If we go far enough back on any person’s timeline we will discover a point before the first using event occurred. It could be the second before, the minute before or the day before. It is a time when the brain and nervous system were free of alcohol and other drugs.

Some people will be shocked at how young others were when they first experienced alcohol, being drunk, drugs and being high or an injury due to using these substances. Some were as young as three, four or five years of age.

Other clients report first use as in their teens, 20’s, 30’s or even older. People who develop a gambling problem (addiction) later in life (50’s,60’s or older) never knew they had a problem until one day – boom! it hit them and they were taken over in a moment.

It is not necessary to cover all the brain activity or the details of the chemical reactions that occur in different parts of the brain to discuss the problem of addiction. Suffice it to say that after enough using episodes or trials the person or brain will eventually be taken over.

After repeated usage of alcohol as an example a person begins to build tolerance. More of the substance is needed to get the same effect. The person begins to experience withdrawal symptoms from that particular drug if they don’t get it. If he does not get the ‘hit’ or ‘hair of the dog’ the symptoms can persist. People can feel out of sorts, lousy, cranky, feel like they will die and may be very unpleasant to be around.

In the beginning let’s say a person could get a buzz on from one or two 12 ounce beers. It feels great and the brain says ‘Hey Stan, I like that. I want more of that.’ Before you know it I need three or four beers to get the same sensation. I begin to dose myself or titrate – determining the amount I will need to get the desired effect. Before you know it I need 12 beers to get the effect and soon after that I’m loaded.

So – why do people drink or use any drug? Why do people do any behavior? One theory is that everything we do is to either move away from pain or move toward pleasure. Using alcohol or other drugs has been called ‘self-medicating’ by some professionals.

By the way, if I define every phrase such as ‘titrate’, ‘self-medicating’ or ‘withdrawal’ this writing will turn into a thesaurus or dictionary. That is too far astray from my goal. The reader can Google these terms and come up with volumes of information. But don’t Google too much because I want you here.

Why do we shoot ourselves in the foot then? And how do we do that? Talking recently with an anonymous client who was seeking to ‘feel better’ about herself and her life, she reported that the reason she experimented with drugs was because of the ‘feelings’ she got from them and that she could ‘escape’ from how she ‘was feeling’ by artificially creating a new feeling.

That’s her ‘why’ answer. She was moving ‘away’ from the bad feelings (pain) and ‘toward’ the better feelings (pleasure). The ‘how’ was with a half dozen different drugs that she got from the most unreliable people one could imagine – dealers.

That is another problem. The dealers. Do you really think they care about you? I think they care more about my money than me. They want it to go from my pocket to theirs as quickly and as often as possible. Some of you might say ‘but it’s only weed.’ How does anyone know if and with what weed may be laced today?

The dealer wants your repeat business. If his product knocks your socks off and it seems cheaper or the same price as a competitor you might return to her or him for a ‘better high.’ If we can get a ‘cleaner clean’ today I suppose a ‘better high’ is not too far fetched.

What’s the simple take home for today? The once pure brain or nervous system can become addicted to a substance or even gambling by building tolerance. Repeated behavior reinforces the effect. Before you know it – addictio – taken over.

The next part of the simple take home is that we use or do other behavior to move ‘away from pain’ and ‘toward pleasure.’ So, we see that it is our feelings and emotions that lead to behavior choices – good or bad. One of the things that I do for clients is to show them ways to control feelings and emotions. The Power of Emotional State is critical. We will discuss that in the next post.


“To thine own self be true.” Polonius

Beliefs have been mentioned several times already. It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to address this topic. The beliefs of the consumer (client, patient, explorer) are vital. We need to discover, explore and examine the beliefs of our clients.

As an example let’s use someone who has decided to seek or enter into a treatment program. It can be a mandated criminal justice program or a voluntary one. Drug Court programs can be 12-18 months or more. By the way, the longer someone is in treatment, the better. Yet, some folks are just more motivated than others and do not require as much time.

There are only two kinds of beliefs: Limiting and empowering. Don’t you think it would be a great idea to explore beliefs from the beginning? Why would we let a consumer go through an entire program without changing limiting, perhaps harmful beliefs about using alcohol or other mind altering drugs?

If a person successfully completes a 12 month program but has the same beliefs the only thing that has changed is – that person is 12 months older. With the same beliefs and the knowledge that they can fake their way through – negative behavior may simply be reinforced. Relapse will not be far behind.

Clinicians need to learn how to help a client to change limiting beliefs. I use what I call Brief Eye Movement Therapy (BEMT) which is modeled after two other useful methods. It is very powerful and effective.

Clinicians’ beliefs too are critical. I had a conversation just last week with a treatment professional who said “you can’t change 75-80% of them.” First, “can’t” reflects a limiting belief about capability. This looks to me to be about his beliefs about his strengths, resources and capabilities. It also kind of reflects on that counselor’s beliefs about the clients’ capabilities to change.

Personally and professionally I believe that anyone can change any belief and behavior that they no longer find useful or desirable as long as we are not trying to defeat the laws of physics. The beliefs that the counselor holds about the client’s capability to change are so important. These beliefs can become self-fulfilling prophecies.

In his book “The Biology of Beliefs”, Phillip Lipton, PhD, states “I was exhilarated [sic] by the new realization that I could change the character of my life by changing my beliefs.” Isn’t this what clients approach us about in the first place?

They have found something in their lives that is no longer desirable. They want to change something. I want to help them change that to something they want, just like someone once helped me. It’s “paying it forward” as Oprah talks about.

My hope here was to demonstrate how important beliefs are in the change process. Our beliefs, thoughts and feelings are critical to the alcohol and other drug abuse issues we are facing. In the next section we will explore the process of how the addiction or alcoholism develops.

For now the take away from this is that it is the beliefs of the client and counselor that lead to thoughts, feelings, emotions and behavior as well as change. There are only two kinds of beliefs: limiting and empowering. How many times have you heard ‘if you always do what you have always done you will always get what you have always got.’

If you really want the alcohol and other drug behavior to change – learn how to change your limiting beliefs. To thine own self be true.  I’m not pointing fingers. It’s for me too.


“It’s not events that shape us…but our beliefs” Anthony Robbins

In my previous post I mentioned that others noticed a difference in methods the way I approached “it”, whatever “it” is. The difference begins at the first meeting with a client. There is no blaming, shaming or labeling. I believe being non-judgmental is key and that strengths based and solution focused is the best approach.

It is important to be aware that counseling and treatment planning is a collaborative effort between the guide and the explorer. You might choose to say therapist and client or counselor and client.

The best approach for me was to learn the client’s map of reality about how we came to meet each other. Clients share information with the clinician if there is trust or rapport. This will be explained later. It became clear that clients didn’t care how much I knew until they knew how much I cared.

I cared because I always felt that the only difference between me and them was who was sitting in which chair this week. We could all be one thought or one behavior away from being a client in the criminal justice system or addicted to alcohol or other drugs. Who knows: in a couple of years roles could be reversed and the explorer could become your guide.

Humility, beliefs and values are critical for both the explorer and guide. We need to be ever aware of our place in the collaboration and society. Becoming aware of the client’s beliefs stated by the client was important to me so that I would not confuse my map of reality with that of the explorer. Bias can be the undoing of the whole process.

Clinicians as well as clients have limiting beliefs and values that can be harmful to the client. To Do No Harm is the credo of professionals. Being too rigid about appropriate treatment methods may not be in the best interest of the client.

A good example of this is cited in my book, “Drug Court Treatment: The Verdict”, Chapter Seven, p.68-69 where beliefs, values and filters about ‘posturing’ and violence of each of the parties caused problems for society and a client.

While we need to adhere to best practices evidence based methods – if best results could come from “Adjunct Modalities of Treatment for Substance Abuse Counseling”, that may be in the best interest of the client. As an example, I had a different approach to delivering the Cognitive Behavior Theory map to the clients.

Stressing the beliefs piece of the ABC Theory of Albert Ellis was fascinating to the clients. Several who had been in the system or treatment for decades said “nobody ever explained this that way before. They said all I had to do was stay clean and everything would be okay.” Staying clean or being abstinent is only a part of the recovery process. Why is this important?

Anthony Robbins states “It not the events of our lives that shape us, but our beliefs as to what those events mean.” So…

…Helping the clients to recognize, explore and address limiting beliefs and values is probably what clients pointed out as the difference. To me, helping them with this and the way it is done is part of ‘the difference that makes the difference.’


“Write about your one true thing” J.K.Rowling

You will get help here with new and different ideas about achieving your change goals. Whether your problems are with alcohol, or, other drugs there are solutions. You are not helpless. There is HOPE!

We all have goals, hopes and dreams. But these may seem to be shattering under the weight of what may appear to be problems out of your control. For some of you the problems could be spiraling, getting worse and affecting other areas of your lives.
Family problems are more frequent. You are having problems with your significant others (wife, husband, children, girlfriend, boyfriend) and nobody seems to understand you.

There could be problems at work like not showing up, being late or problems with coworkers. It could be costing you in terms of lost money.

Financial problems, health issues and even legal consequences are nipping at your heels. Maybe you got a drunk- driving ticket. Maybe it was a Failure to Appear charge when you forgot about or blew off a court date. What about drug court, probation or parole violations?

I understand. You are not living up to your dreams. Life is not working out the way you visualized it. Or, maybe you reached the top of your world and then something terrible happened. Your map of reality got shaken up pretty good, didn’t it?

Drug counselors and other clinicians too will discover new and exciting treatment concepts that have worked well for me and millions of others all over the world. Yes- I have or have had some of these problems too. I’m not saying my life is perfect in all areas. But…

I too was addicted and it did cause so many losses in so many areas of my life. I learned how to stop that behavior and start achieving my work and financial goals. Living life clean and sober led me to new discoveries about alcoholism, addiction, treatment and recovery possibilities.

“My one true thing” as J.K. Rowling commented on is to let you know about what I discovered along my journey and help others to achieve their recovery goals and outcomes. I want to share that with you here.

Others have noticed how these methods are different and you can read some of the comments at my website, Also, you will notice that I wrote a book entitled “Drug Court Treatment: The Verdict” which is available at, Barnes and Noble and other fine bookstores.

If you have questions or need a clarification about some of these ideas you can contact me at .