About Addiction: Alcohol, Legalization, Internet-Addiction, the Drug war, and Teen Drug Use

a couple weeks away, A3 Link posts are back with a brand-new set of addiction article straight off the press! With election season gearing up we have some news regarding new laws on the ballot for legalization in some states, as well as internet-addiciton being deemed an official diagnosis in the new DSM, and everything in between. Check out all of the new articles in this week’s posts!

Does trying alcohol in youth develop a distaste for it?-  How does tasting alcohol in childhood affect later alcohol use in adolescence? This question has long been debated by parents, with some feeling they should keep their children as far away from alcohol as possible and some believing they should let their children taste alcohol in order to take away the temptation of alcohol as a “forbidden fruit” and/or so they can develop a distaste for it early on. According to a recent study by RTI International and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill based on data collected from interviews with 1,050 mothers and their third-grade children, 25% of the mothers thought that allowing their kids to try alcohol would discourage them from drinking in their adolescence, and 40% believed that not allowing children to taste alcohol will only make it more appealing to them. Twenty-two percent of the mothers believed that children who taste alcohol at home with their parents would be better at resisting alcohol-related peer pressure, and 26% thought it would make them less likely to experiment with risky drinking in middle school. Amongst the children, 33% of those in the study admitted to having tasted some alcoholic beverage. While these findings may not be surprising to some, they are interesting and, to some extent, worrisome because, according to the researchers, early introduction to alcohol is a primary risk factor for problem drinking during adolescence.

Internet Addiction an Official Diagnosis?- The term addiction has historically been used primarily to indicate addiction to drugs and alcohol. Now, there are many different forms of “addiction”, some included in the worldwide psychiatric manual and others simply used by people in everyday conversation. Reportedly, if confirmed by further research, a new addiction included as ”internet-use disorder” will be included in the new psychiatric manual the DSM-V, and children addicted to using electronic devices 24/7, will be diagnosed with a serious mental illness. While this may seem a bit excessive to those who feel there are no ill effects of internet use, recent research has found that children get aggressive, irritable and hostile when their iPads or laptops are taken away from them. Some researchers even found that screen addictions have characteristics similar to other addictions, including emotional shutdown, lack of concentration and withdrawal symptoms if they are kept away from their gadgets and games. While it may soon become an official mental illness, for now overuse of technologies would be classified under internet-use disorder alongside other mental disorders.

Legalization on the Ballot in Multiple States- With election season quickly approaching, multiple states have initiatives on the ballot regarding the legalization of marijuana. According to pre-election polls, it seems likely that at least one of these bills will pass. While Oregon, Washington, and Colorado all have a proposition on their ballot, it looks like Washington or Colorado might be the first state to officially legalize recreational marijuana use, as both states showing at least 50 percent support in the polls. In Washington in particular, there is little organized opposition, with opponents raising only $6,000 compared to supporters, who have collected more than $4 million. Ironically, medical marijuana dispensaries have been the most publicly opposed to the bill. While some of them worry about marijuana dispensaries being put out of business, others fear new DUI laws that could make it illegal to be driving with even a trace of THC in one’s system, an intimidating fact due to the extended time period THC stays in one’s system. For now, those in other states will just have to wait and see what happens at election time. But pay close attention, because the results could have an enormous impact on the future of marijuana legalization across the country, and around the world.

Teen Drug Use Leads to Successful Lives? It has long been thought, and often commonly accepted, that drug use is “bad”, dangerous, and even deadly. However, in a surprising discovery, a recent study conducted at the University of Minnesota Institute of Child Development by Michelle M. Englund found that teens experimenting with drugs and alcohol are more likely to attain higher levels of education and be in stable romantic relationships early into adulthood than those who abstain. This is not to say that heavy drug use leads to more successful individuals, as those who were deemed to be drug abusers and even at-risk users did not reach the same levels of success as experimental users or even those who abstained. One explanation offered is that many of the successful users developed a strong foundation both academically and socially before they tried the drugs and/or alcohol. This seems logical when compared with studies that have shown drug and/or alcohol use earlier in adolescence to be harmful to brain development. While this particular study was conducted with a small sample size and researchers admits that similar studies of larger populations need to be done to verify their results, they do insist that these results show that experimental drug use in adolescence may not be as harmful as previously thought, and may actually be a normal part of adolescent development. Since approximately 80% of teens admit to using drugs, it makes sense that drug use of some sort would be normative and not problematic.

The Drug War- The “Drug War” has been going on for many years now, with the government seemingly spending more to fight the spread of drug use by the year. Using data from government agencies such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the National Drug Control Surveys, Matt Groff created a graph showing the relationship between government spending on the Drug War and the drug users in America, per 100 citizens, over the last 35 years. You can see the graph for yourself via this link. While it seems there may have been a slight correlation in the ‘80’s as spending began to increase and drug use dipped , the impact has disappeared since then. While Drug War spending has increased to at least 3 times the amount being spent at the end of the 80s, drug use has not decreased and has even been on a slow but steady rise since then. With the effectiveness of the drug war being called into question, it seems prudent to look into more effective ways to be fight drug use nationwide.

DARE – Drug Abuse Prevention that doesn’t work

  • DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) is the largest school-based drug abuse prevention program in the United States.
  • 80% of school districts across the country teach the DARE curriculum, reaching an estimated 26 million children (1).
  • Every year, over $1 billion goes into keeping the program running. A billion dollars may be a small price to pay to keep America’s children drug-free, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that DARE isn’t doing what it’s supposed to.

What is DARE?

dareFounded in 1983, DARE began as a 17 week long course taught to 5th and 6th graders. The course is taught by a uniformed police officer who teaches the students about drug use and gang violence. The DARE curriculum includes role-playing, written assignments, presentations, and group discussions.

DARE uses a zero tolerance policy towards drug use. Students are told to adopt mottoes like “Drug free is the way to be” and “Just say no to drugs!” Pictures of blackened lungs and drunk driving accidents are methods used to discourage experimentation. The focus of the program is clearly flat out refusal. Students are not taught what to do if they are already experiencing problems with drugs.

Is DARE effective?

The effectiveness of DARE has been called into question since the early 90s. A meta-analysis of 11 studies conducted from 1991-2002 shows no significant effect of DARE in reducing drug use (1). Several studies have even reported an opposite effect, with DARE leading to higher rates of drug use later on in life. Reports from the California Department of Education, American Psychological Association, and U.S. Surgeon General all label DARE as ineffective.

The results seem clear, but statistics don’t seem to be enough to convince concerned parents and policy makers to shut down any drug abuse prevention program. With drug use on the rise, it seems that DARE is here to stay. But perhaps getting rid of DARE isn’t the best option. The framework and funding already exist for a potentially successful prevention program. Maybe all we need to do is apply some science and develop new techniques that will provide results.

*It should be noted that in 2001, DARE made substantial revisions to its program under the title “New DARE.” The effects of these revisions have yet to be measured, so we’ll wait and see.

 

Citation:

1. West, S.L., O’Neal, K.K. (2004) Project D.A.R.E. Outcome Effectiveness Revisited. American Journal of Public Health. 94(6)

Global Commission on Drug Policy: Legalization, decriminalization, and the war on drugs

A commission made up of some big names, though not really any names of addiction or drug researchers I noticed, just released a report that’s making a lot of noise throughout every news channel including NPR (see here, and here for stories) and others (see CNN). They want the debate about the current state of drug regulation expanded, and since I’ve written on the issue before, I figured it’s time for another stab at this. Continue reading “Global Commission on Drug Policy: Legalization, decriminalization, and the war on drugs”

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 – Len Bias, the war on drugs, addiction statistics, and anonymity

Here are some good links from the recent past. I know I haven’t done this in a while, and it’s not because of a lack of good stuff out there about addiction. I’ve been busy/lazy, so sorry.

Addiction tomorrow: An article about the effect of Len Bias’s death in 1986 on the war on drugs.

Addiction recovery basics: Statistics on addiction treatment.

The gentle path: A good article about sex addiction (and recovery in general) and anonymity.