How I stopped drinking, again – Entry 2

Okay, I’m not in as good a mood about the whole “Psychology Board-quitting drinking alcohol” experience this time… The not drinking alcohol part has not proven to be an issue until now although it has certainly come up a few times, especially around my upcoming anniversary and the question of whether I can sip champagne or not (obviously the answer is no). It certainly brings up the fact that so many of our social ceremonies involve alcohol and whether I like it or not, those notions are part of my view of social interaction. But that is seriously not the part that pisses me off the most.

Here it is – I am going into a helping profession, meant to support those in our society that need help. I myself have belonged to that group and still see someone on occasion, but I think I’ve come a long way in the last 12 years or so. But not only am I now forced to call in every morning (an ordeal for someone with ADHD anyway) and report for testing during work hours, but the payment for these things is absurd! Each test is going to cost between $50-$75 and I will initially be tested 4-5 times per month for a total of $200-$375 per month or $2400-$4500 per year! and that doesn’t include the $1000 per year in probation costs! That means that for a crime I committed 12 years ago, spent time in jail for and served 5 years of probation time, the CA Board of Psychology will now ask me to spend another $10,000-$14,000. Now, I should be able to afford the cost (barely) but here’s the rub the way I see it: These sorts of limitations and expenses are an endlessly  difficult and probably nearly impossible hoop for a whole slew of people to jump through. By placing these sorts of demands on people with a past, no matter how distant, the California Board of Psychology is essentially squeezing out possible clinicians who may have dealt with drug and alcohol issues in the past. Even my Board-assigned probation monitor told me that she thinks this is excessive, but as usual there “isn’t much [she] can do about it.”

Money is the instrument by which we control people in this society, and that issue comes up again and again for me when I listen to rich politicians (yes, Romney) telling us that if we all just paid less taxes and if government just spent less money than we would all be better off. But that’s a lie – government provides services specifically for those of us who can’t afford to provide them for ourselves. Romney may be able to build a private road to any of his many houses but the rest of us need the government to build that road otherwise we’d only be able to drive where the rich allow us to… and they wouldn’t let us drive on their private roads anyway. So government helps the rest of us with education, transportation, food, and health care because its job is to equalize the playing field a little bit. That might seem like a digression, but here:

If people with an addiction or criminal past are made to pay $10,000-$15,000 in addition to satisfying every other requirement to become lawyers, psychologists, physicians, therapists, and more then aren’t we in essence saying to them that we don’t want them in these jobs? Aren’t we telling them that due to their past they are now damaged goods and aren’t really welcome where the rest of society lives? And if we’re telling them that when they try to become part of the helping professions aren’t we also saying that they are either unable to help or that we simply don’t want their help?

Speak softly and carry a big stickIf that is what we’re saying then I think our system is fucked up. If we’re telling a portion of our society that even if they achieve everything someone else has they are not worthy of the same recognition then I think we need to take a long hard look at ourselves. Society survives and thrives because its members play together and help each other out – when we start drawing lines around what people are worth and what they’re allowed to strive for we disenfranchise exactly the portion of society we pretend to want to rehabilitate.

So I’m going to walk through this, proudly and successfully. I am going to stop drinking and I am going to pay the fees. But I am also going to speak my mind and make sure that the injustice and absurdity of the whole thing is heard, even if only by a few thousand dedicated readers. I’ve worked too hard to just turn the other cheek and say thank you. This is my life, I’ve earned the respect they can’t seem to find, and I’m going to claim it.

About Addiction: marijuana, LGBT, national surveys, codependency and skittles?

This week we have an interesting mix of addiction news, from the new fad “Skittle parties” to the results from a national drug use survey and everything in between. If you want to stay current and up-to-date on everything about addiction, this week’s articles are must-reads!

Perception of MarijuanaThe perception of marijuana can be vastly different from person to person. With voters in Massachusetts considering a ballot question that would make it the 18th state to allow medical use of marijuana in November, it is important to know the facts about the effects of marijuana use. Recent studies have found that marijuana use may cause or worsen mental health problems in long-term and regular users. Two 2010 reviews of the medical literature related to schizophrenia and psychosis said the research suggests marijuana may bring on the disorders or worsen symptoms, particularly in young people already genetically predisposed to the conditions, however both admitted that further studies were needed to support their findings. A more definitive study was published last month, linking regular marijuana use to a decline in IQ. A team of researchers, led by Madeline Meier of Duke University’s Center for Child and Family Policy, found that people diagnosed with marijuana dependency as teenagers and who continued using it regularly into adulthood experienced cognitive decline, with the largest drop being about 8 IQ points. They noted that those who started using marijuana as adults did not experience a drop in IQ. That’s because teenage brains are different, making the negative effects of marijuana more harmful both immediately and in the long-term. Essentially, while marijuana use can be safe and medicinally helpful, it is most dangerous to the developing brains of teenagers.

Drug use in the LGBT community A recent study from England has revealed surprising links between homosexuality and drug use, as people who identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual were seven times more likely to use illegal drugs than the general population, with one in five of those showing signs of dependency or addiction. Compared to the five percent of the general population who admitted to using within the last month, over a third of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people who took the survey admitted to drug use in the last month. Specifically among the illegal drugs being used, homosexuals were 10 times more likely to have used cocaine in the last month than the wider population, and 13 times more likely to have used ketamine. The causality behind this phenomenon is unclear, although many reasons have been suggested from drug use as a coping mechanism against homophobia to being a part of the homosexual party scene and lifestyle. Many campaigners and researchers are calling these findings a “wake-up call” to the LGBT community.

Skittle Parties!With drug abuse becoming an increasing problem across the nation, teens have been finding more and more new ways to use numerous different drugs. They have been utilizing their creativity to experience these drugs in new, different, and sometimes dangerous ways.  One of the newest and most alarming trends amongst the drug-using youth is called “skittle parties”. At these types of parties, teens bring with them any type of pill they can get a hold of, from parents prescription pills, such as Ritalin or Tylenol with Codeine, to illicit drugs like ecstasy. Once arriving at the party they put their pills in a bag and proceed to pull out and take any number of random pills, without knowing what they are or their effects. While theses parties can be extremely dangerous, they are also very easily preventable. If parents and grandparents follow a few simple guidelines, such as locking up and keeping track of their prescriptions and keeping in contact with their children’s friends and their parents in order to monitor their children’s well-being, they can help prevent these dangerous activities.

Results from National Drug Use SurveyThe U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has recently released their annual survey covering drug use among teens and adults. For the survey, they polled 70,000 people ages 12 and older, asking them about drugs they have used within the past month. The survey, which looked at data from 2011, provides a nationally representative look at current substance abuse around the country. The survey found that about 8.7 percent of Americans 12 and older were identified as current drug users, for a total of 22.5 million American drug users. Among the positive findings was a 14 percent decline in prescription drug use for non-medical purposes among people aged 18 to 25, meaning that 300,000 fewer young adults were found to be abusing such drugs compared to the previous year. The number of heroin users also showed a slight drop, going from 621,000 in 2010 to 620,000 in 2011. Hallucinogen use fell as well, dropping 19 percent for this year’s survey, and cocaine and methamphetamine use has been on the decline since 2006, with 44 percent and 40 percent reductions respectively. Tobacco use among teens 12 to 17 has also declined 15% since 2002. On the other hand, marijuana use has been increasing, with 7 percent of Americans currently identifying as regular marijuana users, up from 6.9 percent in 2010 and 5.8 percent in 2007.

Signs of Codependency Addiction has become a common term in our society, used to describe one’s dependency upon alcohol, drugs, sex, food, and many other substances. However, is it possible for one to become “addicted” to another person? According to many, the answer is yes. Even if this is not addiction in its usual clinical form, codependency is thought to be common among addicts and their spouses or partners, who end up enabling the addicts. Most people develop these kinds of behaviors after witnessing similar relationships between their role models growing up, especially if they were raised in an addicted or dysfunctional home. For example, children of alcoholics are up to four times more likely to become addicts themselves, and about half go on to marry an addict and duplicate the addict/codependent model they saw in their parents. Traumatic experiences early in one’s life can also contribute to this, by building up a low self-esteem, fear of abandonment, and many other psychological issues. Few people in these relationships realize they are codependent, instead referring to themselves as “too nice” or “selfless”. To help, here are 5 signs of a codependent relationship: 1) Taking (unnecessary) responsibility for others, 2) Putting someone else’s feelings above your own, 3) Going to extremes to hold onto a relationship, 4) Difficulty recognizing and communicating emotions, and 5) Inability to set and maintain personal boundaries. To see a more in-depth analysis of each sign, check out the link here.

How I stopped drinking, again – Entry 1

Those of you not following All About Addiction on Facebook (you should) or paying attention to our updates on Twitter and such might not have known that I was recently informed that in order to become a psychologist in California (actually, to get registered as a Psychological Assistant, which allows someone to get experience towards becoming a fully licensed psychologist) I was going to have to submit to a 3-year probationary period of drug and alcohol testing. I was completely sober for almost 3 years between January 2002 and about September 2004 following an arrest and jail stint for drug possession and sales (see here for part of the story). In the summer of 2004 I decided to take on the classic “AA Experiment,” meaning that I wanted to see if having an alcoholic drink would bring me back to drug use as so many in my 12-step groups told me it would. I am happy to report, that 8 years later the answer is still no – I’ve been drug free since 2002 but have been drinking alcohol socially since 2004.

Aside from staying drug and crime free, I also received my PhD, published dozens of articles, set up All About Addiction, started writing for Psychology Today, and had my convictions set aside by my judge after completing 5 years of probation without a single dirty drug test or violation of any sort. But the California Board of Psychology wanted more, so they told me I had to test if I wanted to move forward. I was offended, consulted with many other professionals I know about what I should do, and threatened to request additional hearings before eventually succumbing. The bottom line is that the Board is almost all powerful and can ask me to do anything they want. Besides, I am a 9-felony ex-convict asking to become a psychologist – maybe I’ll never live down my past no matter what I do (for my take on stigma, read here). So I have a probation officer again and I have to stop drinking.

Last Wednesday I stopped drinking alcohol – having a final glass of wine with my wife who is being nice and joining me (for now) in not drinking. Ironically, I stopped last week because I thought my meeting with my probation representative was in two days – I was a week off. And apparently I was so concerned about not drinking any more that I only drank half of my glass (my wife didn’t actually touch hers). Still, I have been drinking a drink or two 3-4 times every week for a while now and had gotten used to my glass of wine as post-work stress relief. So I’m wondering what the experience will feel like having to give up my coping tool for at least 2 years.

I talk to addicts and alcoholics on a regular basis and my own social drinking has come up as an issue many times before. I always said it wasn’t a problem and many others have told me I’m wrong – that I am either in the midst of a relapse or that I was never really an addict. The latter point is moot and I can’t prove that at all, but I know that this little experience might be an interesting experiment (the reverse of the initial one if you will) to see if returning to drinking was indeed a cop-out.

Having this website and all, I decided I am going to write about it. I’ll be giving weekly (probably summaries) of my not-drinking experiences and how quitting drinking has affected me in my daily life. If something comes up in between updates I might write an impromptu post to talk about it. I’d love to hear your thoughts as comments here or on our Facebook page.

Week #1 – September 1th-15th (short week since I stopped on Tuesday)

As I mentioned, we never finished those last glasses of wine. Still, Thursday and Friday were stressful workdays (I am now up to about 65 hours of work per week) and I have to say that realizing I won’t be able to have my nightly alcohol serving was a bummer. I had that thought a few times throughout those workdays and on the way home. I know full and well that for me stress is a trigger for alcohol use. Thankfully, I was not actually tempted to open up anything and drink once I got home. This is still early on in the process, so obviously it does not mean that I won’t be tempted soon, but I was happy to find that resisting a drink was not a difficult task even when I would have usually had one.

Also, I realized that my weekly (or so) friendly get-togethers with a couple of guy friends are either going to have to change venues or I’m going to be the only guy not drinking at a Happy Hour. We’ll see. I’m sure they won’t mind but I’m not sure how I will feel. Lord knows some of my clients frequent bars without issue while others are triggered constantly… If I’m right about my lack of alcoholic drinking issues, it shouldn’t be a problem.

More to come!

About Addiction: non-addictive pills, internet addiction, marijuana and alcohol

You want to know more about addiction and we want to tell you, so here is this week’s wrap up of exciting news (well, some of it. ) A lot of news about addiction comes up every week and we want you to be informed!

The End of Opioid Addiction?According to a joint international study by the University of Adelaide and the University of Colorado, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the scientists have discovered an essential receptor in the brain that can cause opioid addiction, and there is a drug that can block this receptor without interfering with pain relief! The drug is called (+)-naloxone and it works by binding to the specific receptors in the immune system that ordinarily trigger the drug’s addictive properties and preventing the opioids from interacting with them, thus reducing the body’s addictive response to the opioid drug. This new drug is a variant of the drug naloxone, which has been used for many years to treat overdoses. However, this study is the first clear link to its effect on preventing addiction. According to the leaders of the study, clinical trials may even begin within the next 18 months!

Scientists discover internet-addiction gene?Internet addiction is defined as someone who obsessively thinks about the internet and whose sense of well-being is negatively impacted if they can not get access to the internet. According to the findings of German scientists, published in the September issue of Journal of Addiction Medicine, problematic users more often carried a variation of the CHRNA4 gene, which is typically linked to nicotine addiction. While this receptor in the brain has been known to be essential in nicotine addiction, this is the first neurological link to internet addiction that has been discovered. The study’s lead author, Christian Montag, acknowledged that more large-scale studies need to be done to further examine this connection between internet addiction and the CHRNA4 gene, however he insists that there is enough clear evidence to support a genetic predisposition to internet addiction.

Your childhood’s effect on your adult life It has long been accepted that traumatic experiences in one’s childhood can have long-lasting effects on a person well into their adult life. According to new research at Cambridge University, suffering a traumatic experience in childhood may increase one’s risk of drug addiction. The compulsivity and impulsiveness linked to addicts are also found in people as a result of a traumatic childhood. While having a traumatic experience in one’s childhood does not mean they will automatically become an addict, just as not having a traumatic experience does not make one immune to addiction, coming from this kind of background does make one more at-risk of becoming an addict.

Is Marijuana Addictive?There has long been a debate on whether or not marijuana is an addictive drug. Recently, it has been ranked number one on a list of the top five most commonly abused prescription drugs used by post-50 year olds. According to a 2011 report from The National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 3 million adults older than 50 have illegally used the drug and “out of 4.8 million older adults who used illicit drugs, marijuana use was more common than non-medical use of prescription medicines among the 50-to-59 age range.” All of this evidence leads to a need to differentiate between addiction and dependency. In this article, Robert DuPont, M.D. and Laurel Dewey debate the addictiveness of marijuana by arguing their point of view. As evidence of its addictiveness, DuPont points out that, since 2000, admission for treatment of marijuana abuse ranks higher than that of heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and prescription painkillers. Of 7.1 million people with dependence or abuse of drugs other than alcohol or tobacco in 2010, 4.5 million had marijuana dependence. That’s 63 percent of everyone with illicit drug dependence or abuse! Contrarily, Dewey uses many personal experiences to show her side of the argument. She points to a 1974 study, conducted at Virginia Commonwealth University, that proved that the cannabinoids in the marijuana plant shrunk cancerous tumors and killed cancer cells, leaving healthy cells alone. She adds that, in the thousand years of its use, no one has ever died of marijuana use. Both authors use much more evidence for their side, which you can read about by clicking the link above. Read both views and form your own opinion!

Alcohol and Drug Use in SchoolsWith kids going back to school across the country, there have been many different studies on alcohol and drug use amongst the youth. In a survey led by SAFE Inc. (Substance Abuse Free Environment), there were mixed results. While the number of students who have tried alcohol has actually decreased, marijuana and amphetamine use have both increased. The survey targeted eight-, tenth-, and twelfth-graders, and showed that those tenth-graders who reported using alcohol in the last month dropped from 31 percent in 2010 to just 22.7 percent this year. It also decreased slightly in the eight- and twelfth-graders. Of the troubling findings, the most troubling may have been the increase in prescription stimulant abuse, such as Adderall and Ritalin. The most dramatic increase was among twelfth-graders, more than doubling from 3.8 to 8.5 percent. Marijuana use also showed increase both in the last month and in lifetime use amongst eighth- and twelfth-graders, although there was a slight drop by tenth-graders. 

Death in rehab- What is wrong with California’s addiction treatment?

We at A3 have long been saying that there is something seriously wrong with the way addiction treatment is being regulated and with the addiction treatment system that has sprouted up as a result. Now, a government report created for the California Senate Rules Committee called “Rogue Rehabs: State failed to police drug and alcohol homes, with deadly results” (see here) supports our notion and extends them in alarming ways. Among the major findings:

  1. Over the past decade, the California department in charge of regulating residential drug and alcohol programs consistently failed to catch life threatening problems [with addiction treatment facilities].
  2. Many addiction treatment facilities in California are providing medical care in clear violation of their licenses and often by under-trained staff.
  3. Addiction treatment providers are accepting patients that are far too impaired (as in sick) for them to handle because they would rather take the money than turn away a patient.
  4. These problems have led to several deaths within the California addiction treatment system in the last decade.

Obviously these findings are extremely disturbing and cases like the one studies in the report of Brandon Jacques, a patient who died while under the care of MorningSide Recovery’s care,  could have been prevented with more attention and transparency in our system. The idea that addiction treatment facilities that are not equipped to handle severe cases are taking them just for the money is sickening and antithetical to the reason for their existence. As far as I’m concerned, such unethical flouting of patient care should lead to an immediate revocation of their license and a ban for the management from the field.

The most distrubing factor to my mind is the fact that many of these providers know that what they are doing is wrong. But they also know that more than 50% of people who are looking for addiction treatment are doing so for the first time and have no idea what to ask, what addiction services they need, or how to assess whether a facility is appropriate. That means they can take advantage of them with fancy websites and the use of terms like “holistic treatment” that mean little and promise much. It’s disgusting and flies in the face of everything our field is supposed to stand for. It’s also the main reason I worked so hard to develop our Rehab-Finder, which while far from perfect and in need of serious work that I can’t afford to put into it, tries to fix these problems by recommending treatment that is appropriate given the specific issues a client is dealing with. We are currently conducting a study with UCLA on the effectiveness of tools like this and I am committed to figuring out a safer way to help those in need find the right addiction treatment for them.

Importantly, the report also makes a number of recommendations:

  1. Allow for medical service provision at addiction treatment facilities but legislate strict oversight and accountability paid for by agency fees.
  2. Medical detox facilities should be required to have medical directors.
  3. Establishing requirements and procedures for death investigations at addiction facilities.
  4. Strict oversight of programs found to admit clients it is not fit to treat including immediate license suspension.
  5. Information sharing between addiction treatment licensing boards and medical boards.

We think it’s time that addiction treatment providers be held to the same standard that other medical facilities are held to. It might help finally close the gap in terms of recovery outcomes. Running as a relatively unregulated industry does not help patients, it does not help move the field forward, and although they can’t see it it does not even help the treatment providers who are behaving unethically since many of them are eventually forced to close and face lawsuits. It’s time to move forward on this.

Teens and drugs: Drug use statistics and treatment that works

Here are some drug use statistics:

  • Over 80% of teens engage in some form of deviant behavior (1).
  • Over 50% of high-school seniors admit to having used drugs (2).
  • Only 10%-15% of the population develop drug addiction problems related to their drug use (1).

The question is:

If the majority of teens experiment with drug use, and so few eventually develop drug addiction problems, should we be focusing on something other than stopping kids from trying drugs? Continue reading “Teens and drugs: Drug use statistics and treatment that works”

Top 10 great things about being addicted

Here at All About Addiction we keep talking about fixing addiction and treating addiction given the suffering that addicts go through. But there are certainly some positive things that go along with being addicted and we figured we should point those out. SO here they is are top 10 addiction list:

Top 10 great things about being addicted

1. You get to do whatever you want whenever you want to do it – For many addicts, schedules are not an issue and consistent commitments no longer exist. This means that any given day can feel like a vacation. It’s a great thing, although much of it gets taken up by looking for drugs, preparing drugs, trying to get money for drugs, or recovering. Still – vacation time!

2. Being comfortable sleeping on a floor – This is a bit dependent on the specific drug (or drugs) you’re addicted to but it’s pretty common for addicts to be seen sleeping in bizarre places, positions, and clothing. Passing out on the floor may not sound good to you if you’re not actively using drugs, but it can’t be that bad if so many people do it for hours at a time. Hey, I once passed out half on a couch and half on the floor while on the phone!

3. You don’t have to bother yourself with family obligations – Not only has most of your family probably stopped inviting you to events because being seen with you embarrasses them, but when invited you rarely show up (see #1 above) so they stopped trying. Besides, not liking to be tied down to specific times, addicts would rather do other things (like drugs) then hanging out with family and having to listen to stories, eat food, or play with children.

4. People don’t annoy you with conversation – Whether because addicts seem aloof or unhappy or because they can smell bad, people seem less likely to engage addicts in random conversations. Of course, this doesn’t apply to other people you meet at your drug dealer’s house or the late-night liqueur store, but those “friends” can often tell you where to get more drugs, so it’s not really a bother (more on this later). Cops also don’t apply to this category.

5. Not having a boss breathing down your neck – Having a boss who can tell you what to do and when to do it can suck. Most addicts can’t hold a job for too long though, so they don’t have to worry about it. Granted, not having a job can affect you finances (as in cause you not to have money), which puts a damper on #1. Still, since you can be comfortable sleeping anywhere (see #2) it doesn’t really matter if you can’t afford a place to live. Besides, if you owe your dealer money, he’ll be breathing down your neck enough.

6. Pesky mortgage, rent, and car payments are rarely an issue – Money issues like rent, mortgage, and such are without a doubt one of the most troubling aspects of living in a capitalistic society. For addicts who have homes and cars, the competition between paying for those or paying for drugs can be fierce (worse if you’re addicted to gambling). Often times, drugs win, which removes the need to worry about it. As listed in the above points, not worrying about these things leaves you free to be on permanent vacation, sleep on the floor, or enjoy not having a boss… or job.

7. You can be late to anything when you’re an addict – Most people get yelled, or at least scoffed, at when late to events but not addicts. As we pointed out above, addicts don’t get invited to as many things and rarely make it at all when they do. Being late is actually a successful outcome for a drug addict. Drug dealers are often late themselves, and while they can be upset if you’re late when picking up, they’ll take your money and give you drugs, which is all that matters anyway.

8. Sleeping in becomes a way of life – We already mentioned that addicts seem to be able to sleep anywhere, but we didn’t mention that they can also sleep in late, or even all day. Meth addicts can crash for days and others simply don’t get out of bed or their room for days at a time. Of course, if you’re a heroin addict or alcoholic and have been using for a while, you may have to wake up in the middle of the night to get a fix because withdrawal can start within a few hours. But then you get to stay there as long as you’d like. Neat!

9. Not worrying about hygiene, looking good or fit – Vanity is for the meek and worrying about things like health, skin, hair, and showers is beneath those who are concerned with more basic needs like feeling good and surviving. You might be thinking already that given some of the above points about lack of work, money, and a reliable living situation, vanity might also be difficult for many in active addiction. You’d be right. The choice between brushing your teeth, taking a shower, or working on your next hit is not one that requires much thinking. Hygiene can wait.

10. Getting a group of very close friends that relate – Like in recovery, addicts tend to associate almost exclusively with others who use their drug(s) of choice. This means that your friends know, and care, a lot about everything you care about. They can recommend good spots to shoot up, places to get rigs, smoke-shops that are open late, and other relevant information most people would be stumped about. Those friends are likely also experiencing the rest of this list, so they can relate! Unfortunately, some of these friends might steal from you, lie to you, or even beat you up because they want your drugs, money, or due to a psychotic break. Nothing is perfect though…

We could probably think of more, but I think that this top 10 list gets at some of the most basic things that active addiction is great at providing. We’d love to hear more thoughts from people who are either still using or those of you who have quit. Family members’ thoughts would also be welcome but annoyingly they usually notice the “bad” things about addiction more often and that’s a bummer.