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What You Need to Know About Secondhand Drinking

Lisa Frederiksen likens the public’s understanding of secondhand drinking to 30 years ago when doctors proved that lung cancer in nonsmokers was a direct link to secondhand cigarette smoke.

Frederiksen, author, speaker, consultant and founder of, says new science around secondhand drinking – or brain science – draws a correlation between drinking behaviors and how others are affected by exposure to those behaviors. The term “secondhand drinking” is accurate, she says, because it gets to the root cause of exactly how a loved one is negatively impacted.

Secondhand drinking, according to Frederiksen, directly impacts around 90 million Americans. “This is five times the number of people who are causing drinking behaviors.”

People directly affected are spouses/partners, children, parents, extended family members, close friends and co-workers. The impact doesn’t stop there; there are ripples extending from each and everyone affected. Believe it or not, secondhand drinking snakes to in-laws, classmates, law enforcement officers, the medical community and teachers.

Fight or Flight Instincts

In her first edition to a new Quick Guide e-series, examining secondhand drinking, Frederiksen explains how a person’s fight-or-flight stress response system (FFSRS) kicks in after exposure to drinking behavior.

“The brain controls everything we think, feel, say and do through neural networks,” she says. The brain’s cells, or neurons, travel along the neural network communicating with each other.

Ongoing exposure to drinking behaviors like domestic violence, crime, driving while impaired, sexual assault, verbal, physical or emotional abuse, blackouts and safety risks, creates a change in the neural networks. When those neural networks fire the same way over and over again (in response to drinking behaviors), brain maps form.

Frederiksen says, “It is this idea of brain maps that is behind the causes of people’s harmful drinking patterns or their harmful secondhand drinking coping skills.”

Addiction impacts many lives, and it’s important to know when help is needed. Many people have lost a lot to the disease of addiction, including the support from their loved ones. At American Addiction Centers, we have programs and professionals skilled in assisting families get their lives back on track. Call us at .

Long-Term Effects

FFSRS, the most well-known brain map, is essentially triggered by stress-producing emotions or reactions brought on by danger-related memories.

Continued over time, this habitual brain map sets up physical symptoms like stress headaches or migraines, along with gastrointestinal problems. Emotional symptoms show up as well, generally in the form of depression or sleep issues.

Fortunately, people can protect themselves against secondhand drinking. “It comes down to taking a stand against drinking behaviors, separating the behaviors from the drinker,” Frederiksen says.

“This is your life, your sanity and your health.”


If you or someone you know struggles with alcohol abuse, help is available. Start by learning more about the available treatment options.


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