A perfect little game that teaches all about drug use and addiction

No matter how much work I put into it, I don’t think I’ll be able to come up with a cuter, more fun, or more educational way to teach you all about what drugs do in the brain than the game on this site (click the link). It’s like you get to do your own, harmless, version of animal research (I wish it was really that easy).

However, if after playing this adorable little game you still have questions, come right back and ask them here. I’m sure I’ll be able to expand on whatever you learned at this great University of Utah website.

Addiction stories: Alcohol, marijuana, crime, and John’s life

The following story was shared by a young reader. I was first drawn to it because it mirrored mine to a large extent. Fortunately, John decided to pull out before he let his life go down as far as I allowed myself to go. For that, and for his courage in sharing his story, I applaud him.

John’s addiction story

My name is John and I am an alcoholic and a raging drug addict. I’m seventeen years old and only used for about 2 and a half years, but that was more than enough for my life to fall to pieces because of my addiction.

When I was fourteen I got a little drunk for the first time. I hated the way the alcohol tasted, and I hated how it made me so sick. The effects were nice, but I wished that I could get them without having the unpleasant side effects.

I found a solution to this problem at age 15 with marijuana. Within my a few months of my first time smoking, I was getting high multiple times every single day. My friends were changing rapidly because the ones who really cared didn’t approve of my heavy usage. I responded to this by getting new friends. Around this time I also became addicted to stealing in order to support my addiction and also in order to look cool by having a lot of money. My friends and I would get high and drunk and then go out at night and steal hundreds and hundreds of dollars from people’s unlocked cars.

I began selling pot at age 16. Dealing was a new experience for me. I won’t lie and say it wasn’t fun – it was, definitely. But the rush of making heaps of money and being loved by all your peers becomes an addiction in itself. I was dealing pretty heavily, for a high schooler selling pot – some days I would sell a thousand dollars worth of it at school. Afterward, I lived what I thought was a carefree and safe lifestyle; I smoked weed with friends all day, and eventually we moved onto harder drugs.

My usage increased heavily and I began using other drugs as well. I slowly began trying all the things I said I would never do, and before long, my life was absolutely governed by cocaine, alcohol, prescription medications, and lots and lots of pot. I got really into cocaine a few months into it – and then everything changed. Walls fell down; suddenly opiates weren’t anywhere near as scary to me, hence my common run-ins with Vicodin, Valium, Percocet, and Oxycontin. None of the prescription pills had the same kind of power coke had over me, though; my teeth still chatter sometimes when I start craving the rush of that manipulative white powder going up my nose. Cocaine is a pretty serious drug, and I was hooked before I even realized what was happening. This is unlike my experience with getting hooked on pot and booze; with those, I could recognize the kind of path I was going down, but I just couldn’t stop. There is a reason coke is called a “hard drug” – because you’ll fall for it. Hard. People go into with the mindset that they can handle it. Maybe some people can. I, however, am not one of those people – the second I pop a pill or blow a line, all I can think about is getting more to keep my buzz going.

Of course I also began getting into trouble with the law. February 16, 2009, I was arrested for the first time after picking up a couple ounces of weed. I met some buddies in town to smoke, but they didn’t inform me that they had vandalized a building at a school earlier. Before I knew it we were being followed by policemen. They caught up with us, encircled us in cop cars, causing a roadblock, and searched all of us. They immediately found my bag of weed and cuffed me, along with all my buddies. I played the innocent child, though, and got off with a possession charge.

The second arrest took place only four months later. I was back to my old dealing ways – by now I was suicidal, addicted to all kinds of drugs, and had no faith in other people. I got high and brought an ounce of weed with me to school, and was found by the school officer in a bathroom stall, selling a few grams to a 14 year old. I was arrested with intent to sell, endangering a minor, possession on school grounds, and possession of marijuana. Also, I was expelled from school. I began saying I was going to kill myself to gain some sympathy, at which point I was placed in a 2 week long mental ward. After that, it was off to rehab for me, where I had sex, did drugs, lied and stole.

A few days after getting out of treatment, I was using again. I remember feeling like an empty shell – I would stay up for days at a time, stealing, lying, and using people to get my drugs and liquor. My family thought I was sober at this point, and I began at a character-based boarding school in August.

I brought a lot of pot with me and resisted everything the school was trying to offer me. Once the pot ran out, I began huffing up to 2 cans of computer duster every day, along with a daily dosage of booze and a whole lot of cough medicine.

I hit bottom on November 16, 2009. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the most important day of my life – that was the day I finally decided I had had enough. I called up my mother, crying and saying I was really done this time, but she didn’t believe me (who could blame her). So I then called up an old friend who I knew was heavily involved in a 12-step group. This man is my sponsor today. We work our program together, and maintain daily contact.

At almost 90 days sober, I can honestly say I have never been so grateful and serene in my entire life. If you’re reading this and you can relate to my story, please know that there is a way out of the twisted insanity that is drug addiction and alcoholism. I should be dead right now, but I’m still here – as far as I’m concerned, that’s proof enough for me to believe in a loving Higher Power. As long as I remember to help other addicts, talk to my sponsor, work my 12 step program, and remain honest, I don’t have to drink and drug today. And to me, this is a miracle.

A little insight

John’s story mirrors that of many other addicts: Early innocent use followed by the dissolution of self-imposed rules about what one will, and won’t, engage in. Cocaine might seem scary at first, but after a lot of weed, alcohol, and some ecstasy, it might just lose that edge. As I’ve talked about in other posts, there are quite a few common personality issues that make it even less likely that a future addict will say no to increasing degrees of abuse.

Once again I want to make a point that I think it important: Drugs are the road, but not the problem per se when it comes to addiction. The vast majority of people who try drugs don’t get addicted to them – What we need to get better at is understanding the process by which those who do, develop problems. This includes earlier identification, better targeted prevention, and more effective treatment. That’s my take on all of this at least.

Ancestry, Addiction, and trauma – Addiction research into genetic differences based on race

We all know that drug use and drug related crimes are a big problem within African American communities. It’s not a secret, but it can be interpreted very differently by different people. Do the differences between African Americans and Americans from European descent mean that Black people are simply meant to have more problems?

A recent study suggests that at least when it comes to addictions, the opposite might be true.

A genetic study of addiction and ancestry

Researchers at the New Jersey VA (Veterans’ Affairs) office collected data from 407 addicted African American patients as well as from 457 comparison participants at a local hospital’s ophthalmology clinic. Like in most studies of this nature, both groups was screened for other psychiatric problems and participants from the control group were excluded from the study if they showed any signs of addiction problems themselves.

The researchers then used 186 different genetic markers that relate to ancestry to determine the proportion of African, European, and Asian descent for each participant. After following this up with some questionnaires about childhood trauma and an estimations of participant socioeconomic status (things like income, education, age, etc.), the researchers ran analyses to see if African ancestry was related to drug problems, childhood trauma, and poverty.

The ancestry of the participants was verified to be mostly (average 80%) African, with European, Middle East, and Central Asia contributing between 5% and 7% more.

What did they find?

Addiction research about race and genetics - The proportion of African ancestry among the different groupsThe first interesting finding was the fact that patients with alcohol, cocaine, or opiate dependence had lower proportion of African ancestry than non addicted individuals. The differences ranged from 5% to 3% but certainly reached significance levels. Since its already known that Europeans are more likely to show alcohol, but not drug, problems, the researchers checked to see if that was the factor responsible for the difference – it wasn’t.

Interestingly, even though childhood abuse or neglect were very much related to addiction in this sample (as we’ve talked about before), there was no relationship between African Ancestry and abuse or neglect.In fact, the two factors that were almost significant (childhood physical and sexual abuse) showed trends similar to those for addiction – African descent was associated with lower problems in those areas.

The final, and not surprising finding, had to do with an association between African ancestry and lower socioeconomic status. The differences in these categories were significant for income and education. This finding can almost serve as a validity check on the whole experiment, since census data has long shown lower SES for African Americans in the united States.

What does this all mean?

Okay, I know this isn’t necessarily the easiest study to understand, so let’s break it down:

Given the known drug problems among African Americans, the researchers wanted to know if African descent could have something to do with underlying genetic factors that make it more likely that Black individuals will end up as drug addicts. There are a host of genetic differences between Europeans, Asians, and Africans, and this was a way to get at a lot of them in one shot. The problem is that African Americans are also poorer than many European Americans, and since poverty is a known risk-factor for addiction, meaning it makes it more likely that someone will end up an addict, the researchers were interested in separating the two. They threw trauma in because it, like poverty, has already been shown to be related to addiction.

The results seemed to indicate that the two factors (poverty and addiction) as indeed separate. While African descent was associated with more poverty, it was actually found to be associated with less drug, and alcohol problems. This suggests that it’s the poverty, and all the factors associated with it, that may be driving the higher addiction rates among African Americans and not some predisposition to drug problems.

The good news is that this suggests that efforts at improving the SES and quality of life for African Americans in the United States will indeed lower their substance abuse rates. In fact, when it comes down to it, this research suggests that European Americans are the ones we need to watch for in terms of genetic risk for addiction.

As always, limitations

As usual, we need to remember that these are associations and don’t prove causality. Also, given the very specific sample used (veteran addicts), the results should be replicated in other populations. Lastly, remember that the ancestry-based differences weren’t huge, but given the fact that this was a strictly African American sample, that’s probably part of the package. Again, more research with  broader populations should help to resolve that.

Citation:

Francesca Ducci, Alec Roy, Pei-Hong Shen,Qiaoping Yuan, Nicole P. Yuan,  Colin A. Hodgkinson, Lynn R. Goldman, and David Goldman (2009). Association of Substance Use Disorders With Childhood Trauma but not African Genetic Heritage in an African American Cohort. American Journal of Psychiatry, 166, 1031-1040.

Brittany Murphy dead at 32 – Anemia, pneumonia, and yes, drugs…

Toxicology update

Well, it seems the toxicology reports are in and Brittany’s death was, at least partially, caused by her taking of multiple prescription drugs. Still, it seems that she was trying to medicate a host of conditions brought on by her underlying anemia and pneumonia. It’s sad to think that this death could have likely been prevented had she simply taken better care of herself and gone to seek emergency care rather than loading her body with those pills. Unfortunately, this seems to be another in a string of medically preventable deaths… Sad.

Original post:

Brittany Murphy, the actress from “Clueless,” and “8 Mile” died last night at Cedars-Sinai in Beverly Hills at the age of 32. Brittany has been rumored to be suffering from severe eating disorders, and recent pictures seem to support that notion. Given that she apparently died from cardiac arrest, I’m wondering if drugs (even prescription drugs) played a role in the death as well… I’ll keep updating the story as more becomes available.

My heart goes out to her family and friends. Certainly a loss suffered far too early.

UPDATE: According to the police report, a number of prescription drugs were discovered in Brittany’s bedroom including (read past the list for my take on this):

  1. Topamax –  While TMZ reported this drug to be used as anti-seizure medication, it is also used to reduce weight-gain associated with the use of many other prescription drugs on this list. Lastly, it is considered to be a mood stabilizer.
  2. Methylprednisolone – An anti-inflammatory that may be used to treat bronchial infections
  3. Prozac – A commonly prescribed SSRI anti-depression med.
  4. Klonopin – A benzodiazepine anti-anxiety prescription medication that is also used to help with insomnia. Like most benzos, the probability of overdose is low if used properly, but overdose would lead to cardiac arrest.
  5. Carbamazepine – Another anti-convulsant mood stabilizer often used to treat bipolar disorder. This prescription drug can be very dangerous when combined with other medications due to its actions on GABA and extensive alteration of Sodium channel activity. It is also a bipolar med.
  6. Ativan – Once again a benzodiazepine that is often used to treat anxiety and insomnia.
  7. Vicoprofen – A pain reliever that includes an opioid (it sounds like vicodin for a reason).
  8. Propranolol – Prescription med used to treat hypertension and as an alternative, less habit-forming anti-anxiety drug.
  9. Biaxin – An antibiotic.
  10. Hydrocodone – Same as Vicoprofen, an analgesic (pain reducing) prescription drug.

What do I think killed Brittany?

With 2 benzodiazepine medications, 2 opiates, and antidepressant, and a drug that is made to lower one’s heart pressure, it’s no wonder that Brittany was found not breathing. I’m going to wait until the final toxicology report to draw a definite conclusion, but from this list, it seems highly likely that a dangerous combination of these prescription drugs was taken, which resulted in Brittany’s heart stopping. Even when taken at their prescribed strengths, these medication, when combined, can form a lethal cocktail.

You should ALWAYS check with your doctor regarding interactions between different prescriptions you’re taking, especially when those medications haven’t all been prescribed by the same physician!

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!