Drug Abuse

The Last All-Nighter

From the New York Times blogs:

The first time I took Adderall I didn’t think twice. It was 2007. I was in my last year at U.C.L.A., where I had come down with a bad case of senioritis, and found myself cramming for finals. I bought it from a gangly kid with yellow skin and bags under his eyes who lived in the dorms. His hair was stringy. There were papers on the floor and piles of clothes on all the furniture in the room. Above his desk was a poster of John Belushi from “Animal House,” chugging a bottle of Jack Daniels and wearing a sweatshirt that read COLLEGE….

Read more: The Last All-Nighter

Parent, Sibling Military Deployment Raises Drug Abuse Risk in Teens

Study results showed that youth whose parents or siblings were deployed were at 14 percent higher risk of abusing drugs than other people. Researchers found that military deployment of parents or siblings increased both recent and lifetime use of drugs, but not smoking.

Read more at 


The Year in Synthetic Drugs — Spice and Bath Salts

We've heard a lot about the dangers of “Spice” and “Bath Salts” over the past year.  2012 was the Year of the Synthetics, and much ado was made about them.  Just how bad are they, really?  Will they make you eat people's faces?  (No)  Are they safe?  (Maybe, sometimes)  Are they a good idea (Not really).  Here's an article that every addict and recreational drug user needs to read, free of the media hype, and containing balanced information.

To begin with, bath salts—just like Spice and other cannabis spinoffs—are no longer legal. And many of the drugs found in bath salts appear to be addictive. Some carry known health hazards. And, although it was the desire to finesse drug testing that gave a major push to this new class of recreational chemicals, major bath salt ingredients can now be detected in routine urinalysis.

Read more at The Fix

Substance Abuse Treatment Cost Benefits — The Best Health Deal Around

In these last weeks leading up to the presidential election, health care and surrounding issues will be on everyone's mind. It is an ideal time to revisit the issue of substance abuse treatment cost benefits.

Roughly 9 to 10% of the population meet the definition “substance dependent.” These numbers represent between 31.5 to 35 million people. In any given year, roughly 16% of Americans who are classified as substance dependent or abusers actually get treatment.

Nationwide, between 8.3 and 8.5% of adults suffer from serious mental illness, and substance abuse itself can lead to psychological disorders. Adults who use illicit drugs or alcohol are more than twice as likely to have serious mental illness than non-users. Many victims find that using drugs blunts the effects of their other disorders, and/or makes them more manageable. When those things are combined with the addictive qualities of the drugs, the combination can lead to situations ranging from homelessness to psychotic breaks and violence.

There is no denying that substance addiction is chronic (it does not improve on its own), progressive (always getting worse, never better, over time), and relapsing (users tend to return to alcohol and drugs after abstinence unless their recovery is well-supported).

Untreated addicts devastate families, communities and themselves. The cost to society in dollars includes rising health costs over and above those of our inefficient healthcare system, reduced productivity of workers, absenteeism, theft, destruction of property, higher law enforcement costs, costs related to traffic crashes, and the expense of incarcerating people who could be given preventive treatment at far less overall expense. Intoxication impacts the health of users and the people around them, and often facilitates transmission of infectious diseases such as hepatitis and HIV.

According to government studies, prevention efforts are often successful in lowering rates of substance abuse in some parts of the population — generally the more educated portions — but it remains a pervasive problem among other segments. It has also been shown that treatment is a highly cost-effective way to break the cycle, using programs that combine assessment, matching of treatment to the patient, comprehensive services adapted to the individuals (including social services when needed) and programs of relapse prevention and accountability.

Treatment does work, but it is not a universal answer. Some cases, especially those combined with mental disorders, involve chronic relapsers with whom intervention seems to work less well. It is likely that if detoxification, treatment and follow-up programs are made a priority, along with research into the best procedures, medications and neurobiology associated with addiction, these percentages will improve. Even so, detox and treatment are effective in enough cases to make the pursuit of universal availability a priority, strictly on a monetary and societal basis.

The last comprehensive study of the economic costs of alcohol and other drug abuse in the US, completed in 1999, showed the annual cost of substance abuse to be $510.8 billion.  That amounts to roughly $799 billion annually in 2012 dollars — far more than the cost of effective treatment for every abuser of alcohol and other drugs in the entire country.

Substance abuse treatment cost benefits are the best health care deal around, and for every year an addict stays clean, the benefits increase.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Center for Substance Abuse Prevention

“Substance Abuse Prevention Dollars and
Cents: A Cost-Benefit Analysis”

Addiction and Alcoholism Strike Across All Boundaries

According to an article I read recently, 56% of people in Scotland think that you can tell someone is an alcoholic or drug addict simply by looking at them.  It doesn't surprise me a bit.  One of the most difficult things to get across to folks — including alcoholics and other addicts — is the amazingly widespread nature of this disease of ours.  My own case in point: a month before I was forced into treatment by my employer, I was a prominent member of the community where I worked.  No one would ever have guessed that the guy they'd known for 13 years (third in command of their police department) was a raging drunk and seriously addicted to prescription drugs.

I was in treatment with three dozen or so other people, ranging from admitted prostitutes to a nurse with a graduate degree, to a superior court judge.  There is no way to tell an addict or alcoholic from any other guy on the street, until the disease is way, way advanced.  In retrospect, I know that I drank alcoholically for at least 20 years, and yet it was only a few months before I got sober that I had any idea of my “problem.”  My family suspected — some of them.  Others had trouble believing me when I told them myself, and yet my behavior was certainly out of character (and downright irresponsible) for years prior.

Alcoholism and addiction strike across all boundaries.  We all remember the problems of Rush Limbaugh, Britney Spears and the current crop of celebrities, because the media hounded them unmercifully. We don't know about the problems of the FPL supervisors, the dentists, the successful attorneys, the school teachers, Navy SEALs, politicians and many other professions, all of whom I've met in and around the 12-step groups over the years.  We don't know about most of the others, either, until they're so far gone in their disease that it's impossible not to notice.

Addiction is the invisible disease.  It worms its way in and destroys personalities, families, minds and bodies so successfully and so subtly that even when we notice odd things we think, “Oh, not that, why she's a____.”  So keep that in mind, and if a loved one or friend seems to be changing,  be alert for signs and symptoms similar to these.  Keep in mind that there may be reasonable explanations for single instances, but repeated incidents or clusters of symptoms may indicate problems.

  • Extreme mood changes: happy, sad, excited, anxious, etc.
  • Changes in sleep patterns: time spent sleeping, times of day or night, insomnia
  • Changes in energy – unpredictably tired or energetic
  • Inattention to personal hygiene
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Unusual behavior at certain times, and normal at other times
  • Pupils of the eyes smaller or larger than usual; eyes watery or bloodshot
  • Secretiveness
  • Defensiveness
  • Lying, especially about whereabouts, amount of alcohol consumed, other addiction-related matters
  • Stealing, or missing valuables that may have been sold or pawned
  • Financial unpredictability: ready cash sometimes, broke at others
  • Changes in social groups, new and unusual friends, odd cell-phone conversations
  • No longer interested in former pursuits; misses family occasions and duties
  • Repeated unexplained absences, or sudden trips “to the store” or other excuses for leaving home or work
  • Absences from appointments or frequent tardiness
  • Drug paraphernalia such as unusual pipes, cigarette papers, small weighing scales, etc.
  • “Stashes” of drugs, often in small plastic, paper or foil packages
  • Unusual insistence on privacy
  • Alcohol found in unusual places, laundry baskets, back of closet, etc.

Addicts, Alcoholics and Holiday Parties: What’s A Hostess To Do?

Folks in the addiction and alcoholism treatment fields are often asked about how a host should handle holiday parties attended by recovering friends.  Social occasions that involve people in recovery, especially those in early recovery, can pose some perplexing problems for a host.

On one hand, a host who is aware of a guest’s need to avoid mood-altering substances may wish to do what is possible to keep from exposing them to temptation.  On the other hand, social drinking is a part of everyday American culture. Most social gatherings involve some drinking by some of the guests, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately, for some of us, it might not be the healthiest of environments, and a host may be at a loss as to how she ought to deal with guests who are in recovery. Here are some pointers on how to handle this delicate situation while, at the same time, being fair to all.

There are some simple things to remember. [Read more…]

Can Recovering Addicts and Alcoholics Attend Holiday Parties Safely?

Alcoholics and drug addicts in early recovery seem generally to take one of two attitudes toward holiday gatherings: either they are afraid to go, or they feel they need to challenge themselves in some way.

Obviously, people in early recovery are more vulnerable than folks who have been clean and sober for several years. Newcomers have not yet replaced their old habits — developed over years of using — with newer, healthier reflexes. There is a real possibility that being in a drinking (and perhaps drugging) environment could massively trigger a desire to use. This is also possible when we are further along in recovery, but by then most people have learned to deal better with situations that might be triggers.

Nonetheless, there is no reason that we can't attend holiday parties with relative safety, so long as we follow some simple guidelines.

  • Take a sober friend with you. — This is by far the most important rule. There are excellent reasons: you are less likely to become enmeshed (especially at family gatherings) if you have someone with you who knows where you're coming from; and also the two of you can have fun watching the partiers become progressively more loaded and silly.
  • Be sure you have your own transportation, or enough money for a cab. — The unpleasant truth is, you can't depend on anyone but yourself to get you out of a tight spot, not even your sober friend. He or she is vulnerable, too, and if they get involved with the party, they may not want to leave. You have to be sure that you can leave on your own — and don't hang around trying to help your buddy. You won't be any help later if you relapse too.

At the party:

  • Never accept a drink from anyone else. Order your own coke, or soda and lime, and watch the bartender to make sure that's all you get.
  • Never set your drink down. You might pick up someone else's by mistake, or someone might decide to “freshen” it for you in all innocence — or not.
  • Always have a non-alcoholic drink in your hand. It keeps you from having to explain why you're not drinking, and keeps people from offering to get you another. Just say, “No thanks, I'm OK for now.”
  • Nibble throughout the party. It keeps your hands busy and your blood sugar up, which helps you resist the idea of using.
  • If you walk into the restroom and someone has lines on the counter, or you see mysterious powder residue, leave. Don't check it to see what it is.
  • Arrive late and leave early. Minimize your exposure by limiting your time in the situation. You may have certain obligations about attending, but being the first in the door and the last to leave increases the likelihood that you will become comfortable with the old, familiar party atmosphere. That way lies nothing but trouble.
  • If you feel uncomfortable, leave immediately. Don't make a pass around the room saying goodbye — just leave. You can explain later that you “weren't feeling well” and had to get home. That's true, and you don't have to explain farther. You suited up, showed up, and that's all that is required.

With these precautions in mind, there is no reason that you can't attend a holiday party. Just make darned sure you follow ALL of them, especially the part about taking a sober friend.

Happy Holidays!