe another dimension, a fourth dimension.  Committing ourselves to service first and foremost, eschewing any recognition, or even any third party knowledge, of such service other than our Higher Power, we become a rock upon which the power of the Fellowship is seamlessly resting.

We become a bit like Dante in the final stages of Paradiso.  Earlier in this trilogy, Dante had to trudge through the horrors of the Inferno with all the characterizations of the missteps of mankind. Then he moved into and through Purgatorio where is detailed the struggles to redeem oneself of the travesties of bad behavior. Much of Dante’s larger story here is reminiscent of our own journeys and our progress towards committed sobriety. But then Dante finally ascends into heaven, Paradiso, where he ultimately comes face to face with God.  As outlined in earlier Notes, the scene is captivating with God represented as a magical essence of pure love.

It has come to me that there are those of us to whom we all look for leadership and inspiration who have been cloaked with just such a spiritual mantle. Said another way, there are women and men among us in whose presence we all feel especially blessed…women and men who have become a near manifestation, deep within in our mind and hearts, of the power of a higher being.  What a joy it is to live in a community of such lightness and splendor!

What would alcohol sales look like if excessive and problem drinkers drank in moderation?

alcohol sales

The following article was recently published on the research page of the Recovery Research Institute website. It reports a novel new study focusing on the alcohol industry’s public support of moderate drinking amidst speculation that a large portion of alcohol industry profits come from alcohol sales to excessive drinkers and individuals with drinking problems. The research explored what percentage of alcohol sales are accounted for by heavy drinkers, and what the alcohol industry stands to lose financially if everyone drank in moderation (within government health guidelines).

WHAT PROBLEM DOES THIS STUDY ADDRESS?

The alcohol industry has long faced a difficult public relations dilemma. Though many individuals enjoy using alcohol with little or no consequence, for many others, alcohol causes significant emotional, physical, and interpersonal harm. At a population level, alcohol use has a prodigious, adverse social and economic impact. In order to mitigate the perception that the alcohol industry is profiting from suffering, and at times because of government pressure, in many countries major alcohol producers have voluntarily funded public awareness campaigns about the harms of excessive alcohol use. Critics, however, have argued that such voluntary measures are doomed to fail because they involve companies engaging in activities and policies aimed at reducing the harmful behaviors on which their profitability depends. In essence, these companies have a major conflict of interest. 

The alcohol industries in England and the United States have often played down the extent to which profits are driven by excessive use of their products, in spite of evidence from several countries that alcohol consumption is concentrated within a minority of heavier drinkers. The present study explored whether such findings are also true for England. Specifically, the authors asked: 1) What proportion of alcohol sales revenue is accounted for by people drinking more than government recommended guidelines for low-risk drinking (in the UK no more than 14 standard drinks per week, where a standard drink is equal to 7.9g of pure alcohol. This is considerably less than in the U.S. where a standard drink is equal to14g of pure alcohol – almost twice as much). 2) How does financial dependence on heavy drinkers vary between different sectors of the alcohol industry? 3) How would alcohol sales revenue be affected if everyone’s consumption fell to within guideline levels? 

This research has implications not just for public health policy, but for the millions of these heavy drinkers with alcohol use disorder in England, and countries like the United States.

HOW WAS THIS STUDY CONDUCTED?

This paper uses data from the UK Office for National Statistics’ Living Costs and Food Survey and the National Health Service’s Digital Health Survey for England. The Living Costs and Food Survey is distributed to households on a continuous basis throughout the year and asks each individual aged 16 years and over to keep a detailed diary of their daily expenditure over a 2-week period. For alcohol, the survey provides transaction-level data on beverage type (e.g., beer, cider, wine, spirits), price paid, and volume of product purchased. The survey also asks where the alcohol was purchased; either in a hotel, restaurant, or bar (known in the UK as on-trade sales), or from an alcohol retailer like a liquor store (referred to in the UK as off-trade sales). The authors pooled data from the 2013 and 2014 iterations of the survey, comprising a total of 9,975 households. 

The Health Survey for England is a large, nationally-representative survey of 16,872 individuals (2013 and 2014 pooled) which records self-reported ‘typical’ consumption by beverage type. Coverage of total alcohol purchases relative to estimates from more robust national accounts and sales data is approximately 60% (compared to 40% for the Living Costs and Food Survey), suggesting people markedly under-report their alcohol use. 

Drinking groups were defined according to UK government guidelines. ‘Moderate’ drinking is consumption below or equal to 14 standard drinks per week for both sexes, with a standard drink in the UK equaling 7.9g or 10ml of pure alcohol. ‘Heavy’ drinking refers to consumption above this level. Within the ‘heavy drinking’ category, the authors further distinguished ‘hazardous’ (15–35 units for women, 15–50 for men) from ‘harmful’ (36+ for women, 51+ for men) drinking, based on government guidelines.

WHAT DID THIS STUDY FIND?

The authors found that on the whole, the bulk of alcohol sales in England in 2013/14 were to individuals drinking excessively. An estimated 77% of alcohol was sold to drinkers consuming above guideline levels: 30% to harmful drinkers and 48% to hazardous drinkers. Further, alcohol consumed in excess of the guideline levels (i.e., those drinking 14 or more standard UK drinks per week) accounted for 44% of all sales.

Moderate drinkers (i.e., those drinking 14 or fewer UK standard drinks per week), who represented an estimated 59% of the population, were estimated to consume only 23% of all alcohol and accounted for only 32% of all revenue (Figure 1). The 21% of the population who were hazardous drinkers consumed an estimated 48% of all alcohol and accounted for an estimated 45% of all revenue. A relatively small group of harmful drinkers, comprising 4% of the total population, consumed almost a third (30%) of all alcohol sold in England, and accounted for nearly a quarter (23%) of all alcohol sales revenue.

Figure 1. Source: Bhattacharya et al., 2018.

Figure 1. Volume and value of alcohol sales by consumption level in England, 2013/14. The first column represents the makeup of the entire English population by drinking behaviors. The second column shows what percent of alcohol consumed in England was accounted for by each category of drinker. The third column shows the percentage of alcohol revenue accounted for by each category of drinker. As illustrated in this figure, in spite of making up only 25% of the population, hazardous and harmful drinkers accounted for 78% of alcohol consumption and 68% of alcohol revenue. 

In terms of differences between on-trade (i.e., in a hotel, restaurant or bar) and off-trade (alcohol retailors), 81% of off-trade revenue was estimated to come from those drinking above guideline levels (Figure 2). The corresponding amount was substantially lower (60%) for on-trade sales, although heavy drinkers also still accounted for the majority of sales revenue, highlighting the fact that hazardous and harmful drinkers accounted for the majority of both retail and bar/restaurant sales.

Figure 2. Source: Bhattacharya et al., 2018.

Figure 2. Proportion of revenue from harmful, hazardous and moderate drinkers by beverage types and retailer in England in 2013/14. On-trade refers to hotel, restaurant, or bar sales; off-trade refers to alcohol retailors. 77% of beer expenditure was estimated to come from drinkers consuming above guideline levels, compared to 70% for cider, 66% for wine and 50% for spirits. Hazardous and harmful drinkers accounted for the majority of on-trade and off-trade alcohol sales. 

The authors also report that should alcohol consumption be reduced to low-risk levels suggested by the UK government (i.e., 14 or less standard drinks per person, per week), the alcohol industry would stand to lose 38% of their current revenue (Figure 3). In absolute terms, this implies that the industry’s market value would fall by £13 billion (approximately US$17 billion).

Figure 3. Source: Bhattacharya et al., 2018.

Figure 3. Predicted percentage decline in alcohol revenue in England if alcohol consumption were to fall to government guideline levels for low-risk drinking (i.e., 14 or less standard drinks per person per week). Percentage declines in revenue are broken down by point of sale (on-trade versus off-trade), and alcohol category (beer, wine, etc.), as well as point of sale type crossed with alcohol category (in box, bottom right of figure). Altogether, the alcohol industry in England would stand to lose 38% of its revenue if everyone drank in accordance with government guideline levels for low-risk drinking.

WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE STUDY FINDINGS?

Findings indicate the alcohol industry in England derives a large portion of its profit from excessive and/or problem drinkers. Given the consistency of this finding with similar research in Australia and Brazil, it seems likely that such a study conducted in the United States would find similar results. These findings raise serious questions about the conflicts of interest arising when an industry reliant on hazardous and harmful drinking is allowed to self-regulate and manages its public image with largely ineffective ‘safe drinking’ mantras (e.g., “Drink responsibly”). These findings also reinforce the need for strong alcohol sales policy, which has been shown to have real impact on problem drinking. Moreover, in so far as they suggest that a financially successful alcohol industry of its current size and form depends upon harmful drinking, the UK government’s economic support for alcohol producers, for example through tax cuts and trade negotiations, appear more problematic. These findings may also have relevance for ongoing debates about whether to restrict alcohol sales to state monopolies or open them up to commercial enterprises.

LIMITATIONS

  1. The authors’ analysis is taken from self-reported survey data, which tends to underestimate alcohol consumption. Their approach assumes implicitly that all sections of the population under-report their drinking in the same proportion. If anything, this probably underestimates the alcohol industry’s full reliance upon the heaviest drinkers, who are less likely to be represented in surveys.
  2. The analyses do not distinguish between specific companies. The degree to which any individual company benefits from sales to heavy drinkers is therefore unclear.

BOTTOM LINE

  • For individuals and families seeking recoveryHarmful and hazardous drinkers drive the bulk of English alcohol sales; a finding observed in other countries and presumed to be the same in other Western countries like the Unites States.
  • For treatment professionals and treatment systemsHarmful and hazardous drinkers drive the bulk of alcohol sales in England, and presumably other Western countries as well. Allowing the alcohol industry to design and self-monitor its own public health messaging regarding harmful/hazardous drinking represents a major conflict of interest. An industry that is financially reliant on harmful/hazardous drinking is unlikely to implement measures sufficient to curb problematic alcohol use.
  • For scientists: Harmful and hazardous drinkers drive the bulk of alcohol sales in England. The questions addressed by this research need to also be asked in the United States. Further, more research on the extent to which the alcohol industry has, in the past, mitigated volume declines by raising prices and selling more premium products would provide an indication of how sustainable such a strategy is likely to be in the long term. A further possible extension would be to explore the tax revenue generated by the government from excise duty on harmful drinkers, and the extent to which that tax revenue helps address some of the consequences of alcohol use disorder (e.g., funding publicly available treatment and recovery support services).
  • For policy makersAlcohol use and alcohol use disorder cost Western economies hundreds of billions of dollars annually and cause tremendous personal and societal harm. The alcohol industry profits directly from this problem. The alcohol industry’s conflicts of interest highlighted in this paper should be considered when creating and enforcing alcohol policy.

CITATIONS

Battacharya, A., Angus, C., Pryce, R., Holmes, J., Brennan, A., & Meier, P. S. (2018). How dependent is the alcohol industry on heavy drinking in England? Addiction, 113(12), 2225-2232. doi: 10.1111/add.14386

The Council on Recovery is the leader in providing a wide range of prevention and education resources aimed reducing alcohol use, especially among adolescents and young adults. We also offer therapeutic counseling and an intensive outpatient treatment program (IOP) for those affected by alcoholism. For more information, please call 713-942-4100 or contact us online.

The Lifelong Quest For Sobriety…The Ultimate Hero’s Journey—Part 56

Guest Blogger and long-time Council friend, Bob W. presents Part 56 of a series dealing with Alcoholism and Addiction from a Mystical, Mythological Perspective, reflecting Bob’s scholarly work as a Ph.D. in mythological studies.

In the commercial world that is the core of the economic society in which we all live and work, the experience of bankruptcy, along with the economic impacts of death and divorce, is one of the horrors that some of us have to experience.  We can define bankruptcy as insolvency, a condition in which the financial equity in one’s organizational structure or life system has been entirely exhausted and the ability of cash flows to service all sorts of debt obligations is nil; it is an experience that horrifies us and the commercial worlds in which we all live.   There is a set of laws called the Bankruptcy Code (the “Code”), formerly known as Title 11 of the U.S. Code of laws and regulations which governs precisely how the process of bankruptcy is meant to work to allow individuals, corporations and other organizations to resolve the conflict presented by their debt obligations and, then, to be rehabilitated.

I have had some experience in this world and it strikes me how it resonates so powerfully with the experience of addiction, the descent into its worst nightmares and the process to recover and build a sober life.  I have come to believe that life in our economic world is replete with people that span the full range of experiences, from those for whom success and wealth seem to come with consummate ease, to those who just can’t keep it together and are always on the edge of, or deep in the throes of insolvency.  It is much like the range of experiences of all humanity with addictive substances and behaviors. Many of those at the dark end of the economic cycles are increasingly caught in the web of insolvency as a result of a spendthrift and wholly irresponsible patterns of life.  They seem powerless over the experience of living beyond their means and their life increasingly becomes unmanageable.

The process of recovery for such people is also much like that for the alcoholic and addict, working with consultants, therapists, family and friends to discover a new way of living and managing daily affairs.  There are many parallels in the descent into bankruptcy and the process to recover to a sound and responsible way of living.

I have a good friend who has worked in this world most of her life, helping debtors to migrate through the myriad of processes that the Code provides.  I was at a meeting with her one day, where a number of distressed debtors – individuals, couples and small companies – sat in a large room ringed with small alcove offices.  The small offices were occupied by officials of the Court system and the meeting, called a Chapter 13 meeting in Texas, was to allow for the Court system and the debtors to come to terms with the precise nature of the debtors’ insolvency and develop a procedure for its resolution to be presented to and approved by the Bankruptcy Courts themselves.  As different debtors were called to a particular office my friend went with them, as their counsel, to explain and arrange each of their processes of resolution.  As I sat there observing, I was struck by the fear and anxiety on the faces of the debtors and the ease and comfort of my friend’s manner in working with them to a resolution. She was an “angel of mercy” moving about the room, very much like the presence that recovering alcoholics who serve as sponsors have in a room full of distraught and anxious newcomers of AA and its sister12 step programs.  Both are wonderful experiences to witness, the newbie alcoholic starting to work the steps with a sponsor and the bankrupt beginning the processes of financial rehabilitation with her/his counsel, both nurturing recovery with a presence of deeply committed service.