Medical student returns to the Betty Ford Center where, as a child, she first learned about the disease that was hurting her family Jacy L. was eight years old in 2001 when she "graduated" from the Children's Program led by Jerry Moe at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California. Sixteen years later, Jacy returned to the same campus to participate in Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation's Summer Institute for Medical Students (SIMS). "I came here as a child to get help and to heal from the impact of addiction on my family," Jacy shares. "I came back as a medical student to learn how I can help others heal from the disease of addiction." A Lasting Impression Now a second-year medical student, Jacy recalls how many of her earliest lessons about addiction, treatment and recovery have held the test of time. "When I went to the Children's Program, it was the first time I realized my mom had a serious illness," Jacy recounts. "Everyone told me she had to go away for a while because she was sick and needed to get better. But I didn't really understand. Learning that my mom had addiction, and that addiction is a disease, helped me begin to make sense of the situation." The experience also helped Jacy realize that she wasn't alone. "Once I met other kids and families who were facing the same issues, I didn't feel as much guilt and shame. And by learning how to identify and talk about some of the difficult emotions I had been internalizing, it felt like a huge weight was lifted." Jacy 's four days at the Children's Program changed her life in big ways and in small ways, at home and at school. She traces her curiosity about addiction recovery and her interest in neuroscience to her Children's Program experience. As a high school student, Jacy earned second place in the California State Science Fair for her research project on the brain circuitry of addiction. She wrote her high school honors thesis on the psychological impact of programs designed to help children who grow up with addiction in the home. "By learning how to identify and talk about some of the difficult emotions I had been internalizing, it felt like a huge weight was lifted." —Jacy L. As a college student, Jacy delved more deeply into the neuroscience of addiction. With a major in neurobiology and a minor in computer science, she worked as a research intern at the University of California Los Angeles, where she assisted in a study investigating food addiction among obese patients. A year later, Jacy's research interests led to a Harvard summer internship in the electrophysiology lab at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Tokyo, Japan, where she developed a project on reward-based memory. "I'm especially fascinated in this research topic because reward and memory are fundamentally linked to what goes awry in an addict's neural connections," Jacy explains. "We have so much yet to discover about the mechanisms behind addiction." Listening Differently This past summer, when Jacy joined a cohort of medical students from around the country to participate in the intensive, weeklong SIMS program at the Betty Ford Center, she gained deeper insight into the inner workings and outward symptoms of addiction. Classroom instruction, clinical observation and integration into patient life were all part of her in-depth experience. But it was in listening to patients' stories as a medical student—as well as a daughter who grew up with addiction in her home—that helped Jacy recognize the trauma and pain of addiction on a new level. "As an eight-year-old, I could only understand my mom's alcoholism from a fairly egocentric view. As a young adult and a medical student, I have a different frame of reference. Hearing patients talk about the shame and regret they felt gave me insight into my mom's addictive behaviors on a much more personal level. I felt like I got a lot closer to understanding her pain and her struggles." Listening to treatment patients talk about interactions with their primary care physicians—what kinds of questions were asked, what kinds of questions weren't asked, what kinds of questions should have been asked—also made an impression on Jacy. "The conversations physicians have with their patients around substance use are really influential. Physicians play a pivotal role in helping patients recognize how their substance use might be affecting their physical health, their relationships, their jobs and their overall well-being." No matter the medical specialty she pursues, Jacy knows she will encounter patients—and, by extension, their family members--who are struggling with addiction. She welcomes the opportunity to listen with her heart and to help with everything she's ever learned about the disease of addiction and the path to healing. "The conversations physicians have with their patients around substance use are really influential." —Jacy L.