Teens and drugs: Drug use statistics and treatment that works

Here are some drug use statistics:

  • Over 80% of teens engage in some form of deviant behavior (1).
  • Over 50% of high-school seniors admit to having used drugs (2).
  • Only 10%-15% of the population develop drug addiction problems related to their drug use (1).

The question is:

If the majority of teens experiment with drug use, and so few eventually develop drug addiction problems, should we be focusing on something other than stopping kids from trying drugs? Continue reading “Teens and drugs: Drug use statistics and treatment that works”

Forgetting astrocytes – marijuana, memory, and the brain

My favorite thing about science are those discoveries that remind us we simply don’t know everything. A recent article by a group of researchers from Canada, China, and France (see original research article in the journal Cell here and a nice summary here) summarizes findings that reveal some surprises about the ways marijuana use affects short term memory.

Neuroscientists know a good deal about the way we form memories – long-term alterations in the way neurons in certain areas of the brain communicate known as long-term-depression and long-term-potentiation that are controlled, to a large extent, by chemicals (neurotransmitters) called GABA and Glutamate.

But as usual in human endeavors, we only know to look where we believe we need to. In the case of marijuana and memory, and after this study likely memory formation in general, we always thought that neurons were the sole players in this game. Like our old beliefs about genetics that stated that most of our genetic material is meaningless only to reveal that material to be crucial for gene regulations in a new science known as epigenetics, it seems that neurons are not the only important players in memory.

The scientists in this recent study were trying to figure out whether GABA or Glutamate were responsible for Marijuana’s (or more precisely THC‘s) effects on memory. To their surprise, they found out it was neither and kept looking, eventually realizing that the real culprits were cells called astrocytes, previously thought to be akin to the brain’s cleaning crew. Apparently, this cleaning crew might also be important for many crucial aspects of our daily functioning… Never assume, right?

The results of this research will no doubt produce some serious changes in the study of memory research as well as in research on the effects of THC and other drugs on memory – it broadens our search for the factors important in the primary and secondary effects of drugs and drug use, both short- and long-term. It could help us produce drugs with less side effects, find ways to counter undesirable effects of drug use, and develop treatments that specifically interfere with illicit drug use mechanisms. Exciting times.

Addiction stories: How I recovered from my addiction to crystal meth

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.

cocaine linesI 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.

homelessI 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.

More money more problems? Rich teens and drugs

Teens raised in affluent homes display the highest rates of depression, anxiety, and drug abuse according to a recent article in Monitor on Psychology, the APA‘s monthly magazine.

One of our recent posts dealt with some of the issues unique to teens and drugs. In addition to the issues we’d already mentioned, the article named a number of reasons for the high prevalence of mental-health issues among affluent teens. Among them were an increasingly narcissistic society, overbearing parents, and an common attitude of perfectionism.

Each of these reasons are likely contributors to the prevalence of mental health and drug abuse issues among upper-middle-class (and above) teens. Still, as far as I’m concerned, the main take home message of the article is this:

Money truly doesn’t buy happiness – Rich teens and drug use.

While drug abuse research often focuses on the lower socioeconomic strata these recent findings indicate that being financially stable offers little in the way of protection from some of the most common psychological difficulties.

Thankfully, the researchers cited in the article gave some simple advice to parents:

  • Give children clear responsibilities to help around the house.
  • Take part in community service (to unite the family and reduce narcissism).
  • Reduce TV watching (especially of reality TV shows that glorify celebrity and excess).
  • Monitor internet use.
  • Stop obsessing about perfect grades and focus instead on the joy of learning for its own sake.

I couldn’t agree more with these recommendations. Having taught a number of classes myself, I have witnessed the ridiculous inflation in students’ expectations of top grades. I think it’s time we turned attention back to the family and reintroduce some of the basic skills that many addicts find themselves learning much too late… Often in recovery.

Higher drug abuse among gay youth likely tied to rejection

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 abuse prevention 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:

Reference:

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.

420, smoking weed, and drug problems : Marijuana facts

Co-authored by: Jamie Felzer

It’s April 20th, or 4-20, and anyone who smokes marijuana knows what that means – It’s time to smoke weed- a lot of weed!

In honor of this “stoner” holiday, or perhaps in reverence of its implications, I wanted to put together a post that explored some recent findings having to do with the most commonly used illegal substance in the U.S.
These two studies deal specifically with smoking weed, teenagers, and drug problems.

Study 1 – Misconceptions of marijuana use prevalence

An article in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs has revealed that most young adults greatly overestimate how many of their peers smoke weed. Teens surveyed believed that 98% of their peers smoked marijuana at least once a year – In reality, only 51.5% off the teens reported actually ever smoking marijuana.

To make matters worse, even though only 15% of the teens reported using once a month or more, the estimate among peers was closer to 65%!!! Since we know that perception of peer behavior affects adolescents greatly, such misconceptions can easily lead to false peer-pressure towards marijuana use.

So next time instead of assuming everyone smokes weed, think again.It’s one of the most commonly used drugs but the notion that everyone smokes weed is simply wrong.

Reference: Kilmer, Walker, Lee, Palmer, Mallett, Fabiano, & Larrimer (2006). Misperceptions of College Students Marijuana use: Implications for Prevention. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 67, pp. 277-281.

Study 2 – Teens reducing use can reduce marijuana dependence risk

This next study dealt with early patterns of weed smoking as possible predictors of later problems use. They followed more than 1500 respondents from adolescence (ages 15-17) into young adulthood (ages 21-24).

The article revealed some interesting overall patterns, but I’ll keep the results short and simple, it is 4-20 after all…

The good news? Teens who reduced their use during the first phase of the study (the teens years) were at a significantly lower risk for marijuana dependence and regular use in early adulthood. This suggests that successful interventions may be effective at reducing later problem use.

The bad news? All marijuana smokers who used at least weekly showed the highest risk for later problems even if they reduced their use… This is not that surprising of a finding though since dependence usually involves regular use.

The bottom line? Reducing marijuana use at any stage will lower your risk for later problem use, but those who find themselves smoking often are most likely to end up in some trouble even if they try to cut down. Knowledge is power, so if you think you might be at risk and are concerned, talking to someone can’t hurt. Knowing marijuana facts can’t hurt either.

Reference: Swift, Coffey, Carlin, Degenhardt, Calabria & Patton (2009). Are adolescents who moderate their cannabis use at lower risk of later regular and dependent cannabis use? Addiction, 104, pp 806-814.

For a different view on 420, see this video:


Is marijuana addictive? You can bet your heroin on that!

marijuana“Is marijuana addictive?” seems to be the ultimate question for many people. In fact, when discussing addiction, it is rare that the addiction potential for marijuana doesn’t come up.

Some basic points about marijuana:

The active ingredient in marijuana, THC, binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain (CB1 and CB2). Since it is a partial agonist, it activates these receptors, though not to their full capacity. The fact that cannabinoid receptors modulate mood, sleep, and appetite is why you get the munchies and feel content and why many people use it to help with sleep.

But how is marijuana addictive? What’s the link to heroin?

What most people don’t know is that there is quite a bit of interaction between the cannabinoid receptor system (especially CB1 receptors) and the opioid receptor system in the brain. In fact, research has shown that without the activation of the µ opioid receptor, THC is no longer rewarding.

If the fact that marijuana activates the same receptor system as opiates (like heroin, morphine, oxycontin, etc.) surprises you, you should read on.

The opioid system in turn activates the dopamine reward pathway I’ve discussed in numerous other posts (look here for a start). This is the mechanisms that is assumed to underlie the rewarding, and many of the addictive, properties of essentially all drugs of abuse.

But we’re not done!

Without the activation of the CB1 receptors, it seems that opiates, alcohol, nicotine, and perhaps stimulants (like methamphetamine) lose their rewarding properties. This would mean that drug reward depends much more heavily on the cannabinoid receptor system than had been previously thought. Since this is the main target for THC, it stands to reason that the same would go for marijuana.

So what?! Why is marijuana addictive?

Since there’s a close connection between the targets of THC and the addictive properties of many other drugs, it seems to me that arguing against an addictive potential for marijuana is silly.

Of course, some will read this as my saying that marijuana is always addictive and very dangerous. They would be wrong. My point is that marijuana can not be considered as having no potential for addiction.

As I’ve pointed out many times before, the proportion of drug users that become addicted, or dependent, on drugs is relatively small (10%-15%). This is true for almost all drugs – What I’m saying is that it is likely also true for marijuana (here is a discussion of physical versus psychological addiction and their bogus distinction).

Citation:

Ghozland, Matthes, Simonin, Filliol, L. Kieffer, and Maldonado (2002). Motivational Effects of Cannabinoids Are Mediated by μ-Opioid and κ-Opioid Receptors. Journal of Neuroscience, 22, 1146-1154.