About Addiction: Drug use and crime, increasing marijuana use, cravings and brain function

Check out the newest links about addiction. Leave us your feedback!

Drug use & Crime

Huffington Post: Over 5,000 lives were taken in drug related crimes in Mexico in the past year. Drug trade related violence is linked directly to the rising levels of drug use worldwide.

Marijuana use

Bloomberg Businessweek: For the first time since 2002, the number of Americans smoking marijuana rose . Around 12.5% (39 million people) between the ages of 15 and 64, smoked marijuana in 2008, up from 12.3 percent the year before. Medical Marijuana anyone?

Drinking alcohol, and smoking cigarettes

Science Daily: Drunkenness increases the risk for violent behavior, but only for individuals with a strong inclination to suppress anger. Seems similar to my thesis findings.

Health Day: American teenage girls seem more receptive to drinking alcohol and taking other drugs than in earlier years. Teenage girls reach more than ever for drugs and booze to help them emotionally.

Health Day: There seems to be a connection between parents who smoke and children who weigh more or misbehave more than other children. This speaks to the environmental, as well as genetic, influences on behavior and health.

Cesar Fax: The percentage of high school students who for the first time tried alcohol or cigarettes before the age of 13 has decreased over the last ten years. In 1999, around one-third of high school students had reported drinking alcohol and one-fourth reported smoking a cigarette for the first time before age 13.

Health Day: Smoking may cause certain genetic mutations in older women, and therefore boost the risk of colon cancer in that population. In the general population, there is not much of connection between smoking and a higher risk of colorectal cancer.

Cravings and Brain function in addiction

Science Daily: Recovering addicts who avoid coping with stress succumb easily to substance use cravings, making them more likely to relapse during recovery.

Science Daily: Becoming addicted could result from a persistent impairment of synaptic plasticity in the brain. There exists a correlation between synaptic plasticity and the transition to addiction.

About Addiction: Smoking, Alcohol, Painkillers, Prescriptions

This are new, interesting articles about addiction. Check out the links to the articles, and give us your feedback.

Smoking and related issues

Health Day: Smoking increases the risk of age-related macular degeneration, a disease that robs people of their sight.

Reuters: When cigarette smokers quit smoking, chronic stress levels may go down. This should give smokers reassurance that quitting will not deprive them of a valuable stress reliever.

Reuters: A nicotine mouth spray may help prevent cigarette cravings three times faster than nicotine lozenges or chewing gum. This might help smokers who are trying to quit smoking.

Cesar Fax: The percentage of national tobacco retailers selling to minors appears to have leveled off. The average national retailer violation rate decreased from 40.1% to 10.8%, and stabilized at 10.8%.

wcstv: Under a proposed deal reached by Governor David Paterson and Albany legislators, cigarette taxes would increase by $1.60 per pack. In New York City, the price of one pack of cigarettes would cost over $10 in many stores. The hope is that this huge price increase will help smokers quit smoking and reduce overall levels of smoking in New York.

About addiction to alcohol, painkillers, and prescription medication

Hazelden: Abuse of alcohol, painkillers, and prescription medication is rising dramatically among older people. Signs of alcohol abuse and drug addiction are different in older adults than in younger people.

Science Daily: Religiosity can moderate genetic effects on alcohol abuse during adolescence but not during early adulthood. The heritability of an alcohol abuse phenotype depends upon the social environment within which it is measured.

Medical News TODAY: Sleep problems can predict the onset of alcohol abuse in healthy adults and relapse in abstinent alcoholics. Puberty is related to sleep problems and later bedtimes, which are associated with alcohol abuse.

Health Day: Exercise may be an effective treatment option for alcoholism. In addition, alcoholism disrupts normal daily circadian rhythms, which can lead to disrupted sleep patterns.

About addiction and mental illness

KansasCity.com:  To study drug addiction and mental illness researchers, at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, have received a $1.8 million federal grant. One of the leading researchers states that conditions such as drug addiction and depression are major problems across the globe.

Drug use cravings, obsessions, and trying to get clean…

When I first got sober, everything I thought about had something to do with drugs. It wasn’t just that I always thought of getting high, but everything in my life was tied to drugs, especially crystal meth.

Adi Jaffe playing music now sober

My drug use centered life

I used to make music in my studio, but I was always smoking crystal meth while doing it; I had a few girls I was “seeing,” but I got high with almost all of them (if they weren’t into it, I’d sneak a smoke in the bathroom alone). Every one of my friends was on drugs. I paid my rent with cocaine, made my money from selling anything you could think of, and overall, was simply surrounded by the stuff.

The drug use to craving connection

If you haven’t heard about this yet, memories are reconstructions of the past. When you remember something, your brain doesn’t just pull it out of some secret drawer like you were told when you were a kid. Instead, the different areas of your brain involved in making the memory (like your visual cortex, your olfactory bulb, and your language areas) light up all over again, re-exposing you to those same old thoughts, feelings, and senses.

Knowing that, it’s not surprising that cravings are so difficult to handle. Who wants to re-experience getting high with their best friend, their girlfriend, or in their favorite place over and over while trying to get sober? It’s literally maddening, sometime to the point where you just say “screw it” and run out to do it all over again (as in relapse).

I told my sister the other day that when I think about smoking glass (another name for crystal meth), the thing I miss the most is the white puff of smoke that fills the room. We used to call it “Dragon’s Breath” and I was pretty talented at producing the biggest clouds. It freaked her out a little to know that I could possibly still miss something about meth after everything that happened.

Even though I felt that it was necessary to calm her, I know that the addicts reading these pages know what I’m talking about. Of course I still miss smoking  crystal meth sometimes; Given everything I now know about drugs, which is a lot given the fact that I’ve spent 8 years studying nothing but drugs, I’m surprised I don’t miss the stuff more.

Drug use, reward, and what’s next

Almost every drug I know of eventually gets down to activating your reward center. Meth does so in a way that’s so extreme (like I said in an old post, it literally floods your brain with DA), that I’m surprised I ever managed to come out of it. I definitely know why it felt like such hard work.

So when a craving comes, don’t think of it as a sign that your failing. If that were true, there would be no survivors of addiction. Instead, recognize what your brain is doing, allow it, then think about the changes you’re trying to make. As the memory gets reconstructed, those new aspects you’re thinking about, those that have to do with your recovery and the positive changes you are making, will incorporate themselves into those old memories.

This, along with everything else you’re doing, will make the cravings less and less threatening, allowing you to stay sober even when they come through.

Triggers and relapse, a craving connection for addicts

I’ve already written about one reason why cravings make quitting difficult (find it here). However, cravings and triggers are not just abstract concepts; they are well known, important players in addiction research and I think they deserve some more attention.

What are triggers?

A trigger can be thought of as anything that brings back thoughts, feelings, and memories that have to do with addiction (like a computer reminding a sex addict of porn). In addiction research, these are often simply called cues. The word comes from learning research in which a reward (or punishment) is paired with something (the cue).

For instance, in Pavlov‘s classic experiment, a dog heard a bell ring right before it would get served its daily portion of meat. The dog quickly learned to associate the bell with food, and would begin salivating as soon as the bell would ring, even before the food was presented. In this case, the bell was the cue, and food the reward it was paired with.

The story in drug addiction is similar. I’m sure many of you can relate to the overwhelming memories and emotions that seem to come out of nowhere when you hear music you used to get high to or pass a street where you used to buy drugs (or sex). Each of those examples is a trigger that is simply bringing about a similar reaction to Pavlov’s dog’s salivation. Seeing these things, or hearing them, creates an immediate response to the reward that it was paired with, the drug!

Triggers, cravings, drugs, and relapse

As if matters needed to be made worse, triggers not only bring about responses that make you think about the drug. In fact, over and over in learning and addiction research, it’s been shown that triggers actually bring back drug seeking, and drug wanting, behavior. As soon as a cue (or trigger) is presented, both animals and humans who have been exposed to drugs for an extended period of time, will go right back to the activity that used to bring them drugs even after months of being without it. In fact, their levels of drug seeking will bounce back as if no time has passed. Sound familiar?!

Given these findings, is it any wonder that cravings bring about relapse in so many addicts who are trying to quit? If simply thinking about, or hearing, something that was always tied to drugs can bring about such a strong response, what is an addict to do?

Is there a solution for addicts??

For now, the simplest way to break the trigger-response connection is simply repeated exposure without the reward. As bizarre as this may seem, staying away from the triggers can make their ability to bring back the old drug-behavior stronger. Obviously, this isn’t something that should be undertaken lightly. I’m currently working on putting together a drug treatment system that specifically addresses these issues so that with help, users can eventually release the hold that triggers have over them.

In the meantime, be honest with those around you, and if you’re seeing a therapist, or a good case manager, tell them about your triggers so that you can hopefully start talking about them, and re-triggering them in a safe environment. As always, feel free to email me with any questions you might have.

Cravings – The all consuming experience of wanting something

In my studies of addiction, the concept of cravings comes up often. Researchers talk of “wanting” versus “liking” of drugs and of the idea that cravings are a programmed response to environmental signals that have been connected to drug use through experience.

What are cravings?

I agree with these descriptions and the idea that cravings are strong memories that are linked to the effect of drugs on the brain’s neurochemistry. The immense neurotransmitter release that is often brought on by the ingestion of drugs is responsible both for the experience and the lasting effects on learning. When it comes down to it, memories are really the brain re-experiencing an event, so it makes sense that reliving a drug, sex, or other past-compulsive experience would cause a serious emotional reaction.

But aside from all the research, I know very well what cravings feel like. I know the intoxication you feel the moment that memory hits you and your entire body tingles with anticipation. It’s as if your whole being is crying out saying “This is what we’ve been waiting for. Give it to me!!!” I never know to expect it, but when they hit, there’s no questioning – I know that a craving has just taken over me. It’s no wonder that people go out over these things, especially early on in recovery.

How to deal with cravings

I’m now at the point where no matter how strong the craving, I’m not about to throw everything I’ve worked for out the window for another hit. But still, it’s just so damn tempting.

When you have a craving, recognize it for what it is. You might as well enjoy the rush, it’s like a freebie you don’t get to control. By being scared of the feeling, you induce more anxiety and shame that may lead you to act out. Instead, recognize your lack of control over the craving, let the experience happen, and go on with your life.

If the experience is overwhelming, make sure there’s someone you can talk to about it (a therapist, partner, parent, or 12 step sponsor). As time passes your cravings will become less and less frequent, though without specific treatment, their intensity will likely not go away.

Cravings are a part os the reality of addiction – knowing what to do with them is a key to success.

Cigarettes, smoking, and drinking alcohol – The connection that may help you quit smoking

Contributing co-author: Andrew Chen

It’s no secret that alcohol and cigarettes go hand in hand, but for most drinker-smokers, the reasons are probably a mystery. Does alcohol simply make people less able to control urges or is there something more direct about the connection between the two?

Alcohol reduces control over cravings

Smoking and drinking

A recent field study published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors examined exactly this question using 74 smokers who recorded their daily experience in a journal. Researchers found that alcohol consumption was associated with more frequent urges to smoke, signaling that indeed, drinking may increase the “want” while lowering the ability to control the cravings. However, the study also found that smokers reported greater satisfaction after smoking while they were drunk. Alcohol consumption predicted higher ratings of cigarette buzz, taste, and urge reduction after smoking.

Timing and context are important

Interestingly, the effects reported were only observed within the first hour after drinking, a period when alcohol content (BAC) is rising. (2)

Last but not least, situational factors seem to account for some of the effects of alcohol on smoking. Settings like bars and restaurants, where smoking and drinking were permitted, were associated with more frequent urges to smoke and greater satisfaction after smoking. Social settings, like being around drinkers and smokers, are also associated with increased urge and satisfaction.

How to quit smoking? Reduce, or stop, drinking

So, if you’re trying to quit smoking, cutting down on drinking, at least in the initial phases of your quitting attempts, might be a good idea. It may reduce your cravings, and it may make you like the smoking a bit less while you’re quitting. If nothing else, it’ll get you out of situations where smoking occurs most often which will, by itself reduce your smoking.

Citations:

1. Henningfield, J. E., Chait, L. D., & Griffiths R. R. (1984) Effects of Ethanol on cigarette smoking by volunteers without histories of alcoholism, Psychopharmacology, 82, 1-5

2. Piasecki T.M., McCarthy D.E., Fiore M.C., & Baker T.B. (2008) Alcohol consumption, smoking urge, and the reinforcing effects of cigarettes: An ecological study. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 22(2):230-9.

Proteins and cocaine: Addiction is a disease, not a question of morality.

While there are some people who still argue about whether drug addiction is a disease or a condition that results from the moral failing of an individual, most of the scientific community has long agreed that there are at least some influences on it that are far beyond a person’s control.

I’ve mentioned the genetic influences that have been shown to be associated with a risk for addiction before (look here). However, most of the research I’ve been involved in myself recently has more to do with the way that trying drugs changes your brain in ways that make it more likely that you’ll try them again.

Along these lines, a recently published study has shown that very specific molecular targets can have a huge impact on the probability that addicts will keep going after drugs. The molecules studied were common targets of cocaine that are altered after long-term use of coke.

The interesting thing is that the research found that deactivating each of these targets produced completely different effects:

Animals that had the GluR1 receptor subunit turned off were unable to stop themselves from searching for cocaine in a spot where it used to be long after normal mice gave up. I don’t know about you, but that sounds more than a little relevant for addiction given what I know, and have experienced. We’ve been studying this sort of stuff for a while, but the fact that a single molecule can make an animal pursue drugs in a way that is completely irrational is amazing!

Animals that had the NR1 receptor subunit turned off experienced a different effect. While normal mice relapse to drug use when they experience a drug after a long break, the NR1 deficient mice just wouldn’t go back to their addictive behavior when they got a little sample. Again, the implications for relapse preventions are promising to say the least.

In short, while some people may think there’s still a reason to argue whether people with addiction should simply be left to god’s mercy, ongoing work is showing us that we can uncover specific molecular mechanisms that may one day allow us to combat addiction with much more success. I for one welcome that.