Categories
Addiction

Methamphetamine and Fruit Flies: An Interesting Pathway to Scientific Discovery

I was interested to discover a new study on the global effects methamphetamine has on the body. Rather than merely studying the effects the drug has on the brain, these scientists went further and began tracking the molecular changes that occur in the body as a whole. Using fruit flies as his medium, University of Illinois entomology professor Barry Pittendrigh guided  his scientific team of researchers down this new path of discovery.  Their findings are remarkable. Science has already shown us how methamphetamine causes significant brain inflammation while also creating  damage similar to dementia. We are familiar with the dopamine reaction our body has when methamphetamine is introduced, and how it encourages extra dopamine production, which in turn increases our sense of pleasure. With this new study, we discover the real effect the drug has on the body’s cellular structure. It’s fascinating.

Pittendrigh refers to methamphetamine as a “perfect storm toxin because it does so much damage to so many different tissues in the body.” They’ve discovered that meth exposure “influenced molecular pathways associated with energy generation, sugar metabolism, sperm cell formation, cell structure, hormones, skeletal muscle and cardiac muscles.” I was interested to also read that sugar has a “direct impact on reducing the toxicity of meth,” which might explain the intense sugar cravings found in so many meth users.

Do you really need more reasons why methamphetamine is dangerous? Our bodies can only withstand so much, and when we start recklessly manipulating our internal structures, we have the potentiality to create untenable damage.

Categories
Body Image Eating Disorders Mental Health Recovery Therapy

Starving at 8

image © sarit photography

I know an 8-year-old who’s been known to choose an outfit specifically because it makes her “look thin.” This same 8-year-old often doesn’t finish meals because she thinks she’s fat. She’s the same 8-year-old that has begun to develop food rituals, often leaving the table with a reorganized plate full of uneaten food. Simply put, she already has an irrational fear of getting fat.
It’s hard being a girl. It’s hard to find a way to look at your unique self without comparing it with images of Barbie or Bratz. It’s hard to accept that  the beauty standard set by Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty isn’t actually real. But children, whose minds are filled with wonderful imagination and fantasy, aren’t going to cognitively recognize images that are potentially harmful. Instead, many will attempt to achieve the pink, thin, fluffiness of a Disney princess, or the skinny sass of a Bratz doll. Often times, even when parents are encouraging a healthy body image, the education on the school yard has a dramatically different lesson plan than the one from home. I’ve overheard conversations on the school yard that have made me pause – -it’s clear that body-image issues are in abundance and the pressure to look thin and svelte is invasive and intense.

So what can parents do? Start with eliminating the shame game. This might mean letting your daughter dump that maple syrup on her pancakes or having a cupcake at a birthday party. It’s a treat, not a vehicle for punishment!  Encourage healthy eating, but can you do it with compassion rather than the mallet of criticism?  Eliminate “fat talk”: your kids don’t need to hear it and frankly, it’s not good for you either. Stop trying to control what those around you eat. It’s not your job!  I’ve seen dads controlling the food intake of their wives and daughters to the point of devastating eating disorders (my dad was one!); and I’ve seen moms spewing “fat talk” or signing up for any and every diet fad while their daughters learn to eat in secret or restrict because they’re terrified of the incendiary reaction of their parental food monitors. These behaviors certainly don’t encourage self-love. If anything, they sow the seeds of self-destruction.

If you’re worried that your son or daughter might be developing an eating disorder (note: boys are not immune to this!), look out for some of these signs.

(Please note, certain behaviors are warning signs, but in combination and over time, they can become quite serious):

Behaviors specific to anorexia:

  • Major weight loss (weighs 85% of normal weight for height or less)
  • Skips meals, always has an excuse for not eating (ill, just ate with a friend, stressed-out, not hungry).
  • Refuses to eat in front of others
  • Selects only low fat items with low nutrient levels, such as lettuce, tomatoes, and sprouts.
  • Reads food labels religiously; worried about calories and fat grams in foods.
  • Eats very small portions of foods
  • Becomes revolted by former favorite foods, such as desserts, red meats, potatoes
  • May help with meal shopping and preparation, but doesn’t eat with family
  • Eats in ritualistic ways, such as cutting food into small pieces or pushing food around plate
  • Lies about how much food was eaten
  • Has fears about weight gain and obesity, obsesses about clothing size. Complains about being fat, when in truth it is not so
  • Inspects image in mirror frequently, weighs self frequently
  • Exercises excessively and compulsively
  • May wear baggy clothing or many layers of clothing to hide weight loss and to stay warm
  • May become moody and irritable or have trouble concentrating. Denies that anything is wrong
  • May harm self with cutting or burning
  • Evidence of discarded packaging for diet pills, laxatives, or diuretics (water pills)
  • Stops menstruating
  • Has dry skin and hair, may have a growth of fine hair over body
  • May faint or feel dizzy frequently

Behaviors specific to bulimia

  • Preoccupation or anxiety about weight and shape
  • Disappearance of large quantities of food
  • Excuses self to go to the bathroom immediately after meals
  • Evidence of discarded packaging for laxatives, diuretics, enemas
  • May exercise compulsively
  • May skip meals at times
  • Teeth may develop cavities or enamel erosion
  • Broken blood vessels in the eyes from self-induced vomiting
  • Swollen salivary glands (swelling under the chin)
  • Calluses across the joints of the fingers from self-induced vomiting
  • May be evidence of alcohol or drug abuse, including steroid use
  • Possible self-harm behaviors, including cutting and burning

If you notice even one of these, it’s time to address it. Talk to your daughter or son, talk to your doctor. If necessary, elicit the help of a treatment facility. In other words: Get help. Showing our kids that we care and are willing to stop our own negative behaviors in order to help them is invaluable. It’s a family problem, not an individual one.

Some helpful links:

NEDA
WebMD
Voice in Recovery
Peggy Orenstein
maudsleyparents.org
Also, check out “Brave Girl Eating: A Family’s Struggle With Anorexia” By Harriet Brown

Categories
Addiction Alcoholism Recovery Self-Care

Love and Boundaries

What happens when someone you love relapses and decides not to get sober again?
Regardless of whether that person is a parent or a close friend, it’s a challenge, to say the least. In AA, we are told  “we simply do not stop drinking so long as we place dependence upon other people ahead of dependence on a higher power¹” This statement alone verifies the need to allay one’s reliance upon the static nature of the sick, and instead turn the focus on paving a new path toward healing.

In 1951, Al-Anon began using the steps, giving those married to and reared by the alcoholic, tools with which they could live by. One thing is key: Al-Anon and Alateen don’t focus or talk about the alcoholic; they instead focus on themselves and learn how they can lead a happier, freer life. Here, the lesson is not to fix the person we love, but rather how to live life fully and independent of their disease. That’s tough, especially when  our expectations have taken hold: “If only they get sober, then everything will be okay.” or  “I’m not the one with the problem, they are.” But when we place our focus on fixing someone else’s problems, obsess over their emotional health, and base our lives around their well-being, that IS a problem.

Alateen is a wonderful support for kids struggling with alcoholic/addict parents or siblings. When chaos is the norm, then Alateen provides tools for weathering the storm. As kids living with alcoholics and addicts know, reaffirming reality in their day-to-day lives is the norm; the steps and fellowship: however, help provide a healthy, non-threatening way to do that. At some point, we find that part of supporting someone else’s sobriety means allowing them to walk their own path, no matter how rocky that path may be. We can’t walk it for them. If that means that their sobriety is tenuous at best, then we have to learn how to step aside. I call it loving someone with boundaries. In other words, we can love you when you’re in your disease, but we won’t hold you up.

¹ BB Page 98 (Note: “God” was replaced with “higher power” in the post.)

 

Categories
Addiction Alcohol

Caffeine + Alcohol = Delusion

Mixing alcohol and energy drinks continues to bedevil scientists and clinical professionals, while continuing to intrigue and seduce young revelers, creating an illusion of false security. As I’ve said in the past, mixing the two just makes for a wide-awake drunk. It doesn’t actually make your intoxication less viable nor does it lesson its behavioral impact. If anything, it makes things more dangerous and encourages reckless behavior. With the additional stimulation (remember, alcohol initially presents as a stimulant), one can’t accurately intuit how drunk they actually are. And when you add caffeine to the mix, your body misses the cue to stop (sleepiness, et cetera). The results of a new study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research confirm this: Cecile Marczinkski, a Northern Kentucky University psychologist “found that combining energy drinks such as Red Bull with vodka or other liquors effectively removes any built-in checks your body has for overindulging.”

Marczinkski also talks about the fact that there are other stimulating ingredients aside from caffeine added to these drinks which may be a contributing factor.  When she compared data from those who drank beverages with caffeine vs. alcoholic energy drinks, Marczinkski’s findings showed the alcoholic energy drinks “resulted in far greater alertness than the caffeine alone.” So, maybe caffeine isn’t the sole offender, but it’s certainly a negative factor in this ongoing issue.

We talk about this–a lot: We read tons of studies about mixing energy drinks and alcohol; we read news reports of tragedies directly associated with this subject (anyone remember Four-Loko?). And yet, more and more kids continue to mix the two, incurring more potential instances of erraticism and instability fueled by ill-perceived invincibility. The bottom line is, adding a caffeine/sugar boost to your drink won’t make it safer for you to drive, it won’t increase positive decision-making capabilities, and it won’t make you more fun to hang out with. It’s yet another bad idea harvested on the path of addiction.

Related articles:

Alcohol and Energy Drinks: A Dangerous Cocktail – – TIME Healthland (alcoholselfhelpnews.wordpress.com)

Together, Caffeine And Booze Impair Judgment More Than Booze Alone (addictionts.com)

 

Categories
Addiction Alcohol Alcoholism Holidays Mental Health Recovery

New Beginnings

Image via Wikipedia

It’s Passover, and you know what that means? It’s that time of year where it’s customary to drink four glasses of wine through dinner as part of the Passover story! It means giant family gatherings, with the myriad of wacky personalities. It also may mean some anxiety for the newcomer (or even someone with time, you never know!) For some, it’s this Passover week, for others, it might be the upcoming Easter Sunday. Either way, self-care is key. Ask for help if you need it, and have an exit plan–better to have one and not need it than to need it and not have it!

This particular holiday reminds me of my early introduction to alcohol. My family didn’t drink that often; holidays were the exception. Still, I have distinct memories of sitting at the family Passover table, with my thimble full of Manischewitz wine, thinking I was the coolest kid in the world. I remember the warmth in my belly, and the slight fuzz in my head (I would get sneaky and steal sips from other folk’s glasses). I remember thinking I was a part of the adult world, and a real part of my family. It was a childhood delusion, of course, but the memory stuck.

Wine has deep roots in some religions, for example, in Christianity it represents the blood of Christ, and in Judaism, the fruit of the vine. It’s an accepted, expected, ritualistic piece of the religious meal. But as we get sober and learn to participate in the rituals of our varying cultures, we must learn to make adjustments. No one wants to see you drunkenly opening the door for Elijah! We drink grape juice instead of wine, and we learn to adapt the rituals and meals to our sober, clean lives.

Passover is about freedom from slavery and tyranny; and like Easter, it’s reflective of Spring and new beginnings. What apropos likeness to our recovery! Here, we are offered an opportunity to begin to view our sobriety as freedom from the tyranny of drugs and alcohol. Our recovery is our new beginning and our new life. Remember what Chuck C. said: “You cannot think your way into a new way of acting, but you can act your way into a new way of thinking.” Have a safe, sober, and joyous holiday week.

Categories
Addiction Smoking

Smoking: Skinny, Gold, and Silver

Image via Wikipedia

It’s been some time since cigarettes were labeled “light’ or “low-tar.” These days, over 50 countries use “gold” or “silver,” in their branding. Despite the difference in nomenclature, the misperceptions about safety remain the same: many people believe that cigarettes labeled “light’ or “gold” are somehow better for you than the smokes in the red box. “Slim” brands, which are mainly targeted toward young women are also perceived as being better for you because they’re skinny, implying less poison per hit. The truth is, tobacco is tobacco, and none of it is good for you, no matter how you spin it.

Recently, Addiction Journal published a study in which over 8000 smokers from Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the USA were polled. Their findings showed “approximately 1/5 of the smokers polled believed ‘some cigarette brands could be less harmful than others.’” The research shows smokers tend to base their cigarette choices on color, they often believe smooth taste means less risk, and that filters really do reduce the risk of cancer.

One thing is for sure, the study proves a need for further regulation. One change we can eventually expect to see is plain packaging for any and all cigarettes. That means every box will look the same: sans logos, color, or graphics. Looks like Australia will be the first to try this out. It would be nice to see something take effect that successfully lessons the intrigue of smoking. If you don’t ever pick up, then you never have to quit, right? Also, if cigarette packaging ceases to look cool, there’s it’s one less reason to carry them in your purse or pocket.