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.

The best addiction treatment option

I get asked which addiction treatment option is the best all the time. The short answer? Whichever one ends up working for the client.

I don’t like being stuck in the corner, having to pick a “best of” option just because I’m asked. For some clients Moderation Management will work, others need intense day-treatment or an in-hospital residential treatment program before moving into a more traditional residential place for a year or more. Some clients feel suffocated by such a structured environment and can’t manage it – outpatient treatment options can be a better fit there.

Sometimes we ask ourselves questions in a way that forces us to make bad choices: Which is better, chocolate or vanilla ice-cream? I reject the premise.

It’s about time we all faced the fact that only rare occasions allow for two-word answers that are absolutely true. The world is full of nuance and if we don’t start allowing some gray into our conceptualization of questions and answers we are going to keep repeating the past mistakes of polarized opposition to a small number of camps that are all equally wrong.

Brain research supports the notion that they way in which questions are posed can affect the sort of answers we look for – our brain pays attention to the stimuli it expects to find. So if you think that all you have to pick from are two or three options, your brain will calculate costs and benefits and spit out an answer – 42. It’s what happens when you ask the wrong question – you get a nonsensical answer.

So I don’t answer question like “which treatment is best?” or “which is more important, biology, the environment, or personality?” The way I see it the pieces are all so interconnected that the separation is false. The question is moot. And that’s true whether you’re picking addiction treatment or a your favorite cone.

One day at a time, but not forever!!!

If you’ve ever gone to a 12-step meeting, you’ve heard the phrase “one day at a time,” so often as to make it a mantra. Personally, it always left me wanting more.

Is “one day at a time” enough?!

I think the notion is a correct one… when it comes to early recovery. However, once the initial excitement of staying sober has worn off and life without the crutch of drugs, alcohol, or any other addiction, begins, I believe that there is great value in planning.

Thinking ahead is exactly the sort of thing that addicts don’t do well. As far as I know, there’s only one way to improve a lacking skill – practice.

If a recovering addict truly takes things “one day at a time,” never making plans that take the not-so-near-future into account, where does that leave him except for being sober for one more day? As far as I’m concerned, that’s simply not enough.

I had a lot of learning to do when it came to living a normal life after I cleaned up. I barely knew how to function in the simplest ways without the crutch I’d become so comfortable with. I’ll never forget the single sentence lesson my dad gave me over the phone regarding handling my mail.

“Most people pick up their mail, open it up on the spot, throw away what they don’t need, and handle the rest immediately” he told me.

To me, that was more than a foreign concept; it just sounded strange. You see, I would let mail pile up for weeks, eventually throwing it away when it simply seemed overwhelming. The notion of taking care of my mail, or anything else for that matter, on the spot, sounded so simple as to be impossible. But guess what – it works!!!

Fortunately for me, by the time my dad had shared those pearls of wisdom, I’d been clean for six months and ready to put the lesson into action.

Making plans the right way

Recently, my fiance introduced me to an exercise that requires you to write down your plans for next week, next month, next year, and five years from now. I liked it because it made me think concretely about where it is I’m going in life both in the very short, and relatively long, future. By writing down how I saw different aspects of my life play out in the next five years, I got to think about them more directly than I ever had before.

I’ve adapted the exercise for addicts in recovery. I think that you should try it as early as you feel comfortable with it. The trick early on is to just complete it. Once the first draft is finished, you should go back and change it every once in a while.

Given how quickly things change in early recovery, the second draft should be completed after a week. Since you’ll be getting better, and more realistic, every time, the third draft should probably be done about a month later. From that point on, further edits can be done whenever life calls for it.

I think you’ll find that simply going through the exercise will tell you a lot about where you are in your recovery.

The exercise itself

The first thing you’ll need is a piece of paper. Divide the paper (you can use one side or both depending on how much you like to write) into five sections and title them as follows: “Tomorrow”, “Next week”, “Next month”, “Next year”, and “Five years from now.”

Under each one of the headings, answer the following questions for each of the time periods. Be as specific as possible. Feel free to add, or replace, any of these questions with ones you see as more relevant to your life.

  1. Where will you be living?
  2. What will your job be?
  3. Will you be in a relationship? If so, with who?
  4. How much money will you be making?
  5. What car (or other mode of transportation) will you have?
  6. List your five most important relationships – Describe the quality of each.
  7. What special trips, events, or occasions, will you be taking part in or planning?

That’s it. You’re done. Take a deep breath and read over the list.

Though it seems simple enough, you’ll see that answering these questions can be quite difficult at first. This is especially true the more specific you try to be (answers like “I’ll be living in a 3 bedroom house in Mar Vista with hardwood floors and a home office that faces east” might take some time for some of you).

Again, the point is simply to complete the exercise that first time. I promise you that it gets easier with time. Since you’ll be repeating it relatively often initially, you’ll be able to adjust your plans according to the changing circumstances of your life. Feel free to go back and redo the list any time.

Having goals, both short and long term ones, will help focus your mind. It will also plant the seed of the direction in which you want to take your life. Without this direction, things can seem chaotic, especially when one has recently given up their best friend (cocaine, marijuana, porn, and chocolate fudge ice-cream can easily be thought of as best friends when one is in the throws of addiction or recently out of it).

One day at a time is great, but when you want more out of life, planning is the only way to go.

Pathological Gambling- Is it an addiction? Part II

Michael Campos, Ph.D.

This is part II in Michael’s series on pathological gambling (click the preceding for part I):

The risk factors for pathological gambling

Pathological gambing (or gambling addiction)There are a number of factors that are important in pathological gambling including types and number of games played, alcohol use, and socio-demographic factors. Some research suggests that casino gambling, pull tabs, card playing outside a casino, bingo, and sports betting are associated with increased risk for gambling problems. In addition, the number of different types of games played is associated with gambling problems such that the more different types of games a person plays, the greater the risk for gambling problems. Alcohol abuse/dependence is associated with increased risk for gambling problems as well. Finally, socio-demographic factors (e.g., low socio-economic status, minority ethnicity) are associated with gambling problems even after controlling for gambling behavior. Continue reading “Pathological Gambling- Is it an addiction? Part II”

Replacement therapy as addiction treatment – Why it makes sense

I’m a little sick and tired of hearing discussions that continuously talk about opiate replacement therapy (think methadone, suboxone, subutex) as not being true addiction treatment because those individuals are still using a drug. While some recent advances will hopefully allow more and more people to achieve medication assisted recovery through antagonist therapies (like naltrexone and its once a month wonder Vivitrol), agonist therpy, or replacement therapy, has been working wonders with heroin addicts and other opiate addicts who have tried quitting multiple times and have failed only to succeed wonderfully using these medications.

What replacement therapy as addiction treatment looks like

A recent comment on this blog compared using suboxone to get off heroin to drinking beer while trying to quit liquor. Let’s assume for a second that this is a worthy comparison (although buprenorphine is a partial agonist for opiate receptors and not a full agonist), the one thing it’s missing is context, so let’s give it some: take Paul, a daily drinker who puts down a fifth of Vodka or more on a daily basis. He’s been doing this for years and the physical toll has been immense – His liver is failing along with his health and his pasty white skin looks good with his shuffling and  Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome due to improper thiamin (vitamin B) intake. He hasn’t been able to hold down a job for years due to the shaking and blacking out not to mention the need to always have alcohol around for when the withdrawal starts. He’s tried to quit drinking several times but the DTs, shakes, and generally horrible feeling almost always makes him go back to drinking soon after and even the few attempts at medically supervised addiction treatment failed when he relapsed within weeks of leaving treatment. One day, someone promises Paul a solution to all his problems and gives him a magical beer that he has to drink in the morning when he wakes up. Not believeing it, but figuring “what the heck,” Paul keeps drinking all that day but then remembers to take that pill early the next morning… He still drinks that first day, though not as much because he doesn’t feel like he needs it, and day by day he begins to consume less liquor and finds himself having that one beer in the morning and sometimes another in the middle of the day. Within a few weeks he’s drinking no more liquor and all he has are those two beers every day. He feels great, has started getting some color back and is looking healthier than ever. He’s even managed to get a little job, though he’s not overcommitting yet not fully believing that this will really last. His memory returns fully and he feels like he did 20 years earlier, hardly believing he’s given so much up for that liquor he doesn’t really want anymore. A year later Pual feels like a new man and never looks back.

Keeping our options – Replacement therapy included

As far as I’m concerned that story, which we hear over and over with buprenorphine-using ex heroin addicts, is not only worth keeping patients medicated forever but makes the notion of not offering replacement therapy when it is appropriate simply crazy. I didn’t even get into the fact that reductions of this kind in heroin use bring about other great health benefits like lower injection rates that bring down HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C infections not to mention all the other complications that injecting is good for.

Like we’ve said many times here on A3, there is no single addiction treatment that will work for everyone but it is absolutely crazy to dismiss therapies that have been repeatedly shown to work (yes, including AA and other 12-step based approaches) and make lives endlessly better. We have a whole box full of addiction treatment tools, let’s not start trying to hammer with a flathead screwdriver please…

Are AA and addiction- or alcohol-treatment destroying the social life of Americans?

There’s no doubt that alcoholics, and addicts, keep life interesting for those around them. True, interesting doesn’t always mean fun, or good, but there’s no doubt that once you take the alcohol away from the resident group drunk, some parties tend to lose a little spark… Well, count on The Onion to give us a little segment that addresses this issue in the classic Union style.

Even though drug and alcohol abuse are serious matters, I think that unless one can have a little fun and laughter, even at one’s own expense, then we’re somehow missing the point. With that in mind, check this one out!

AA Destroying The Social Lives Of Thousands Of Once-Fun Americans

Addiction Stories: Buzz Aldrin’s Alcoholic Buzz and Recovery

In the whole of human history, only twelve lucky, and brave, men can claim to have walked on the surface of the moon. Buzz Aldrin is not only one of those twelve, but the second ever, a West Point graduate, PhD from MIT and Korean War fighter pilot whose accomplishments place him firmly at the forefront of great Americans.Still, for all his fame, success and vast intelligence, Buzz Aldrin had another title that put him on the same plane as millions of Americans: alcoholic.

At a recent talk at UCLA, Buzz Aldrin reflected on the painful (and all too common) series of personal tragedies and setbacks that put him on the path to addiction, foremost in his mind being the suicide of his mother. Though he now counts himself as a recovering addict and strong supporter of AA, to which he credits his recovery, the fact remains that for even this strong American icon, the lure of the bottle and its ability to temporarily numb the crippling pangs of clinical depression were for a long time too powerful to ignore. When it comes to inspiring addiction stories, it’s hard to find one as inspiring as that of Buzz Aldrin.

Buzz Aldrin is far from the only addict struggling with depression

Depression is amazingly common among addicts, reaching levels as high as 80% in some addict populations (though it more commonly shows a still staggering 30-55% range). As compared to the standard population depression prevalence of about 7%, it becomes impossible to deny what might already be seen as a common sense conclusion: many, many addicts struggle mightily with depression. Because the causes of depression are so numerous, it’s understandably inexact to determine whether the condition precedes or is caused by addiction. Nevertheless, it’s clear that among active users, not using is linked with greater depression rates, but also that successful treatment often resolves both the substance use and depression issues. In fact, when it comes to a number of common antidepressants, their utility in treating addiction problems is often related to whether or not the patient has a separate depression issue – if they do, antidepressants often do a great job on both. But the bottom line is that depression, just as serious an issue as addiction in its own right, can combine with addiction to keep even a great American hero like Buzz Aldrin floating in the void.

As I’ve said numerous times here in relation to the addiction stories we share on All About Addiction, the point of sharing successes, and failures, related to addiction is to humanize, and de-stigmatize the typical vision of an alcoholic, or addict that people have. Addicts are all among us and they’re like every single one of us – They are lawyers, judges, politicians, and store owners. The addiction stories we share try to put a human face on the problem, a face full of hope.