One in four children under age 18 in the United States is affected by a parent’s abuse of alcohol. Growing up in a home where one or both parents are alcoholics can have life-altering effects on children, with long-lasting emotional and psychological scars.
Al-Anon Family Groups’ latest Membership Survey reveals that more than half of members’ lives have been affected by a parent’s drinking. Listen to the podcasts and read members’ stories to get insight into the help and hope they found in Al-Anon.
If you grew up in a home with a parent who misused alcohol, you’re probably familiar with the feeling of never knowing what to expect from one day to the next. When one or both parents struggle with addiction, the home environment is predictably unpredictable.
Argument, inconsistency, unreliability, and chaos tend to run rampant. Children of alcoholics don’t get many of their emotional needs met due to these challenges, often leading to skewed behaviors and difficulties in properly caring for themselves and their feelings later in life.1
If you were never given the attention and emotional support you needed during a key developmental time in your youth and instead were preoccupied with the dysfunctional behavior of a parent, it may certainly be hard (or perhaps impossible) to know how to get your needs met as an adult.
Furthermore, if you lacked positive foundational relationships, it may be difficult to develop healthy, trusting interpersonal relationships later on.1
Children of alcoholics often have to deny their feelings of sadness, fear, and anger in order to survive. Since unresolved feelings will always surface eventually, they often manifest during adulthood.
The advantage to recognizing this is that you’re an adult now and no longer a helpless child. You can face these issues and find resolution in a way you couldn’t back then.1
Many children of alcoholics develop similar characteristics and personality traits. In her 1983 landmark book, “Adult Children of Alcoholics,” the late Janet G. Woititz, Ed.D, outlined 13 of them.2 “Dr. Jan” (as she was known) was a best-selling author, lecturer, and counselor who was also married to an alcoholic.
Based on her personal experience with alcoholism and its effect on her children, as well as her work with clients who were raised in dysfunctional families, Janet discovered that these common characteristics are prevalent not only in alcoholic families but also in those who grew up in families where there were other compulsive behaviors.
Examples of behaviors include gambling, drug abuse, or overeating. Other types of dysfunction, such as parents who were chronically ill or held strict religious attitudes, were also implicated.3
She cited that adult children of alcoholics (ACoAs) often:4
Guess at what normal behavior is
Have difficulty following a project through from beginning to end
Lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth
Judge themselves without mercy
Have difficulty having fun
Take themselves very seriously
Have difficulty with intimate relationships
Overreact to changes over which they have no control
Constantly seek approval and affirmation
Feel that they’re different from other people
Are super responsible or super irresponsible
Are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved
People may tend to lock themselves in a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviors or possible consequences.
A person’s impulsively can lead to confusion, self-loathing, and loss of control over their environment. In addition, the person spends an excessive amount of energy cleaning up the mess.
If you’re a child of an alcoholic, that doesn’t mean that everything on this list will apply to you. Though because the experiences have common features, it’s likely you will recognize at least a few items on Dr. Jan’s list.
The Laundry List
Before Dr. Jan’s book was published, an adult child of an alcoholic, Tony A., published in 1978 what he called “The Laundry List,” another list of characteristics that can seem very familiar to those who grew up in dysfunctional homes.5
Tony’s list has been adopted as part of the Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization’s official literature and is a basis for the article, “The Problem,” published on the group’s website.
Become “para-alcoholics” (people who take on the characteristics of the disease without drinking)
Become reactors instead of actors
ACoAs and Relationships
Many adult children of alcoholics lose themselves in their relationship with others, sometimes finding themselves attracted to alcoholics or other compulsive personalities, such as workaholics, who are emotionally unavailable.1
Adult children may also form relationships with others who need their help or need to be rescued, to the extent of neglecting their own needs. If they place the focus on the overwhelming needs of someone else, they don’t have to look at their own difficulties and shortcomings.1
Often, adult children of alcoholics will take on the characteristics of alcoholics, even though they’ve never picked up a drink: exhibiting denial, poor coping skills, poor problem solving, and forming dysfunctional relationships.
If you identify with the characteristics outlined in either Dr. Woititz’s or Tony A.’s book, you might want to take our Adult Children Screening Quiz to get an idea of how much you may have been affected by growing up as you did.
Many adult children find that seeking professional treatment or counseling for insight into their feelings, behaviors, and struggles helps them achieve greater awareness of how their childhood shaped who they are today.
The process is often overwhelming in the beginning, but it can help you learn how to express your needs and cope with conflict in new and constructive ways.1
For friends and family of a person dealing with alcohol or drug addiction, detachment can be a difficult concept to grasp. In the context of the Al-Anon program, “detach with love” is the idea that the family has to let go of their loved one’s problem.
It gives you permission to let them experience any consequences associated with their drinking or drug use and focus on your own health and well-being.
The Importance of Detachment
If you’ve dealt with someone’s progressive alcoholism (severe alcohol use disorder) or drug use, it might be hard to imagine finding happiness while the substance misuse continues. This is especially true when you have tried everything possible to keep the situation from growing worse.
The stress and exhaustion associated with caring for someone with an addiction can be overwhelming. It may lead to anxiety, depression, and unhealthy behaviors or unsafe living conditions for your family.
The reality of living with alcoholism or any other addiction usually often means dealing with one crisis after another. While you may feel like you’re constantly in rescue mode, learning to detach relieves you of the responsibility to protect them.
Those who take part in Al-Anon long enough come to realize that detachment is important for the family’s emotional well-being. It also helps you understand that there is no way for you to control the addiction.
“Detachment is neither kind nor unkind. It does not imply judgment or condemnation of the person or situation from which we are detaching. It is simply a means that allows us to separate ourselves from the adverse effects that another person’s alcoholism can have upon our lives.”
Detachment does not mean you stop loving the person and it doesn’t mean physically leaving (unless you feel the need).
Instead, it demonstrates that you don’t like or approve of their behavior. It is stepping back from all the problems associated with addiction and stopping any attempts to solve them. You still care, but it is best for everyone involved if you take care of yourself first.
Many times, family members find that they have become too involved with the addictive behavior. The Al-Anon program teaches people to “put the focus on ourselves” and not on the person with alcoholism or on anyone else. This is done through a number of key points that members pick up in meetings:
Avoid the suffering caused by someone else’s actions.
Don’t allow yourself to be abused or misused during recovery.
Avoid doing things for them that they can do.
Don’t use manipulation to change their behaviors.
Don’t cover up their mistakes.
Avoid creating or preventing a crisis, especially if it’s inevitable and may be the wake-up call they need.
For example, if your family member shows up for work late or missing it entirely becomes a habit, detachment teaches you that it’s not your responsibility to cover for them. It also applies to making excuses and trying to fix situations, as well as avoiding arguments.
By putting the focus back on yourself, you protect yourself from the abusive behavior and stop enabling it. It’s a way of taking some of the power away from them so they’re not able to manipulate you.
Ideally, detaching from this person will help them see how their negative behavior affects everyone around them. As Al-Anon and Alcoholics Anonymous teach, it’s important to have the wisdom to know the difference between the things you can and can’t change.
Does It Really Help?
When you’re considering detachment, you might be concerned about what happens to your loved one after you detach yourself from them. Maybe you think all of the things you did over these years to “help” that will be wasted. Or, you might have fears about what crisis—jail, hospitalization, death, etc.—may be next.
Your concerns are valid and show your love and dedication to a person dealing with addiction. However, you have to put yourself and your family—especially if that family includes children—first.
As Al-Anon teaches, “Detachment helps families look at their situations realistically and objectively, thereby making intelligent decisions possible.” Al-Anon members also learn that no individual is responsible for another person’s disease or recovery from it.
This is very difficult and, on the clearheaded side of addiction, you probably know what should or should not happen, but this logic may be lost to the person with the disease. They need to want to change themselves and find the help needed to do that.
Your goal is to be there when they do need you and to be mentally, emotionally, and spiritually strong when they’re ready for recovery. When you learn to detach, you can find relief from much of the pain, stress, and anxiety, and realize that you deserve to treat yourself right.
This will not happen overnight. It requires time, a lot of patience and love, and support to help you along the way. As they say in the program, “It’s simple, but it ain’t easy.” You don’t have to do it alone.
A Word From Verywell
There is probably an Al-Anon Family Group meeting nearby where you will find people who understand what you’re going through. It’s by no means an easy process to detach from a loved one with an addiction, so don’t try to go it alone. By sharing your experience with others who have been there, you can find strength and hope to help you better deal with the situation.
I read about five or six articles about a parent’s addiction and how it affects the kids. there are many articles about alcoholism and how it affects the kids and there is even a group for children-adult children of alcoholics. But when it is food it is really difficult to find much. The article I have linked below is pretty good. It is pretty heavy-hitting emotionally as well.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcohol addiction.
Ottawa area (613) 267-6000
Bellwood Health Services is a Canadian addiction treatment centre located in Toronto. Bellwood offers treatment for individuals and families experiencing problems with alcohol and drugs, sex, gambling and eating disorders.
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada’s largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital, as well as the world’s leading research centre in the area of addiction and mental health.
The Crisis Line is available anywhere in the City of Ottawa, Renfrew County, Storemont, Dundas & Glengary Counties, Akwesasne & Prescott and Russell Counties. If you are outside the area, similar services may be available in the community were you live.
Within Ottawa call:
Gamblers Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from a gambling problem.
Ottawa Help Line (613) 567-3271
Newgate 180 has been Ontario’s premier non-profit drug and alcohol rehab treatment centre for more than 40 years. Located in Merrickville, Negate 180 is situated approximately 75 Kms south of Ottawa.
The Royal Ottawa Hospital Mental Health Care Centre
(Rapid Access to Alcohol Withdrawal)
The Clinic provides fast medically supported withdrawal for people who have been referred by The Ottawa Hospital Emergency Department. family counselling addiction counselling
Also known as Ottawa Addictions Access and Referral Services (OAARS)
Service Access to Recovery (SAR) is a starting point for people 16 years and older who are concerned about their substance use and want to understand and discuss treatment options. People under 16 years will have access to SAR if they consume opioids. Our main goal is to help people navigate the addictions treatment system so they can find the solutions they need and the treatment option that is right for them or their loved ones. We conduct screening and assessments, offer referrals and provide information, support and guidance.
Clients first call to speak to our triage navigator. During that phone conversation the navigator will ask screening questions and may triage certain clients toward immediate support, within 2 to 3 business days (people with very high risk usage – individuals using opioids for instance, people in withdrawal withdrawal, pregnant women etc.). Depending on your unique circumstances, the triage navigator may refer you to:
a nurse practitioner who has an expertise in addictions and mental health
a Rapid Access Addiction Medicine (RAAM) Clinic
the Ottawa Withdrawal Management Centre
your family doctor
a community agency or an addictions centre
The triage navigator will also schedule an assessment appointment to be conducted either at our main offices or one of our other locations, depending where you live or if you require a bed at the Residential Withdrawal Management Centre.
Evaluation and Referral
At your assessment visit, we will use questionnaires as assessment tools to gather information about your substance use, your mental health and other subjects related to your general health. We use this information to help decide what services you may need. The main purposes of the assessment conducted are to:
Determine problem areas
Investigate your past and present use of all substances and level of dependence to them
Prepare a treatment referral plan
Appointments usually take 90 minutes. They include intake information, assessment and referral planning. When appropriate, we will work with other significant people in your life to develop your treatment plan, and with your consent, we may share the plan with other professionals or agencies we may refer you to. A referral to treatment is usually a significant part of your recovery plan. However, we will not make a referral unless you willingly give us your consent and approval. You can choose to act on your referral plan and recommendations as soon as your assessment is completed, at which point the navigator will immediately submit your referral to the treatment programs that best suit you, or you may choose to wait until you are ready to start on your recovery journey.
We treat all of your information in a strictly confidential manner. Our counsellors will explain clearly to you the rules around sharing your information with other partner agencies. No one will have access to your information without your consent. (Any exception to this rule will be explained to you in advance.)
Your Treatment Plan
Treatment referral planning is an activity you will do with your navigator. It means the plan is created with your input. Your counsellor will explain all of the options available and give you the information you need to make a good decision. You can determine not only the order you want to do things in, but whether or not you want to move forward at all. Nothing happens without your consent. Treatment goals can include both abstinence and/or harm reduction. Abstinence means you stop using a substance completely. Harm reduction involves planning to progressively stop the usage of substances that create the most harmful consequences for you. It can involve a variety of strategies, depending on your personal circumstances.
The SMART Recovery 4-Point Program helps people recover from all types of addiction and addictive behaviors, including: drug abuse, drug addiction, substance abuse, alcohol abuse, gambling addiction, cocaine addiction, prescription drug abuse, sexual addiction, and problem addiction to other substances and activities. SMART Recovery sponsors face-to-face meetings around the world, and daily online meetings. In addition, our online message board and 24/7 chat room are excellent forums to learn about SMART Recovery and obtain addiction recovery support.
Teaches self-empowerment and self-reliance.
Provides meetings that are educational, supportive, and include open discussions.
Encourages individuals to recover from addiction and alcohol abuse and live satisfying lives.
Teaches techniques for self-directed change.
Supports the scientifically informed use of psychological treatments and legally prescribed psychiatric and addiction medication.
Works on substance abuse, alcohol abuse, addiction and drug abuse as complex maladaptive behaviors with possible physiological factors.
Evolves as scientific knowledge in addiction recovery evolves.
Differs from Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and other 12-step programs.
SMART Recovery Meetings are open to the Public. There is no cost to attend, however a hat is passed for donations. You do not need to contact the facilitator or register prior to attending; you are welcome to just show up (unless there is a note requesting attendees call first). If you do have questions about the meeting or need further information, you may contact Raymond Walli at 613-225-7272 or email@example.com. For more information on Smart Recovery please visit www.smartrecovery.org
Paul Thompson often told himself he’d never amount to anything.
He struggled at school. He could read and write, but staying focused on assignments overwhelmed him. And home offered little support: his mother suffered from addiction, so Thompson was raised by an aunt and uncle in the Fraser Valley in what he describes as an unhappy environment.
By 16, he decided to run away. Occasionally he roomed with friends or his sister. He got the odd job doing manual labour and sometimes managed to pick up a welfare cheque. But there were also times Thompson resorted to petty crime and was arrested. Mostly, he lived on the street.
Then he met Glenda and Pete Jansen. A Richmond, B.C., couple with a deep commitment to helping others — she is a special education assistant, he has worked as a pastor — they had been serving meals to the homeless from the back of their car for six months when Thompson lined up for a Sunday dinner. A friendship evolved, and the Jansens eventually took him into their home so he could get his life on track.
It was slow going. Weeks turned into months, months turned into a season. Thompson managed some work, but routines were difficult for him and he was easily frustrated. It wasn’t until Glenda attended a workshop on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) that “a light kind of went on,” she says.
She set to work, and in October of 2012, the 46-year-old learned that he wasn’t stupid, or beyond hope, as he’d believed for so many years — he was diagnosed with a brain disorder.
More than a million Canadians share Thompson’s condition, caused by exposure to alcohol in the womb. There is no cure for FASD, but early intervention can offer critical strategies for symptoms ranging from mild speech and memory deficits to severe cognitive delays.
Without support, however, outcomes can be devastating: unemployment, homelessness, addiction, abuse. According to some estimates, up to a quarter of inmates in Canada may also be affected.
But while FASD has been well documented for more than 40 years, it remains among the most misdiagnosed developmental disorders, and is often missed altogether. The cost to individuals is obvious. Experts estimate there is a steep cost for taxpayers as well, about $1.8 billion a year as a result of both lost productivity and added strain on the health-care and justice systems.
Both FASD advocates and medical researchers are now trying to make sense of what’s been standing in the way of early detection and treatment — and whether emerging science might offer new solutions.
Dr. Ira Chasnoff, a Chicago pediatrician and a leader in FASD research, has seen first-hand how dramatic misdiagnosis of what is sometimes called the “invisible” disorder can be.
In a 2015 paper in the journal Pediatrics, he describes an assessment of more than 500 children referred to a mental health clinic by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. Most had been flagged for “behavioural problems,” with diagnoses including Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. But Chasnoff’s team found that 156 — nearly 30 per cent — actually had FASD, and of those children, 86.5 per cent had either been misdiagnosed or never diagnosed at all.
Chasnoff says one of the biggest challenges is that, except in cases where children are born with distinctive facial features — small eye openings, a thin upper lip, and no groove between the nose and lips, for example — most diagnoses depend on mothers to confirm prenatal exposure to alcohol.
But disclosure comes with risk. Mothers may fear they will lose their children to social services; across North America, more than 15 per cent of kids in child welfare are suspected of having FASD. Or they may simply fear judgment, rather than sympathy or a willingness to understand, when they talk about drinking during pregnancy.
Bernadette Fuhrmann says she was deeply stigmatized when she gave talks in her community about drinking while carrying her son — even though she became pregnant in 1976, before the harm to a fetus associated with alcohol were widely promoted. “You don’t deserve to have babies,” she was told.
Diagnosing FASD is also difficult because the symptoms are fiendishly varied. No two cases are exactly alike. And as in Chasnoff’s study, FASD can often present like other disorders.
Canada’s current diagnostic guidelines for FASD include assessments of 10 different brain domains — those responsible for motor skills, cognition, memory, impulsivity control and hyperactivity among them. Tested by physicians and therapists over a number of days, three domains must be considered impaired for a formal “FASD” diagnosis.
But what if alcohol exposure impacts two, rather than three, brain domains? Or a child suffers in multiple domains, but is just above the cut-off point for what diagnosticians consider meaningfully impaired?
“You need to bring in that clinical expertise,” says Dr. Gail Andrew, who leads the FASD diagnostic team at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital in Edmonton. “If I see a kid who is impaired slightly, not significantly, but in five brain regions, I might still give the diagnosis.”
Race and class bias may also be a factor in the under-diagnosis of FASD.
In Canada, says Andrew, doctors are far more likely to ask about drinking during pregnancy when patients are from marginalized groups.
Geography is another barrier to diagnosis. In Canada, the gold standard is a clinic with a team that includes a physician, a psychologist, an occupational therapist and a speech pathologist. But diagnostic capacity varies from province to province. In Alberta, there are more than a dozen clinics. In Quebec, there is just one — in Eeyou Istchee, a Cree Nation in the north. Many clinics have massive backlogs. At the New Brunswick Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Centre of Excellence, located in Moncton, the estimated wait for a diagnosis is two years.
The cost can be significant, too. While some assessments are free, the bill for Thompson’s diagnosis came to $5,300 — which the Jansens raised over nine months.
A cheek swab may be the way forward.
There is no genetic test for FASD. But many studies have shown that environmental factors, including prenatal alcohol exposure, can have what’s called an “epigenetic” impact — changing the way genes behave. Research on rats, for example, has shown a link between prenatal exposure and how offspring produce proteins responsible for regulating stress responses.
In 2016, a team at the University of British Columbia studied DNA samples from more than 200 children and found similar epigenetic “signatures” among those either diagnosed with FASD or exposed to alcohol in utero.
Other research suggests that such epigenetic changes may even be heritable. A 2012 American study found that the impact of prenatal exposure to alcohol in rats persisted for three generations. If the research bears out, it means that parents with FASD could pass on associated deficits — even if their own children are not exposed to alcohol in the womb.
The impact of paternal alcohol consumption is another question researchers are exploring. Results so far include lower birth weights as well as cognitive deficits in the offspring of fathers who drink.
Dr. Geoff Hicks leads the Regenerative Medicine Program at the University of Manitoba and has been studying the role of epigenetics in FASD for years. He says research around heritability of epigenetic changes and the effect of alcohol on sperm are both in early stages.
He is also cautious about using epigenetic signatures for diagnosis.
“There can be many confounding effects for FASD, like stress and economic status,” he says. “They’re all environmental impacts that could and would leave epigenetic marks, so it may be a long time before we can say, ‘This is alcohol’ versus ‘This is smoking,’ versus ‘This is alcohol, smoking, and poverty.’ ”
But the findings out of UBC, which investigated more than 400,000 genetic sites to identify a pattern associated with FASD, are promising enough that Hicks is now working with a large team to develop a clinical tool to help flag children at risk of the disorder.
A cheek swab could determine whether babies as young as a year old need tracking for potential support. Right now, a diagnosis is usually not confirmed until the age of six, which can be too late for optimal results. Hicks’ tool could also be significant in cases where it’s difficult to confirm maternal drinking during pregnancy.
“We know early interventions work,” says Hicks. “There are learning interventions and memory interventions, and if these are all done before the age of six, when the child’s brain is developing, they can have strong, profound outcomes.”
Without a diagnosis, many of the behaviours a child with FASD exhibits — aggressiveness, for example, or continually repeating the same mistakes — can be misunderstood and are often mishandled.
When her son refused to take medication during high school, one Edmonton mother recalls, he became so aggressive that he threatened to kill his principal. Instead of assigning a social service worker to his case, the school expelled him.
Fuhrmann’s son was violent even in preschool, and by the age of five started playing with fire. By his early teens, she says, he got involved in crime and drugs and was repeatedly in trouble with police.
Cognitive deficits may also hinder even seemingly high-functioning adults. One woman with FASD says she was fired because she could never get her tasks done on time. Another says she was so overwhelmed by work that she suffered a mental breakdown.
By contrast, a diagnosis of FASD can unlock vital access to educational supports, financial aid, housing and employment programs.
In 1995, the Winnipeg School Division responded to data showing an increase in students with FASD in the province by establishing a classroom specifically designed to address common challenges of the disorder. Teachers take children through the curriculum at a slower pace, offer such spaces as soundproof rooms to mitigate sensory overload, and help kids understand both how FASD affects the brain and how they can address their difficulties.
Perhaps it is this last piece — the psychological impact of a diagnosis — that is most transformative.
It wasn’t until her son was 25 that Fuhrmann learned about FASD. She encouraged him to get a diagnosis, but for many years he resisted. He insisted he was responsible for his actions and didn’t need help. But at 31 he landed in a penitentiary. On a call from prison, he told his mother, “This is the worst place I’ve ever been. I think I want my diagnosis.” She says it was the best thing that ever happened to him.
Savanna Pietrantonio, a 51-year-old in Hamilton, Ont., wasn’t diagnosed until the age of 47. By then she had already developed her own coping mechanisms and support systems. And knowing she has FASD hasn’t suddenly made her depression and anxiety disappear: “There are days where I don’t drive my car because my thoughts are so dark. I don’t trust my brain. I don’t know what I will do. It’s like your brain is searching for a place to rest and can’t find one.”
For all that, she says her diagnosis still fundamentally changed her for the better. “For 47 years I believed I was bad and stupid, just a person who always made bad decisions. When I got the diagnosis I realized this wasn’t my fault. I wasn’t a problem — I had a problem.”
Now 53, Paul Thompson is living in the basement suite of a three-storey home with a big backyard — safe and stable housing that’s a direct result of his diagnosis.
His mother had always denied drinking, and was in the hospital at the time of his FASD assessment. But at the discretion of diagnostic teams, confirmation of prenatal alcohol exposure is now sometimes accepted from family members and social workers. Thompson’s cousin stepped in on his behalf.
Thompson’s formal diagnosis made him eligible for Community Living British Columbia, which supports adults with disabilities and helps them find affordable housing.
Over the past several years, he and Jansen have become advocates for other adults with FASD as well. They’ve spoken on panels across the country, sharing their stories — and the message that it’s never too late to get a diagnosis.
There are still few diagnostic clinics in Canada that will assess adults, Jansen says. The emphasis on early intervention can also obscure the reality of living with an irreversible disorder: the need for support doesn’t end just because you turn 18.
Across the country, even adults with formal diagnoses of FASD are often stuck on long waitlists for services. Others aren’t able to access services at all, because their IQ or adaptive functioning skills are too high for provincial requirements.
Jansen says she remains Thompson’s “primary go-to person.” She helps schedule and take him to appointments, assists him with budgeting, and loads up his freezer with food so that he doesn’t resort to his favourite meal of Kraft Dinner every night.
Thompson picks up occasional work doing manual labour. But his disorder makes full-time work difficult. “His success is different from someone else’s,” says Jansen. But as she points out, “he’s changing people’s lives with his story. I mean, how many people can say that?”
Most importantly, Thompson is proud of himself. He no longer feels like he’ll never amount to anything. Gesturing to his living room and his kitchen, he stretches his arms out wide. “Look what I’ve got now,” he says.
Pushing aside a makeshift podium in the modest hospital at CFB Trenton, Dr. Barbra Allen Bradshaw says she told a crowd of army nurses, doctors and dietitians that “Canada’s Food Guide is making you sick.”
Eating a diet high in carbs and low in fat, like the nation’s food experts suggest, isn’t the way to a healthy heart or physique, she said. “It’s bad advice.”
Allen Bradshaw, a pathologist from Abbotsford, B.C., is part of a group of doctors from across the country who have been on a crusade to change the way Canadians are told to eat.
For the past two years, she and her colleague Dr. Carol Loffelmann, an anesthesiologist in Toronto, have spent much of their free time travelling the country, urging colleagues and regular Canadians alike to eat fewer carbohydrates than what’s recommended by the government and indulge in fat from sources such as steak and cheese — even if that flies in the face of conventional wisdom.
It’s all they can do as they wait to see whether Health Canada will heed the message from their grassroots campaign.
Since 2016, the women, who founded Canadian Clinicians for Therapeutic Nutrition, a national non-profit, have lobbied the government, with letters, an Ottawa meeting and a parliamentary petition signed by nearly 5,000 Canadians, to reconsider the diet advice they believe Health Canada plans to deliver in the next iteration of the Food Guide, which is due out in early 2019, according to a Health Canada spokesperson.
Allen Bradshaw and Loffelmann, who works at St. Michael’s Hospital, say some of the new recommendations may not be based on the most current, relevant scientific evidence and could continue to make Canadians overweight, reliant on medication and suffer from diabetes, fatty liver disease and metabolic syndrome.
In an email to the Star, Health Canada said that as the new advice is finalized, it is also updating its evidence base with the latest nutrition science and that too will be released to the public in early 2019.
“The Food Guide has benefited from the input of many stakeholders,” the email said. “We are taking all feedback into consideration.”
Over coffee on a recent morning in downtown Toronto, the women, who met online, said the coming recommendations, which are based, in part, on evidence reviews released by Health Canada in 2015, will likely tell Canadians to limit added sugar and encourage them to eat whole, rather than processed foods. Those are good things, they said.
But, they said, Health Canada continues to hold strong on evidence that’s outdated and incomplete. For instance, they said some studies show that diets low in saturated fat, from sources such as beef and butter, are associated with heart disease.
But the jury of science is still deliberating on the full impact of saturated fat on health and so, the women said, in those cases and others, the Food Guide should remain “silent.” Or, conduct a rigorous, independent review of the research.
The women’s crusade began several years ago with their own, quiet struggles to lose weight.
After giving birth to her second child, Loffelmann dutifully followed the diet advice, informed by the Food Guide, that she learned in medical school. She ate whole grains, substituting whole wheat for white pasta, and leaned off the butter. Heeding the guide’s deeper advice to move more and eat less, she took up high-intensity exercise. But over time, her waistline expanded.
On the other side of the country, Allen Bradshaw, who was on the same kind of diet, struggled to lose weight and overcome gestational diabetes during her third pregnancy.
Independently, the two women began a search for answers diving deep into the scientific literature. What they found was that much of the Food Guide’s advice was not supported by the most current science.
So they started experimenting. Eating the opposite of the country’s nationally sanctioned advice by indulging in full fat yogurt and ditching the bowls of rice and pasta, they both lost weight. And stopped feeling hungry all the time.
The two took to the internet, sharing their successes with a small group of mom physicians across the country, who, to their surprise, were receptive. The small group grew as the women shared their results. Over time, they heard from doctors across Canada who began prescribing the same type of anti-food guide diet to their patients.
“All of a sudden, doctors are seeing their patients get off medication, losing weight and their markers of disease are dropping and their disease is going away,” Allen Bradshaw said.
That was a turning point for the women.
Armed with a letter signed by 190 physicians, they sent it to Health Canada in 2016, saying that in the 35-plus years since the government entered the country’s kitchens, the population has grown fat and sick.
Their letter urged the bureaucrats, who were at that point relying on evidence available in 2014, to consider the most current studies available. The letter added: “Stop using any language suggesting that sustainable weight control can simply be managed by creating a caloric deficit.”
The response was a form letter. The women answered it with a more detailed version of their initial correspondence, this time citing the current, relevant studies and signed by 700 medical professionals including doctors, nurses and pharmacists. They received a deeper response from federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor.
It said her ministry was relying on “high quality reports with systematic reviews of associations between food and health” from federal agencies in the U.S. and around the world. And that it continued to monitor for more evidence.
After more of a back and forth, the physicians were invited to Ottawa for a meeting with Health Canada.
It was a warm May morning this year when the women, along with three others, including Dr. Andrew Samis, a critical care and stroke physician from Kingston, Ont., stood outside the parliamentary building that houses Health Canada’s headquarters. They took a deep breath. Within minutes, they were spirited to a boardroom.
Over two hours, they explained their position, including, Samis said, that science on saturated fat remains incomplete and the government should reconsider the evidence it uses and how it evaluates what evidence to use for its recommendations.
He also told the bureaucrats, including Hasan Hutchinson, director general at Health Canada’s Office of Nutrition Policy and Promotion, that Canadians, a multicultural lot, should be given several diet options, rather than a one size fits all. To varying degrees, he said, the research supports five legitimate diets, including plant-based, low fat, Mediterranean, ancestral paleo — fruits, vegetables and lots of protein — and keto, meaning low carb, high fat. Samis said: “We felt they were really listening.”
But shortly after the meeting, Samis heard Hutchinson on the radio plugging the old, tired advice. “It was disappointing,” he said.
The group’s last attempt at persuading lawmakers was a parliamentary petition signed by 5,000 Canadians and presented on Sept. 26 in the House of Commons urging lawmakers to conduct an external review of the evidence before unleashing new, potentially harmful advice on the public.
With that, the doctors have been left to wait. And spread their message in webinars and talks large and small across the country.
At CFB Trenton, Allen Bradshaw, who spent 14 years in the Canadian army as a medic, drank in the atmosphere and relished the nostalgia of her time in the reserves, where she assisted army doctors in tending to injured soldiers. The crowd, she said, ate up her anti-diet advice especially the edict that society has to stop blaming patients who follow the Food Guide and fail to lose weight, she said. “It’s not their fault.”
Guide to Quit offers tailored advice online for 28 days
CBC NewsPosted: Jan 18, 2016 9:49 PM CT Last Updated: Jan 18, 2016 9:49 PM CT
Eliminating triggers that make people desire a cigarette when quitting, such as an ashtray, is part of the Guide to Quit program. (REUTERS/Erik De Castro)
(Note: CBC does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of external links.)
Researchers at the University of Regina are hoping their program to help people quit smoking could be the new nicotine patch.
The group has launched an online guide to help people stop smoking called Guide to Quit. The program guides smokers through their first 28 days of quitting. Previous studies have shown that people who quit for 28 days are five times more likely to butt out for good.
Holly Parkerson, a PhD candidate in Psychology, helped develop the program. She said people using Guide to Quit log in daily and make note of their cravings, issues and any stressful events that may be coming up.
Researcher Holly Parkerson says there is a strong desire among Canadian smokers to quit, but not enough support available. (Pawel Dwulit/Canadian Press)
The program then gives them tailored advice to help through the issues without turning to cigarettes. It also helps people plan to change things in their environment to curb cravings.
“This is a big part of quitting, is that there’s all these reminders and cues that make you want to light up,” Parkerson said.
The amazing thing about the program, Parkerson said, is that it’s entirely automated. Anyone aged 18 to 65 can sign up, as long as they have internet access.
“This provides a really cost-effective way to help people all over the nation, whether they’re in rural areas or larger centres,” she said.
Need for support
Parkerson said that there is a lack of support in Canada for people who want to quit smoking.
She said that one in nine quit attempts ends in failure, even though the majority of Canadian smokers say they want to quit.
Since the program was launched in October, Parkerson said about 200 people signed up without it even being advertised.
“It shows us that there is really a need for this support, and that there are people actually out there seeking it out,” she said.
“It’s kind of an exciting development for us.”
The researchers are testing the effectiveness of the program at a clinical trial.
They’re monitoring smokers who use the program to quit and tracking whether each person has been able to stay away from cigarettes eight weeks later. They also check back at the three-month and six-month mark.
The researchers will compare these results to quitters who didn’t use the program.
Anyone interested in signing up can find the program at GuidetoQuit.ca.
Many services and a great starting point for addiction services in Ottawa.
We do our best to ensure that our potential clients receive timely access to our services.Using a brief pre-admission screening questionnaire, a staff member will verify the recent drug use of a prospective client and whether or not withdrawal in our non-medical centre is best suited for the individual. Occasionally we will refer a potential client to a medical facility or hospital if there are significant issues which might affect the safety of clients and staff.
After completing the screening questionnaire over the phone or in person, if our services are thought to meet the needs of the client and there is a bed available, a staff member and the client will agree on a time for the admission to take place. At admission, the client will be asked a few more detailed questions face-to-face, and then be asked to rest in the observation area for further monitoring.
For further information or to refer, please call 613-241-1525.
As a trained therapist, with experience in the addictions field, I help people with substance abuse and addiction issues in one-on-one counselling.
Sometimes individuals want (or require) intensive treatment or detox assistance. Here is the contact information for Addictions Services in Ottawa.
Addiction Services of Ottawa
This bilingual organization is funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and is mandated to serve residents of the Ottawa region. This organization operates out of the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre and provides a diverse range of services to adults and youth who have concerns regarding substance use/abuse or problem gambling. The treatment matching focus encompasses individuals at all points along the risk continuum from early stage, to moderate, to severe substance use problems. This organization recognizes and respects the dignity, self-worth and diversity of every person who contacts the service.
Based on popular topics on the BounceBack.com message boards and in my psychotherapy practice, it’s clear that one of the reasons we become stuck in suffering after a relationship ends (and in many other areas of life) is this: We’re trying to change things that are beyond our control.
Perhaps we’ve been served divorce papers and we fight the inevitable, despite clear signals from the other party that the relationship is over. Or maybe we’re struggling with the dreaded feeling of having had months or years of our lives stolen by an ex. Because we’re propelling our energy into areas outside the scope of our control, we feel powerless and our suffering is exaggerated and prolonged.
Getting past this requires a cognitive shift, or changing the way we perceive and react to the situation. Accomplishing this shift involves determining what we can and cannot control, then accepting and letting go of those things we can’t control in order to refocus our energy on what we can.
This is a familiar message. It’s found within the lines of the Serenity Prayer:
“God, grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
As well as this Maya Angelou quote:
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
In psychology it’s evident in constructs such as “locus of control,” or determining whether you attribute events in your life to external sources (I am suffering because he is treating me poorly) or internal sources (I am suffering because I am allowing myself to be treated poorly).
To illustrate the point, here are a few common roadblocks to healing:
You’ve just been broken up with and you’re relying on the other person for closure.
Your significant other left you. You want to sit down and discuss the downfall of the relationship in hopes that it might change the outcome or provide you with closure, but he or she refuses to do so. You’ve left several messages but receive no response. You wonder how the person can treat you this way after being a significant part of your life. You feel angry and unable to move forward.
It’s normal that in this situation you would feel unsettled and want to seek reconciliation or closure. If the other person refuses to work with you towards either aim, it’s time to determine what you can and can’t control in the situation. What you can’t control is the other person’s feelings or behavior. Oftentimes we become stuck in believing that if we just behave in a certain way or leave one more message, the other person will come around. Getting unstuck requires us to ask the question, “Am I going to continue to blame the other person’s behavior for my anger and inability to move forward, or am I going to acknowledge that it’s my responsibility to accept the reality of the situation and focus on what I can control?” What you can control is working towards understanding that no matter what you say or do the other person is going to handle the breakup in his or her own way, and that you might have to find closure on your own.
You can’t let go of your anger for having stuck it out in a difficult relationship, only to be broken up with.
You’re counting the months or years. Your ex’s behavior glares at you from your memory. You were treated unfairly. Your needs were ignored. You feel that you’ve been robbed of time. You can’t stop asking yourself why. Why did he or she leave after I put so much into the relationship? Why did he or she take me for granted?
It’s expected that you’d feel angry if someone mistreats you, and it’s healthy to work through that anger. What’s important is how you work through it. You can remain mired in what you can’t control (everything your ex did to you), or you can begin to look at what you can control (learning the red flags of relationships that aren’t good for you and how to approach relationships differently in the future).
In this scenario you might also be beating yourself up for having remained in the relationship and put up with bad behavior. You might feel that you wasted time. While you’re already focused on your own actions, you’re still trapped in focusing on what you can’t change (the past). Running in circles obsessing over past mistakes only leaves us dizzy and swimming in regret. To free yourself from that trap your thinking must shift to forgiving yourself, and to reflecting on those red flags and learning how you can avoid them in the future.