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 Marijuana– The 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 Survey– The 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.
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 Schools– With 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.
Our weekly About Addiction summaries are back! Make sure to tune in for the latest in research and news coverage of the drug abuse and drug addiction landscape. This time we’re talking about the food and drug addiction connection, drug using baby boomers, accidents, addicted babies, and drug using teens during summer breaks. If you
Food or drugs? A new study suggests a path for choice – A recent study Yale School of Medicine professors has found that neurons associated with overeating are also linked to non-food associated behaviors such as drug addiction. However, their discovery points to a relationship different than the contemporary view; they found an inverse relationship between eating and drug addiction that shows people who lack a desire for food have a higher predisposition towards drug addiction. According to their findings, it seems that the drive for food and the drive for drugs compete with one another!
Obamacare’s effect on addiction treatment – The recent ruling by the Supreme Court to uphold the Affordable Care Act was a huge moment in our country for many reasons. In the world of addiction, it has a great impact as well! By making sure all citizens have health insurance, it gives those seeking treatment a huge advantage: choice. In the past, those seeking addiction treatment could be limited by their insurance situation. Now, those seeking help will be able to get the treatment that is right for them, not just what is available to them. Also, substance abuse treatment will be able to have a more wide-reaching effect as treatment can be provided earlier as well as a preventative measure.
The dangers of driving high – According to a recent study done at Dalhousie University, marijuana use has a severe adverse effect on safe driving. This may not be new information, however this paper was the first to separate driving under the influence of marijuana from the influence of other drugs and alcohol. They looked at nine smaller studies including 49,411 people in order to calculate their results: finding that cannabis use nearly doubles the likelihood of a motor collision as compared to an uninhibited driver. With marijuana being the most widely used illicit substance in the world, with its usage rate still rising, it is important to separate the truths and myths about its effects.
Babies born addicted – This Thursday’s episode of Rock Center With Brian Williams featured a story on babies born with withdrawal symptoms from prescription painkillers. This is an epidemic in America, and the symptoms are heartbreaking to watch: the babies have tremors, digestive problems and cry inconsolably. There’s little doctors and nurses can do to comfort them as they slowly wean them off of the drugs. On this Thursday’s new Rock Center, Kate Snow reports on the shocking increase in the number of babies born addicted.
A Teenagers’ Summer: No school, less supervision, more drugs? – A new study released by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) reports that 671,000 teens aged twelve to seventeen will try alcohol for the first time this June and July alone; 305,000 teens will try cigarettes for the first time during these months, while 274,500 will have their first experience with marijuana. These numbers are an increase from the rest of the year, likely due to an increase in free time and decrease in adult supervision. While a large proportion of these individuals will never end up developing an addiction or substance abuse problems, this study makes it clear that the summertime may be a good time to talk to your kids about the risks and effects of these substances.
Spankings leading to drug abuse? New research reveals it may not be as far-fetched as you may think – The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has released research that reveals strong links between corporal punishment in childhood and mood disorders, personality disorders, and addiction and drug abuse later in life. Specifically, according to the study, spankings raise the risk of alcohol and drug abuse by 59 percent. With a reported 94 percent of three- and four-year-olds receiving a spanking at least once in the last year, this has a widespread effect on the entire population. While one spanking does not lead to abuse, the research points to physical punishment as a regular means of discipline having adverse effects on mental health later in life.
Is grandpa getting high? More and more often the answer is becoming yes! – Drug use and drug abuse are often thought of in connection with young people, however the Baby Boomers are proving it can affect older people just the same. Last year alone an estimated 4.8 million adults aged 50 and above used an illicit drug. The risk is not just with illegal drugs, but also the misuse of prescription drugs. With the average 50-year-old-man using four different prescription drugs per day, the risk of becoming addicted to any one of them is substantial.
Seeing addiction as a disease, not a moral failing – In an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse Nora Volkow explains how addiction and drug use affect the brain and why it should be considered a disease, not a moral failing. Check out this link to see the whole interview.
By the time I was done with my addiction to crystal meth, I had racked up 4 arrests, 9 felonies, a $750,000 bail, a year in jail, and an eight year suspended sentence to go along with my 5 year probation period. Though I think education is important to keep getting the message out about addiction and drug abuse, there is no doubt that addiction stories do a great job of getting the message across, so here goes.
My crystal meth addiction story
The kid my parents knew was going nowhere, and fast. That’s why I was surprised when they came to my rescue after 3 years of barely speaking to them. My lawyer recommended that I check into a rehab facility immediately; treating my drug abuse problem was our only line of legal defense.
I had long known that I had an addiction problem when I first checked myself into rehab. Still, my reason for going in was my legal trouble. Within 3 months, I was using crystal meth again, but the difference was that this time, I felt bad about it. I had changed in those first three months. The daily discussions in the addiction treatment facility, my growing relationship with my parents, and a few sober months (more sobriety than I had in years) were doing their job. I relapsed as soon as I went back to work in my studio, which was a big trigger for me, but using wasn’t any fun this time.
I ended up being kicked out of that facility for providing a meth-positive urine test. My parents were irate. I felt ashamed though I began using daily immediately. My real lesson came when I dragged myself from my friend’s couch to an AA meeting one night. I walked by a homeless man who was clearly high when the realization hit me:
I was one step away from becoming like this man.
You see, when I was in the throes of my crystal meth addiction, I had money because I was selling drugs. I had a great car, a motorcycle, an apartment and my own recording studio. After my arrest though, all of that had been taken away. I just made matters worse by getting myself thrown out of what was serving as my home, leaving myself to sleep on a friend’s couch for the foreseeable future.
Something had to change.
I woke up the next morning, smoked some meth, and drove straight to an outpatient drug program offered by my health insurance. I missed the check-in time for that day, but I was told to come back the next morning, which I did. I talked to a counselor, explained my situation, and was given a list of sober-living homes to check out.
As I did this, I kept going to the program’s outpatient meetings, high on crystal meth, but ready to make a change. I was going to do anything I could so as not to end up homeless, or a lifetime prisoner. I had no idea how to stop doing the one thing that had been constant in my life since the age of 15, but I was determined to find out.
When I showed up at the sober-living facility that was to be the place where I got sober, I was so high I couldn’t face the intake staff. I wore sunglasses indoors at 6 PM. My bags were searched, I was shown to my room, and the rest of my life began.
I wasn’t happy to be sober, but I was happier doing what these people told me than I was fighting the cops, the legal system, and the drugs. I had quite a few missteps, but I took my punishments without a word, knowing they were nothing compared to the suffering I’d experience if I left that place.
Overall, I have one message to those struggling with getting clean:
If you want to get past the hump of knowing you have a problem but not knowing what to do about it, the choice has to be made clear. This can’t be a game of subtle changes. No one wants to stop using if the alternative doesn’t seem a whole lot better. For most of us, that means hitting a bottom so low that I can’t be ignored. You get to make the choice of what the bottom will be for you.
You don’t have to almost die, but you might; losing a job could be enough, but if you miss that sign, the next could be the streets; losing your spouse will sometimes do it, but if not, losing your shared custody will hurt even more.
At each one of these steps, you get to make a choice – Do I want things to get worse or not?
Ask yourself that question while looking at the price you’ve paid up to now. If you’re willing to go even lower for that next hit, I say go for it. If you think you want to stop but can’t seem to really grasp just how far you’ve gone, get a friend you trust, a non-using friend, and have them tell you how they see the path your life has taken.
It’s going to take a fight to get out, but if I beat my addiction, you can beat yours.
By now, I’ve received my Ph.D. from UCLA, one of the top universities in the world. I study addiction research, and publish this addiction blog along with a Psychology Today column and a number of academic journals. I also have my mind set on changing the way our society deals with drug abuse and addiction. Given everything I’ve accomplished by now, the choice should have seemed clear before my arrest – but it wasn’t. I hope that by sharing addiction stories, including mine, we can start that process.
A comment posted by a reader on a post reprimanded me for suggesting that marijuana caused relationships to go bad.
In this instance the reader was mistaken, as I had specifically used the word “associated”, but the comment made me think that maybe I should explain the differences between correlation, causation, and association. I’m a scientist studying addiction, and in the field, it’s very important to be clear about what each of the words you use means.
Being clear about inferences in research
Correlation – When researchers find a correlation, which can also be called an association, what they are saying is that they found a relationship between two, or more, variables. For instance, in the case of the marijuana post, the researchers found an association between using marijuana as a teen, and having more troublesome relationships in mid, to late, twenties.
Correlations can be positive – so that as one variable (marijuana smoking) goes up, so does the other (relationship trouble); or they can be negative, which would mean that as one variable goes up (methamphetamine smoking) another goes down (grade point average).
The trouble is that, unless they are properly controlled for, there could be other variables affecting this relationship that the researchers don’t know about. For instance, education, gender, and mental health issues could be behind the marijuana-relationship association (these variables were all controlled for by the researchers in that study). Researchers have at their disposal a number of sophisticated statistical tools to control for these, ranging from the relatively simple (like multiple regression) to the highly complex and involved (multi-level modeling and structural equation modeling). These methods allow researchers to separate the effect of one variable from others, thereby leaving them more confident in making assertions about the true nature of the relationships they found. Still, even under the best analysis circumstances, correlation is not the same as causation.
Causation – When an article says that causation was found, this means that the researchers found that changes in one variable they measured directly caused changes in the other. An example would be research showing that jumping of a cliff directly causes great physical damage. In order to do this, researchers would need to assign people to jump off a cliff (versus lets say jumping off of a 12 inch ledge) and measure the amount of physical damage caused. When they find that jumping off the cliff causes more damage, they can assert causality. Good luck recruiting for that study!
Most of the research you read about indicates a correlation between variables, not causation. You can find the key words by carefully reading. If the article says something like “men were found to have,” or “women were more likely to,” they’re talking about associations, not causation.
Why the correlation-causation difference?
The reason is that in order to actually be able to claim causation, the researchers have to split the participants into different groups, and randomly assign some to the behavior or condition they want to study (like taking a new drug), while the rest receive something else. This is in fact what happens in clinical trials of medication because the FDA requires proof that the medication actually makes people better (more so than a placebo). It’s this random assignment to conditions (or randomization) that makes experiments suitable for the discovery of causality. Unlike in association studies, random assignment assures (if everything is designed correctly) that its the behavior being studied, and not some other random effect, that is causing the outcome.
Obviously, it is much more difficult to prove causation than it is to prove an association.
Should we just ignore associations?
No!Not at all!!! Not even close!!! Correlations are crucial for research and still need to be looked at and studied, especially in some areas of research like addiction.
The reason is simple – We can’t randomly give people drugs like methamphetamine as children and study their brain development to see how the stuff affects them, that would be unethical. So what we’re left with is a the study of what meth use (and use of other drugs) is associated with. It’s for this reason that researchers use special statistical methods to assess associations, making certain that they are also considering other things that may be interfering with their results.
In the case of the marijuana article, the researchers ruled out a number of other interfering variables known to affect relationships, like aggression, gender, education, closeness with other family members, etc. By doing so, they did their best to assure that the association found between marijuana and relationship status was real. Obviously other possibilities exist, but as more researchers assess this relationship in different ways, we’ll learn more about its true nature.
This is how research works.
It’s also how we found out that smoking causes cancer. Through endlessly repeated findings showing an association. That turned out pretty well, I think…
For a lesbian, gay, or bisexual youth, “coming out” is an extremely stressful, though important event that can result in improved self-esteem, social-support, and psychological adjustment.
However, a recent study found that the reactions to such a disclosure have a lot to do with the risk of those youths abusing alcohol and drugs.
Social rejection and drug abuse among gay youth
The results revealed that the more rejecting reactions a youth receives, the more likely they are to engage in drug abuse including alcohol, cigarette, and marijuana use. This was true even after researchers controlled for a number of other important variables like emotional distress and demographics (race, ethnicity, education, socioeconomic status, etc.).
This makes a lot of sense. After finally deciding to go through with such a monumental disclosure, harsh rejections likely cause some serious damage to a youth’s self-esteem, making escape by drugs an attractive option. Although coming out can eventually lead to increased self-esteem even for this youth, the road there is not an easy one.
The good news was that accepting reactions seemed to protect youths from the harmful effects of being rejected – Social support helps!
The researchers suggested that drug abuseprevention attempts with LGBT youths address the impact of rejecting reactions to sexual-orientation disclosure directly in order to hopefully reduce their negative impact.
Here’s a video about the difficulties of coming out in high-school:
Rosario, Schrimshaw, & Hunter (2009). Disclosure of sexual orientation and subsequent substance use and abuse among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths: Critical role of disclosure reactions. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 23, 175-184.