About Addiction: Marijuana use, cigarette smoking, and crystal meth

Hey ! After a brief period of inactivity we are back and better as always ready to provide you with your 30 minute tidbit of information about addiction. If you want to learn more about marijuana use, (cigarette) smoking, and addiction stigma then read on!

Marijuana use: Harmless?

Fox News– While many think that Marijuana a harmless drug (read our marijuana driving input), a guy high on weed drove his car into a group of cyclists in Italy. Eight cyclists were killed and an additional four people were injured. This accident can serve as a lesson that marijuana is not as “harmless” as a lot of people make it out to be. Educating the public about the dangers of driving under the influence of marijuana may help in preventing future incidents.

The Dome-Nobody is a stranger to the fact that voters in a number of states have been trying to legalize marijuana. But Illinois legislators just went the other way and struck down a bill which would allow medical marijuana to be legal. The legislators stuck this down with the fear that if this practice were legalized then there would be widespread use of marijuana. Right now fifteen states (and Washington DC) allow the use of medical marijuana but apparently Illinois decided they are not going to be the sixteenth.

Psychology Today– Can recreational pot smokers become addicted to marijuana? A large number of individuals only smoke marijuana recreationally and do not ever become addicted (see here), but about 10% to 30% of regular users will develop marijuana dependence (my vote is actually probably more for the 10%-20% range). About 9% will have a serious addition. Marijuana use in the U.S. has gone through quite an evolution from its early introduction in the 1970’s as an anti war statement to today when it is mostly used by teenagers and those who have been smoking for a long time. Most individuals quit when they are parents or homeowners (which is true of most drugs by the way), and this contributes to the thinking by some that marijuana is not very addictive.

Quitting smokingthrough personal stories

Bloomsburg Buisnessweek– Anti-smoking advertisements have been relying on fear appeals to persuade individuals to avoid or quit smoking smoking. But the commercials that show patients with a hole in their throat or the magazine ads showing a black and diseased lung have not really been very effective. However new research shows that advertisements that target emotions more broadly seem to work best when trying to prevent smoking. Personal testimonies seem to be the most effective because  they allow the individuals who are viewing them to emotionally identify with the person in the ad helping them find reasons why they themselves should quit smoking.

Guardian- Passive tobacco smoking kills more than 600,000 people in the world every year including about 165,000 children.  The most problematic regions in terms of these smoking deaths are third world countries due to the combination of the dangerous effects of second hand smoke and infectious diseases. Second hand smoke is most problematic in the home and although women smoke less they are more likely to be exposed to second hand smoke in the house.

Addiction Inbox– The electronic cigarette is finally here although in the past the FDA wanted to prevent these cigarettes from being marketed in the US. The decision to allow the marketing of these cigarettes was established as long as they are not targeted to minors. In addition marketing individuals cannot make any claims that the products are safe alternatives to tobacco. These products are a battery powered device that allow its users to “smoke” and inhale nicotine vapor without any fire, smoke, ash or carbon monoxide.

Alcoholism stigma and seeking treatment for drug addiction

Med– Individuals who are diagnosed with alcoholism are 60% less likely to seek treatment because they fear the stigma that is attached to alcoholism. To be an alcoholic means belonging to a stigmatized group, and no one likes that. The goal then should be to educate individuals in order to try to alleviate the stigma that is associated with alcoholism in order to allow more people to seek treatment from it. Reducing the stigma of addiction is a goal we at A3 take very seriously.

Recovery Now-If there is one thing that teenagers hate it is snooping parents by far. What is the parent is snooping for a good reason however? Is snooping around with concern that your child is using drugs or alcohol okay? Although a controversial topic this article looks at the implication of snooping and when it is okay to snoop in teenagers stuff. It is a great read, enjoy!

Crystal meth and Suicide-Veterans and Substance abuse

Honolulu advertiser– Hawaii has the worst crystal meth problem in the country and a school in Hawaii held a national crystal meth awareness day assembly. Forty percent of people arrested by police in Honolulu test positive for meth, and about 30,000 Honolulu residents are hard-core users of meth (with as many as three times more being recreational users). Government officials in Hawaii want to increase spending to make more drug treatment programs available to prison inmates. In addition the general public needs to be educated about the dangers of crystal meth.

Breaking the cycles-“Veterans at Higher Risk for Suicide,” is a radio broadcast which talks about the impacts of war on the mental health of all veterans in California. The issues that the radio broadcasts focuses on are anxiety, depression, and PTSD. The radio broadcast reported that veterans are at higher risk of committing suicide than other individuals who are not in the military. This article continues to address the topics of mental illness and how mental illness is a key risk factor to developing a substance abuse problem.

Harm reduction – Why the bad press for addiction treatment that works?!

condoms can help protect again STDs

How many of you think that giving a crystal meth user condoms will increase their drug use? Probably not many. What if instead the question had to do with giving that same user clean needles rather than having them share a dirty one? Or having him reduce his drug use instead of stopping completely? I bet there would be a little more disagreement there.

Some of you may have heard of the harm-reduction approach to drug abuse counseling and treatment, but many of you likely haven’t because the term itself is essentially taboo in the United States. The idea is to approach the patient (or client) without the shaming or expectations of abstinence that normally come with drug treatment. Instead, the counselors hope to reduce as much of the negative things associated with the drug use.

For example, almost all drug injecting users end up with hepatitis C due to dirty-needle sharing. As in the above example, harm reduction practitioners would seek to provide users with clean needles, thereby reducing needle sharing and the transmission of disease. Risky sexual behavior is often associated with methamphetamine, and crack use; instead of targeting the use itself, often, interventions attempt to reduce unprotected sex, reducing HIV transmission in the process.

hypodermic-needleHarm reduction has many supporters, but unfortunately, there are at least as many people who are against it. The claim is that harm reduction doesn’t stop drug use, and that we shouldn’t be in the business of making drug use easier. In fact, though they have no data to support it, some people argue that giving users clean needles is likely to exacerbate their drug use. My argument is that life as a drug user is pretty difficult as is, and if we can provide a way to show drug addicts that people actually care about their well-being, we might help some of them see the light.

Even more to the point, my thinking is that HIV, Hepatitis C, and other conditions often helped by harm-reduction, have to be considered as additional societal costs of drug abuse. If harm reduction helps us tackle those collateral costs, I’m all for it as an additional tool.

The bottom line is this: If we can use multiple tools to solve a problem, why limit ourselves unnecessarily to only one? If harm reduction helps, why not use it in conjunction with abstinence treatment?

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it’s time for us to stop resorting to ridiculous moral judgments and start focusing on solving the problem. If we can help an addict use less, use fewer drugs, or use more responsibly, I say we should go for it!!!

Simply Sober Won’t Do – From Crystal Meth Addict to Scholar

This is a “reprint” of an article I recently wrote for a NY publication called Spotlight On Recovery:

For an addict, the prospect of no longer using whatever it is that gets them through each day is daunting. There’s a comfort in knowing what life is going to look like even if all it entails is dragging yourself out of bed, taking a drink, smoke, or hit of crystal meth, and going on with a day focused only on managing the disaster. The dark cloud that surrounds us is obscured by our drug of choice; it’s what makes the days tolerable.

The first step of recovery – Addiction treatment sets the table

Some of us are sent into treatment by family members or jurists, while others recognize the problem themselves and decide to take the first step into addiction treatment on their own. However we get there, getting into addiction treatment is only the first step; often it’s not even the one that gets us clean. Whether you recover by yourself or with help, whether you got it done your first time or your twelfth, if you’ve managed to stop using, you’ve come up against the ultimate challenge: What now?!

For me, the most difficult aspect of steering my life in the right direction was simply learning how to live. True, I’d been doing it for 24 years by that day, but my life involved constant escape, discomfort, and boredom. When I stopped smoking crystal meth, getting over the fatigue, hunger, and even my non-existent libido (all part of my withdrawal) was easy when compared with the simple challenge of what to do every day.

You see, I smoked crystal meth for 5 years (and before that came alcohol, weed, cocaine, and a slew of other drugs). I smoked meth when I was in a good mood, when I was upset, when I was bored, sad, tired, or alert. With the one common denominator in my life now gone, I wasn’t even sure how to simply pass the time. True, rehab had groups, it had meetings, and it gave me an opportunity to discover myself. But, while all those were helpful, for me, it was the time in between all those that was a challenge.

Learning to live without drugs – Finding purpose in recovery

My inability to fill my time with anything other than thoughts of using got me tossed out of my first rehab. Going back to work in my studio, I couldn’t help but look for some left behind treasures; I found a bag of meth, filled a pipe, and threw out three months of sobriety without a second thought.

My second attempt at getting sober was more successful, not only because I’d learned from my mistake. I’d made mistakes before but never learned a thing. The difference was that this place made us all do chores. They made us work. They made us recognize, and then follow through, on what it meant to be a normal, functioning, member of society. As I got a better and better grasp on life as a non-user, I realized that for me, simply staying sober was never going to cut it.

I’m a doer. I need to get things accomplished in order to feel satisfied. When it came to my drug life, I got things done by becoming a pretty successful drug dealer as well as a less successful, but working, musician. Now, I needed to find another channel for my energy, one that didn’t center around filling a meth pipe.

12-Step meetings did the trick for a little while. Having a place to go where I didn’t have to be ashamed of my past made it easier for me to get adjusted to sober life. Still, within months, I was getting restless again, and for me, that’s a sign of trouble. I was looking for something to do that would pose a challenge, giving me something else to focus on than the gap left in my life.

My purpose – To learn about addiction and help others

I’d always been good at school. Even in the throws of my crystal-meth addiction, I managed to perform well enough in class. That was the reason for my looking into academics as my healthy way out. I mulled over the possibilities with my parents. I was a pre-med student in college and thought about medical school. My dad, a physician himself, wasn’t excited about the idea. Understandably, he wasn’t quite ready to believe that I could follow through on such a challenge. I hadn’t done anything to give him a reason to believe yet.

I decided to start more gradually, and applied for a Master’s program in psychology at a state school in California. Psychology was my undergraduate major, which made the application a little bit easier, but getting myself ready for a life I’d left so far behind was scary.

No matter how dark, there’s a charm in the aimless nature of drug addiction; the focus is simple, the goals, close at hand, and the reward, immediate. What I was embarking on now was some nebulous, long term contest that could end up any which way. I wasn’t sure I was ready for the uncertainty. Still, within minutes of sitting down in that first summer class, I knew I’d made the right decision.

Now that I was sober, I liked the daily routines I’d run away from so many years before. When class was finished every day, I was happy to dive into the work, proving to myself that I could do well here again, that I could reach my goal of getting a Master’s degree after more than 5 years as a daily crystal-meth user-dealer. I did well in that program and started looking into psychology research about addiction. I’d slowly moved away from the rooms of AA, and looking into the psychology of addiction allowed me to stay close to the reasons why I was taking this new path. It also allowed me to work with others who’d had similar experiences to my own without focusing on the past as much as AA meetings did.

I performed so well in the program that I started looking into further schooling, eying the outstanding program at UCLA, my alma mater. The UCLA psychology graduate program is the best in the country and one of the best in the world. Feeling a bit like a novice climber taking on Everest, I set my sights high and went for it. I gathered recommendations; I made phone calls, set up interviews, and worked my full court press. After working tirelessly for more than six months, the good news came in. I was ecstatic. Then I was scared. Quickly, I realized that for me, challenge is food. I need to feel like I’m working toward something to quiet the restlessness in my head.

I know now, having researched addiction for the past 9 years, that addicts have personalities that make them search out challenges, make them need a rush, that leave them unable to sit still. For some of us, it manifests as Attention Deficit problems, but even for the others, for whom the challenge doesn’t quite reach clinical levels, the underlying restlessness is still a constant factor.

In our past lives, that restlessness left us searching for a way to pass the time. Drugs did that reasonably well for me while filling my life with distractions that moved me away from everything that was important. In my new life, I made sure that the challenges were worthwhile; I got involved in sports, rechanneling my need for achievement not only into school, but into fitness as well.

It has taken me years to balance my life, and the struggle is ongoing. I still have classmates, as well as my wife, reminding me sometime that I need time off once in a while to smell the roses. They’re right, and I try, but for me, staying busy is the rose. Without my endless work, I’m afraid I’d lose my grip.

So no matter how long ago it was that you seemed to have lost your passion, if you want to make life without drugs worthwhile, it’s crucial that you find it again now. Simply being clean of drugs is not the end-all. In fact, being drug free merely offers us the means to rediscover the life we left behind.

Demand & Money: Why Mexican drug cartels aren’t losing this war.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again, but the Mexican drug war isn’t going to be won anytime soon, not while there’s black market demand for narcotics over here in the good old U.S. of A. The reasoning isn’t complicated and it shouldn’t take a RAND foundation study, or a man of Obama’s intelligence and charm to understand it… It’s the money. I’ve been there, take it from me.

Mexican Drug War, dealers, and Money

Since Calderon, Mexico’s President, declared an all out drug war on the cartels, Marijuana, Heroin, and crystal meth seizures at the U.S.-Mexico border have gone up by 30%-200% (crystal meth and heroin respectively) according to a recent L.A. Times article. As someone who’s actually been on both sides of the drug war, I can tell you that while Calderon’s people talk about the cartels trying to replace the state, the only thing drug dealers care about is money. Still, it’s true that having complete control over entire states in Mexico let’s these organizations operate more easily and control their business-interest more completely. At the end though, the drug war is all about the Benjamins, because there are a whole lot of those – like $40 Billion kind of a lot.

The reason I feel so confident in my position is this – I used to sell drugs in Los Angeles. I was not at the top of any cartel, but at some point I was selling tens-of-thousands of ecstasy pills a week along with a few pounds of crystal meth, cocaine stamped with those cartel logos (like scorpions, doves, and such), and any other drug my more than 400 clients, and 4-6 dealers, told me they would give me money for. The business brought me about $500,000 a year and though my success was short lived, having gotten arrested after my motorcycle accident, I got to learn quite a bit about the underworld in my five year immersion program.

While I stuck to drugs, others around me, each with their own little drug-empire, had no problem expanding into other profitable business like electronics, cellular phones, and credit card numbers complete with identity theft. If it made money, they wanted a part in it, and the drugs served as a great bonus since we were all high on a lot of them all the time. On many of our more extensive drug deals, involving those tinted-window car caravans you’ve seen in movies right along with secret meetings in the back of an abandoned gas station south of Orange County, we would use cell phones that my partners got from their underground operations, activated using a stolen identity so that they can’t be traced to us. A good deal of the stereo equipment in my old apartment was gotten through one of my friends’ little electronics-store operation – he gave me an entire stereo system, and I paid him with a few hundred ecstasy pills. I rocked and he made some money.

When cops sell drugs

One of my main connections, a stocky, short, Jewish guy we all simply called “D”, once took me along with him as he delivered a bag full of money and some boxes of armor-penetrating bullets to a Mexican Federale who would drive cocaine into the U.S. in the tires of his car. While he was supposed to be playing a different role in the Mexican drug war, he apparently really loved those bullets and would come back to his home country happy, with a trunk full of cash, while we drove away with spare tires full of those scorpion-stamped bricks of cocaine. And who could blame him given the huge sums of money flaunted in his face all the time as he was forced to live near poverty? At the time I certainly couldn’t.

The things is that morality aside, it doesn’t matter if anyone blames, or would arrest, this guy and the thousand others like him. We live in a world driven by money, and when the straight-and-narrow offers little compensation, the good life is only a few smuggling miles away. Of course on the money’s heels also comes intimidation, constant paranoia, and the almost certain feel of gun-metal either in your waist, or up against your temple. I’ve been there too.

Legalization? Probably not

All in all, it’s time for our government to realize that where there’s poverty there’s crime and where there’s crime drugs will soon follow. As the Mexican cartels send representatives to the U.S. they have taken over the distribution in many of our cities as well, increasing their profit margins, and their control, over this market. If you really want to deal them a blow, make all drugs legal and start regulating their manufacturing, though maybe then the difference between drug cartels and the Halliburtons of our world will become even less obvious.

Obviously, legalization isn’t going to happen, and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. The most commonly abused drugs in this country are alcohol and nicotine, both legal, with marijuana, which is essentially decriminalized in most states, coming in a close third. Together, those three drugs account for more than 95% of drug abuse here, and for a substantial portion of health-problems and deaths. If we bring the rest of the drugs into the fold, we’ll no doubt see large increases in use for most of them, compounding the problems in terms of health and related mortality.

Still, that seems to be the question – Legalize and reduce black-market crime while hurting the health (physical and psychological) of your citizenship? Or try to reduce demand with prevention while continuing the drug war, stopping as much of the supply as you can but never getting enough of it and letting drug kingpins amass Bill-Gates-like fortunes?

Fortunately for me, I don’t have to answer that question…

About Addiction: Kombucha, Alcoholism, Drug Crime, mental health, and the Law

These are the newest links about alcohol, drug crime and mental health. Let us know what you think and leave us your feedback!

Kombucha, Alcohol content, and teens

The New York Times: Some Kombucha drinks may have elevated alcohol content, with specific varieties reaching as high as 3% alcohol by volume, as high as some beers, and much higher than the legal limit on non-alcoholic drinks of 0.5%.

preventionworksct: Hospital emergency room visits linked to underage drinking almost double during the July 4 holiday weekend. Daily underage drinking-related visits are 87 percent higher during the July 4 holiday weekend than on an average day in July.

Caron: Good intentions of parents may unintentionally contribute to teenage alcohol abuse when mixed messages are presented. An expert suggests that substance abuse should be discussed before a kid reaches his or her teens.

Science Daily: Teens tend to increase their alcohol consumption in summer. Experts suggest parents monitor their children.

Drug Crime & Law

UPI: In Mexican drug smuggle, increasingly more teenagers are used to smuggle drugs across the U.S. border into Arizona. In 2009, 130 minors were arrested while allegedly trying to smuggle drugs across the border through entry ports from Sonora, Mexico, into Arizona.

Politica AP: Since the 2006 passage of an anti-methamphetamine law, the number of crystal meth lab cleanups nationwide has decrease. Investigators link the decline to the law that made it harder to buy chemicals used in this drug production.

About addiction and mental health

Reuters: There is an association between marijuana use and increased risks of depression and anxiety disorders. It is though unclear whether marijuana use itself, or some other factor, accounts for this connection.

Health Day: What works to treat adult addicts may not work for the younger population. According to experts, illnesses that start earlier in life are harder to treat than illnesses developed during adult life.

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.

ADD and ADHD medications: Lessons from a crystal meth experiment

I’ve recently completed a study that I presented at the Society For Neuroscience (SFN) meeting in DC. The study was actually aimed at looking at the usefulness of two medications in interfering with the rewarding qualities of methamphetamine. The thinking was the if we could figure out a way to interfere with crystal meth being perceived as rewarding by the brain, we may be able to help addicts from continued use after a relapse.

Two prescription stones but only one hits crystal meth

The two medications are atomoxetine and bupropion, though you may know them as Strattera and Wellbutrin or Zyban. Their mechanisms of action are similar, but distinct enough that we wanted to test them both. The results of the study, in one sentence, were that atomoxetine (or Strattera), but not bupropion (or Zyban) succeeded in eliminating animals’ preference for meth if given along with it. The implication is that in the future, these, or other, similar, medications, may be given to newly recovering addicts. The hope would be that by taking the drug, they may be somewhat protected in the case of a relapse. If they don’t enjoy the drug during the relapse, they may have a better chance of staying in treatment.

More to these medications than meets the eye

I learned some other interesting things while preparing, and then carrying out, the study. While Zyban could, by itself, be liked by the animals, Strattera did not seem to produce any sort of preference. Given the common use of these drugs in the treatment of ADHD, the difference may be very important. As you may recall, I’ve talked before about the connection between impulse control problems and being predisposed to developing addiction. Given this relationship, it would seem that we’d want to be especially careful about using drugs that can cause abuse with this population. Many of the stimulants used to treat ADD and ADHD can indeed lead to abuse, as their effects are very similar to speed, or crystal meth (Adderall and Ritalin come to mind). Zyban’s abuse liability is definitely lower, given the greatly reduced preference animals develop for it. Still, it seems that Strattera’s abuse potential is almost zero. In trial after trial, animals given atomoxetine fail to show a preference for the drug.

To my mind, this means that as long as it’s successful in treating the attention problems, atomoxetine is the better candidate. All in all, I’d think the first choice should be the one that helps the symptoms of ADHD while having a reduced likelihood of dependence. Obviously, if the drug is not able to treat the problem, other options should be selected, but it seems to me that given the known relationship between attention deficit problems and addiction, the question of abuse liability should play a significant role in the selection of medication.

Once again, this doesn’t mean that all users of Adderall, Ritalin, or the other stimulant ADHD medications will develop an addiction to their prescription. In fact, we know that rates of addiction to prescriptions are generally relatively low. Nevertheless, I’d consider ADHD patients a vulnerable population when it comes to substance abuse so I say better safe than sorry.