About addiction, my self, and the fight to be altruistic

One of the core personality traits that many addicts, including myself, eventually identify in themselves in a strong streak of selfishness. The question is: What do I do with this insight once I’ve gained it?

I’m starting to come up with my own answer and hopefully my solution will help others find their own.

The beginning of my efforts

Since my arrest, incarceration, and rehabilitation for my own problems with drugs, I’ve dedicated my life to the study of addiction. My hope was that through my knowledge, I’d be able to finally figure out what happened to me. As I continued learning, I began seeing that I could offer some real help to others who are still suffering, stuck in their own, or another’s addiction.

That was how All About Addiction, and its parent company, California Treatment Services, came to be. I wanted to share the knowledge I was gaining with others, hoping that like me, they would find relief in understanding the disorder that has so profoundly messed-up their life.

The All About Addiction experiment

When I started out, I knew nothing about the craft of writing an online blog. I called every post a blog, I wrote like I was trying to get another academic paper published, and no one came to read my boring, overreaching, dense stuff.

My first month I barely broke the 5 reader mark – I was discouraged, but soldiered on. Month after month, post after post, I kept writing, editing, rewriting, learning more, and gaining readers. Since that humble beginning, with the help of some great mentors, help from other bloggers, and good old experience, I improved. As of right now, All About Addiction, is read by about 13,000 people monthly and we’re trying to expand our efforts to give actual real-world help to readers with our recent Free Treatment Contest.

Nowadays, I get dozens of emails asking for specific help, letting me know how much people appreciate what I write, and yes, even the occasional online fight with a reader who disagrees with me. I finally feel that what I’m doing is making a real difference in the world. But that’s where I’ve run into a little unexpected snag.

My fight with altruism

One of the greatest gifts I received when I first cleaned up my act was some relief from the constant noise in my head about my relationship with everyone around me. All the people that owed me money, all the people I owed; the fights with my “employees” and the constant struggle to rationalize my life; the girls, the sex, and the constant mistrust, stealing, and betrayal. It was exhausting, and even though I’d found myself broke for the first time in 5 years, I was more relaxed than ever. There’s no doubt that the people I associated with when I was using were, for the most part, not good for me. Being a student allowed me to take a place back in society and be invisible for a little while. But not for long.

It all started up again when I excelled in my Masters program at Cal State Long Beach. All the accolades and praise made me feel like I was somehow special and better than others. Getting into UCLA’s doctoral program despite the incredible odds (thank god they don’t ask about a conviction record) only made things worse. Now, with thousands of people listening to me on a monthly basis and a consistently growing body of work, my big head and ego are back full force.

I wake up in the morning and rush to my laptop to check on my visitor counts and the most recent comments. I do this at least 100 times a day. I’m obsessed. When people fail to flock to a recent post, I feel down and when they come en mass, I am joyous and feel redeemed. I’m no longer relying on drug deals and money to keep me feeling worthy, but the reader count is my new drug. I have a problem.

Once again, my self-worth is tied up in others, and that’s not a safe place for me to be. If I’m relying on you to make me feel worthy, I’m setting myself up for failure. This is especially true because of my perfectionist, obsessive, personality. Nothing is ever good enough and I won’t stop until everything is perfect. Seems like a trap, doesn’t it?

My solution, for now

My solution isn’t going to involve my not writing anymore. I think it’s helping people and I want to help – I just want to remove my own self-perception from the equation. I’m also beginning to realize that my obsessive nature is never going to go away. It, along with my inattention, is going to remain a lifelong challenge that I will have to learn to live with.

This is tied very closely to my struggles with addiction. Every time I think I have it beat, the same tendencies pop-up somewhere else, reminding me that this fight isn’t going to be won easily. I haven’t used meth in over 8 years now and hopefully I never will. Still, the same obsessions, discomforts, and personality traits that kept me using for so long are here, and they’re not going anywhere. And that’s without even mentioning that randomly inserted cravings that can take over my mind at any minute.

So for now, I vow to do my best to write without concern for what others think. I will write, as best I can, to help others through encouragement, tips, and education. The results, any prestige or acknowledgement I may get? Those are out of my hands and none of my concern.

Drug abuse statistics: American drug abuse and addiction

In looking up some numbers for a recent post I put up on TakePart, I uncovered some amazing addiction and drug abuse statistics (most from 2007, so they’re probably higher by now).

StatisticsAddiction statistics highlights:

  • Slightly more than half of Americans surveyed indicated that they are current drinkers (I thought it’d be higher) – Meaning there were about 126 million drinkers in the country. About 57.8 million had consumed more than 5 drinks in one sitting in the month prior to the survey.
  • It is estimated that more than 30 million people in the US meet criteria for some addictive disorder including drug addiction, sex addiction, gambling addiction, and food addiction (added from SAMHSA statistics about individual addictions)!!
  • More than 15 million of those are only dependent on alcohol!!
  • The next drug on the list is, you guessed it, marijuana with 3.9 million dependent individuals!!!
  • Of the more than 23 million individuals who needed drug treatment, only 10% sought help (2.4 million).
  • The most  staggering of all numbers – The cumulative estimated cost of addictive behavior (including overeating) in the United States = $500 Billion!!! Almost half of our current budget deficit!!!

I don’t know about you, but these numbers leave me a little in awe of just how big this problem really is. Given some of the other treatment-cost posts I’ve written (see here), I once again reiterate the notion that if we shifted our focus to drug-treatment, we’d save lives and money all at the same time.

Struggling with my addiction: Recovery, addiction, and the everyday stuff

I’ve written about my own struggles with my addiction on here numerous times. I’ve used crystal meth, ecstasy, cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, LSD, mushrooms, and more, though the first few were the ones that really got me.

After an extended career as a dealer and addict, I turned a new leaf and made a new life for myself. It took a couple of rehabs and a hefty jail sentence. Still the link between my addiction and my recovery is not always strong.

My notions regarding the strong relationship between addiction and personality factors like attention-problems, impulsivity, sensation-seeking, and others comes from both my research and my personal experience. I’ve seen the genetic, behavioral, and clinical manifestations; I’ve also lived it firsthand.

I’ve always been known for doing things I wasn’t supposed to and then feeling sorry for them (or not). It was true when I was 5, long before my first sip of alcohol. Sadly, I’m realizing it is still true now and will most likely be true forever.

I can’t keep anything organized in my head. I never could. I was the kid who lost his house keys 5 times a year, forgot about midterms and finals, let alone school assignments, and who could never remember birthdays, anniversaries, or other important dates and times. These days, I’ve learned to rely on my pda/phone to help me with at least some of those things and it’s made my life much easier. But the underlying problem remains.

The problem is that I’m still impulsive and I still do things I shouldn’t. It’s a constant struggle to pull myself back, a very conscious struggle most of the time. When I say that addiction can be treated, it doesn’t mean that it actually disappears, though for me, it has certainly taken a backseat. If anything, it was after getting sober that I realized my drug use was so tied up with sex that I most likely had developed a sex addiction as well.

I’m not sober now (I drink socially), but I’m very aware of my intoxication level when I drink and rarely let it get out of hand. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve gotten actually drunk in the five years or so since I began the forbidden “AA experiment.” It works for me, though it might not be for everyone.

The point is that nowadays, I have too much going on in my life that I love to throw it all away over getting high. My fiance, my education, and my work are important to me. The thoughts are still there, but I don’t act on them. It took a lot of work to get here and I seriously hope that I never have to put that work in again, but recovery, addiction, and my everyday stuff can still be a struggle.

You have to build the life you want and do your best to make maintaining that life a priority. It’s not easy, but it can be done. Look here for an exercise that can help you figure out what that life should even look like.

Addiction brain effects : Opiate addiction – Heroin, oxycontin and more

Okay, we’ve talked about crystal meth and cocaine and how they affect the brain during drug use. As I mentioned, both cocaine and meth interfere with the way the brain stores and cleans up important neurotransmitters, including, most importantly, Dopamine and Norepinephrine.

opiates-morphine & heroinThe class of drugs known as opiates, which includes morphine, heroin, codeine, and all their derivatives (including oxycontin), acts on the brain in a completely different manner. Since our goal at All About Addiction is to explain drug use and abuse as comprehensively as possible, let’s turn our attention to this opiate addiction next.

Heroin, morphine, oxycontin, vicodin and other opiates

While cocaine and crystal meth work by disrupting the normal functioning of molecules responsible for cleaning up released neurotransmitters, opiates work by activating actual receptors that naturally occuring neurotransmitters activate. Substance like this are known as agonists; they perform the same action (identically as, to a lesser, or greater extent) as a substance the body already manufactures.

In the case of morphine, heroin, and most other opiates, the most important receptors activated are knownOpiate Receptors as µ-opioid receptors. Activation of the µ-opioid receptors is associated with analgesia (suppression of pain), sedation, and euphoria, which makes sense given the relaxing, pleasure inducing effects of opiates.

Natural opioids (also called endogenous opioids), which include endorphins, are used by the body to relieve pain and increase relaxation, especially during periods of extreme stress. These are the chemicals that make sure we can function during accidents, like after breaking our leg…

Opioids and dopamine

Opioids also increase the amount of dopamine in the brain indirectly. As I mentioned in the earlier posts, dopamine is thought to be the reward indicator in the brain. Unlike crystal meth and cocaine, heroin and its relatives increase the activity of dopamine neurons by releasing the hold that other neurons (that use GABA) have on them. Think of this as the release of pressure on a hose spraying water on a lawn. When the pipe is pinched, only so much water can get through, but once the clasp is released, water can flow in greater quantity; this is essentially what opiates do.

Heroin addiction and long term opiate use

Like I said before, this doesn’t sound so bad, does it? All we’re talking about here is the increasing of the functioning of system that already exists in the brain. The problem isn’t so much in the process, the problem starts when this system gets activated for long periods of time.

HeroinHeroin addicts, and other frequent users of opiates complain about the extreme discomfort they feel when they stop using the drugs. This discomfort has been described as the worse case of the flu you could imagine. Doesn’t sound too appealing, does it? In fact, withdrawal symptoms associated with stopping opiate use are at least one of the main reasons many users return to the drug after trying to clean up. This in addition to all the other effects of the drug on the brain to make wanting to stop so much harder.

The reason for the pains and aches? Given the overactivation of its pain suppression system, the body not only reduces its own supply of opioids, but it also turns up the sensitivity on its pain receptors. Heroin users notice this as an increase in tolerance, but they compensate for it by simply using more. However, when they stop, they’re left with a body unable to suppress its own, hyper sensitive pain system. The results are more than uncomfortable, they’re simply excruciating…

Another common complaint of addicts is diarrhea. This, again, is simply the reversal of the constipation caused earlier by heroin’s actions on opioid receptors that are present in the peripheral system (outside the central nervous system).

I’ve heard addicts speak online about the slow recovery from opiate addiction and I want to dispell a myth here:

Opiates DO NOT stay in your system for weeks or months – The drug itself is gone from the body within days. The reason for the continued suffering is the slow adjustment of your brain and body back to the way things were before the drugs. Think of how long the tolerance took to develop… Now play the tape back in reverse. That’s what happening to you. You can help relieve the pain, but know that if you use anything in the opiate family, you’re making the process last much longer…

So, in summary: As usual, the actions of opiates on the body and brain are not all the severe, extreme, or inappropriate. Opiates are still used in medicine for pain suppression, not only because they work, but because the potential for abuse when used in this way are minimal to non-existent. However, as with all drugs, continued, chronic, abusive use of opiates will change the way your body functions in ways that will produce the exact opposite effects of those users like so much. This leaves people not only with possible addiction problems, but also with a terrifyingly uncomfortable return back to normal functioning.

Addiction help

If you need help finding treatment for your own, or a loved one’s addiction, make sure to give our Rehab-Finder a try: It’s the only evidence-based, scientifically created, tool for finding rehab anywhere in the United States!

More CPDD Addiction research: Addiction, exercise, recovery!

Okay, this is probably the last addiction research update I will give focusing on the Reno conference. The rest of the stuff I learned will be incorporated into future posts.

I’ve written before about the relationship between exercise and recovery (see here) and I will surely write more since for me, it was a big part of the equation.

two separate studies at CPDD reaffirmed my belief that exercise can be a very useful tool in addiction recovery.

The first study, conducted in humans, examined the effect of incorporating an extensive exercise routine into a residential, as well as intensive outpatient, addiction treatment program. Their findings showed improved outcomes for participants in the short, as well as long run. These included length of sobriety, subjective assessment of well being, and more. In talking to the researcher, she seemed to believe that at least part of the effect was due to the relief of cravings achieved by allowing patients to focus on something that took effort, rather than simply sitting around.

The second, and to my mind even more interesting, study examined the effect of exercise on cocaine self-administration in rats. Researchers assigned half of their rats to a cage that had a running wheel while the others were assigned to a regular cage. the rats with the running wheel used the device to run an average of 12 kilometers a day! After a week of simply resting in their cages, when transferred to another cage for 2 hours a day, the rats who had the wheel in their cage took less than half as much cocaine as the rats who didn’t have a wheel. the “wheel-rats” were also found to run less after they began the cocaine portion of the experiment, but their cocaine-taking never got near that of the non-exercising rats. It seems that having the exercise did something to reduce the reinforcing power of cocaine.

I have a feeling that future research will show that these finding hold true for other drugs (like crystal meth, heroin, marijuana, cigarettes, and alcohol) and possibly even for behavioral addictions like food addiction, gambling, and sex addiction.

All in all, research seems to be supporting the notion that exercise can play a significant role in recovery from addiction. Whether it be for boredom relief or an actual internal change in the motivating power of drugs, it looks to me as if Addiction + Exercise = Recovery !