Addiction: New Approaches to an Old Burden


Verlin Chalmers exudes trust, wisdom, and a kind of rock star coolness that you can’t help but be drawn to. His smile is at once knowing, innocent and impish. His eyes literally twinkle. Maybe it is because he is a guitar player and songwriter. There are people you meet along the road of life, who are just plain cool.

I first met Verlin over a cup of coffee as I was writing another article. He happened to notice that I was using a Mac, and promptly announced that I was sitting in the designated “Mac Section.” As we talked more about Apple and debated Steve Jobs and his “brilliance” and drooled over iPad rumors, I became more and more interested in this poster-child of the sixties—a trademark baby boomer.

I have always been drawn to, and frankly, jealous of, yet one more generation of American hero—those privileged to grow up and participate in the 1960’s. A prophetic time, witnessing, contemplating, and participating in what is the single most alternative cultural values experiment in the history of the world. Had the revolution worked completely, free healthcare, and solar powered flying cars would not seem as crazy as they apparently sound today.

Part of the sixties that is undeniable is the other experiment that is often more famous than the counter culture ideas; rampant drug and alcohol use spawned abuse, and it is safe to say, that is the other blade of the double edged sword of the sixties.

Today, almost everyone has a friend or relative that suffers from the ravaging effects of addiction. Although many of the drugs that were widely available in the sixties and seventies are not around today, addiction is at an all time forgive the pun, “high” in the US. Healthcare costs and the cost of lost productivity easily eclipse tens of billions of dollars. Drug-related deaths are up over 500% since 1980. The number of people taking prescription drugs illegally is up by 500% as well, just since 1990.

Clearly Nancy Reagan’s theories left much to be desired. The common traditional approach to treating addiction has been the emergence of the “Treatment Center.” But treating symptoms and taking stabs at modifying behavior is clearly only part of the solution.

Enter Verlin Chalmers, whose presence at this particular point and dimension in space and time, allows a lifetime of precisely caring focus to benefit those in desperate need of an answer. The benefit of knowledge gained passing through a time continuum. Or you could call it Karma.

Suffice it to say right here in our own backyard, whether working as a young man in a factory making soy milk for babies allergic to cow’s milk, or at age 24 as the youngest director of the St. Helena Drug and Alcohol treatment program, to starting a coffee house/free clinic in Georgetown in the seventies, life, it seems, has taught Chalmers what he needs to know. More importantly, what we need to know.

Chalmers has developed a unique method for addressing not treating addiction at its core. Known simply as “The Road,” symbolic of a not easy journey, at whose end will hopefully yield the true person, stripped of the heavy burden that addiction can weigh.

“To begin my training at St. Helena Hospital, they sent me to the Hazelden Treatment Program  where I spent 30 days going through exactly what the clients went through. This was my introduction to addiction and my first practical focus on behaviors that effect health,” says Chalmers.

He quickly became curious as to why we sometimes do things that we really don’t want to do but feel compelled to do them anyway. How is it that a person truly does not want to drink, use drugs, or over-eat, yet continues to do so, to excess? He began to study the research and approaches that worked and did not work. This led him to become curious about the workings of the brain and its effect on behavioral control. When Chalmers first began in the field of addiction, the now controversial shock treatment was being used.

“There were many theories. It’s a moral weakness. It’s a death wish. It’s a nutritional problem; oxygen deprivation at birth; genetic, symptomatic of underlying emotional problems; family systems problems; spiritual problems; a brain disease. The professional search for an answer raged on while people continued to try and fail,” Chalmers explained.

Clearly better research is needed. Today, roughly the same amount is spent on tooth decay as is spent on addiction research. And as expected, the percent of success, 25-35%, is far too small. Over half of all people in treatment today have been there before, requiring an average four or more tries before anything even close to stable recovery is achieved, with an average cost of between $15,000 and $30,000 for each 28-day program. The financial cost aside, the effect on family members, children, work, family finances, friends and society are unimaginable.

New methods such as harm reduction, aversive conditioning, hypnosis, IV drips, sauna programs, multiple forms of therapeutic or educational approaches are all trying to improve the rate of success. Each approach has some measure of success, but still, far too many ultimately fail, returning the addicted to the very same destructive patterns they desperately want to avoid.

Approximately one year ago Chalmers started The Road, a new treatment approach designed for alcoholics and addicts who have been through treatment before but who are still struggling. He took 36 years of treating addiction and all the research he could find and created a simple and effective approach that costs far less than what is available. Traditional treatment is far too short (28 days). This limits critical individual counseling sessions to four or five at most, and the educational material cycles around the 28-day period, and is not sequential. With half of all graduates failing in the first three months of returning to their home environment, Chalmers wanted to try to fix those limitations and see if success could be improved.

The Road is four months long, which is four times as long as most treatment programs. Next it is individualized and includes over 32 hours of individual therapy. The treatment process happens while the person is in their normal life, dealing with the real issues they face every day. As they move through their normal activities, they identify and target specific areas that are challenges—not in a group setting, but individually.

Tasks are specifically designed to help them address areas that are sabotaging their success. With individual one-on-one time, it is possible to carefully trouble-shoot exactly where therapeutic effort needs to be focused. Because time spent with others on the same path is critical, The Road includes staying in a clean and sober home.

Because the treatment components of The Road are designed around exactly what the individual needs, to begin The Road an individual must first go through a lengthy diagnostic and evaluation process to see both, if they are appropriate for this type of treatment, and to discover exactly what is sabotaging their success. The evaluation enables Chalmers to choose the right treatment components needed for success. This individualized plan is then blended into a plan (or “Road Map”), which includes core factors that research and Chalmers’ experience show contribute to long term success. Since hope and focus are the key elements in removing addiction from the grip it holds over a person’s life, The Road focuses on where the person is going, and builds a solid foundation for real hope.

Is The Road ideal? Can it work in every situation? Is it a replacement for traditional treatment? Absolutely not. However, Chalmers’ exciting brainchild is showing itself to be highly effective for individuals who have already received some of the benefits of traditional treatment but need something more to succeed.

Although it is too early to say how longer-term programs like The Road will compare to other approaches, so far, after the first year, for clients who have entered The Road with alcohol, methamphetamine, heroin, or a variety of other drugs, early indications are extremely positive.

Verlin Chalmers was born in Honolulu Hawaii in 1948. He spent his childhood with his family and father who was a preacher dedicated to a life of tent meetings and alter calls, following the “Sawdust Trail” across the South and North-Eastern US. He graduated from John F. Kennedy University with a major in Clinical Psychology, and became a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in 1983. He has trained in various forms of therapeutic approaches such as Gestalt, Cognitive Therapy, Rational Emotive Therapy, EMDR, Biofeedback and Addiction Training at St. Helena Hospital’s Hazelden Treatment program. He has worked with several rock bands and artists, always with an interest in helping individuals get unstuck and moving towards success.

Design Don’ts: Mistakes to Avoid When Working on Your Interior

Design Don'ts

With the advent of Home and Garden television, we have all seen shows on how to design the interior of our homes. In addition, there is an abundance of articles online and in magazines with names like “Design Tips,” “Design Trends,” and “Design 101.” It is, however, a little more difficult to learn what pitfalls to avoid before you even begin your design project. Below is a list of the top design pitfalls; a list of what NOT to do:

Don’t settle for blah if you love bold. Select colors that fit your personality and coordinate with things you love. Often, people “chicken out” and select too many neutrals because they are afraid they will get tired of the color. You are much more likely to get tired of blah neutrals than a color you love.

Don’t make your favorite color the main color. If you love aubergine, don’t paint the walls aubergine and purchase aubergine furniture. Instead, choose a more subtle color for the background and let your favorite color “pop” as a contrast.

Don’t paint first. Select your fabrics, upholstery, and area rugs first. There are thousands of paint colors to choose from and you can always have one custom mixed to go with your color scheme.

Don’t select the colors of paint, fabric, flooring, etc., in a store or design studio. Ask for samples and swatches of the items to take home and view in your home. You need to see how they look at different times of the day and in different lighting conditions. Many CFL light bulbs make colors look more green, while incandescent lighting tends to bring out the yellows.

Don’t push all the furniture up against the wall. You may think that a room will look larger if the middle of the floor is open, without furniture. But the opposite is true. Move the furniture into groupings in the center. Arrange a sofa with a table behind it. Move chairs out of the corners and you’ll have a more open, airy look in your room.

Don’t choose furniture that doesn’t fit. You wouldn’t wear clothes that are baggy or way too tight, so why would you try to make furniture that isn’t the right size work. Measure your space before you shop for furniture. You or your designer can draw the room to scale and include furniture that is the correct size and scale. Alternatively, you can tape the outline of furniture you are considering to see how it feels. Also, consider the ceiling height. If you have a ten foot ceiling you may not want a low back sofa. It will look silly in the room.

Don’t float a rug in the middle of the room. The elements in a room should not only be visually connected but also physically. The rug should be tucked under the front legs of sofas and chairs. This makes the room visually more attractive and also prevents a tripping hazard.

Design Don'ts

Don’t display every personal treasure. Select fewer, more important pieces. Although the temptation is to display all of the items you picked up on your many trips abroad, keep some of them in storage and swap them out from time to time. With less clutter each one will stand out more.

Don’t use too many patterns and prints. While you can use many patterns and prints in one room, it is important to balance large and or bold prints with solids, stripes, and smaller patterns.

Don’t invest heavily in trends. It’s okay to put one trendy piece in a room to give it a fresh, updated feel but too many trendy pieces will be expensive and painful considering the trends change all too often.

Don’t decorate with family heirlooms whether you like them or not. Your home should reflect who you are, not who your wealthy grandparents were. You may be able to work in a piece here or there but don’t feel obligated to keep a piece just because your parents or grandparents spent a lot of money on it when they purchased it.

Don’t forget the details. People often ask me why their room doesn’t look like the one in the picture. It is always the details that make the difference. Find interesting lamps, arrange books neatly, add decorative pillows to your furniture, and include candles and fresh flowers.

Don’t let someone make choices for you. Your home is your personal space and should be a reflection of your personal style. It is always good to get ideas, choices, and suggestions from friends, family and a professional interior designer but in the end, it is your home and you should feel comfortable there.

If you avoid these common mistakes you will have a home that you can be proud of and is a reflection of you and the way you live.

Cindi L. StephensonAbout the Author: Cindi L Stephenson is a Senior Interior Designer at J. Hettinger Interiors in Danville. Her education includes a B.A. in City Planning, an M.B.A. in Marketing and a B.A. in Interior Design. Throughout years of International travel and post graduate study, Cindi has developed an understanding of traditions, culture, and design. “When you experience different cultures and different points of view, it opens up your perspective. Design should have a link with authenticity. I often add new materials and textures to create a fresh approach to the classics.” You can see Cindi’s portfolio at P 925.963.2147

Are You Addicted to Sugar, Fat, and Salt?

Are you Addicted to Sugar, Salt, and Fat?
It’s in our face every time we turn around. Warnings that obesity is reaching epidemic proportions and is a known cause of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. A recent CNN Health article stated that more than 100,000 cases of cancer each year are caused by excess body fat. Do you ever wonder why a nation such as ours—filled with so many intelligent people—is continually giving in to extremely unhealthy food choices?

In his book, The End of Overeating—Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, former U.S. Food and Drug Administrator David Kessler, M.D., sheds light on how the brain and body respond to rich, unhealthy foods. Dr. Kessler explains how foods high in sugar, fat, and salt alter the brain’s chemistry by creating a release of powerful chemicals, such as dopamine and natural pain-killing substances called opioids. Surprisingly, these are the very same chemicals that are released when people are addicted to alcohol, cigarette smoking, drugs, and gambling.

Addictive cycles can result due to “cue-urge-reward” patterns. And let’s face it; in our lives today there are no shortages of extremely seductive food “cues” that result in “urges” (aka: cravings). Most of us are bombarded with unhealthy food cues and temptations every day and evening—via the media or a well-intentioned family member or our work environments.

If we continue on the “cue-urge-reward” path and we succumb to the “urge,” then the so-called “reward” phase is when the dopamine and opioids are released…offering us a mood alter. For this reason, when our behavioral patterns become conditioned responses to cues (or stimuli)—such as foods high in sugar, fat, and salt—then the biological circuits of our brains are altered.

Meanwhile, countless prepared foods that are sold today are loaded or layered with this “tantalizing trio” of sugar, fat, and salt. For example, a leading food consultant (who did not want to be identified to protect his business) described to Dr. Kessler how the “layering” of fat and salt often occurs in the production of Potato Skins. Here’s what the food consultant shared:
“Typically the potato is hollowed out and the skin is fried, which provides a substantial surface area for what he calls ‘fat pickup.’ Then some combination of bacon bits, sour cream, and cheese is added. The result is fat on fat on fat on fat, much of it loaded with salt.”

Isn’t it disappointing to see how much of today’s food industry is cashing in on this disturbingly lucrative trend toward selling foods that are loaded or layered with high levels of sugar, fat, and salt? Unfortunately, many of us are ingesting these foods at the expense of our health…and our children’s health.

On the other hand, while small amounts of sugar, fat, and salt in our diets are necessary, high doses can trigger chronic emotional and compulsive eating. Since we now know that our brain circuitry is physically affected and altered by eating foods high in sugar, fat, and salt—it’s no wonder that many of us feel powerless when a food craving hits…and hopeless when it comes to losing weight.

Can you relate? If so…you’re certainly not alone. When I work with weight loss clients, I offer various mind-body tools that include educational, cognitive-behavioral exercises and self-hypnosis. Cognitive behavioral exercises teach my clients how to observe, measure, and modify their unhealthy behaviors. Whereas, self-hypnosis offers a relaxed, focused state where unhealthy conditioned responses can be addressed at a deep, unconscious level—below the surface.

And, here’s some GREAT NEWS: According to clinical studies, when self-hypnosis was added to a weight loss program that utilized cognitive behavioral exercises—the resulting weight loss more than doubled. These clinical studies also showed that the positive effects of self-hypnosis increased over time—which indicates that long-term maintenance of weight loss is strengthened by the use of self-hypnosis.

So, if you’re ready to interrupt your own “cue-urge-reward” patterns—that relate to foods high in sugar, fat, and salt—then take the first step onto a solid weight loss path…and contact me. I will teach you cutting-edge tools that will help to propel you toward your goals and transform hope-LESSness…into hope-FULLness.

Attend Trina’s Inspiring Workshop: Managing Emotional and Compulsive Eating for Women at John Muir Women’s Health Center: 1656 N. California Blvd., Suite 100, Walnut Creek, Thursday, Oct 21, 6:30-8:30 pm. Seats are limited—register today: (925) 941-7900 option 3.

For more info, go to & click on “Private Sessions & Workshops”

To receive my FREE newsletter “Trina’s Transformational Tips for Mindful Living,” sign-up on my website:

Trina Swerdlow, BFA, CCHT, is a certified clinical hypnotherapist, an artist, and the author of the 2-CD Set, Weight Loss: Powerful & Easy-to-Use Tools for Releasing Excess Weight. She is also the author of Stress Reduction Journal: Meditate and Journal Your Way to Better Health. Her CDs and her book are available from John Muir Women’s Health Center online store:
Trina has a private practice in downtown Danville. You can reach her at: (925) 285.5759, or To receive her free newsletter, “Trina’s Transformational Tips for Mindful Living,” sign-up at her site: (Certified Clinical Hypnotherapy services in California can be alternative or complementary to licensed healing arts, such as psychotherapy.)
Photo by Susan Wood,

Things I Just Don’t Get

Things I Just Don't Get
Despite my age (48) and relatively uneventful suburban lifestyle, I like to think I’m cool. I have a youthful taste in music (Timbaland and Timberlake, Katy Perry, and Ke$ha), my television viewing preferences are cutting edge (Friday Night Lights, Glee and Modern Family), and while I did enjoy Despicable Me slightly more than Inception, I thought Eclipse was better than both. Did I mention that I Facebook? I Facebook like crazy. I post, comment and game. However, whether it’s demographic, geographic or telegraphic (I needed a third graphic reference), there are a lot of things in this world that I just don’t get. There are a lot of fads, whims and trends that strike me as silly, dopey or lame. A lot of traditions seem dated, out of touch or ridiculous. Does that make me un-cool? I don’t think so! In my opinion it makes me relevant. The following is a list of pop culture things I just don’t get.

I don’t get every periodical having a BEST OF issue. It would seem that every magazine, newspaper and family blog has an annual BEST OF issue. The best sea food restaurant, the best drycleaners, the best free WIFI location within a book store or chain coffee shop or the best antibacterial suppository. If everything is voted The BEST is anything actually the best? Do loyal patrons of the establishments stuff the on-line ballot boxes? Does a retailer’s advertising contribution to the periodical have anything to do with their BEST OF rating? At last check, eleven different nail salons in the Tri-Valley have framed BEST OF awards hanging in their entrances. Being somewhat new to the pleasures of nail maintenance, how am I supposed to know the best place to get a mani/pedi if every place proclaims to be the best? My vote for the Best magazine that doesn’t have an annual BEST OF issue is ……ALIVE.

I don’t get the fascination with vampires. Those bloodsucking non-dead 20-something runway models in the Twilight saga, True Blood, the Vampire Chronicles or in the band Vampire Weekend all seem so dark and creepy. Not that I have anything against dead people, we preach acceptance at our house, it’s just that I find living people to be much more fun and spontaneous. The problem is dead people are cold, pale and they only want to hang out at night. I’m a warm blooded sun worshiper who tends to get tired around midnight. While I can’t really say that I’m a Team Jacob dad, those darn Vampires are everywhere. You can bet you’re O+ virgin neckline I won’t be vacationing in Forks, Washington anytime soon.

I don’t get Tweeting. Why do I want to know someone’s every mundane action? I don’t. I truly have no interest in knowing that you’re having coffee on the veranda, enjoying a book while at the dog park or that you’re in the process of inserting the best antibacterial suppository. I know I’m interesting and entertaining, but I don’t have some inflated self worth that leads me to believe anyone else will find me interesting or entertaining. Actually, I do, that’s why I write these magazine articles. Tweeting is a way to say everything you wouldn’t otherwise say, because secretly we truly know – NO ONE CARES! And yet, when people Tweet, they have the illusion that their 140 character bites are insightful, motivating or newsworthy. LOL. Granted, this text based social networking and microblogging service may be the future of communication, but I’m going Tweetless for now.

I don’t get Justin Bieber.
This marginally talented kid appears to be either part troll or part Muppet. I get that he was discovered by posting You Tube videos of himself singing and dancing, but come on, he’s all of 4’11”, he wears hip hop outfits from Old Navy and all three Jonas brothers can sing circles around him. For all you parents reading this, isn’t Justin just the modern day Keith Partridge? Except David Cassidy (aka Keith Partridge) could act and play guitar. Maybe Justin is the modern day Danny Partridge. Years from now, I could see Justin hosting some sad radio call-in show, making personal appearances at grocery store grand openings and appearing as a B-list celebrity on The Surreal Life or Celebrity Boot Camp.

I don’t get Back to School Shopping. Why shop for school clothes before school starts? Wouldn’t it make more sense to show up in last year’s clothes to see what’s hot and fly (that’s right, I used the word Fly) before you spend thousands of dollars on your academic wardrobe. Every school has a Fashionista clique who will set the tone for the next nine months, so why let your kids make their own decisions when you know it will end with them saying something like, “I need to buy all new clothes” by the middle of September.

I don’t get campaign spending. Why would you spend a gazillion dollars just to get elected to a crumby government job that pays maybe forty grand a year? Does the title of Senator, Governor of Congressman carry that much prestige and power? How good does it feel to spend all that money and not win the election? Here’s a thought, if you really want to make a difference in the community why not contribute some of that “throw away” money to a few of the local deserving charities. Chances are, if the check is big enough, organizations such as Children’s Hospital or Camp Arroyo might be willing to designate a title for you. The Earl of Donationville or Lord Big Donator sounds pretty important and swanky.

I don’t get JaMarcus Russell. He was the number 1 draft pick by the Oakland Raiders in the NFL a few years ago and now he’s chugging cough syrup in the basement of his mom’s house. Where is your pride man? If the statistic I heard is correct, only about 1% of the college football players are drafted into the NFL each year and this guy has the audacity to hold out as a rookie, finally taking millions of dollars from the hapless Raiders, and when it does come time to show up and play he’s overweight, out of shape and can’t learn the plays. Who did the advance scouting and personality profile on this prospect, Al Davis? Back in the day, I would’ve paid the NFL to let me play for any team in their league.

I also don’t get gouging fans on food prices and parking at professional sporting events. I really don’t get bi-partisans voting in the House and Senate. Does anyone get Mel Gibson, veganism, Polka music or Ultimate Frisbee? It would appear that there are a lot of things I just don’t get or understand. Maybe I am getting old and crotchety. What’s the old saying, “If the music’s too loud, you’re too old” or something like that? Come to think of it, I don’t get why kids play the music so loud in their cars. If the bass is pounding so violently that the fillings in your teeth are coming loose, you might want to turn down the volume. That’s not un-cool that’s just common sense.