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Addiction Alcoholism Anxiety Mental Health PTSD Recovery

Addressing Recovery and Trauma

child abuse
Image by Southworth Sailor via Flickr

A history of sexual violence can create an ideal environment for a variety of mental-health issues, addiction, and alcoholism. Often, the triggering event or events are hidden in the annals of one’s mind and perceived as shameful, deep, dark secrets too horrible to share…with anyone. As a result, drugs, alcohol, and risk-taking behaviors are often seen as the primary issue when one enters treatment. Time and again, we see that this isn’t always the case; That becomes clear when we look at it in terms of statistics:

  • One out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed rape; 2.8% attempted rape)[1];
  • 29% are age 12-17;
  • 44% are under age 18;
  • 80% are under age 30.; 12-34 are the highest risk years.
  • Girls ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault;
  • 7% if girls in grades 5-8 (approx. ages 10-13) and 12% of girls in grades 9-12 (approx. ages 14-17) said they had been sexually abused;
  • 3% of boys grades 5-8 and 5% of boys in grades 9-12 said they have been sexually abused[2].

As I frequently tweet Intervention, one of the things I notice on a regular basis is the consistency in which the women on the show are frequently struggling with a history of sexual violence, and are using drugs, alcohol, and promiscuity as their  primary coping skill. From the outside looking in, it’s clear that the goal is to try to desensitize and anesthetize feelings of shame and guilt, et cetera; in other words, do anything and everything NOT to feel, remember, re-experience, or suffer from the emotional attachment to the event itself.

Twelve-step programs were written with specific goals in mind: to stop the alcoholic/addict from drinking and using. The steps work well in that regard, mostly because they are based on the disease model, addressing issues of alcoholism and addiction accordingly. However, the same tools provided to address addiction issues don’t always work in concert with mental-health issues, particularly those attached to sexual violence. We know the steps adequately provide an alcoholic/addict with the necessary skills needed to learn to take responsibility for and subsequently change their negative behaviors. They do so by asking the addict/alcoholic to take responsibility for their actions, face their fears, and acknowledge that they took part in creating their own demise. However, being sexually abused or raped isn’t a negative behavior to be changed but rather a causative, biting factor in things like:

  • Depression
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Alcohol and Drug Abuse
  • Suicidal Ideation
  • Eating Disorders

What then, do we do from a recovery standpoint when the predominant disease model isn’t geared to address issues of this caliber? The Big Book, the 12-step primer, was written by men addressing men’s issues, in a time when women were typically viewed as the ones affected by their spouse’s alcoholism and not as the alcoholics themselves. As more women began to come forward as alcoholics and addicts, the tools didn’t always adapt to the new issues that arose because of gender disparity, but rather, they stayed the same, assuming a one-size-fits-all mentality.  In the cases of women dealing with sexual violence, being asked to take responsibility for an abuse event has the potentiality to create more or actually deepen the existing trauma, particularly if the innate issues of shame and guilt associated with it are ignored. The reality is, being victimized by sexual violence is not the fault of the victim. What does need to be addressed, however, is the anger, self-victimization, and negative behavioral byproducts occurring as a result.

We clearly have a multi-layered healing process on our hands, so first, the negative coping skills must be eliminated: Sobriety is an obvious first step and necessary component to support the healing process. Additionally, working with meditation and mind-body awareness techniques are also useful in helping one manage their anxiety, negative feelings toward oneself, and in re-building self-esteem. A therapist skilled in treating PTSD and this sort of trauma is also important, particularly since this is often a lifelong process.

It is in forgiving ourselves that we have the ability to become free.



[1] National Institute of Justice & Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey. 1998.
[2] 1998 Commonwealth Fund Survey of the Health of Adolescent Girls. 1998

Sources and support:
RAINN
One in Four
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Categories
Addiction

Social Media: Helpful or Harmful?


The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University’s (CASA Columbia) recently published
their 16th annual back-to-school survey which takes a look at adolescent behaviors regarding substance abuse in relation to social media. CASA Columbia took a look at American teens ages 12-17, their social media use and how it might ultimately affect their alcohol and drug abuse behaviors, and parent involvement or lack thereof. The findings, though not terribly surprising, were substantial: “70% of teens report spending time on social networking sites on a typical day,” which come out to approximately 17 million 12-17 year olds doing participating in some sort of social media activity on a typical day.
With the naturally uncensored dynamics of teen behavior, the typical day-to-day posts can range anywhere from being tagged in a drunken photo from the previous weekend’s house party to the false braggadocio of one’s sexual prowess. From the outside looking in, sites like Facebook and MySpace certainly show implications of promoting an environment of peer pressure. After looking at the results from this study, that impression is pretty spot on:

“Compared to teens that have never seen pictures of kids getting drunk, passed out, or using drugs on social networking sites, teens that have seen these images are:
• Three times likelier to use alcohol;
• Four times likelier to use marijuana;
• Four times likelier to be able to get marijuana, almost three times likelier to be able to get controlled prescription drugs without a prescription, and more than twice as likely to be able to get alcohol in a day or less; and
• Much likelier to have friends and classmates who abuse illegal and prescription drugs.”

Where parents tend to fall flat is in relation to their ignorance and denial of the powerful effects of suggestion, a key factor associated with the subversive allure of social media sites. Parents must be careful not to adopt the “Not my child” attitude and get informed instead. According to the CASA study, “Eighty-seven percent of parents said they think spending time on social networking sites does not make it more likely their child will drink alcohol; 89 percent of parents felt it would not make their child more likely to use drugs.” That’s not a particularly positive result, and frankly, it confirms the high level of denial that aids and abets the social media petri dish of reckless behavior.
This isn’t hopeless, though. The results of the CASA study present an opportunity for change. It’s a chance for us fuddy-duddy adults to learn to look at the world from the lenses of our kids. We were teens once, too, and though memories are often clouded, it behooves us to remember that we were once reckless and secretive and convinced that our parents were the enemy. Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA Columbia’s Founder and Chairman and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare suggests the need for parents to “give their children the will and skill to keep their heads above the water of the corrupting cultural currents their children must navigate.” While I agree that our kids need the skills and strength of character to manage social media, I think we need to be careful not to incite a sense of imminent fear, but instead look at the results of this study as something from which we can nurture an opportunity for behavioral metamorphosis. Growing up is scary enough.
Related articles
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Addiction Alcoholism

Amy Winehouse Grasps Addiction’s Fateful Hand

Cover of Amy Winehouse

The death of Amy Winehouse, mere months after another misfired attempt at rehab leaves
me thinking more and more about the misleading notion of a revolving door in recovery. I am reminded of the perceived invincibility we tend to have when we’re using and how deadly that assumption can be. Unfortunately, we’ve been subjected to inadvertent voyeurism as we’ve fallen witness to Winehouse’s public demise.

As part of a recovery community, we can certainly sit and proselytize about the myriad things she could have or should have done differently, but the fact remains: she was an addict, and her addiction ultimately won this round.  Self-loathing, lack of self-worth, and self-sabotage are all symptomatic traits of addiction; Amy Winehouse expressed hers soulfully in her music, and I can’t begin to imagine the driving, internal heartache, which led her to continue on such a fatal path.

I worry that the hype around her death will somehow take the focus off of addiction or worse yet, romanticize the life and death of an extremely talented, yet deeply suffering young woman.  It’s sad that we’ve lost another addict, but sadder still that it’s not surprising. The fact is, fame, talent and genius don’t make us invincible, nor do those qualities place us in an elite, protective capsule. Addiction doesn’t care. It never has and it never will.

While addiction is a treatable disease, it will always remain one that requires willingness on the addicts’ part. Without that, we risk ending up with dust in our eyes. Truth be told, I’m deeply saddened by the loss of Amy; not so much because she was a gifted artist with a broad future ahead of her, but because she could have been any one of us. She could have been a loved one; she could have been you; she could have been me.

Categories
Addiction Smoking

Can Graphic Imagery Deter Smokers?

Who actually smokes anymore? I find myself saying this every time I see someone light up; especially after all we’ve learned. It’s not like there’s some beneficial properties to smoking chemically treated tobacco!

Anti-smoking laws have been on the rise for years. Truth is, being a smoker is expensive and isolating, not to mention bad for your health. Looks like the ultimate goal is to eliminate smoking in public places once and for all. It used to be that folks could smoke in restaurants or planes, negatively impacting the communal air space. Over time this has changed. As a former smoker, I remember feeling the heat when those first changes were initiated. I remember being resentful and feeling as though my rights were being violated.  My young, feisty attitude screamed, “I can do whatever I want!” and of course, I smoked anyway. I realize now that it wasn’t my “right” to harm those around me. That self-righteousness was really the selfishness of my addiction talking. True to addict form, all I could think about was my next cigarette.

Recently, the FDA released 9 graphic anti-smoking images that are required to be placed on the top half of cigarette packaging by the Fall of 2012. At the same time, Australia will begin enforcing a ban on brand labels on cigarette packaging in an effort to lesson the intrigue and coolness factor associated with smoking. Despite the usual grumblings from the tobacco industry, the FDA is holding firm. Sadly, the graphic images haven’t really impacted the way people are smoking, though. According to a new, German study, smokers that have been deprived of nicotine for short periods of time have a lower response to fear.  “In those who stop smoking, the activity of the fear center has been lowered so much that they are not very receptive to the scary photos,” said study researcher René Hurlemann, of the University of Bonn in Germany.  They came to this conclusion after scanning the brains of 28 smokers and 28 non-smokers using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)[1].  And researcher Özgür Onur of the University of Köln noted that smokers, particularly after a 12-hour abstinence, were “indifferent to fear.” Onur went on to say, “It seems that they (smokers) are mentally caught up in their addiction, resulting in a lowered receptivity for fear-inducing stimuli.” That’s a problem, particularly when fear is our body’s natural way of keeping us from doing something perilous. 

While the FDA’s imagery may be useful in deterring non-smokers from picking up in the first place, I hesitate to think that it will greatly change the way current smokers look at their legal drug of choice. The teens I come across certainly aren’t deterred. If anything, they are viewing the graphic images as a joke.

Beyond the current results of these scientific studies, the taste left in my mouth is really one of denial seasoned with a nicotine chaser.



[1] https://www.myhealthnewsdaily.com/smokers-brain-fear-center-graphic-cigarette-labels-1693/
Categories
Addiction

America’s #1 Health Problem

A new CASA (The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse) report on adolescent substance abuse hit the wires today. Their findings were disheartening, stating, “Adolescent substance abuse is America’s #1 health problem.” The report studied smoking, drinking, the misuse of prescription drugs, and illicit drugs. CASA also delved into the science of addiction itself, identifying it as a “complex brain disease with origins in adolescence,” and going on to document how “adolescence is the critical period for the initiation of substance use.” They not only looked at the drugs being used or the age of the user, but at American culture itself—for example, the way the media romanticizes the use of alcohol in its advertising.

Here are some highlights from their report:

  • 90 percent of Americans who meet the medical criteria for addiction started smoking, drinking, or using other drugs before age 18.
  • 1 in 4 Americans who began using any addictive substance before age 18 developed an addiction, compared to 1 in 25 Americans who started using at age 21 or older.
  • 75 percent of all high school students have used addictive substances including tobacco, alcohol, marijuana or cocaine; 1 in 5 of them meet the medical criteria for addiction.
  • 46 percent of all high school students currently use addictive substances; 1 in 3 of them meet the medical criteria for addiction

The ads we see plastered on enormous billboards on the busiest corners in Los Angeles are there to intrigue us. They aren’t just selling a beer, or some whiskey, they’re selling a lifestyle: one that’s full of handsome men and gorgeous women, all ready and willing to party at will. Life looks perfect in those ads, but we all know it is anything but perfect. It sure can seem alluring, though, particularly when we’re young, rebellious, and feeling the pressures of growing up and being “cool.” The intrigue is also directly fueled by the current generation’s perpetually perceived boredom, which stems from our culture of instant gratification. In our current climate, drugs and alcohol are culturally accepted: we have medical marijuana and a pill for every problem.

Our brains are vulnerable in adolescence and at the height of development. In fact, they aren’t fully developed until we’re around 25! As we spoke about in our recent post, once we begin indulging in the use of mind-altering substances, we are essentially performing science experiments on ourselves.

Susan Foster, senior investigator of the study, notes: “By recognizing this as a health problem and respondingto it, we can actually make the difference by improving the life prospects ofteens and saving costs in society.”  This brings us back to what I always say, get involved and start talking to your kids! Teens are under an inordinate amount of pressure: school, peers, hormones, et cetera. At some point, we have to start looking at how those we love are actually managing such an incredible stress load. I once heard a therapist say, “Little people, little problems; big people, big problems.” She was specifically talking about the value in addressing issues when they begin rather than waiting things explode. When we’re trying to preserve and heal family dynamics, it’s far less challenging to deal with an angry 8-year-old than a drug-addicted teen.

Related articles:

Study: Drug Addiction Among Teens On The Rise (newyork.cbslocal.com)

Addiction Starts Early in American Society, Report Finds(nlm.nih.gov)

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Addiction Alcoholism Recovery Spirituality

AA and Spirituality

The 12-step model is certainly reliable and is the standard go-to place for most people seeking recovery. It’s certainly the model we refer to first in the recovery world. However, there are times when we come across an alcoholic or addict who is deeply atheist and subsequently hits a wall when they get to Step 2: “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.” Can AA work for them too? Most people will say that it can. Some will leave things as-is, and some will need to make some minor language changes in order to match their beliefs about spirituality. Unfortunately, there are some folks devoted to retaining the exact language that makes up the steps, so much so they are unwilling to accept even a minor change.

As reported in The Fix, a Toronto group of atheists in recovery has just run into that very thing.  The group was listed in their local AA directory, they had a fairly large batch of regular attendees, and yet, some in the community still found their modifications of the steps to be a threat to AA as a whole. Apparently, the idea of a non-secular recovery group was too much and a controversy broke out. Los Angeles has its share of non-secular meetings, but to my knowledge, there hasn’t been newsworthy controversy thus far and the groups seem to be thriving.

Here’s the thing, the “only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking,” right? To me that means regardless of someone’s religious beliefs, gender or sexual orientation, they have a right to be there. When I got sober, I struggled a great deal with the God concept. Still, I was embraced by my fellow alcoholics and encouraged to find whatever worked for me. I managed to retain my viewpoint on the intangible nature of a power greater than myself whilst still developing a deep spiritual practice and strong foundation for my sobriety. The steps are viable tools for recovery for me even if I need to alter a few things. My sobriety hasn’t been negatively impacted as a result. So, why the resistance from some when it comes to change in AA? Isn’t our ultimate goal to achieve sobriety? Isn’t it a goal to untangle the addict mind and redirect it to a healthy, positive, less self-serving path? Aren’t we supposed to learn to reach out and be of service, giving back what has been so freely given to us? Why, then, would we want to close the doors on our fellow alcoholics?

With all the hubbub, I was interested in what literary changes sparked this controversy. The Fix printed two of them:

Step Two: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Adapted version: Came to accept and to understand that we needed strengths beyond our awareness and resources to restore us to sanity.

Step Three: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

Adapted version: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of the AA program.

Frankly, I don’t see anything wrong with this. Those working this version are still fundamentally going to get to the same place: they will be come to believe that they cannot do this alone; they will use the power of the group to help them recover.
Whether you’re closely tied to a Judeo-Christian belief system or have roots deeply planted on a non-theistic path, recovery IS possible. The 12-step model IS effective. If you need to work the steps with some literary alterations, do so, as long as you work them.

Related articles:

Fight over ‘God’ splits Toronto AA groups (thestar.com)

Categories
Addiction Synthetic Drugs

Spice: Your Synthetic Nightmare

Spice, K2, Cloud Nine, Potpourri: call it what you will, it’s all the same: a legal, synthetic, psychotropic drug lurking at the counters of your local liquor store.  Some use these drugs once and walk away, disillusioned by the multitude of negative effects. The addiction-prone continue, disregarding the negative nuances, anxious to get high.  Addiction is funny that way: the bad never seems bad enough to stop.

Recently, 20/20 did an exposé on bath salts, K2, and Spice, exposing the dangers and widespread concern amidst parents and law enforcement officials. Our medical director, Dr. David Lewis, addressed some of the risks related to these substances, telling 20/20: “If you take a developing brain and you put a tremendously psychoactive substance in the middle of that, that developing brain, what you really have is a chemistry experiment.” Dr. Lewis is all too familiar with the negative consequences manifesting in kids who have been using these drugs, and like parents, he also worries about the ease with which one can purchase K2 and Spice. Lewis says, “These people sell the drugs to our kids, no matter what the consequences are.” When 20/20 sent in hidden cameras with underage kids, the truth of this was caught on tape. The retailers are in it for the buck. Show them the money, and they’ll sell you the drugs, regardless of the 18-and-over age restriction.

Unfortunately, this rampant, devil-may-care attitude is substantiated by Dan Francis, the Executive Director of The Retail Compliance Association, who says, “a ban is dangerous” because it “sends it underground.” He even questions the government, saying,” What is wrong with euphoria and what gave them the right to regulate it?” Nothing is wrong with euphoria if it’s obtained through non-harming activities like completing a marathon, or a 2-hour Ashtanga yoga class. But that’s not what’s happening here—instead shops are selling a chemical recipe for disaster. We essentially have kids purchasing substances that have the capability of eliciting a desire to self-harm or increase the potentiality of suicidal ideation. It would be irresponsible if we ignored it.

Related articles:

Stores Fight Proposed Federal Ban on Spice, ‘Legal Marijuana’ (abcnews.go.com)

Synthetic pot can cause psychosis that can last for months, research shows (thenewstribune.com)

Teens Able to Purchase ‘Legal Pot,’ Despite Potentially Deadly Side Effects (abcnews.go.com)

Categories
Addiction Alcoholism Recovery Spirituality

I’m Powerless, Are You?

Image via Wikipedia

When I think of the phrase “I’m an alcoholic,” I often think of Popeye and the fervency behind his frequently uttered catchphrase: “I yam what I yam.”  When admitting to being an alcoholic, you’re taking the first step towards admission of powerlessness. It implies an understanding that in claiming that label, one is willing to look at the mind-body connection to their drinking and using. According to the 12 and 12, “Admission of powerlessness is the first step in liberation.” It is the way those of us in 12-step recovery begin to build the foundation on which our sobriety will steady itself; it is “the firm bedrock upon which happy and purposeful lives may be built.

I recently had an opportunity to do a workshop on addiction and pain with a Tibetan nun by the name of Chonyi Taylor. It proved to be a fascinating experience, particularly since there is a burgeoning movement to blend Buddhism with recovery. One of the things that really resonated with me during this workshop was the perspective she shared regarding addiction being a habit.  Chonyi said, “Addiction is a mental habit in which there is no conscious control, which gives short-term pleasure and long-term harm.” Being able to look at my own addiction patterns as habits, and discovering that I can systematically break them by admitting powerlessness and renunciation, is incredibly helpful. Because, frankly, as addicts and alcoholics, we have terrible tendency toward getting stuck, reacting and responding to our triggers the same way over and over again. In essence, we have developed habits. We repeatedly meet negative experiences with the desire to get drunk or high. When we get sober, sometimes the habit of seeking numbing pleasure continues, often presenting as promiscuity, gambling, eating irresponsibly, et cetera. By admitting we’re powerless and that our lives are unmanageable, we are given our first opportunity to free ourselves from our negative, addictive, habitual behaviors.

No matter how you look at it, the message is this: we are required to admit powerlessness, renounce negative behavior(s), write moral inventories, and develop a spiritual path paved with honesty and service work. I’d rather have the opportunity deconstruct bad habits so I can build new, healthy ones, wouldn’t you?

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
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)