Why on earth would a nutritionist write about addiction rehab and recovery? When I was a kid, I never thought I’d study science or become a writer, let alone one who writes about health and substance use disorders, which is the technical name for drug and alcohol problems. After all those adolescent arguments with my science-editor/author father, I certainly wasn’t going to follow in his footsteps! But through familial osmosis (thanks, dad!) and a series of events in college, I discovered my passion for science, got both bachelors and masters degrees in nutrition and food science, and became a registered dietitian. After teaching at a nursing school for a while, then during a period of clinical work at a weight loss program (counseling hundreds of people), I began my quest to understand how people change – at the same time developing a deep respect for how difficult it is to change.
Over time, I decided I’d rather continue my mission to study and effect lifestyle change by writing in my field and went on to author five books about hundreds of formerly overweight people who had done the unthinkable: they’d lost weight and kept it off. I then convinced my editor that I could write this same kind of book about people who had overcome serious drinking problems and went on to write Sober for Good. I’m now about to unveil my second addiction book, Inside Rehab: the Surprising Truth About Addiction Treatment – And How to Get the Help That Works. (I figure that in the time I spent writing these two books – nearly a decade with the two projects combined – I could have earned my Ph.D. in addiction studies!)
What drives my work is the following:
• A passion to understand not only how people change but how they stay changed – for most of my books, I studied people who had long-term success with overcoming a particular problem, and I share their stories to motivate others.
• The desire to identify common threads and pathways among people who overcame a problem, but did it in different ways – I use that information to help others who are still struggling.
• A strong sense of wanting to understand the truth, to get to the bottom of things by understanding the science behind them and busting myths that get in the way of change.
• The need to offer solutions based on the weight of the evidence, realizing at the same time that there are exceptions to every rule and that every individual has to find his or her own pathway out of a problem. (One of the biggest obstacles for many people is when they’re told, “My way is the right way” or “There’s only one way to solve this problem.”)
My new book, Inside Rehab, is the first one for which I’ve broken away from my model of studying “success stories” because, in interviewing more than 100 people who had recent experience with the addiction treatment system, many were still in the throes of addiction. My “subjects” were also the rehabs themselves – I studied the addiction treatment system in general and personally visited 15 treatment programs all across the country, from celebrity rehabs to outpatient facilities that treat indigent people. And as always, I looked at the scientific research and interviewed experts in the field – more than 100 rehab staff members and leading researchers who study treatment. Some of the stories were heart-breaking while others were uplifting. In the end, I think we have a lot to learn from people who have “been there”.
In this column, I’ll share a lot of what I’ve learned along my journey as an author. And I’ll report and reflect upon timely issues “all about addiction and recovery”– covering everything from celebrity rehab travails to promising new sobriety approaches. I hope to hear about others’ experiences with addiction treatment, recovery, and lifestyle change, too.
Follow me on Twitter @annemfletcher for daily updates on addiction, weight control, psychology, and health
Copyright Anne M. Fletcher