Episode 9 The Science and Psychology of Addiction with Gill from The Sober Powered Podcast

Living While Loving Your Child Through Addiction
Living While Loving Your Child Through Addiction
Episode 9 The Science and Psychology of Addiction with Gill from The Sober Powered Podcast

First guest episode with Gill from The Sober Powered Podcast. 

Some of the things we talked about in this episode:

  • Do people who have struggled with addiction have a choice?
  • Why consequences aren’t enough to make people stop drinking/using 
  • How each person’s rock bottom looks different
  • Different avenues to support sobriety
  • Alcohol and the teen brain

If you want to reach Gill you can go to her website https://soberpowered.com/podcast/

She is also Sober Powered on Facebook and Instagram

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This transcript has not been formatted or edited.

I’m Heather and this is the Living With Addiction podcast where I show you how you have more power than you realize when it comes to helping yourself and your child that’s struggling with addiction.

All right, hello everybody. Today we have our first guest on the podcast and I wasn’t sure if I was gonna have any guests on the podcast or not originally when I started, but I saw today’s guest in a group that we’re both a member of.

And I saw that she had a podcast and listened to it. And I got super excited because she has a unique ability to take complex information about the science of addiction and share it in a way that anybody who’s listening can understand. And I think that it’s something that is really needed and not talked about enough because addiction is so misunderstood and I’m always telling parents that educating themselves is key.

Um, and so that’s what we’re going to do with our guests today. And Jill is a biochemist living in the Boston area and a host of the sober powered co sober powered podcast and is 14 months sober. And so first I want to say thank you for your time for coming on and sharing this information with us today. And then congratulations on 14 months of sobriety.

Thank you. And thank you for having me. I’m really excited for this conversation. Different from anything I’ve ever done. Yeah, it’s so needed to, you know, I’ve done a lot of research and I’ve tried to write some blog posts and the one or two that I’ve done were some of my most popular trying to just share a little bit about the science of addiction.

But I loved that the way your podcasts are just so easy to listen to and you stay focused on one subject at a time. And I just I think it’s so needed. So I want to start with asking you this question because you mainly focus on talking about alcohol and the science behind that.

but a lot of parents that listen, their kids are struggling with other addictions as well. And my thought is that knowing this can help them, to understand any type of addiction, at least at a high level. But what are your thoughts about that? Yeah, so all drugs and alcohol, they’re similar in the way that they control your life and mess with your ability to think and make a decision.

They do different things like chemically, and some are obviously more powerful than others when you compare them to alcohol. But overall, I think most of the principles do apply. I’ve been researching this. OK, good. So yeah, then I think that just taking anything that we talk about today, at least from a high level, that most people are affected pretty similarly.

Um, and so when I was listening to your podcast, I got to know you a little bit through the episodes and one of the things that I love about your story is that you didn’t hit the traditional rock bottom and as far as a parent goes, like we had this huge fear about what rock bottom is going to look like for our kids, my

I just kept watching things get worse and thinking like, when is it going to be bad enough? And so, and we hear that too, like that it has to be really bad before people can quit. But for you, it sounds like on the outside, everything looked okay. And maybe somebody who didn’t really know you looking at your life would have no idea what you were experiencing. What you went through was very internal emotionally or mentally. And so,

I like that aspect of it doesn’t always have to be a horrible thing that makes somebody decide to get sober. So do you want to talk about that a little bit? Like what it was that pushed you to get sober? Yeah. So on the outside, like you said, everything was perfectly normal. I remember when I started kind of being more out about my sobriety, people were shocked. Like coworkers were totally shocked.

For me, I had the job, I’m married, I have a place to live. Nothing bad happened to me. I didn’t get a DUI or injure myself. But all the years that I drank, my mental health kept getting worse and worse and worse. And it started, I think the most noticeable one was about three years into my drinking.

I had to stop drinking margaritas. So I said like, margaritas make me really depressed. So I can’t have tequila. And it would be like crippling depression. Like can’t get out of bed for the day, depression. And then, you know, I just went about my way. I switched over to wine. And then a few years later, like it started again to get just worse and worse and worse. The depression came back. I developed anxiety for the first time.

which is something that I don’t struggle with before or after sobriety. Yeah, and then the depression kept evolving and eventually it turned into suicidal thoughts. And that was my, I guess, wake up call and like shock into reality. One night I was up all night hating myself and having anxiety. And then I realized like,

I could get drunk one day and something really bad could happen to me. Like you never know, you could be in a blackout and just that realization that I was literally risking my life. I stopped and I never drank again from there. That’s amazing because so many people experience that over and over. And so watching you do this, I think is just amazing that you’ve really

I think that’s amazing. I think that’s a great way to start.

I didn’t drink until I was 22. It’s not like I was a huge partier. I don’t come from a long line of alcoholics. I have education, a good job, I’m married. So like what happened? And I wanted to understand how alcohol could have so much power over me when I always thought I was such a strong person and it has no power over my husband who’s a totally normal drinker. And…

Yeah, that’s what started this research and it became a daily thing and it helped alleviate a lot of the shame that was caused by having a problem. Just because you were more focused on the scientific, this is what’s happening in my brain and it’s a logical process that would happen to, we’ll have another question about this later. But like why?

some people and it was the question of choice. So maybe it’s a good time to lead into that is that, you know, sometimes I try to really stay away from anything on the internet where people are commenting about addiction because there’s always the back and forth about is it a choice or not. And, you know, I think it’s interesting how people believe, well, the very first time is a choice, but

And then, you know, there’s some people that can do it over and over again and don’t experience addiction. So could you talk a little bit about choice and is it really a choice or what you found with that? Yeah, I love everything you just said, because people will say to me all the time, well, I’m going to get addicted to alcohol.

every time you drink that first drink is a choice. Like, no, the very first one was a choice, but drinking again the next day isn’t fully a choice. And it’s something that you lose control over. And I think that a lot of people just don’t understand because they drink and they have their perspective on drinking and their perspective is, it’s not a thing. They can control it just fine. And…

I don’t know where the like weak willed loser kind of idea came from, but that’s a huge contributor to the shame cycle with drinking and I’m sure drug use too. But as far as choice, there’s a lot of factors that can eliminate your ability to control yourself. Some are genetics. You can have certain genetics that make you predisposed to having a problem with

any form of addiction. So I think my favorite example of this is some people have naturally low levels of endorphins. And for them, when they drink alcohol, and I’m sure drug use is similar, they have a huge burst in endorphins. And it’s a burst that brings them up much higher than normal levels. So let’s say you have normal

endorphin levels and you would just stay flat. So even when you drink, your endorphins would just chill out. But if I have low levels, mine would shoot up way above where you are. And that’s where you feel that happiness. And I’ve seen studies too, where they’ve done brain imaging of people who have a drinking problem versus people who do not. And…

the people who have a problem, they have more areas of their brain being activated than others. So it feels better for us. And if it feels better, you’re going to want to do it. Like my husband can drink or not drink. It’s whatever. Right. But for me, when I drank, it was like, this is the best thing ever. There are no better things. And then the more you do it, the worse things get. And you

You damage your brain through abuse. And then you, the area that gets the most damaged is your prefrontal cortex, which allows you to make decisions and control your impulses. So the more damage that gets, the less control you have over yourself. Yeah, that totally makes sense. And I heard, I listened to your episode where you talked about that.

because there was a period in my life where I probably did get that effect from drinking that it made me feel really good. But then I got to the place where it just, I felt awful, honestly, even from like the first sip. And so I don’t like to drink at all.

And I think that’s a good thing. I think that’s a good thing. I think

when I was younger and it’s something I’m very ashamed about. But even though I knew 100% of the time that I drove to meet friends, I would not control myself and then drive home drunk. There was no exception to that occurring, but I would still do it. And even though I hated myself for it and I didn’t wanna do it, and sometimes I would even have the thought like you shouldn’t do this, I would still just do it.

Like you can have those thoughts, but it doesn’t connect to the rest of your brain. Like you’re aware of it, but you can’t really do anything about it because you care so much more about whatever your issue is with. So is that kind of like what you were talking about with the damage to your prefrontal cortex, where like your decision making and then a lot of parents with.

younger kids that’s not even fully developed till you’re like in your mid-20s, right? So then you’ve got two things working against your decision making process. Yeah. And teen drinkers are the risk increases to about 50%. So regular old adults have a nine percent chance of developing a problem with alcohol. If you start drinking as a teen,

your risk increases to 50%. And that’s because it’s such a vulnerable time for brain development. And alcohol damages an adult brain, but it can actually change the way that teenagers’ brains develop. So then it develops different. And it makes it so that they can develop a problem very easily where if they never drank, maybe they would just grow up to be a regular normal drinker.

Yeah. And that’s, I was just listening to you thinking how interesting that is that they also have working against them. That thought that like nothing is really going to affect them the way that we tell them that it’s going to. And so it’s so hard to talk to a teenager about this because at the same time, like they’ve got so many things working against them telling them, well, they’ll just be okay, no matter what. Yeah. And.

I think that education needs to come from somewhere else because when I was growing up, I never listened to my mom ever. Anything she said was amazing. I said, I don’t even want to try that. That’s probably the worst thing ever. We used to fight so much just going shopping. She would like say, what about this dress? That’s the ugliest dress in the entire world. I don’t even want to try it on. So if it comes from a different person, you don’t have that weird, like, I don’t know why we do that with our parents.

I think it should really start coming from schools. The message is like drinking is bad. Don’t drink, you know, you can ruin your life and go to jail, but like, why is it bad? I think kids are fully capable of understanding that if we would just explain it. Yes, I agree. I think that by the time, you know, my daughter and I were like in the principal’s office cause there was issues at school and they were just,

And so, you know, I think that’s the, you know, the principle while he was very well-meaning and they were amazing with working with things. He would just, you know, I pointed to somebody on the wall and said, well, this person got a DUI. And I think he killed somebody and he’s ended up in jail and ruined his life. But at that point, it’s just too late. Like it’s gotta come earlier. So, um,

And then as we were just talking about consequences, that was one of the other things like. It’s baffling to parents, like no matter how bad the consequences are, like I went through it with my daughter. I was, you know, there was.

So many consequences. And then I was trying to add consequences on top of it, but it just, there wasn’t any way that I could make her stop. And I eventually came to that realization of she’s going to go down this road. And the only thing that I’m doing in trying to make her stop is destroying our relationship. But I think if I had understood sooner that

And I think that’s a really good point. And I think that’s a really

And it’s a source of shame. And that’s another way, because the only thing that relieves shame is by drinking or taking whatever drug you enjoy. So.

I just lost my train of thought. We were talking about consequences and why the consequences aren’t enough to make people stop. Okay. Thank you. Yeah. So there’s something called positive expectancies and there’s a whole theory in psychology about this. I’m actually nerding out about it right now. So you believe that…

whatever you’re doing, we’ll just say alcohol, because that’s my experience, that alcohol does something great. So for me, alcohol was fun and alcohol made me happy. I was convinced that that was the truth. And because I believed those things so strongly, the negative things didn’t matter. So we elevate these positive expectancies as far as they can go. And until something happens that offsets that,

it’s really, really hard to quit. So for me, all these amazing thoughts that I had about alcohol, I was convinced that I would have the worst life ever if I had to quit drinking, that everyone would call me an alcoholic, I’d be bored and excluded. But then those suicidal thoughts were enough that it was like, I don’t care if everyone calls me an alcoholic and I’m bored forever. And…

That’s where people quit. So we all have like our limit and everybody’s limit is different. And some people, like their limit might not be suicidal thoughts. It might be like actually trying to do that and failing. And then that might shock them out of it. But the positive expectancies I think is the worst. And for drugs also, when you don’t do it, you feel horrible.

So alcohol, you have withdrawal and you feel like crap, but when you have a drug problem, you really feel horrible. There’s a really good book on this. It’s called Overachiever. I don’t know if you’ve read that. I have. Yeah, it’s so good. Highly recommend that everybody read it. And it’s a memoir of someone who was addicted to, I forget what it was. It was some type of pill, maybe a painkiller. And…

she ended up stealing from her police officer boyfriend and selling his police weapon to a drug dealer. And she did all these crazy things. And then she went to jail and she’s like, why am I doing this stuff? And she describes when she can’t get drugs, how horrible she feels. And that’s what propels her.

into doing it. So drugs are even worse because you don’t really have that with alcohol. Yeah, I think that that’s definitely something hard to watch somebody go through with the how far lengths that they will go to. And, you know, but I think also that it like you notice when people get sober, how successful they can be.

And I was talking to my daughter about it one day and I was like, I know that once you’ve had time and sobriety and you’re able to start moving forward again, like you have unlocked a part of your brain that you will be able to just move mountains with because that drive to get the drugs and the ingenuity and all of that stuff that it takes.

I’m like, you’re going to be so far ahead of the rest of the world because the rest of us have not unlocked that part of our brain. And so, you know, I just try to focus on the positive things that, you know, to keep my relationship with her going. And you know, one of the things that I really missed with her was why we ended up talking about things like that was.

And so I started looking for things to be proud of her. And I was, you know, proud of her because she was so. Smart and able to just figure things out and getting whatever she wanted in life somehow. And so we always talk about, I’m like, when you’re ready, You’re just going to move mountains in the world.

So you used the, you said the term positive expectancies. What does that mean again? I think you told us, but I want to make sure that explain it quick. So there’s a theory in psychology. Anyone can Google it. It’s expectancy theory. So you believe that drinking is going to cause all of these amazing things, whatever they are. Some people it’s relieving their anxiety.

Um, and because of those positives, even though, you know, that drinking is ruining your life and making you miserable, the positives outweigh that. So this is the problem for a lot of gray area drinkers that don’t absolutely destroy their lives or have like a mental health crisis. Like I did is the negatives never really offset those positive expectancies. And then they just get stuck in there.

So they have these beliefs, even though maybe they know they’re not true, but alcohol instantly gives you whatever reward you’re seeking. And it’s why people struggle with weight loss and anything else, because some things are instant and those are bad things, and other things you need to put in work to get that reward. So that’s the challenge. And then we’re also just as humans, we’re motivated to

And that’s another reason consequences don’t matter so much because when you are going through serious withdrawal or you’re going crazy with a craving. That pain is all you’re focusing on. And all you want to do is get rid of that. And the way the best way to get rid of it is to get some help and and recover and get through it. And then you don’t have it anymore. But what will instantly get rid of it is.

Drugs are alcohol. Yeah, so it’s just the instant relief. I mean, and I talk about that a lot with parents like actually enabling is how a parent gets relief from the pain that they’re experiencing and the discomfort of saying no. And so a lot of the things that parents end up doing

it’s similar behaviors with different consequences, different substances, you know, but it’s still that same kind of human behavior that when we don’t know a good way to relieve our pain, we’re gonna go to the easiest source. And so I like pointing that out because I think it’s just very helpful for us to see our similarities.

instead of focusing on how different we are. I mean, at the bottom, the end of everything, we’re all just human with a human brain that sometimes works against us if we don’t know how to use it to our advantage. And so I think that seeing our similarities just builds that closeness in the real, like a lot of parents experience, like I experienced for a long time, my daughter and I weren’t close.

But when I started really seeing our similarities instead of our differences, I was able to build more connection with her and bring her closer, bring her back into my life. And so that was, as I’m talking about that, like me trying to control her is what pushed her away. And part of me trying to control her was thinking that I knew exactly what

And then I was like, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what her life should be like. I was always trying to tell her what to do. And even though I wasn’t doing those things myself. And then when she got sober. I felt like I knew exactly what her sobriety should look like and

And so I thought maybe you could tell us a little bit about what you’re doing, because I think that an expanded view of there’s more than one road to sobriety, it doesn’t have to look exactly one way for it to work. And I think that there’s so many fear-based ideas that there’s, you know, only one way it has to look this way, or they can’t stay sober. And so the more options that we see and people who are happy,

doing different things, then it helps parents to kind of calm down and, you know, allow their kids to have a different path to sobriety than what maybe has been traditional or what they’ve seen in the past. Yeah, this is even a problem in the recovery community. So there’s a lot of, I call it sober judgment. So there’s a lot of sober people judging other sober people based on the recovery

their method is the best method. And if you’re not doing that, then you are at risk, you’re gonna relapse any second. There’s some people like to drink non-alcoholic drinks and it helps them maybe like at a party. I’m one of those people. And for some people it’s very triggering and they will often form the opinion, if you drink non-alcoholic drinks, it’s going to make you want the real thing and you’re doomed.

and you’re going to relapse like any day. So there’s a lot of judgment on both sides really. And I think everybody should at least do something. Some people think that they can just do it themselves and maybe join a Facebook group and that’s enough. And I really don’t think that’s enough. I think you should do at least one other thing, whether that’s talking to your doctor or going to rehab. If you like, if

you are physically addicted to something, you should seek medical help. So medical detox in a hospital, there’s different kinds of meetings. So there’s all different types that you could go to. Therapy, that’s what I do. And I think those are the main ones, but yeah, I recommend to everyone that I talk to about this, at least one thing, and people will try so hard to just do

like Facebook groups and books, and they think that’s enough for them and it’s not really enough because you have to get used to your new life. Like you come out of your problem and it’s like, whoa, everything’s horrible here. Like I was spending about 40 hours a week devoted to drinking, recovering from drinking or hating myself about my drinking. So I…

it’s like I quit a second full-time job. So you need to do anything for yourself to fill up that time. And yeah, and there’s also Zoom meetings or I think there’s She Recovers for Women Only. So there’s all sorts of things that you can do, but you should at least do one thing, whatever you’re comfortable with. And so there was something you said.

and it’s, I can’t remember what it was now. So I appreciate you sharing what’s helped you and then reading, I don’t know, one of your emails or something where you were talking about even how working on this podcast and the research and everything, how helpful that’s been for you as well. Yeah, so that became my new passion. Instead of drinking, now I learn about drinking. I’ve also.

been interested in drug use too. That’s why I read the book that I recommended to you, but I mainly just learn about drinking. And yeah, it’s just fascinating everything that I’ve learned and that helps me too. So I think any form of education, you could take a class at your community center on, whatever, my husband’s gonna take a class on chess. Just do something that makes you feel good about yourself. And then you’re less likely to be motivated

to return to your old life. Yes. Well, I could talk about this all day because I love learning new things about people and understanding them because it just gives me so much more compassion and helps me to have better relationships with people. And I…

I think we talked about some really helpful topics today though. And I just have two last things. And one is I want to ask if there’s anything that we miss that you want to make sure that you get in. And the other thing is I know people are going to want to find out more about you so you can tell them how they can get ahold of you. Yeah. So I think we covered most of it.

If there’s anything anyone has a question on, you can reach out to me. If you just search sober powered anywhere, really Instagram, Facebook, it’s my website too. You can find me and send me an email or some form of a message. So what I would recommend for parents is to definitely educate yourself on it because I’m sure that there’s a lot of shame too about what happened to your child and does it mean that you’re bad?

And if you educate yourself on just like how horrible it is for us and how we can’t control ourselves in any way, it can relieve you of that shame. So I think the best book to start with is High Achiever. I think it has like a perfect score on Amazon with thousands of reviews. So everyone loves that book.

Well, thanks for sharing that. And I agree with you about how important education was. If I had not taken the time to educate myself, I would not have the relationship that I have with my daughter today, because I would have kept taking everything personal and staying in that guilt and shame. I mean, and here it is like both people in the situation feeling guilt and shame and pain and just this Canyon between you.

And so I think that education can really help close that gap. So I love what you’re doing for that reason. I think it’s so important and so needed for everybody, not parents or loved ones trying to understand somebody who has struggled with addiction and then other people who are struggling with it themselves. I think that…

everybody needs this information. That’s why I was so excited when I found your podcast and I started nerding out and listening to all of the episodes. So I just want to say thank you for being here and I really appreciate your time today. Thank you for having me.

Thank you for listening to this episode. If you wanna learn more about my work, go to heat If you wanna help other parents who are struggling with a child’s addiction, you can do it two different ways. First, you can share the podcast with them directly, or you can share it on your social media. Second, you can leave a review. Talk to you next week.