Category Archives: alcohol

mental health week: alcohol and epilepsy

woman struggling with alcohol today for my post on mental health, i’d like to share with you a letter i received a few days ago from a fellow canadian. while it is about the mental illness of addiction, i’d also like to think about it as a move towards mental wellness; wellness achieved by sharing our stories with others. here it is:

dear ms. mori

i am writing to you, as i have to many other ‘alcohol’ awareness/help organizations, regarding what i feel is a fairly unknown health problem. while everyone is painfully aware of society’s affair with drunk driving, i have only found one or two individuals, in the last few months, who have ever heard of this health problem and its cause. i’ll try to make it as brief as possible, however, please feel free to contact myself, should you require any further information what-so-ever.

to set the stage, the years preceding our health deterioration, we had both quit drinking for a year here and there, with no reactions at all, but went back to it, in order to keep some sanity in our previous/former bad marriages.

neither of us had ever heard of possible dreadful health effects, were warned only, of course, not to drink excessively for the obvious reasons, and then, not to drive! we both found it to be somewhat of a stress reliever though, as we were prone to worry.

both myself and my late husband were born to alcoholic mothers. they drank before, during and after pregnancy, but we were both born in good health. we picked up the nasty little drinking habit quite well, in our late teens. we were both well educated and held down good jobs with excellent income and work associates who, unfortunately, also loved to drink. never any illnesses or health problems, never a sick day off work, nor hospital visits. this all came to a devastating halt, for us both in our mid 40’s. it is called ‘grand-mal seizures’ (epilepsy).

there is no known cure!! prescription drugs are the only help. along with complete alcohol abstinence, permanently! the current drugs have pages and pages of horrific side effects and are costly. we both were forced to give up our occupations, which is unbelievably difficult to do when you have worked happily your entire life, not to mention being accustomed to a certain level of income.

seizures do not hit all drinkers, some not at all, some earlier, some later in life, with no rhyme or reason, similar to many health problems facing today’s society. i have a distant relative whose daughter was born with it, and, while her mom and dad have never consumed alcohol, suspicion is that her dad’s biological parents did. however, being adopted leaves the question unanswered.

your drivers license is suspended immediately when it hits, and not returned until you have made 6 full months, without an attack. however, it is like having a wretched poisonous snake, dwelling permanently inside of you, forever and ever, and ever! the medication professes to hold it down, so to speak, and yes, it does, however, it is always on your mind especially when your license to drive is returned and makes travelling costs to many doctor’s appointments slightly more affordable. there is a little journal book always here in our home, where it is noted, time and day the medication is taken, in dreaded fear of missing, then being served notice basically, by the python inside. he is very aware when he hasn’t received his breakfast or supper, call it his ‘tranquilizing medication’. consequently, you may or may not be served his wrath! i trust you get the picture.

i never ever leave the house without checking this precious little diary, always sitting in clear, plain view, as having a seizure while driving could cause horrendous dreadful consequences! this is not drunk driving, so to speak, but the aftermath of drinking for years and years, not to mention the worry of it causing a fall, splitting your skull open (again), or breaking bones.

a year before my spouse passed away, he had a seizure while in a large parking garage, negotiating two upward steps, and literally flew over 20 ft., landing and breaking his hip, resulting in surgery, then a year long recovery process. this is for someone who at 6 ft 4″ tall, in excellent physical condition. but he was lucky that time! not to mention a previously broken arm & ankle, from the same cause! never had he broken a single bone in his life!!

i am attempting to bring this to as many organizations attention, as possible, as well as our government leaders, hoping that it will eventually result in them ruling for all liquor containers to bear a large warning, and to raise the purchase prices as well! cigarette manufacturers have been forced to do both, while our government still makes plenty of money from them, so, they don’t lose out. but i can’t remember ever hearing of a terrible traffic accident or severe fall, caused by smoking !?!

this type of life with a minor affliction is difficult. again, it causes a great deal of stress. my beloved’s passing away a year ago this month was a direct result of bleeding internally from a perforated ulcer, and his reluctance to go into the hospital for treatment immediately, as he didn’t want me to be on my own, i suspect, in case of an attack. needless to say, i’m on my own now.

i trust you will pass this on to others. i have been replied to by some folks on the subject, they believing, seizures are only caused from alcohol withdrawal! well, not so, not so at all !! it’s like wondering if the tenant inside is dead, alive, pissed off with you, bored or maybe, just maybe, unusually content! (for now!)

sincerely yours, in the hopes of helping others,

sjg in canada

(image by melody)

mental illness and violence

most people have little reason to fear violence from people with mental illness, even in its most severe forms.

historically, in the 1950s, mental illness carried great social stigma, especially linked with fear of unpredictable and violent behaviour. while there is greater public understanding of mental illness nowadays, paradoxically, the perception of people with psychosis as being dangerous is stronger today than in the past.

so why is fear of violence so entrenched? most speculations focus on media coverage and deinstitutionalization. one series of surveys found that selective media reporting reinforced the public’s stereotypes linking violence and mental illness and encouraged people to distance themselves from those with mental disorders. fortunately, negative perceptions about severe mental illness can be lowered by furnishing empirically based information on the association between violence and severe mental illness.

indeed, people with a mental illness are 2.5 more likely to be the victims of violence than other members of society. this tends to happen when poverty, a transient lifestyle or substance use are present. any of these factors make a person with mental illness more vulnerable to assault and the possibility of becoming violent in response.

however, mental illness plays no part in the majority of violent crimes. alcohol and substance abuse far outweigh mental illness in contributing to violence. a 1996 health canada review found that the strongest predictor of violence and criminal behaviour is not major mental illness, but past history of violence and criminality.

on rare occasions, people with mental illness who feel threatened and/or whose symptoms override personal control can behave violently. this can happen with command hallucinations or feeling that one’s mind is being dominated by outside forces. such symptoms and behaviour tend to occur more often when the person is off their medication.

living in a stressful, unpredictable environment with little family or community support can also contribute to occasional violent behaviour by individuals suffering from psychosis or neurological impairment.

patterns of violence are similar regardless of a person’s mental health status. for example, people with a mental illness are no more likely than anyone else to harm strangers. violent behaviour by anyone is generally aimed at family and friends, rather than strangers, and it typically happens in the home, not in public.

most of this violence is committed by men and directed to women. the risk for family violence is, among others, also related to low socioeconomic status, social stress, social isolation, poor self esteem and personality problems.

the major predictors of violence, regardless of mental health status, are being young, male, of lower socio-economic status, and abusing alcohol or drugs. substance disorders are major contributors to community violence, perhaps accounting for as much as a third of self-reported violent acts, and seven out of every 10 crimes of violence among mentally disordered offenders.

too much past research has focussed on the person with the mental illness, rather than the nature of the social interchange that led up to the violence. therefore, we do not know enough about the nature of these relationships and the context of violence, and much less than we should about opportunities for primary prevention.

here in canada, a senate committee has released a report on mental health, mental illness and addiction. while it was generally applauded, there was considerable concern that the report is “gender blind” and silent on the issue of violence against girls and women, which has a significant and well-documented impact on long-term physical and mental health.

(this article draws from the following sources: canadian mental health association, world psychiatry, canadian women’s health network, mental health: a report of the surgeon general)

(this post made the list of the surfers paradise hullabaloo)

the phoenix recovery centre

last thursday, i had the great fortune of meeting michael wilson of the newly created phoenix recovery centre in surrey, just southeast of vancouver.

a friend of mine, who has a little contract job there, had told me about it and said that i absolutely had to see it. so when i drove there, i thought i was well-prepared for something a bit out of the ordinary.


it’s out of the ordinary alright.

where to start?

first, when i arrived at the physical building i thought, oh, they must be somewhere at the back of the building because at the front, there’s a florist’s and coffee shop. phoenix recovery centre, surrey

it turns out the shop is phoenix’s social enterprise. that’s the one that sits beside their spiffy cafeteria, something that you’d only expect of a betty ford-type treatment centre, not of one that costs funders one-third less per person than governments spend every year on a homeless person.

“we wanted to disrupt the idea of what a recovery centre is, right when you first come in,” said michael wilson.

they were certainly successful in disturbin my ideas. what else is disrupted at phoenix?

the habits of alcohol and drug use, of course. but, even more interestingly, michael wilson and his gang want to disrupt old ways of doing that.

among us counsellors, the word “empowerment” gets thrown around a lot; it has become quite cheap currency. the people at phoenix seem committed to return real value to it. having a social enterprise there is proof of that already – but one plan that really intrigues me is michael’s idea to have phoenix alumni teach what they have learned to the community at large.

in recovery, people learn much, much more than how not to drink/shoot up/overspend (or whatever – pick your favourite addiction). that’s sometimes not known by those who have not gone through the hell of addiction and made it out alive.

look at phoenix’s mission statement:

[phoenix’s] modified therapeutic community is a multi-dimensional model that views substance abuse problems as disorders of the whole person and his or her functioning rather than defining characteristics. our program and services focus on promoting health rather than focusing on deficits and aim at involving people in enhancing their physical, mental, social and spiritual health by teaching the self-care and mutual support skills that will allow them to manage daily living responsibly.

health promotion. whole-person thinking. focusing on assets rather than deficits. mutual support.

these are things everyone can benefit from.

i have a hunch i’ll be writing quite a bit more about this exciting project in the months to come …

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

(this post appears in the 5th carnival of all substances)

adult children of alcoholics

researchers at the boston university school of social work found that while parental alcoholism can serve as an indicator of long-term harm to children, contrary to common beliefs it is not a direct cause.

“the study shows that a positive family environment may be able to overcome very negative childhood experiences.” said lead author margaret griffin.

the study found that women were particularly strongly affected. when they had alcoholic parents, they had more negative adult outcomes than women without alcoholic parents.

however, parental alcoholism alone did not directly contribute to these troubles. instead, the effect of having alcoholic parents was indirect, due to the increased likelihood of childhood stresses such as sexual abuse, the lack of a confidant, poor family communication, and family conflict and the decreased likelihood of childhood resources including family cohesion and expressiveness.

in fact, negative adult outcomes such as alcohol problems, depressed mood and poor social adjustment and life satisfaction could be seen equally in women without alcoholic parents who were exposed to the childhood stresses examined. these childhood stresses and lack of resources, then, were the pivotal influences on negative adult adjustment, regardless of the parent’s status as an alcoholic or nonalcoholic.

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

treating alcohol addiction

according to, there is more and more agreement that alcohol abuse occurs on a continuum. it needs to be treated accordingly; traditional methods of helping alcoholics work for less than half of them. project MATCH, a project involving over 80 therapists, is now looking at ways to match patient preferences with different kinds of therapy. as many of you know, that is one of my pet peeves: therapy absolutely needs to be tailored to your needs; one size does not fit all.

as the field moves away from all-or-nothing thinking about alcohol use, some interesting findings emerge, for example:

support from friends and family
as i mentioned in a previous post, peer and family support may be the “missing link” that allows some alcoholics to quit on their own, without any formal treatment. of course, this support does not mean continued enabling of the drinking; however, it can create enthusiasm and trust in both the drinker, her family and friends that a life without alcohol is possible.

mental health
around 20% of people who have problems with alcohol are dealing with mental health issues and may be attempting to medicate these with alcohol. finding more appropriate ways to help with these psychiatric problems can help with both the alcohol abuse and the mental illness.

your father’s genes
one of the key genetic factors in alcoholism is an ability to metabolize liquor too well, because of the presence of the liver enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase. indeed, a common trait among alcoholics is the early ability to “drink others under the table.” of course, that does not mean that this applies to everyone. an alcohol-dependent man i knew a while ago could get very drunk after three beers.

just as in smoking, motivation to quit reigns supreme. research shows that brief, motivationally based interventions, where counsellors work with patients for one to four sessions can be as effective as far more intensive therapy.

quitting without help
20% of alcoholics can and do quit successfully on their own. researchers are just beginning to explore what is “special” about them and how to apply it to all alcoholics.

readjustment and relapse prevention
no matter where and how an alcoholic recovers, this powerfully complex condition imposes three requirements for recovery:

  • high, sustained motivation to stop drinking
  • readjustment to — and building — a life that includes family and peer support;
  • and relapse prevention based on specific, well-rehearsed strategies of “cue” avoidance.

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

(this article was part of the 18th brain blogging carnival)

vote for mental health

vote for mental health!

what mental health issue needs to go on the government’s agenda? if you have opinions about that – and i hope you do – and if you’re canadian, you can now participate in an e-consultation put up by health canada.

the questions are

  • do we need a mental health commission?
  • what should this commission focus on? what should it do?
  • who should be on any advisory committees?

of course, you guys know me – one of the things that’s way up on my agenda is the need for people with mental health issues to be heard and to have their experience and expertise count.

what’s your beef about mental health and mental illness? tell us here, and most importantly, vote here! you have until january 25, so please, go there as soon as you can.

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

all in the service of art

this nervous running and rubbing,
gargling and popping of eyes,
fingers racing up and down, legs twitching,
coffee-coated tongue and smoke on grey teeth:
all in the service of
yellow-stained thumb pressing down again and again
until the colour stays
– where is it where is it
i knew i had it here –
the glue, under the papers? fell in the garbage?
give him more wine, red, bulgarian, and some ouzo, too, all in the
service of
so beautiful …………..
it will mesmerize people for centuries …

this is a poem i wrote a little while ago, remembering the times Continue reading