Addiction and Redemption: the way out

addiction-and-redemptionHere is a PDF of an article I wrote for Human Development magazine. The article begins on page 8.


Addiction and Redemption, by Jeff Jay


The article contains some material from my book, Navigating Grace. It also contains material on Steps 1–5. I hope you’ll pass it on.








“Addiction and Redemption: The Way Out,” by Jeff Jay, as originally published in Human Development Magazine.

Debra Jay interviewed at the Women’s Symposium

The legendary Jerry McDonald of Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, interviewed Debra Jay about her book, “It Takes a Family.” Debra was presenting on the topic of Structured Family Recovery™ and the best methods to increase family involvement and improve treatment outcomes.







Treatment Didn’t Work?

A question from one of our readers:


Dear Jeff and Debra,


My husband went to treatment, but he started drinking again after he got home. He was only there nine days, but it didn’t seem to help at all.  What can we do? I’m so frustrated!




Dear Frustrated,


We feel your pain. Families are always shocked when they learn how little time a person gets in a residential treatment program. After waging a long battle to get their loved one to accept help, they expect the person will be away and in treatment for at least a month. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.


What your husband received is more properly called detoxification and stabilization, rather than treatment. Once a person has been medically stabilized, has received basic education, and has received a continuing care plan, they are discharged. The next phase is typically an IOP (intensive outpatient program), meeting at 3 to 5 times per week for 6 weeks. Not many patients comply.


When resources allow it, we recommend 30 to 90 days of residential treatment. The “gold standard” used for airline pilots and physicians who need treatment is 90 days—and that’s just the start.


Your husband’s focus has to be on Twelve Step meetings and outpatient services. Right now, the goal should be to consult with his doctor, keep it simple, and start over. The old prescription of “90 meetings in 90 days” is a good place to begin. He’s had a bad fall, but it’s time to get up and try again. There are many recovering alcoholics in our community who’ll be happy to help him.



This post was also published in the Grosse Pointe News

When does grief turn into addiction?

Hospice of Michigan conducted an interview with Jeff Jay that appeared in several regional newspapers. The topic of addiction and grief comes up frequently in our clinical work, and Jeff answers many common questions. We’ve had a significant response to this article, so we thought our readers would like to see it.


Read the article here: When does grief turn into addiction?

The Unexpected Gift

desert tree


Christmas 2015


Imagine a young woman, about sixteen years old, living in a conservative religious community, and discovering she’s pregnant. In the time and place where she lives, marriage at a young age is common, but her fiancé knows he’s not the father, because they’ve never had sex, so the engagement will have to be ended. The pregnancy isn’t visible yet, but the reaction of the community is certain, because pre-marital sex and children out of wedlock are outlawed. She will be ostracized, if not banished outright from the town. Her parents are dead, and there are no extended family members nearby. Imagine her fear and anxiety.


It’s hard to have faith when no human help is at hand, when life plans fall apart, when people desert us. Where is God in our darkest hours? How can faith battle despair?


Welcome to the drama of Christmas, without the tinsel and parties and cheer. The young woman only had her faith, and an uncertain road leading to a son born on December 25th.


Imagine the fiancé acting on faith, too. He comes back to his love and marries her, as the pregnancy shows itself to the village. The townspeople assume he’s the father, so he’s disgraced along with his bride. He’d been considered an honorable man, but pregnancy is shameful and unacceptable, and may cost him much-needed work. With only his faith to go on, he perseveres and does his duty, as best he can.


Welcome to the trials of Christmas, the way of love and grace. See how much pain and humiliation goes with every human life, often without cause or warning. See how lonely and embarrassing it feels to have others turn away in judgment.


Imagine the young couple, fighting cold and poverty, traveling many miles to a larger town, as required for the census. With no money and no friends, they are consigned to a barn for their lodging. Animals are the only source of heat in the stable, so the child is born with little protection from the cold. Like so many new beginnings, this one looked bad from the start. Some sheep herders came to marvel, but what could they make of this scene?


Welcome to the very first Christmas, a story of hardship and hope. There are no sugar cookies or crackling fires, no Starbucks or Santa. Through the mystery of suffering and the perseverance of faith, a new life is born. All things are possible with this recipe, guided by the hand of the Master. Can I bring myself to the precipice of belief? Can I accept the danger?


Christmas is a time of renewal and a celebration of grace. It’s a time for forgiveness and hope. We exchange gifts to show gratitude for all we’ve been given, and we give generously to the poor who wait in hope and fear.


I remember being helpless in my own addiction, at the end of the road, unable to see anything but darkness. Suicide seemed like the only option, though unspeakably sad and desperate. Without the help of others, without a loving interruption to my madness, without the love of family and friends and professionals, the disease would’ve swallowed my soul and snuffed out my life.


But help alone couldn’t save me. My recovery wasn’t simply a do-over with clinical guidance. I had to come to a point of deep surrender, and an abject willingness to give up my throne of control. My absurd and deadly pride had to be relinquished, or I would never find a power strong enough to save me.


I remember pacing the hospital ward and seeing a framed poster with the motto: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Could it be true? Could I really begin again? It would have to be on a new basis, without the fireball certainty of my old ways. Could I come to believe? Would I have enough to rededicate myself, like the miracle of the Hanukkah lights?


Little by little I made my way down the new road. Or perhaps I was carried by the kindness of strangers, the love of family, and my own willingness to lay down the old life and try a different one. When I was drinking and drugging, I didn’t care what people thought, so why should I care now? I’ll go to the meetings, I’ll pray with the group, I’ll make a decision to turn myself over to the miracle.


Christmas is a celebration of the greatest things coming out of the lowliest, the triumph of humility in the face of suffering, the transformative power of faith. The meaning of Emmanuel is “God among us.” Isn’t that the story of recovery? As we get the daily reprieve from madness, and a rebirth into limitless possibilities, don’t we find it together, in God-among-us, in unexpected joy? Don’t we find it when we share the gift?


Let’s bring the gift with us wherever we go—the gift of being present and ready to help. Let’s help with the dishes, the children, and the lights. Let’s suit up and show up and say Yes to life. Let’s show the world we’ve really come back, and we’ve come back to give back, and come back for good. Merry Christmas.


Jeff Jay

Navigating Grace, by Jeff Jay



Jeff Jay’s latest book is Navigating Grace, a solo voyage of survival and redemption.






Boomers and addiction

Debra Jay was quoted in a very good article in the Pacific Standard, titled: “Are Substance Problems Among Older Americans a Looming Crisis?” The journalist asked good questions and put an appropriate focus on medication issues.


(Photo: Zsido/Shutterstock)

(Photo: Zsido/Shutterstock)

The article drives home the point that older substance abusers, like all addicts, are unlikely to seek help on their own. They’re also likely to avoid those who raise the issue with them, whether that person is a family member or physician. ““It is usually the adult children who decide to take action and help motivate an older parent to accept treatment, through either informal or formal intervention,” says Debra Jay.


“As is true for adolescents, this age group has unique needs,” says Jay. “Typically, they progress more slowly through treatment and are facing issues specific to their stage of life: empty nest, change in roles (such as retirement), grief issues, body changes, cognitive deficiencies, limitations related to sight, hearing, and mobility.”


Debra Jay is the author of “Aging and Addiction: helping older adults overcome alcohol and medication dependence,” (Hazelden – with Carol Colleran). This book has been hailed as an indispensable guide for families and professionals dealing with chemical dependency in the boomer and boomer-plus population.


Aging and AddictionBarry McCaffrey, former Drug Czar, wrote the introduction to Aging and Addiction and said: “This superb book will help save lives. It’s that simple. Aging and Addiction is intelligent, readable, and well researched. Above all, it is an immensely compassionate book, which offers hope and direction to families and readers who have an older adult who is abusing alcohol or medications.”


“Older American adults who abuse or are addicted to alcohol or prescription medications are not failures. Most have raised wonderful families, retired from successful careers and community activities, and led energetic lives. They are suffering from a disease. As with any other physical illness, they can be helped to recover. However, many go without diagnosis or even minimal treatment from their doctors and the health care community.”


The Pacific Standard article puts emphasis on the important help boomers can find in 12 Step groups, which provides a new and positive opportunity for socialization and friendship. The article also puts the spotlight on the difficulty physicians have in saying No to patients who want drugs they’ve seen advertised in the media. Thanks to staff writer Chelsea Carmona of Pacific Standard and Substance for a great article.



Recreational Pot Smokers Change Their Brains

Recreational Pot Smokers Change Their Brains, Too

Dear Jeff and Debra:


We’ve just found out that our daughter and son, both away at college, are smoking pot. We learned this through their younger sister, who decided we should know. We talked to both of our children to express our disapproval and inform them that they needed to stop using this drug immediately. My husband and I were shocked at their responses. They didn’t care what we had to say, but rather vehemently defended marijuana as a harmless drug that is being legalized and also used as a beneficial medication. They are both certain that smoking this drug a couple times a week is perfectly safe and say they plan to continue smoking it recreationally. My husband blew up at their disrespectful attitude and the conversation devolved into a screaming match.


Neither my husband nor I drink. It is a decision we made when our children were little. Alcoholism runs in both of our families, and we decided not to tempt fate. We have raised our kids to understand that addiction is a genetic disease and that they could have inherited it. We consider ourselves informed, communicative parents who prepared our children to make smart decisions around drinking and drugs. But these two kids steamrolled us with arguments on why this drug is harmless. They are obviously getting a lot of pro-marijuana information, which is usurping our parental guidance and authority. We are at our wit’s end.

-Mom and Dad


Dear Mom and Dad:


A widespread belief that recreational marijuana use – smoking it a couple times a week – is perfectly safe is being challenged by a new study in the Journal of Neuroscience. Researchers from Harvard and Northwestern studied the brains of recreational pot smokers, ages 18 to 25, and compared them with non-marijuana smokers in the same age group.


Female pot smoker

Recreational Pot Smokers Change Their Brains, Too

In the areas of the brain that control emotions and motivation, recreational pot smokers showed significant abnormalities. “This is a part of the brain that you absolutely never ever want to touch,” said Hans Breiter, one of the researchers. These areas of the brain largely determine what we find pleasurable in life and how we gauge benefit and loss. Even those who only smoke once a week showed noticeable abnormalities. Smoking more often causes an increase in significant variations.


Breiter goes on to say, “People think a little marijuana shouldn’t cause a problem if someone is doing OK with work or school. Our data directly says this is not so.”


We don’t yet know exactly in what form these alterations to the brain change a person’s quality of life, but the emotional brain is a determining factor in our capacity to engage in healthy relationships, find a sense of happiness in life and have the ability to make good decisions. Memory is also exceedingly important in our capacity to make decisions.


Since the brain is in a rapid development phase during the teen years throughout the mid-twenties, introducing any drugs can alter this growth process and, according to neuroscientists, possibly cause permanent changes. When a brain’s ability to access emotions, process rewards, and make decisions is altered by marijuana, it should be taken seriously, according to researchers.


Additionally, by altering one’s mood with substances whenever socializing, social maturity is slowed or blocked. When we depend on a drug to do the work for us, we don’t develop socially in the same manner as we do when we’re sober.


We suggest you present this information to your children and pair it with a behavioral expectation that they stop using marijuana. If understanding how marijuana compromises their brains does not lead to an immediate end to their relationship with the drug, you have a bigger problem than recreational use. Kids value their brains. If they are willing to sacrifice their brain’s ability to function at its best possible level for the benefit of a high, seek professional help from a therapist who specializes in young adults and substance abuse. As parents, have a detailed conversation with the therapist before including your children to assess whether or not the therapist shares your values and expectations.


Questions? Comments? Contact us.


This article originally appeared in the Grosse Pointe News


Structured Family Recovery™ book available now

We’re happy to report that Debra Jay’s new book, “It Takes a Family: a cooperative approach to lasting sobriety,” is now available from Hazelden. The official release date for the book had been set for December 2014, but the first printing is ready to ship now.


“It Takes a Family” presents a fresh approach to the recovery process by making family members and friends part of the recovery team, beginning in the early stages of sobriety. Most books on recovery from addiction focus either on the addict or the family.


It Takes a Family: a cooperative approach to lasting sobriety

Presenting the new, year-long program called Structured Family Recovery™

While most alcoholics and addicts coming out of treatment have a recovery plan, families are often left to figure things out for themselves. In straightforward, compassionate language, she outlines a structured model that shows family members both how to take personal responsibility and to build a circle of support to meet the obstacles common to the first year of recovery.


Together, family members address the challenges of enabling, denial, and pain while developing their communication skills through practical, easy-to-follow strategies and exercises designed to create transparency and accountability. With this invaluable guide, family members work together as they reinvent their relationships without the all-consuming dysfunction of active addiction.


Debra Jay’s new program is called Structured Family Recovery™ and it’s changing the face of addiction treatment forever.


Debra is speaking at three conferences in the next two weeks, and will be doing book signings. You can see her speak at FADAP in Baltimore on September 30, 2014; Moments of Change, in Palm Beach, FL on Oct. 2, 2014; and Lifestyle Intervention Conference, Las Vegas, NV, October 7, 2014. For more on these upcoming events, click here.




Hitting Bottom: A Family Affair

When addiction begins causing serious problems, a family’s greatest fears turn into reality. They watch with disbelief as the alcoholic continues drinking while their lives are falling apart. Unable to convince the alcoholic to stop drinking, families begin searching for answers. In my years of working with the relatives of alcoholics and addicts, I have found that families rarely reach out for help until the drinking and drugging hits a crisis point, and then they are often told:  “There’s nothing you can do until the alcoholic wants help. You’ll just have to let him hit bottom.

  No More Letting Go


Hitting bottom is an old idea, still imposed upon families as if it were an absolute. Many families sadly believe that they must wait for alcoholics to hit bottom before there is any hope for recovery. They rarely stop to consider that this belief sentences them to years of unhappiness and devastation. No one ever mentions the fact that alcoholics and addicts don’t take the trip to the bottom alone–the family goes with them. Families are never warned that the journey to the bottom takes even the smallest children.


Hitting bottom should never be our first strategy; it is a strategy of last resorts. Only when every reasonable intervention technique is exhausted, should we let someone freefall. Even then, there are ways to raise the bottom, to stretch out the safety net of treatment and recovery. Addiction always presents new opportunities. The trick is recognizing them and knowing how to take action.
Buy from Amazon (kindle too)


The premise of hitting bottom is that addicts hit one bottom and, when they get there, they are either struck sober or go running for the nearest treatment center. But addicts are resilient. They find people to rescue them. They often bounce along the bottom for years without a flicker of recognition that they need help. When they find themselves in a tough spot, alcohol whispers reassurances: There’s nothing to worry about as long as you have me.



Debra Jay

Debra Jay

I was having dinner with some recovering alcoholics, and a particularly nice fellow in his late fifties was celebrating fifteen years of sobriety. He talked about living in a roach infested, one-room apartment above a bar for twelve years, drinking and doing drugs every single day. He said his life was miserable, but he just couldn’t stop. He came close to dying several times before getting help. One of the people in our group said, “Well, you just weren’t ready.” Someone else piped in, “It takes what it takes.” Everyone’s heads nodded up and down in agreement. Stunned that my dinner companions thought that this man had to lose some of the best years of his life before he was ready to get sober, I asked, “Where was your family?” He said his wife divorced him and his kids never came around. “All for the better, really,” he added, “I wasn’t any kind of father worth having.” I asked what might have happened if everyone in his family, along with his closest friends, had come to him with a solid plan for recovery and an outpouring of love. Might he have accepted their help? Could it have turned out differently for him and his kids? Would his marriage have survived? He looked at me for a moment and then said, “I never considered that before. Who knows, I might’ve taken them up on their help. Maybe we could’ve saved our family.”



Do alcoholics ever hit bottom and then climb their way up into sobriety? Of course they do. But we never know who’ll be the lucky ones or what price they’ll pay along the way. Three hundred and fifty people a day find a bottom with no bounce – death. Countless others go to prison, go insane, or just go nowhere. Families are torn apart, children lose one or both parents and relationships are damaged beyond repair. But many begin a journey of recovery before hitting bottom–tough and rocky at first, but easier to travel as time goes on. Many things motivate alcoholics to make a turnaround before tragedy strikes, but it is usually family, friends or employers. When the Hazelden Foundation asked sober alcoholics what set them on their new course to recovery, seventy-seven percent said a friend or relative intervened. Someone cared enough to raise their bottom.



The best cases against hitting bottom are the real life stories: A college educated, 47-year-old divorced father of three loses everything, lives in his parent’s basement drinking and smoking pot daily and is unable to hold a job. A 24-year-old trades his girlfriend’s new car for crack cocaine. The police find a 72-year-old grandmother half naked and passed out on her front lawn. Babies are strapped in the backseat as a mother drives drunk to buy more wine; the police stop her, taking the children to protective services and mom to jail. A young father goes to bed drunk and suffocates on his own vomit. A successful 32-year-old woman driving home intoxicated kills a father and his daughter as she slams into them on the freeway. Each of these stories comes from families I’ve worked with and no words can express their pain or deep, abiding sense of loss. Waiting for alcoholics to hit unknown bottoms results in much tragedy and heartbreak.



“Bottoms” can be temporary. Alcoholics resist getting sober even when things are going badly in their lives. They are good at weathering storms. Perhaps they’ll swear off alcohol for a while, but as soon as things cool down, they begin drinking again. The addicted brain can’t make lasting connections between alcohol and the problems it causes. Once the problems go away, alcohol is their best friend again. Addiction is both invisible and sacred to alcoholics: they deny its existence yet sacrifice everything to it.
Addicts don’t want to cause trouble or hurt the people they love. Quite the contrary: they struggle to be the person they think they still are, the person they were before the addiction took hold. They can’t make sense of their own actions. As their addiction progresses and troubles mount, they work harder to manage their lives, but addiction never lets anyone lead a life free of trouble. There are always problems, big and small. Bad behavior, poor decisions and emotional upheaval are all symptoms of this disease that affects both the brain and soul. Families are confused, too. Not understanding what is happening to their loved ones, they mutter: “When will she learn?” But addicts can’t learn because addiction keeps tightening its grip, demanding complete allegiance.
The apostle Paul could have been describing an addict when he wrote: “I do not understand my own behavior; I do not act as I mean to, but I do things that I hate. Though the will to do what is good is in me, the power to do it is not; the good thing that I want to do. I never do; the evil thing which I do not want – that is what I do.” As alcoholics try to resolve the conflict between how they want to behave and how they are behaving, in the end, the only solution they can see is another drink.



-from No More Letting Go, by Debra Jay





We Made It Together

My life was in a downward spiral and suicide seemed like a good idea. I was homeless, penniless and very sick from the effects of addiction: a bleeding ulcer, a bleeding colon and transient neuropathy in my legs. I was twenty-six years old.


Suicide wasn’t just an idle thought. I’d known someone who’d killed himself and I figured I’d do it the same way. It seemed like an easy solution and I saw no other options. I’d been president of the student association at Grosse Pointe South High School and a National Merit Scholar. Now, I was living in a flop house in California, down to my last few dollars. I was too sick to work and too delusional to get help on my own.


In dire situations like mine, the sick person can’t be expected to make the right decisions. I certainly couldn’t be my own doctor, therapist or friend. Yet I would argue stubbornly with anyone who tried to reason with me. Friends and family had tried many times.


Jeff Jay, author and clinical interventionist

Jeff Jay

Fortunately, my family didn’t give up on me. At the eleventh hour, they tracked me down again, struggled past my stubbornness again and offered me help. This time, their long-distance intervention broke through my defenses and denial. The next day, I checked into a hospital for medical stabilization and was transferred ten days later to a month-long treatment program. Against all odds (and by the grace of God), I followed the directions I was given and joined the local community of recovering people. I’ve never looked back.


It all sounds easy, but there are few things more difficult. Most important were the continuing interventions that ultimately saved my life. Some people have the luxury of “hitting bottom,” coming to their senses and then getting appropriate help. But at that time in my life, I couldn’t find my backside with both hands. If it hadn’t been for the active involvement of my parents and the help of many other people along the way, I never could’ve made it. Recovery isn’t an “I” program, it’s a “we” program.


In many ways, we made it together. My parents had no idea how to help me, and their willingness to seek out and follow professional advice was a model for me to follow. They didn’t pretend to have all the answers, but they showed by example that they were willing to do the work and make changes in their own lives. Their example made it very difficult for me to deviate from the advice I was being given. If they had followed only part of the directions, what would I have done?


Some important points. My parents weren’t intimidated by my stubbornness. I was an adult and they let me go out into the world and find my own way. They stayed in touch, but only to offer support, not to enable. When they finally succeeded in getting me into treatment, they attended the family program, visited on weekends and followed the advice they were given. When I got out of treatment, they got involved in Al-anon.


Over the weeks and months that followed, we all got better. I worked a full-time job and continued my one-day-at-a time directions. My parents watched from a distance, but were quick to challenge my crazy thinking when it reared up every now and again. Together, we made our way to safe ground.


My father died an untimely death at 58, not long after the first anniversary of my sobriety. I’ll be forever grateful that he lived to see that much. He played an instrumental role in getting me back on the right track, not by force, but by love. Over the decades that followed, my mother has seen me go from derelict to something better than that and then something better still. Her constant faith and surprising wit have buoyed me up when nothing else would.


Their intervention paved the way for a life in recovery, a life beyond my imagining. None of us could have predicted how the years would unfold, but everyone could see the tragic path I’d been on. Their actions made all the difference.


If your loved one is suffering from addiction or mental health issues, it means you’re suffering right along with them. You don’t have to struggle alone. Professionals may not have a magic wand that will fix the problems overnight, but they do know the way out of the jungle. We can make it together.


Jeff Jay