Always stay mindful – My different experience with recovery, addiction, and crystal meth

One of the main features of addiction is, unfortunately, how insidious it is.
Given everything I’ve been learning in the past 12 years about drugs, their abuse, and the people involved, I feel right in saying that most people don’t realize how far gone they are until it’s too late.

I consider myself fortunate in finding my way out of my crystal meth addiction, and I’ve met many others who’ve found their way as well. Still, I realize constantly that you can’t be too vigilant or too aware in watching out for inroads back to disaster.

My Experiment

methAs I’d said before, I began drinking again after 3 years of staying completely sober. My decision to leave typical recovery was made after talking with my parents and loved ones and making sure that they understood what this meant. I made sure that if I began reverting back to my old way of being lazy, aloof, and disrespectful, they would step in and send me right back to rehab.

This was my way of running the famous AA experiment and for me, it’s been working for the past 5 years or so.

But, I am always aware of how intoxicated I am and it is rare nowadays that I let myself get to the point of the loss of control. I have this constant voice in my head now that monitors how drunk I feel. I DO leave unfinished glasses of wine at dinners at times, and I do my best to make wise choices before going out so that I don’t make dumb ones later (like driving under the influence).

How I stay grounded

Still, most of my awareness about my addiction and what it means comes from my constant work in the area. Working with people who are in the throws of their disease keeps me in touch with how far I’ve gone and how much I don’t want to go back. I now know much more about the risks and about what I’d be doing to myself were I to take them. I don’t want to kill additional neurons, and I sure as hell don’t want to go through 2 more years of hell trying to put my life in order. I’ve never tried speed again since the day I quit in 2002 because I can’t say that I’m sure of what would happen next, and I don’t want to find out in case it’s bad…

This is why I believe that education is one of our best weapons in the battle against addiction.

My most valuable help

Lastly, I feel like one of the most important ingredients in all of this is having people you can trust and confide in. I don’t have many of those, but there are a few, and my family is always there, and I share everything with them.

For me, it was the moment I chose to be forthcoming with my family and hide nothing from them that has healed years of tension, mistrust and fighting, and I never want to go back .

This however means that they too have to be open. We now laugh when I say things like “I wish I could do some speed now to get me through all this work I have,” but I assure you, no one was laughing 5 years ago…

A word of caution

DefeatedMy sponsor in AA “went out” (meaning he started using again) a few months ago after being prescribed pain medication for surgery. Many in AA would point to the fact that he should have never been prescribed those pills in the first place. Everything I’ve learned about the brain indicates that automatic relapse is only likely when using one’s “drug of choice“. I say it was the dissolution of his marriage and his trust that having been sober for 12 years he could do no wrong that got him in trouble.

The moral:

Be open, accepting, and loving. Let those around you say things that make you uncomfortable without too much judgment so that they feel safe in coming back to you, and if they ask for help, know how to give it to them. No matter how happy people are to finally quit drugs (or another addiction), the feeling of defeat when they realize they now have to learn to live without their crutch can be enormous. This is where the help is most important.

Question of the day:
Do you have a story about the support you found necessary for your own recovery or the recovery of someone close to you?

California prison problems: Drug use policy gone awry

PrisonOriginally posted on Takepart:

I’ve been aware of the unjust nature of our prison system for a while, but a recent NPR story I heard in the car brought the issue front and center again. This piece is a combination summary and extension of that story.

Did you know that the US makes up 5% of the world’s population but houses 50% of the world’s prisoners? This significantly trumps even China and Russia, those evil countries whose human rights violations we keep hearing about so much.

The California prison system is a perfect example

Though it held steady throughout the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, its prison population today is 8 times larger than it was 30 years ago. The reason? California’s passage of a slew of “get tough on crime” laws including:

-Increased parole sanctions
-Minimum sentencing laws
-Tough prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders (now 32% of the prison population)
-The famous “three strikes” law

The push for these laws was strong, and as NPR reports, one of its major contributors was the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA). The CCPOA, through its political action committee, has been behind much of the toughening of CA sentencing laws. Even worse, it’s put its muscle to work fighting efforts to divert offenders from prison and reduce the prison population.

And it’s worked. Since the laws went into effect, the union grew from 2,600 officers to 45,000 officers. And the money followed: In 1980, the average officer earned $15,000 a year; today, one in every 10 officers makes more than $100,000 a year. Their average salary? About $50,000, according to Payscale.

Letting the CCPOA affect California’s crime policy is like letting health insurance companies determine what health care you’ll get. What you end up with is too little care that costs too much money.

Prison CellBut aside from giving the officers’ union a full 70% of the state’s correction budget, Californians get little in return for their $10 billion. Cheap inmate programs that have been shown, in study after study, to reduce recidivism (repeat behavior) are now getting cut. In Folsom prison, there is a Braille translation program that in 20 years has kept every inmate who has been involved in it out of prison. This year, that program got chopped in half.

The currently available substance abuse beds can barely handle 5% of the inmates that need them.  To make matters worse, the programs were instituted so poorly that even the available beds are badly managed.

The results are obvious. California has the United States’ worse recidivism rate–70%!

Arnold Schwarzenegger touts his independence from special interest, but what’s happening in California seems to say otherwise . The CCPOA is a special interest of the worst kind–their interest lies in putting us away. The better they do, the more jobs they have, but at what cost to society?

It’s time for us to take back our streets, not by putting away every criminal forever but by fixing a system that’s been broken for nearly 30 years. If we want a fix to the CA budget crisis, let us divert money from officers to teachers, both inside and outside the prison system.

It’s time for California, and indeed America, to start thinking about the end-game. Unless we want to find ourselves building more and more prisons to house a larger and larger proportion of our citizens, it’s time to tip the scale back in favor of rehabilitation, and away from incarceration.

Clubs, drugs, and dancing – Crystal meth, and club drug use

Anyone involved with the dance/rave/club culture knows that drugs often go hand in hand with music and dancing. Club drugs, as well as alcohol and drug abuse, are often rampant in the social groups full of excited club goers. Previous academic studies supported this notion but could not distinguish if the drug use took place inside the clubs/venues or whether people consumed before going out.

A recent study seems to support the latter explanation (drugs consumed before the club); at least for all drugs aside from crystal meth.

Club Dancing

In this study experimenters tested patrons as they entered and exited the club. Approximately ¼ of the attendees tested positive for some sort of drug when they entered as well as when they exited the club. There was not a significant difference in percentage of those that entered with drugs already in their system than those who exited with drug use. This supports the conclusion that no significant amount of drug use took place inside the club (excluding alcohol).

But this wasn’t true for all drugs. Cocaine and marijuana usage was the same at entrance and exit but positive crystal meth tests nearly doubled from entrance to exit.

Frighteningly enough 16% of the patrons exited the club with a BAC greater than .08%. Many of the people who were taking drugs also consumed alcohol which poses an even greater threat since the interactions between drugs and alcohol can cause severe reactions as well as a more severely impaired judgment.

Since most patrons entered with drugs already in their system, it seems reasonable to suggest that these clubs do attract drug users. Most people who entered without drug use did not take drugs during the course of their stay at the club. However the usage of methamphetamines while in the club definitely needs to be looked into further, as the effects of taking that inside the club in addition to drinking can cause many problems (legal and health wise) for both the patron and the owners.

Co-authored by: Jamie Felzer

Citation:

Miller, Holden, Johnson, Holder, Voas, Keagy (2009) Biological Markers of Drug Use in the Club Setting. Journal of Studies on Drugs and Alcohol. Vol 70 (9)

More CPDD Addiction research: Addiction, exercise, recovery!

Okay, this is probably the last addiction research update I will give focusing on the Reno conference. The rest of the stuff I learned will be incorporated into future posts.

I’ve written before about the relationship between exercise and recovery (see here) and I will surely write more since for me, it was a big part of the equation.

two separate studies at CPDD reaffirmed my belief that exercise can be a very useful tool in addiction recovery.

The first study, conducted in humans, examined the effect of incorporating an extensive exercise routine into a residential, as well as intensive outpatient, addiction treatment program. Their findings showed improved outcomes for participants in the short, as well as long run. These included length of sobriety, subjective assessment of well being, and more. In talking to the researcher, she seemed to believe that at least part of the effect was due to the relief of cravings achieved by allowing patients to focus on something that took effort, rather than simply sitting around.

The second, and to my mind even more interesting, study examined the effect of exercise on cocaine self-administration in rats. Researchers assigned half of their rats to a cage that had a running wheel while the others were assigned to a regular cage. the rats with the running wheel used the device to run an average of 12 kilometers a day! After a week of simply resting in their cages, when transferred to another cage for 2 hours a day, the rats who had the wheel in their cage took less than half as much cocaine as the rats who didn’t have a wheel. the “wheel-rats” were also found to run less after they began the cocaine portion of the experiment, but their cocaine-taking never got near that of the non-exercising rats. It seems that having the exercise did something to reduce the reinforcing power of cocaine.

I have a feeling that future research will show that these finding hold true for other drugs (like crystal meth, heroin, marijuana, cigarettes, and alcohol) and possibly even for behavioral addictions like food addiction, gambling, and sex addiction.

All in all, research seems to be supporting the notion that exercise can play a significant role in recovery from addiction. Whether it be for boredom relief or an actual internal change in the motivating power of drugs, it looks to me as if Addiction + Exercise = Recovery !

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:

Latest drug addiction research from CPDD: Drug use patterns among adults

I’m currently attending the annual meeting of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD) in Reno, NV.

Since there’s so much drug addiction research being presented here, I figured I would post a daily update with some of the things I found most interesting. There’s absolutely no way for me to see all the presentations I’m interested in, so what I get to see is what you get to hear about.

One of the interesting presentations today had to do with a broad study of drug use patterns among adults who are not drug addicts. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Alabama (who ran the CARDIA study), looked at the drug use patterns of adults enrolled in a Coronary Artery Risk study over many years. It’s important to note that drug use in this case does not include smoking, drinking alcohol, or marijuana use. The researchers also didn’t distinguish between use of different drugs for the purpose of this study.

The researchers found 4 common drug use patterns:

  1. No current use – Over 80% of the participants reported no use within a month of any of the follow-up dates. More than half of those people said they’d used at least one drug at some point in their life, but their use was not common enough to ever fall within a month of their check-ups.
  2. Early use, low frequency – About 12% of people used drugs with some frequency at an early age but then reduced their use throughout the follow-up period.
  3. Persistent use, low – These users continued to use drugs throughout the study period, but their use did not escalate.
  4. Early, persistent, use – These users started early, used a lot, and though their use tapered off, it remained higher than any other group throughout the study.

I personally think that these findings are encouraging. They show that at least within this population, only a small proportion of individuals engage in what we would consider chronic, dangerous, drug use.

I reported similar findings regarding relapse in alcoholics in another post a while back (see here), and I’m glad that statistical techniques are being used to uncover larger patterns of drug use and abuse in a more general population.

More addiction research to come. There’s almost too much to report!

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!