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Opinion & Essays - Apr, 1998 Issue #51

Knowledge about Genetic Vulnerability
and Altered Biochemistry!

By: Linda Shaffer, Ed. Consultant
Sandpoint, Idaho

Many adolescents FLY very successfully (with the normal bump or two here and there) into their new lives after graduating from an emotional growth school. A new life! New Knowledge! New tools! 

Some go off into the world, however, with much raised awareness about the emotional issues in their lives, but missing a most important element of their education. This can be a set up for a huge crash. The missing element is an in-depth understanding of drug and alcohol addiction regarding altered chemical states, body and brain chemistry. Also important is knowledge regarding predispositions from a chemistry basis for addiction, nutrition and addiction, and the physiological “reasons” why it can be so difficult for some, more than others, to stop using, or to drink alcohol moderately. 

On occasion one will hear the following statement from a student completing an emotional growth school or program 

STATEMENT: “I have learned so much at my school about myself. And when I go home I’m never going to use drugs again and I’m not going to drink like I used to.”

For professionals who teach drug and alcohol addiction classes, the above statement can be extremely alarming. How did the student miss the information? Does the program not incorporate classes on the nature of chemical addiction? How long will it take for the time bomb in some to go off? 

Emotional growth schools and other programs that automatically incorporate drug and alcohol addiction education into their programs may be flabbergasted to think that this information is not offered everywhere. But, it is true. Not every emotional growth school or program has an addictions program built into its curriculum. 

In some schools, addiction may be touched upon lightly, but there is no specific curriculum as there is for academics, emotional growth, and the out of doors. The emphasis of some schools in assisting students to change drug and alcohol behaviors is basically around introspection and recognizing unresolved issues. The premise is that introspection and resolution will end self medication, and the student will see the potential dangers in excessive alcohol use. 

Genetically vulnerable persons, or persons who have altered their biochemistry through unmanaged stress or through excessive alcohol use, have much to contend with. Everyone who works with adolescents and families in the emotional growth schools field knows of situations where graduates flew into their new lives, but also situations where they landed in a hospital at the bottom of an alcohol hole “hooked” again — and quickly. This might have been one of the adolescents who most likely could never drink again for real reasons — AND DIDN’T REALLY KNOW IT. 

There is much evidence today that addiction for some happens because of a genetic predisposition in the way an individual’s body processes alcohol. And, on the other hand, there are others who argue that the disease model gives addicts a way to avoid personal responsibility for their choices. The question is, DO SOME PEOPLE abuse alcohol, or can ALCOHOL BE ABUSIVE to some people’s chemistry MORE THAN OTHERS? 

Research does indicate predisposition for some individuals. I see the cognitive approach as one way to begin to reach many addicts who otherwise feel they are barely hanging on to their sobriety at AA and NA meetings. When an adolescent quickly lands in a hospital after graduation from a school that addresses drug and alcohol issues only from an emotional and behavioral standpoint, it can become apparent that, for some, this is simply and tragically not enough. 

The emotional growth school graduate who has not been exposed in depth to physiological addiction information could be missing a critical part of the knowledge he or she will need in their future. As well-intentioned educators in eclectic counseling style schools, it is important for us to be up to date with our own continuing education. We do not want to send any of our children off into the world well-prepared in some areas, and totally blind-sided about physiological drug and alcohol addiction. 

The best drug and alcohol programs today are not just a caring place to dry out and learn different behaviors. They are also programs of nutritional information so a person choosing not to use can do more than barely hang on with will power. They help people understand what their body chemistry is going through with major withdrawal symptoms and major fluctuating serotonin and endorphin levels in their brain chemistry. 

Some emotional growth schools today not only point out, but greatly emphasize that the individual has many of life’s answers within. And while this is true, this belief must be well explained to the adolescent or the belief can have its dangers. All emotional growth school graduates do need to move on with self confidence in their own knowledge and awareness. They also need, however, to know this graduation is not the end of their road to enlightenment, but just the first major set of courses. They need to be open to new information as their lives continue and may find that at times they need to call upon a professional or two, along with a good honest friend, for assistance with their insights and strategies. To think that one is “set” now having graduated from “the program” is, of course, to be naive or misdirected. 

The cognitive approach in an addictions course can be a beginning for the especially intellectually-oriented addict leery of being vulnerable emotionally because of a belief system or fears of personal pain. With the cognitive door open first, the accompanying emotional portion of the work has a better chance to begin. 

With in-depth addictions information for every emotional growth school graduate, life’s tool bag is just that much fuller whether the information applies to the graduate or to others he or she will encounter in a lifetime. 

Copyright © 1998, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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