Drug use norms and expectations: Obsessions and compulsions in our society.

teensI used to always say, back in my using days, that speed (methamphetamine) was The American drug. Why? Meth makes its users sharper, more alert, and more focused, and it allowed me to spend entire nights up studying like I’d never been able to study before.

Unfortunately, like many other aspects of The American Dream, speed will also leave you spent before you know it, leaving the memories of those productive, focused, days far behind with little hope of coming back.

We live in a society that celebrates excess, be it in celebration or dedication to work, success, and achievement. Is it any wonder then that so many Americans turn whichever way they can to gain the edge that they feel they’re lacking when they compare themselves to those around them?

I read recently that many executives now keep a supply of medications like Adderall, Ritalin, and other attention deficit cures around for times when they need that extra push to stay up late and work.

We are skirting a dangerous line by putting out the message that everyone should be the best though of course, with no cheating… or at least no getting caught.

Teens are now using more and more prescription drugs while reducing, or at least not increasing, their use of many illicit, or illegal substances. How is this crisis we’re experiencing with our teens any different than the recent steroid stories exploding the mythic innocence of every American sport?

One of the things I want to inform my readers about in writing this blog is the process of addiction and the ways in which its development is often not under the control of the users, at least not the users likely to eventually develop into addicts. But, there’s also a different issue, the one having to do with what it is about our society that makes Americans so much more likely to turn to these substances in the first place???

It is estimated that more than a third (110 Million to be exact) of American have used at least one drug at some point in their lives. I don’t necessarily think that there is anything wrong per se with recreational drug use given the relatively low rates of addiction that develop from it. However, I think that drug use, even recreational use, that is meant to solve a problem or that is done as a normal part of life, is more likely to become problematic.

Some theories of addiction specifically assert that “self-medication”, as in using a drug to alleviate problems, especially psychological problems, can be a major indication of likely addiction potential. The problem is that the unsupervised use of the drug often does little to help the initial difficulties, and if anything, makes things worse as the drug user becomes more involved in the illegal drug culture. I probably don’t need to tell many of you about the social withdrawal and added psychological stress that goes along with becoming, or living with, a drug user.

My point is that we need to change the way we think about drugs in general. Drugs can be useful for many specific medical and psychological benefits, and possibly even for their recreational benefit (think Van Gough, or The Doors). But, in order to make sure that those we care about most don’t abuse and misuse drugs, we need to move away from the current attitude that seems to drive children and teens towards irresponsible, ill-informed, and dangerous drug use. By educating kids, not scaring them away from, the things that are dangerous for them.

You wouldn’t dream of teaching a child to look both ways before crossing the street by yelling at them that they better not EVER dream of setting a foot on the road without looking left first, would you?!

We teach our kids everything we think they need to know about life in order to prepare them for what’s ahead. Why is it that when it comes to drugs (and often sex), we shy away from bringing the subject up and still expect them to be well prepared when a friend says “Hey, want to pop one of these pills with me?”

There will always be those who for one reason or another are more likely to develop a problem with drugs regardless of how well prepared they are. Genetic influences on things such as low impulse control and sensation-seeking are known and are probably closely linked to some bad decision making. But even these people will benefit from being better prepared and more educated about their own choices so that when the time comes, even if a problem develops, they can hopefully acknowledge it, and deal with it, in a more capable, informed way.

We need to stop turning away from a problem and thinking it will solve itself. It’s time for us to look for answers and not rely on solutions appearing magically. They most likely won’t…

Question of the day:
Do you think that enforcement (of drug laws) or treatment (of heavy drug users)is the more effective way of dealing with the drug problem?

Beyond my addiction: Allowing myself to be proud of my achievements

This is a more personal post than I’m used to writing, but I think the thoughts in it are shared by many addicts, so I’d like to share it. I originally posted it on my personal blog:

It’s sad, but for the most part, I focus on the things I haven’t yet done and not on what I’ve already accomplished.

When I think about it for a few seconds, it’s staggering just how much I’ve managed to do in my 32 years here:

  • I spent my first 14 years having a wonderful childhood
  • I only let my obsessions during those years take over sometimes
  • I moved to a new country and made myself at home again
  • I dug myself out of a severe depression episode
  • I made it through college somehow in a haze of drinking and drug use
  • I moved myself out to Los Angeles without knowing a soul and made a life there
  • I’ve run a recording studio, a record label, and made my own music
  • I’ve DJ’d and put out two records
  • I’ve broken my leg and learned how to walk again
  • I held my head high through a brutal court case
  • I made my way through rehab, overcoming my addiction to crystal meth
  • I made it through months in jail
  • I’ve managed to stay drug free since those two events
  • I’ve gotten myself back into school
  • I received two Master’s degrees with endless honors and awards
  • I’m steps away from finishing my PhD
  • I’ve secured a book deal to publish my memoir/lessons from addiction (still struggling with the writing of that one)
  • I’ve published more than 10 articles, 2 book chapters, and given dozens of presentations at national and international addiction conferences
  • I found the love of my life and am working hard to make my damaged ego last through a real relationship

I often take these things for granted, but it’s good to write them down. It lets me know just how grateful I should be for even being here, let alone standing upright and proud.

I’m lucky.

The brain addiction connection : Crystal meth, and our friend dopamine

We’ve talked about the general way in which neurons in the brain communicate with one another and then reviewed the ways in which cocaine messes some of the basic processes that the brain depends on.

It’s time to move on to another drug, and since the brain-addiction connection is similar for meth and cocaine, it seems the natural next step…

Methamphetamine (speed, ice, glass, crystal, meth)

Remember how we said that cocaine affects the way that dopamine is cleaned up after being released? Well, crystal meth also affects dopamine, but in a different way:

Instead of not allowing a molecule (DAT) to pull released dopamine back into the cell that released it, methamphetamine doesn’t allow the dopamine in a cell to be stored in the little packets that it’s supposed to be put away in. Like the DAT molecule, there’s another molecule that packages dopamine (and other neurotransmitters actually).

This molecule is called vesicular monoamine transporter (VMAT) because it puts a specific kind of neurotransmitter (called monoamines) into packets called vesicles.

You may be asking this right about now:

“If cocaine and crystal meth act in such similar way, why are their effects so different?”

That’s a very good question.

Even though these two ways of affecting dopamine seem very similar, they cause different changes in the levels of dopamine in the brain:

This flood is similar to the effect of crystal meth on the brain. By interrupting the way the brain packages dopamine, speed causes an unstoppable flood of this neurotransmitter.While cocaine doesn’t allow the neurons to take dopamine back up (reuptake), the brain has these small monitoring devices called autoreceptors. These receptors detect the levels of dopamine in the brain and adjust the output. When cocaine increases dopamine levels, these autoreceptors decrease the amount of dopamine being released.

The problem with crystal meth is that the dopamine can’t be packaged at all, which means that whether the autoreceptors tell the brain to turn down dopamine output, the fact that the dopamine won’t go into it’s packages means it just keep leaking out.

Imagine having a burst pipe and trying to stop the flood by turning down the faucet… not too helpful, right?!

So what you end up with is a long lasting flood of dopamine that the brain can’t do much about… You may have already figured it out, but this is one of the many reasons why crysal meth has become the new drug epidemic; it just does its job really really well!

Dopamine function in a non-drug-using, meth addict after quitting, and a meth addict after 1 year of staying cleanThe long lasting effects on the brain are similar to those of cocaine, but can be even more devestating. Meth is very neurotoxic meaning that at high levels, it can actually kill neurons by over exciting them. In fact, for both cocaine and methamphetamine, but especially for meth, it can take a very long time (a year or more) for dopamine function to look like anything close to a non-user’s brain (look for the decrease in red in the middle figure showing less overall activity in this area).

Check out this video about meth’s effects:

About addiction: Meth, pregnancy, codependency, and ADD

Here’s a new set of articles about addiction that are worth taking the time to read. As usual, don’t forget that if you click the title of this post, you’ll get a list of posts on our site that are related to this week’s links (below the post).

Breaking The Cycles: To Talk or Not To talk – A great post about a topic we’ve already mentioned on here

PhysOrg: Crystal Meth during pregnancy

Addiction Today: Families and marijuana use

Science Blogs Select: Poppy tea can kill you

ADD ADHD Blog – Nascar and ADD – I’ve long thought that there was a relationship between impulse control problems and other conditions that are more acceptable than drug addiction…

That’s it for now, enjoy!

About addiction: Prescription overdose, legalization, methadone, and the brain.

Here are this week’s must reads posts about addiction. Don’t forget to click the title for our related posts!

From the other allaboutaddiction (.net) Overdose deaths due to prescription medication

From Addiction InboxThe economics of drug legalization

From Addiction TomorrowA great balanced post about methadone

From PhysorgThe neurological consequences of early meth exposure

That’s it for this week. Enjoy!

Montana Meth

A very powerful ad campaign from Montana about the dangers of meth use (thanks to Mike at addictiontomorrow for exposing me to it). Like most advertising, and indeed most media presentations of drug users, the content is a little too stylized, but the point is pretty clear.

I would like to point out that while there isn’t necessarily any research that shows that a single use of meth can lead to addiction, we do know that even using meth for a short while can have serious long term effects on the way the brain functions. This is especially true when talking about some basic learning mechanisms in the brain that affect our ability to change our behavior (look for a post on this shortly)

Recent online mentions

Our blog has recently been mentioned in a few places on the web including:

Some Chick’s Blog – A great online resource for meth specific information. Last I heard the author was working on a meth Wiki that would allow people to educate themselves about this destructive drug.

and

Addiction Recovery Basics – Bill’s great blog is just full of resources for people struggling with addiction.

I think that all my readers could benefit from looking into these other online sources of information. While we try to educate and expose people to the latest, most relevant research available on addiction, there’s no way we can cover everything there is to know about addiction. It’s good to have such great people working alongside us.