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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Lisa Seif

Lisa Seif’s rebellious spirit was fueled by what she calls the “social earthquake” of the 1960s. That decade produced a corresponding drug culture that hit the Harrisburg, Pa., native hard. By age 20, Seif had a drug problem. She promised her father, diagnosed with lung cancer, she’d quit hard drugs. Seif failed. Soon, he passed away. A year later, Seif left college to be with her mother, who had moved to Evansville after falling ill with lung disease. Another promise. Another failure. Another parent passed away.

Seif’s sister demanded she go to rehab or leave Evansville. “Thank God for rehabilitation and treatment,” says Seif, who recently celebrated her 30th anniversary of sobriety in March.

Today, in addition to her private practice, Integrity Psychological & Counseling, Seif is the director of court substance abuse programs for the Warrick County judicial system. The program not only holds addicted individuals accountable for their crimes but also connects them with treatment and close monitoring — services that have been proven to work better than incarceration, probation, or treatment alone. The ripple effect of Seif’s work is enormous: According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, drug courts reduce crime as much as 35 percent compared to other sentencing options, and they produce cost savings of up to $12,000 per patient. 

Seif’s mission: “To screen out who are the criminals and who are the ones who truly, if they got clean and sober, would be better,” she says. “If that’s the case, I’m their voice.” 

I just got swept away in the movement, but I also was swept away by the effect and how it altered my reality. It altered the way I felt about myself. It altered the way I saw the world. It numbed me out from the insecurities and inadequacies that I felt. I thought I’d hit a gold mine. I thought I’d found magic.

My father was diagnosed with lung cancer when I was a senior in high school. My father was everything to me, and I made a promise to him that I was going to quit all of this stuff because all he ever wanted was for me to be a productive, happy, moral, contributing person to society. I really made a conscious effort to quit just to please him because that was his dying wish. And I meant it. I think I lasted a weekend.

I was raised in a good Jewish home. My mother survived the Holocaust, so I was very aware of how important it was that I look like a productive young girl who was raised in a good home. But I was too into the culture of the drug movement. All my friends, my language, my whole lifestyle became consumed with it. It’s not just you get addicted to a drug or you get addicted to alcohol; it’s the whole lifestyle that goes with it.

What I think is chronically misunderstood is people still think (addiction) happens to this kind of person from a divorced home, or this kind of person from an alcoholic home, or this kind of person who didn’t have certain opportunities. I think we need to really let everybody know that alcoholism and addiction can happen to anyone. Anyone. Sure, biology plays a role, but the quantity and frequency of use is what dictates whether they will have alcoholism or addiction or not. It has nothing to do with their morals, their religion, their socio-economic status.

There’s a lot of “lock them up and throw away the key” mentality. Maybe because I lost my parents so young, I believe that we owe it to our families and our community to help them understand that people can get better.

You look at somebody’s criminal record, and he looks like a monster. We had a guy in our drug court who, by the time he was 25, had eight DUIs. You look at him on paper and think, “Oh my God, this guy’s going to kill somebody drunk driving.” He is a danger to society, but jail’s not going to cure the addictive disorder. Unless clean and sober, he’s going to get out of jail and keep drinking and driving like he always has.

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