Meet Dr. Joseph Nowinski, Psychologist and Author

I’d like to introduce you to Dr. Joseph Nowinski, PhD, a nationally recognized Psychologist and former professor. He is the Supervising Psychologist at the University of Connecticut Health Center and the author of several books including, “The Twelve Step Facilitation Handbook: A Guide to Recovery From Substance Abuse and Co-occurring Disorders.

Dr. Nowinski, what sparked your interest to study psychology and addiction?

“When I held the position of Director of Health and Mental Health Services at the University of Connecticut I became aware of a significant problem with substance abuse among the student population. This prompted me to seek further training in this area, and eventually to get involved in treatment research.”

What do you think is the most acute or concerning psychiatric or addiction issue today?

“There are two related issues. The first is the fact that substance abuse disorders and psychiatric disorders interact such that many individuals have both. Treating one without the other leads to a poorer prognosis than addressing both at the same time. However, treatment resources continue to decline, meaning that many men and women who could benefit from getting help with their ‘co-occurring disorders’ may have a hard time finding that help.”

What are your thoughts on the psychology of the “Millennial” generation?

“The millennials have suffered from the impact of the great recession and also witnessed the influence of the environmental movement. They are more ‘tuned in’ than any prior generation. As a result they tend to be both cynical about the role of government and concerned about the future of our planet. They are in a unique position to make and express decisions and influence policies that can literally determine the future of our planet. I hope they do so.”

In your book “Almost Alcoholic,” what are the clues to recognize an addiction? Who is “almost alcoholic?”

“An ‘almost alcoholic’ is a man or woman whose drinking habits go beyond what is considered ‘low risk’ but fall short of what we think of as addiction. They may be experiencing some consequences of their drinking but [have] not ‘connect the dots’ between those consequences and their drinking. If they do connect those dots they may be able to reverse course in time and return to low risk drinking. If they don’t they may progress to a more serious disorder. The book is intended to help readers assess their drinking and offer solutions if they do fall into the ‘almost’ category.”

You have mentioned that the “almost alcoholic” can become just a social drinker again. How so?

“There are strategies that an ‘almost alcoholic’ can employ to try to return to low risk drinking. If they are successful they stand to save themselves a lot of grief. The book describes those strategies in depth. But as a person tries them but finds that their drinking and its consequences continue as before or get worse, then abstinence makes more sense as a goal.”

What has been your greatest accomplishment throughout your career?

“I take the greatest pride in having developed effective treatments for those with substance abuse disorders. My ‘Twelve Step Facilitation’ program is listed in the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices, and ‘Almost Alcoholic’ reaches out to those who want to avoid developing a more serious substance use problem.”

What is your stance on the issue of addiction being a “disease?”

“I view addiction as a complex bio-psychosocial disorder. Biology plays a role in making a person vulnerable, but research suggests that biology alone is not enough to account for addiction. Personal factors as well as environmental factors also play a role. That means that recovery is also a complex process.”

What challenges you in the field of psychology?

“I think the greatest challenge we face moving forward is to integrate biological aspects of treatment, such as medication, with psychosocial interventions such as psychotherapy and evidence-based treatments.”

What discoveries do you hope we learn from the psychology field in the future?

“I hope we will continue to have funds available to develop new evidence-based treatments that are effective and cost-effective.”

What are your thoughts about ageism amongst healthcare providers? Do you think age affects the treatment of patients?

“The need for treatment of both substance use disorders and psychiatric disorders such as depression among the elderly represents a true crisis for society. This is a growing population that stands in danger of having fewer resources available. If we ignore their needs in these areas this population can easily end up devouring the nation’s health care resources.”

What is the “Identity Trap” in “The Identity Trap: Saving Our Teens from Themselves?”

“The fundamental developmental task of adolescence is to develop an identity: that sense of who I am, what I stand for, and what options I have for the future. Our identity, once it crystallizes, can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, Problems like substance abuse in teens can lead to the development of a limited and dysfunctional identity. That is why it is so important to make treatment available for this population, and to help them avoid that identity trap.”

If you had one word of advice to say to the future generation, what would it be?

“Resist the urge to stand back! Get involved! You have the power!”


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