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Alcoholism Self Treatment Manual
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Joan's Story
The Best Kept Secret
It's Not All In Your Head
The Difference In Drinkers
Alcoholism's Genetic Link
 

 

JOAN'S STORY
Joan Mathews-Larson, Ph.D.,
Author of "Seven Weeks To Sobriety"
and "Seven Weeks to Emotional Healing"

To book Dr. Mathews Larson on a show, contact her personal secretary at 1-800-554-9155 or e-mail her at: hrc@healthrecovery.com

Joan Mathews Larson holds a doctorate in nutrition and is the founder and executive director of the pioneering Health Recovery Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a new psycho-biological model for treating addiction and emotional disorders. This unique focus combines therapy with intervention at a bio-chemical level to repair biochemical damage that often manifests as impaired mental functioning and behavior problems. Her work has received national recognition because of the high recovery rates this model produces.

The loss of her seventeen-year-old son to suicide directly after completing a treatment program fueled her ongoing search for more effective solutions. Her clinic has now successfully treated over five thousand people over a twenty-year period. Her research, published in the International Journal of Biosocial and Medical Research in 1987 and 1991, describes this work. Dr. Julian Whitaker's 100th issue of Health & Healing: Tomorrow's Medicine Today. (Dec '99) lists Joan Mathews-Larson as one of an elite group of six national researchers and practitioners who have made a significant contribution to the world of medicine.

Dr. Larson's best-selling book, Seven Weeks To Sobriety, published by Ballantine in 1992, has sustained ongoing sales for 9 years and has led to over 300 TV and radio appearances including 20/20, CNBC TV, The Susan Powter TV show, ABC Network News, Universal Studios American Health Network, and CBN TV (The 700 Club).

Articles about her work have appeared in Psychology Today, Let's Live, Harpers Bazaar, Prevention Magazine, Common Boundaries, Natural Health, Mpls. St Paul Magazine, Minnesota Monthly, Minnesota Physician, Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine, San Francisco Chronicle, LA Times, Chicago Daily Herald, New Orleans Times Picayune, Norway Times, MpIs. Star Tribune, Townsend Letter for Doctors and Dr. Julian Whitaker's: Health and Healing Monthly Newsletter.

Her most recent speaking engagement was in Orlando in May, 1999 where she addressed the American College for Advancement in Medicine physicians.

Her newest book, 7 Weeks To Emotional Healing, was published in October, 1999.

 

Joan's Story: Loss of a Son, Birth of a Concept

I know you want to recover from alcoholism. I have met few alcoholics who were not desperate to stop drinking. Many try and most fail. If you are one of them, I expect you to be somewhat skeptical of the very idea of a treatment breakthrough that can lead to permanent recovery. You may not believe that any treatment can banish the overpowering craving for alcohol that has defeated all your past efforts. You may not even want to believe it.

But permanent recovery is possible. The breakthrough I describe in my book, Seven Weeks to Sobriety, can liberate you from alcoholism, free you from cravings, restore your health, and help you overcome depression or other emotional problems underlying your drinking. I know those are bold promises, and I would not make them if I wasn't very sure that this program can help you. For the past ten years I have tested, retested, and fine-tuned this approach. It works. It has worked for more than one thousand alcoholics. And it will work for you.

The program itself is based on solid scientific research that challenges all of the old assumptions about the very nature of alcoholism. This research conclusively demonstrates that alcoholism is a physical disease, rooted in the genes and activated by the effects of alcohol on the biochemistry of the brain and body. An enormous number of well-controlled scientific studies by distinguished researchers the world over has shown that alcohol undermines physical health and mental stability by destroying the vital nutrients responsible for their maintenance. Additional studies have shown that alcoholism can be conquered by undoing this damage.

And that, in a nutshell, is the concept that underlies this plan. In seven short weeks I will help you fix what alcohol has broken. Unlike other treatment programs, this plan is based on physical repair. As you read the pages ahead, you will learn a lot about the natural chemistry that governs your body and your brain. I'm certain that you will be impressed by the weight of scientific evidence and will quickly come to appreciate the importance of repairing the damage alcohol can inflict on your delicate internal chemistry.

Once you begin the program you'll notice a difference in the way you feel almost immediately. You'll be delighted at how easy it is to stop drinking with the aid of the nutrient-packed detoxification formula that blocks cravings for alcohol. Then, I'll show you how to individualize a repair program to restore your physical and emotional health.

I have been using this program to treat alcoholics since 1981, when I founded Health Recovery Center to test my theory that physical rehabilitation was the missing link in the treatment of alcoholism. Since then, I have treated more than one thousand alcoholics and drug addicts. More than three quarters remain successfully rehabilitated and abstinent. You may not realize it, but a 75 percent recovery rate is unheard of in this field. Elsewhere, success rates are a dismal 25 percent. Our success has attracted attention from all over the world. Almost daily I receive calls from treatment directors and counselors anxious to learn about our methods. I can't take full credit for this breakthrough, which is based on the work of many respected researchers, I simply took their findings and put them into practice.

I didn't set out to find a new way to treat alcoholism; the events of my life led me to it. Twenty years ago, my husband had a heart attack and died at age forty. Suddenly I was a single parent with nothing more practical than a degree in art with which to support my three children. Rob, my middle child, was thirteen at the time. He seemed most affected by the devastating change in our lives. "We just don't feel like a family anymore," he told me again and again.

Rob had always been an active boy with a wide range of interests. Before his father's death, his grades were excellent, he won leading roles in school plays, and played halfback for Tait's Tigers, a neighborhood football team. He was also notably soft hearted and fair-minded. He championed the civil rights of the few minority students in his nearly all-white suburban elementary school and volunteered to help youngsters in the lower grades with their reading.

After the shock of my husband's death wore off, Rob's mood swings became more noticeable. So did his love for junk food and colas. Of course, we didn't use the term "junk food" back in 1972. Americans were still relatively naive about nutrition, and the slogan "you are what you eat" conjured up images of the radical fringes of the fruit and nut bunch in California.

I had more on my mind at the time than the amount of cola my kids were drinking. I realized that I would have to go back to school for another, more useful degree in order to support my family. Rob was fifteen when I returned to college to study psychology. Following my classroom work I served two counseling internships in alcohol and drug-dependency treatment programs. By then, Rob was a high school student developing a liking for "keggers," outdoor beer parties popular among teenagers in our area. His frequent partying coincided with my growing interest in chemical dependency. Ironically, as he moved farther and farther down the path of alcohol abuse, he was teaching me my life's work.

During my internships, I read some fascinating research by the endocrinologist John Tintera, M.D., a charter member of the New York State Commission on Alcoholism. Tintera's work focused on the relationship between low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and alcohol abuse. The symptoms he described-shakiness, mood swings, irritability, emotional instability, sudden fatigue, mental confusion-sounded a lot like what Rob had been experiencing. Tintera explained that blood sugar, or glucose, is the brain's only fuel; when brain glucose levels drop, these uncomfortable symptoms develop. In a hypoglycemic person, a sudden infusion of glucose (in the form of sugars contained in candy bars, high-sugar colas, or alcoholic drinks) taken to relieve these symptoms triggers an abnormally large response of insulin, that counteracts the effects of glucose and creates a mild insulin shock. Tintera was the first to suggest that habitual alcohol consumption can actually create hypoglycemia by continually triggering insulin reactions.

I wondered whether Rob was in the grips of this feast or famine problem. Eventually, I decided to stop guessing and took him for a six-hour glucose tolerance test. The results showed that Rob was seriously hypoglycemic. At the time, much of his life revolved around ingesting sugars, particularly alcohol, a sugar that reaches the brain quite rapidly. Drinking gave him energy and made him feel great, and he never followed the doctor's advice to cut down on alcohol, or on colas and sweets.

I knew Rob needed help. His mood swings were becoming more marked and his grades were declining. I enrolled him in a highly recommended hospital inpatient alcohol treatment program for adolescents. I felt enormous relief when he was admitted. I had turned my worries over to the experts. Surely they could help.

The program focused on identifying the underlying psychological reasons for Rob's drinking. The counselors fixed on his relationship with his father and assumed that Rob's drinking problems stemmed from feelings of guilt-all the things he had or hadn't said to his father in the months before my husband's death. In retrospect, I can see that Rob eventually came to believe that he felt guilty and that his guilt led him to drink.

Hospital rules forbade Rob to come home, so I could see him only when I took part in group therapy. During these sessions, the counselors reproached me for telling Rob that I loved him whether or not he drank. The program's approach was more conditional: "If you do this (stop drinking), then I will do this (love you)." That didn't work for me or for Rob. He was very lonely, and I wasn't surprised when, a week before Christmas, the hospital notified me that Rob and a friend had left.

After a day-long drinking spree, Rob tried to sneak into the house through his bedroom window. When I found him and confronted him, he refused to return to the hospital. His counselors advised me to have him escorted back by the police. I was still convinced that the program would help and that I had no choice but to do as they suggested. But I began to have second thoughts when two policemen wrestled my son into submission and dragged him out of the house. Rob seemed strangely dazed. I now realize he was in insulin shock from drinking so much and not eating all day.

Instead of taking him back to the hospital, the police took Rob to the juvenile detention center, where he spent the weekend. He returned to the hospital just before Christmas.

I will never forget that Christmas Day. My other two children, Mark, then eighteen, and Molly, twelve, packed up Rob's presents, and we drove to the hospital. Throughout the day we heard the sobbing of another youngster locked in the "quiet room." She cried the whole afternoon. That Christmas was one of the saddest, most punishing days of my life.

Rob was considered a difficult case. His counselors were frustrated by his failure to break down and pour out his anger and shame. Finally, Rob understood what he had to do to gain his release. He learned to get in touch with his feelings so intensely that he didn't waste time with underlying reasons but became angry or depressed over every event in his life.

With this 'progress," he earned his release. However, his counselors advised against his coming home. Instead, they recommended that he spend the next six months in a halfway house. I had misgivings. As a boy, Rob had been miserable with homesickness during the two weeks he spent at summer camp, but I felt I had no other choice than to trust the experts and the state-of-the-art treatment they offered.

I will never forget one family therapy session at the halfway house. Rob and I were sitting with other parents and kids in a circle on the floor, getting in touch with our feelings. Rob became hysterical and began to weep over a minor issue. His mood swing was inexplicable. I began to wonder whether we were on the right track. He seemed almost worse than before treatment began.

Rob remained at the halfway house until the end of August. Then he came home and began his senior year in high school. Life seemed to be returning to normal. He was happy to be home at last and eager to return to school activities. On the day he died, two weeks after the beginning of the school year, he went to see his guidance counselor to make sure he would have enough credits to graduate. He was elated to learn that he did.

That night Rob and his friend Bruce sat up talking until early morning. Then he came into my room and woke me. "I love you," he said. "I'm sorry for the trouble I've been, but it will be okay from now on." After he left, I dozed off, relieved at how much better he seemed. But before breakfast, Mark heard the car motor running in the garage. He found Robby lying under the exhaust pipe. We rushed him to the hospital, but he was declared dead on arrival.

Rob's death was a personal tragedy, but it was not the isolated event I believed it to be. Recent research shows that nearly 25 percent of deaths among those treated for chemical dependency are the result of suicide. The psychiatrists who had treated Rob during the eight months that he was away from home never mentioned depression. Yet I had seen him depressed many times within a single day as his moods swung from high to low. Just hours before his death he had been thrilled at the news that he would graduate from high school on time. He had then quickly become depressed enough to take his life. How much more clearer could the evidence of unstable brain chemistry be?

If I had known then what I know now about the chemical relationship between heavy alcohol use and depression, I might have been able to save my son.

In the fifteen years since Rob's death, I have been searching for a more effective and humane approach to treating alcoholism. I tried to read everything available on the subject and was stunned to learn that only 15 to 25 percent of alcoholics treated actually recover and that many, like Rob commit suicide. As I read, I began to wonder why alcoholism, which is now considered a physical disease, is treated only psychologically.

I wanted to know more about the role Rob's hypoglycemia played in his alcohol dependency. I found an impressive amount of research on the effect of alcohol on a number of crucial brain chemicals and learned that alcohol-induced depletion of these vital substances can distort perception and cause anxiety, confusion, and depression, the very symptoms psychologically based treatment programs assume cause alcoholics to drink. Eventually I came to the conclusion that traditional approaches to the treatment of alcoholism were missing the point. Couldn't much of the hopelessness and depression, the violent mood swings and other psychological symptoms be the effects of heavy alcohol use rather than its cause?

In 1978 two other therapists and I received funding from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to establish a chemical dependency program at the Chrysalis Center for Women Minneapolis. There we routinely ran glucose tolerance tests on all our clients and were amazed to find that more than three-quarters were hypoglycemic. After more course work in human nutrition, I began to study the biochemistry of alcoholism in great depth. By 1981 I was ready to test the theories I had researched so carefully. I succeeded beyond my wildest imagination.

Today, alcoholism is the third leading cause of death in the United States. This book is dedicated to the many who did not recover and to those who have lost people they love to this terrible disease. It is addressed to those who have tried other forms of treatment and failed. Health Recovery Center's approach to treatment could very well have saved my son. It is too late for him, but it is not too late for you.

You will learn a lot about alcoholism in the chapters ahead, and you probably will also learn a lot about yourself. You will find some tests that will help you determine if you are alcoholic and what kind of alcoholic you are (yes, there are several types). You will learn why other treatment methods fail far more often than they succeed. I hope this information will inspire you to embark on this program with an open mind and an optimistic attitude. Too often alcoholics consider themselves failures and see their disease as a character flaw, rather than the illness it really is. Unfortunately, this attitude is all too common in our society. It adds to the pain alcoholics must endure when they realize that family members, friends, and even health professionals hold them responsible for their disease. Once you understand the biochemical disorders and changes that contribute to alcoholism, I hope you will be easier on yourself.

I suggest that you begin by reading this book straight through so you'll know what to expect when you begin the program. Then you can start at the beginning, take the tests, and use the book as a workbook to guide you through the program. Once you understand how profoundly alcohol can alter the chemistry of your body and brain, you'll be eager to begin the process of repair. You'll want to discover for yourself that it's possible to stop drinking without battling powerful cravings for alcohol. You'll want to change your diet to see if controlling hypoglycemic symptoms can actually make a difference in the way you feel. If depression is a problem for you, you'll want to try the treatments that can put it out of your life forever. However skeptical you may be now, I'm certain that what you are about to read will convince you that, at last, you've found the answers you've been seeking.

I know this program can work for you, but I urge you to follow it exactly as presented, one week at a time. At first glance, you may think that parts of it are a bit complex, but when you follow directions, you'll find that it is actually quite simple. I'll tell you exactly what to do and when to do it, what nutrients to take and when to take them. I have removed all the guesswork from this program, and each step has been carefully calculated to have maximum effect. That's why I must caution you to restrain your enthusiasm and curiosity. If you rush ahead too quickly, you'll lose many of the benefits. It undoubtedly took you much longer than seven weeks to conclude that you are alcoholic and longer still to admit that you need help. Seven weeks is not too long to invest in your recovery. The time will pass quickly because you'll start feeling better almost immediately. But I won't detain you any longer. Read on and begin your personal breakthrough to recovery from alcoholism.

 

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