What is Sugar Alcohol?

December 22, 2016 by  
Filed under Health


Sugar alcohol is so-called because chemically, it’s a cross between sugar and alcohol. Other than that, there’s little to link it to either substance. It doesn’t cause quick blood sugar spikes and it doesn’t make you drunk. It has not been linked to cancer, liver deterioration or any other life-threatening disease. It’s considered a safe and non-toxic sugar substitute in many processed foods, including diet and diabetic foods.

Sugar Alcohol Defined

Sugar alcohol is granular and white like sugar and is used as a sugar alternative in “sugar free” or low sugar edibles such as chewing gum, jam, sweets, baked goods, soft drinks and protein bars. It’s also found in mouthwash, toothpaste and medicinal products such as cough medicine. Legally, it has to be contained on the labels of these products as a carbohydrate or sugar alcohol. The most common sugar alcohols are: Erythritol, Lactitol, Maltitol, Sorbitol, Mannitol, Isomalt and Xylitol. They are generally extracted from corn starch, sugar or plants.

Sweetness Level and Calories

The sugar alcohols vary in sweetness level and calorie content. Their sweetness levels range from 50 percent to 100 percent that of sugar. Sorbitol and also Mannitol has a sweetness level that is 50 percent that of sugar, Sorbitol 60 percent, Erythritol around 75 percent, and Maltitol and Xylitol, are on a par with regular sugar. Despite this, sugar alcohols have much less the caloric content of regular sugar. Erythritol, for example, has 0.2 calories per gram, Xylitol 2.4, and Sorbitol, 2.6 calories per gram. Regular sugar has 4 calories per gram.

Advantages of Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols (with the exception of Erythritol) are not fully absorbed by the body with the result that they transform into glucose much more slowly leaving blood sugar and insulin levels largely unaffected. Absorption levels vary. For instance Xylitol has a 50 percent absorption level while Sorbitol has an 80 percent absorption level. But Erythritol, because it’s almost totally absorbed but not digested, has a caloric content of almost zero.

Sugar alcohols are prevalent in foods for diabetics because diabetics need to ensure that their blood sugar levels remain normal. They’re also found in many diet foods because they don’t interfere much with the fat burning process and have far fewer calories than sugar. On the other hand, the body absorbs sugar quickly. When you eat something with plenty of sugar, the body uses lots of insulin to convert it to energy and get it into the cells. This leads to yoyo blood sugar levels and fat accumulation.

Another plus is that sugar alcohols such as Xylitol don’t contribute to tooth decay as sugar does; that’s why they are popular in chewing gum and some candies. Xylitol is also believed to be able to limit middle ear infections in children.

Disadvantages of Sugar Alcohols

The parts of the sugar alcohol not fully absorbed in the blood stream may ferment in the intestines if you over eat them, resulting in gas, diarrhea, stomach cramping, bloating and other gastrointestinal problems. You may experience this feeling, for instance, if you chew piece after piece of sugar free chewing gum all day long. Some diabetics have reported experiencing a surge in their blood sugar levels after overeating the alcohols. Others have reported abdominal complications from eating only small amounts at a time. It’s because of these complications that manufacturers of gum, mints and other “sugar free” products that people may binge on are required by law to state on their labels that overconsumption may have laxative consequences. Binging may also lead to weight gain because it may obstruct the absorption of the fat of other foods. However, Erythritol, as it is totally absorbed, doesn’t cause laxative and other negative consequences and neither does it spike blood sugar and insulin levels. Consequently, the use of Erythritol is on the rise.

Implications for Alcohol Recovery

Recovering alcoholics who may not have had a taste for sweet foods before going sober, may suddenly find themselves with a sugar addiction. So in times of stress or loneliness, they might reach out repeatedly for cake, a box of chocolates, or a king-size soda, much as they did with alcohol before sobriety. They may even turn to sugar alcohol as a healthy alternative.

But recovering alcoholics can do without processed sugar alternatives. They need healthier long term solutions to their cravings. With time, they can adjust to getting their sugar from fruit especially those low in sugar such as apples, pears, grapefruit, strawberries and other berry alternatives. An all-round healthy diet rich in protein and fiber such as veggies, lean meats, grains and nuts, will help keep blood sugar levels and sugar cravings in check because they are slow to digest.

Benhilda Chanetsa has a BA Honors degree in History and Sociology and a teaching diploma, both from the University of London. She was a high school teacher for 11 years, and chief subeditor at a weekly newspaper for four years. She’s been a freelance lifestyle writer for the past 10 years and has two nonfiction e-books published on Amazon. The books are on overcoming negative thinking and surviving abusive relationships.

The Dangers of Bath Salts

December 8, 2016 by  
Filed under Health, People and Culture


In 2011, the mainstream media picked up on a chilling story of cannibalism in Miami, where a certain “new drug” was said to have played a pivotal role in the egregious assault. Although it was later determined that this “new drug” was not to blame for the incident, the cat had already been let of the bag and thousands of curious drugs users learned about a new species of chemical substances, referred too as “bath salts.”

The drug classification of “bath salts” does not pertain to one specific substance. Instead the term is used to categorize a slew of substances all containing one or more manmade chemicals that act similar to cathinone. Cathinone is naturally found in the khat plant, and when ingested it acts as amphetamine-like substance, similar to methamphetamine and MDMA.

Bath salts should not be confused with Epsom salts, which are made for the sole purpose of creating a more relaxing bath. Epsom salts do not carry the same psychoactive properties that are found in bath salts, due to the missing ingredient of cathinone. These relatively new drugs are labeled by distributors as “bath salts” for their similar appearance and also as a way to stay under the federal radar.

Federal Regulation

The original problem and overall foothold that bath salts were able to achieve was skating by under the guise of a “legal high.” In a sense they can be liked to Dust-Off or Freon, drugs that could be legally purchased and used for ulterior purposes. It wasn’t until 2011 that the Drug Enforcement Agency placed an emergency ban on three of the chemicals commonly used in bath salts: methylenedioxypyrovalerone, mephedrone and methylone. After a year of further research, a permanent ban was placed on two of the manmade cathinones as well as other manmade chemicals used for synthetic-marijuana.

“Legal highs” are always one of the most dangerous forms of substance abuse because the purpose of the substance is usually not intended for human consumption. The screening processes for products intended for human consumption differ greatly from the tests done on inedible items. This can easily lead to the user being poisoned, since a wider assortment of chemicals are allowed to be used.

Drug Description

Generally speaking bath salts come in small packages with contents that resemble white or brownish crystals. The substances can be swallowed, snorted, inhaled or injected with a needle. In most cases, the worst drug reactions have been seen in users who have snorted or injected the substance.

Harmful Effects

In 2011, there were 23,000 reported emergency room visits stemming from bath salt usage. Most users reported having severe chest pains related to high blood pressure and other symptoms such as paranoia and hallucinations. Researchers have also classified some users as being in a state of “excited delirium,” which lead to dehydration, break down in muscle tissue and kidney failure. In severe cases, users have died from ingesting a great enough amount or a bad mixture of the manmade cathinone substances.

As far as the specific effects that each user feels while under the influence of the substance, each case is different due to the different cathinones found inside. Largely the effects of the drug can be likened to methamphetamines in the way that users can feel immense outbursts of joy, social interaction and sex drive. However, as is true with methamphetamines, the drug also produces effects such as paranoia, hallucinations, agitation and sometimes violent acts. MDVP alone acts in the same way as cocaine, raising dopamine levels in the brain, except that researchers have estimated that it is 10 times more potent. The hallucinogenic symptoms of the drug can be compared with the visuals of LSD or MDMA.

Although the Federal ban on bath salt related chemicals has been largely effective at cutting down the amount of emergency room visits, the takeaway message should be that “legal highs” are a dangerous game to play with. Most of these new substances are unregulated and with little to no trust in the distributors who purposely mislabel the packaging, there is no way to be able to tell what harmful chemicals make up the substance. In a sense it is blindfolding yourself and ingesting whatever substance is put into your mouth.

While using harmful substances should never be encouraged, it must be noted that there are safer ways of getting “a buzz” then purchasing deviant substances online.

Uncovering the Secrets Behind Palcohol

December 1, 2016 by  
Filed under Health


You might think you’ve seen it all when it comes to the varieties of alcohol, but a new product may be hitting the shelves in the near future that has some people concerned: Palcohol.

Palcohol is a powdered alcohol that will make it very convenient for drinkers to have alcohol handy no matter where they are. Don’t want to carry a six pack in your backpack while hiking? No problem. Simply take some Palcohol packets and add them to your water. As a matter of fact, Mark Phillips, developer of the product, states that he created the product mainly to make it easier to enjoy some alcohol while camping, fishing, hiking, or enjoying other activities where you don’t want to lug heavy bottles or cans around.

Palcohol is set to be released sometime in the fall, as it is awaiting label approval by The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Parents of teenagers are not thrilled to hear of the product, fearing that their adolescents will jump at the opportunity to get their hands on the new product. In fact, many fear that they will be smuggling it into schools because it will be so easy to get in via purses and backpacks.

The Varieties

Thus far, Palcohol will come in a few varieties such as vodka, rum, and four different cocktails: the Cosmopolitan, Powderita, Mojito, and Lemon Drop. Drinkers will be thrilled with the product, but others are outraged. Health and substance abuse professionals are concerned that the product will be yet another bad influence on society and especially those that struggle with alcoholism. Parents are concerned that their teens will be able to easily get the powdered alcohol at school and on the streets. They are also concerned that their teens will pour the substance into their food in order to catch a buzz or get drunk. Their worries are legit.

Alcohol addiction

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence states that alcohol is the most abused substance in America, with over 17 million men, women, and teens dependent upon the drug. This being said, the majority of the health community does not believe that America needs another form of alcohol to hit the shelves. In fact, most believe that the only thing that is needed is more preventative care and outreach for those who are caught in the grips of alcoholism.

Palcohol snorting?

Not only are some alarmed at the powdered product hitting the shelves, but others are concerned that users will snort the drug in order to try to get an immediate effect from the alcohol. Regarding Palcohol snorting, the official Palcohol website has this to say:

“Let’s talk about the elephant in the room….snorting Palcohol. Yes, you can snort it. And you’ll get drunk almost instantly because the alcohol will be absorbed so quickly in your nose. Good idea? No. It will mess you up. Use Palcohol responsibly.”

This comment has since been removed as many people complained about the way they handled the concern. Essentially, it gave those who didn’t think they could snort Palcohol the idea that they certainly could. After some consideration, Palcohol developers mentioned that they would consider making the formula in such a way that it would cause a great deal of pain to snort it, making it less attractive.

Palcohol is not yet for sale in the United States, but founder Mark Phillips believes that it will go on the shelves sometime in late fall 2014. We can only hope that if it does, users will use the product responsibly just as they would any type of alcohol.

Dominica Applegate has a BS in Psychology, an MA in Counseling and has worked in the mental health field for 12 years before launching her own business as a writer. Specializing in addictions, relationships, codependency, fitness and health, Dominica’s work is ultimately about helping people remove blocks that keep them stuck, because everyone can really create a life that they love.

Increasing Use of ADHD Medication on College Campuses

November 17, 2016 by  
Filed under Health, People and Culture


Group of people silhouettes

The pressure to get good grades in college often leads college students to take excessive steps or to find shortcuts to success. There had been several studies performed on different college campuses that suggest that the misuse of stimulant drugs, especially drugs like Ritalin and Adderall, is becoming more common by college students looking to get an edge. Ritalin and Adderall are Schedule II controlled substances which places them in the same legal category as methamphetamine, cocaine, etc. Moreover, these drugs are designed specifically for the treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. A recent study has indicated that the practice of using these stimulant medications by college students is increasing at an alarming rate [1].

The researchers of the study used a statistical technique known as meta-analysis which allows researchers to pool together the results from many different studies. The researchers looked at 30 different studies that met fairly stringent criteria to determine the rates of use of these stimulant medications for ADHD on college campuses. The results of the studies indicated that about 17% of college students misuse stimulant medication for ADHD by either taking the medication without a prescription or taking a much larger amount than prescribed. Students who are able to get the medication without a prescription often purchase it from individuals who have a prescription for the medication or from other sources that sell it at increased prices. The primary reason given by students for taking the medication was to improve academic performance; however, there actually is no empirical evidence that taking stimulant medications improves memory or learning ability. What the stimulant medications do is allow students to stay awake longer and to cram or study longer. The medication does not increase their ability to learn material.

Other Complications from Stimulant Abuse

The researchers found that there were several variables that identified stimulant medication misusers from nonusers. These included having issues with alcohol use disorder and marijuana use disorder, belonging to a fraternity or sorority, poorer than average academic performance, and a past history of substance abuse. There are many adverse health effects that can result from misuse of these drugs such as serious cardiovascular complications (e.g. heart attack or stroke), the development of paranoia or extreme hostility, and of course an increased risk for addiction. In addition, a recent study also found that even casual users of stimulant medications designed to treat ADHD demonstrate significant changes in their brain function compared to nonusers [2]. Moreover, because these medications are actually classified as Schedule II drugs individuals who do not have a prescription for them and are caught with them risk some serious legal problems.

Alternatives to Using Stimulant Medication

Interestingly, there is no evidence to suggest that the use of these medications improves academic performance. As mentioned above students that use this medication often use it during finals when they feel the need to study around the clock. There are a few simple principles of learning and memory that would be much more effective:

(A). There is plenty of research that indicates that studying material bit by bit or for short periods of time at a consistent level is much more efficient than cramming or what learning researchers call “mass practice” [3]. Instead of waiting until the night before test or a final to study volumes of material students would be much more efficient in learning by reviewing and studying specific material for an hour or so a day on a consistent schedule.

(B). For reasons this writer could never understand many students study in areas with lots of distractions such as radios playing music, TVs on, other people talking, at sporting events, etc. This practice is highly inefficient. Learning academic material and reading textbooks becomes much more efficient when done in areas that are distraction free.

(C). Students should only take what they absolutely need with them when they are studying. Typically this is means textbooks, notes, and other class materials or study materials such as flashcards. Taking a computer, leaving your cell phone on, etc. only produce more distractions.

(D). Writing and rewriting notes is an efficient way to help learn. Using outlines, flashcards, etc. helps to organize material. Instead of highlighting text in the textbook is more efficient to rewrite it and summarize it then use the summary notes as flashcards or memorization aids.

(E). It is extremely important to make a schedule that you can stick to and then stick to that schedule. Again, regular practice at regular intervals always is more efficient than cramming or mass practice. It is important to set goals for each study session and keep tabs on where you are in relation to what it is you need to know for the upcoming exam. It is also extremely important to understand the expectations for each class and chart your progress towards these.

(F). It is also extremely important to allow schedule breaks during studying. However, during the break it would be counterproductive to engage in an activity that will affect your studying goals in a negative manner such as going out a getting a beer or other activities that lead to distraction from the goal of learning.

(G). Some people work better in groups and some people work better alone. It is important to know where you stand on this issue. If you study with a group it is also important to study with a group that is focused in learning the material as opposed to socializing and engaging in activities that will distract you from your goal of learning the material.



[1] Benson, K., Flory, K., Humphreys, K. L., & Lee, S. S. (2015). Misuse of Stimulant Medication Among College Students: A Comprehensive Review and Meta-analysis. Clinical child and family psychology review, 18(1), 1-27.

[2] Harlé, K. M., Shenoy, P., Stewart, J. L., Tapert, S. F., Angela, J. Y., & Paulus, M. P. (2014). Altered neural processing of the need to stop in young adults at risk for stimulant dependence. The Journal of Neuroscience, 34(13), 4567-4580

[3] Hatfield, R. C. (2013). The everything guide to the human brain. Avon, MA: Adams.

Dr. Hatfield is a clinical neuropsychologist with extensive experience assessing and treating neurological and psychiatric disorders. His areas of expertise include neurobiology, behavior, dementia, head injury, addiction, abnormal psychology, personality disorders, statistics, rehabilitation psychology and research methodology.

People Who Drink Heavily May Have Lower I.Q.

October 13, 2016 by  
Filed under Health


There has been quite a bit of research that has attempted to link people’s drinking habits with their intelligence. For the most part, the research has been inconclusive such that there is no clear, consistent, relationship found between a level of the person’s intelligence and their drinking habits. Research performed in Sweden looked at the drinking habits of over 49,000 men who had been in the Swedish military from 1969 to 1971. These subjects at all had brief IQ tests and had provided information on their alcohol usage, tobacco usage, psychiatric symptoms, their upbringing, and any medical conditions [1]. The researchers were interested in finding if there was an association between intelligence and total alcohol intake in adolescence, intelligence and patterns of drinking in adolescents, and if so does this association persist into adulthood.

The overall findings indicated that lower scores on the IQ tests were associated with a higher consumption of alcohol and risky drinking behaviors such as binge drinking. Moreover, lower social economic status, history of emotional problems, and issues with upbringing were also associated with more risky alcohol consumption. This story was picked up by many of the major news providers. Cruising many of the Internet science reporting sites one can see headlines based on the study that appeared to indicate that heavy drinkers are less intelligent than light or nondrinkers, that drinking alcohol makes you less intelligent, etc. One must remember that these headlines are designed to draw traffic to the sites and are not designed to be objective, accurate, and realistic. The type of research applied in this study is useful in understanding general principles as well as trends/associations in data sets, but it also has a number of inherent problems that limit the types of generalizations that can be made. A few of these issues are discussed next.

Correlational Research

First, this study is a type of study that is known as correlational research, which is the most common form of research done in social sciences. Correlational research basically looks at how things are associated with one another. This type of research is unable to make any type of cause and effect inference based on the associations found in the research (the old “correlation does not equal causation” saying that you’ve heard many times in school). In fact, it would be unethical and impossible to perform a true experiment on people that could determine if drinking alcohol causes them to score more poorly on IQ tests (see [2] and [3] for a discussion on this). So any research study performed on people that looks at intelligence and alcohol usage cannot make the claim that drinking alcohol makes a person less intelligent. In the case of specific deficits associated with long-term chronic alcohol usage there are some studies indicate that chronic heavy alcohol usage over a period of years is associated with specific cognitive deficits; however, in normal populations studies such as this one the researchers are able to make a “drinking more alcohol causes you to be less intelligent” claim.

Second, the types of intelligence tests used in this study are not the standardized intelligence tests that would be used in a clinical study or to provide a clinically useful IQ score. Moreover, the method of data reporting and the measures of drinking behaviors use of this study are not reliable and valid and would be problematic if used in a more controlled study.

Third, there is a complex relationship between social economic status, health – related behaviors, and how groups of individuals perform on various cognitive tests. The researchers themselves note that there are a number of different explanations that could explain their findings including heavier drinkers having more emotional and social issues, heavier drinkers often belong to more socially/economically disadvantaged groups, and people who score low on IQ test are just less health-conscious than people who tend to score higher on IQ – type tests.

The researchers state quite unequivocally that for most of us our level of intelligence is actually fairly well established before they begin to drink and that it is a person’s level of intelligence that probably moderates their health-related habits including such things as drinking and smoking. As stated above it is well-established that people who score higher on IQ tests or intelligence tests are as a group more health-conscious than people that score lower on these tests. So, despite the claims of many of the news services that covered this particular study, the study did not produce evidence that drinking “causes” people to be less intelligent, but instead reaffirms older notions that social background, emotional distress, and intelligence interact with people’s behavior such as their alcohol usage.

One last thing to keep in mind about correlational research and research studies in general is that correlational research describes general associations and general trends among groups of people. These trends and relationships are never reported to be prefect relationships in the data. One can find obvious exemptions to the associations described in these types of studies, even in the data from which the research findings are drawn. So, even though this study found a general association between a lower score on an IQ test and higher alcohol consumption or more risky drinking habits, there were also small numbers of subjects in this study that demonstrated the opposite type of association (higher IQ scores and heavy drinking habits) as well as subjects in the study who demonstrated no such association. The overall finding and results are based on the overall trend in the data. We can all search our own experience and find exceptions to the findings; however, if we consider large groups of people instead of single cases these types of trends will be more evident.


[1] Sjölund, S., Hemmingsson, T., & Allebeck, P. (2015). IQ and Level of Alcohol Consumption—Findings from a National Survey of Swedish Conscripts. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 39(3), 548-555.

[2] Hatfield, R. C. (2013). The everything guide to the human brain. Avon, MA: Adams.

[3] Hatfield, R. C. (2014). The everything guide to coping with panic disorder. Avon, MA: Adams.

Dr. Hatfield is a clinical neuropsychologist with extensive experience assessing and treating neurological and psychiatric disorders. His areas of expertise include neurobiology, behavior, dementia, head injury, addiction, abnormal psychology, personality disorders, statistics, rehabilitation psychology and research methodology.

What You Need to Know About Flakka

September 15, 2016 by  
Filed under Health


Alpha-PVP or flakka, as it is known by its street name, is a chemical relative to MDPV or “bath salts,” which has been illegal in the United States since 2011. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration has put a temporary ban on flakka since 2014 and it is believed that this ban will become permanent [1]. However, flakka is so potent and is extremely inexpensive (as low as five dollars per dose) that its use has grown in certain parts of the country. Recent research using established animal models of addiction have been performed to determine the addiction potential of flakka.

These animal models typically use rodents who are trained to press a lever to intravenously infuse small doses of the drug. Initially, a small number of lever presses are required for the rodent to get the drug and then the number of lever presses to receive another dose is gradually increased [2]. The research found that this particular drug was so addictive that the animals would press the lever hundreds of times to receive a single dose of this drug. Its addiction potential was almost identical to MDPV [1], another highly addictive drug recently banned by the DEA.

In addition, flakka administration boosted the physical activity of the rodents and drastically disrupted their body temperature, which are classic physical signs of stimulant use. The research indicates that flakka is one of the worst ever drugs on the market in terms of its physical addiction potential and rodents in laboratory conditions demonstrated much higher drug-seeking lever pressing to obtain flakka in rodents than other addiction trials did for crystal meth [1].

Like most abused stimulant drugs, individuals who initially use the drug and binge on it are at a much higher risk to develop addiction than do individuals who initially use the drug and are able to use just occasionally. However, as these designer drugs increase in their potency, it’s believed that their addiction potential also increases [1]. For instance, rodents in the laboratory trials that did not gradually increase their intake of the drug instead binged on as much as they could get during the initial sessions and demonstrated higher levels of addictive behavior (the tendency to press the lever for longer periods of time in order to get a single dose) than rodents that increase their usage gradually [1].

The issue with drugs like bath salts and flakka is that these drugs are not made in garages any longer but instead come from sophisticated chemistry labs that produce a particular drug and several different analogues of the drug. Once one particular drug gets banned, the manufacturers are able to release another one that is slightly chemically different, but just as potentially dangerous. Recent actions of individuals taking flakka and having hallucinations indicate that the drug is not only dangerous for the user, but potentially dangerous for individuals that interact with heavy users of the drug [3].


[1] Aarde, S. M., Creehan, K. M., Vandewater, S. A., Dickerson, T. J., & Taffe, M. A. (2015). In vivo potency and efficacy of the novel cathinone α-pyrrolidinopentiophenone and 3, 4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone: self-administration and locomotor stimulation in male rats. Psychopharmacology, 1-11.

[2] Hatfield, R. C. (2013). The everything guide to the human brain. Avon, MA: Adams.

[3]. Palm Beach County’s newest drug flakka being called “one of the worst roads ever.” http://palmbeachhealthbeat.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2015/05/18/palm-beach-countys-newest-drug-flakka-being-called-one-of-the-worst-drugs-ever/

 Dr. Hatfield is a clinical neuropsychologist with extensive experience assessing and treating neurological and psychiatric disorders. His areas of expertise include neurobiology, behavior, dementia, head injury, addiction, abnormal psychology, personality disorders, statistics, rehabilitation psychology and research methodology.

Can Your Brain Size Indicate Risk for Addiction?

September 7, 2016 by  
Filed under Health


77490Researchers are continuously on the search for biomarkers that can identify a potential risk to develop a particular type of mental illness or mental disorder.

A biomarker is a physical or biological difference in a particular group that identifies them from other groups [1]. For example, researchers have identified specific biomarkers that can indicate an increased vulnerability of certain women to develop breast cancer.

A biomarker does not necessarily indicate that the person will develop a particular disorder, just that the person is at a higher risk to develop the disorder in question. Biomarkers are extremely hard to identify for psychiatric problems such as depression, bipolar disorder, addictions, and very few have been identified even though there is quite a bit of research that attempt to locate them [1].

However, if reliable biomarkers could be identified for disorders such as addiction these would be extremely useful in identifying people who are more vulnerable to developing a specific type of addiction and then implementing early forms of intervention. A recent study investigated the potential for specific brain biomarkers to identify an increased likelihood of addiction to stimulants [2].

Using Brain Scans to Predict Addiction Vulnerability

The researchers looked at two samples of occasional users of amphetamine-type stimulants to determine if any particular differences in the brain volume of the individuals would be associated with the transition from occasional use to more chronic, addictive-type usage. The participants in the study underwent structural brain imaging and then were monitored after 12 and 24 months to assess their level of drug use. The researchers found that individuals who went from occasional use to more chronic addictive type use displayed smaller volumes in the brain areas associated with decision-making at the beginning of the study, particularly in the areas of the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala [2]. These areas of the brain are involved in such things as decision-making, the ability to control one’s actions, monitoring fear or anxiety, and memory [1].

The researchers hypothesized that the findings suggest that smaller brain volumes in these particular regions may be associated with greater impulsivity and poor decision-making. This might make an individual more susceptible to transitioning from occasional amphetamine use to more chronic or addictive usage.

Challenges of the Study

However, even though this particular study found the relationship between brain volume and later behavior, there are a number of issues here. First, the research is correlational research and therefore it cannot demonstrate that having smaller brain volume is in these particular areas causes one to develop an addiction.

Secondly, the sample in this study could not be used to generalize people outside of the study. Far more research with different and more participants would is needed.

Moreover, the findings suggest that such things as a tendency towards impulsivity may be related to later chronic drug use. Thus, behavioral measures of impulsivity would be better predictors of later proneness to addiction than brain scans would be and these also would be quite a bit less expensive.

Finally, these types of studies are notorious for their inability to replicate. Quite a bit of follow-up research is needed to indicate the reliability of these findings.


[1] Hatfield, R. C. (2013). The everything guide to the human brain. Avon: MA: Adams.

[2] Becker, B., Wagner, D., Koester, P., Tittgemeyer, M., Mercer-Chalmers-Bender, K., Hurlemann, R., … & Daumann, J. (2015). Smaller amygdala and medial prefrontal cortex predict escalating stimulant use. Brain, awv113.

Dr. Hatfield is a clinical neuropsychologist with extensive experience assessing and treating neurological and psychiatric disorders. His areas of expertise include neurobiology, behavior, dementia, head injury, addiction, abnormal psychology, personality disorders, statistics, rehabilitation psychology and research methodology.

Switching Addictions Detrimental to Recovery

July 29, 2016 by  
Filed under Health


120453Far too often drug rehabilitation clinics, drug prevention education, and even alcohol and drug abuse recovery programs focus on the primary drug of choice rather than addressing the underlying issue of a brain that is susceptible to addiction in its numerous forms.

These “numerous forms” of addiction can encompass and be transferred to anything from sugars and sweets, gambling, pornography, sex and even switching to other family’s drugs.

For whatever reason there remains the justification that says, “well at least it’s not as bad as ______.” Researchers have found that switching addictions only adds to the possibility of relapse due to the brain still receiving the same impulses and serotonin rushes as were achieved with the primary drug of choice.

“People who have one addiction are prone to others,” says Dr. Gregory Collins, section head of the Alcohol & Drug Recovery Center at the Cleveland Clinic. “If you are biologically programmed to addictive illnesses, you risk having more than one.”

Instead of tackling all addiction problems at once, what is commonly done is the worst is first addressed while the recovering addict continues on in their co-occurring addictions. Although the specific method or form of the addiction has changed, the behavior remains the same.

A rough example of this phenomenon could be illustrated by abstaining from alcohol but still hanging around the bar that you and your buddies used to drink at. Although there are not necessarily chemicals being ingested, the behavior itself has not undergone any transformation.

According to Collins, one in four addicts will switch addictions, only furthering their chances of relapse on the original drug of choice.

“Many of the clients we treat come in because one drug is their drug of choice, and they think they can use other substances because it’s not something they’ve struggled with,” says Jennifer Tulli, an addiction specialist at the Cleveland nonprofit agency. “The reality is, the addict is still chasing that feeling, the impairment, the numbing of their senses. It’s hard to think of a situation where that hasn’t happened.”

One of the most common forms of cross-addiction can be seen between alcohol and opiate users. The opiate user might switch over to alcohol because of its seemingly less harmful nature, and the alcoholic might switch over to opiates and painkillers as a form of misusing prescription medicine.

“They might not have used alcohol in 20 years, and they take the drug as prescribed initially,” Tulli says. “But because they really like the feeling, they can’t stop.”

Another common cross-addiction comes in the form of gambling, which can be seen in the way that those with alcohol dependency issues are three-times more likely to develop a gambling addiction.

“The best research we have is for those,” says Ray Isackila, an addiction specialist at University Hospitals Case Medical Center. “What we know is that people addicted to a substance — alcohol or drugs — are at greater risk of developing problems with process addictions, such as gambling.”

As described above, the fundamental search for an addict is a mechanism by which they can achieve the same “highs” by a safer means. Once again, this can take on a wide variety of forms stretching from chocolate or cigarettes all the way to gambling and pornography.

“When there’s a heavy focus on the primary addiction, it’s easy to lose sight of the other things that are gathering an unhealthy momentum, until they become very obvious,” said Collins.

Collins’ went on to say that the only reason cross-addiction numbers have stayed at 25 percent is because of growing awareness and rehabilitation centers adapting recovery strategies to help curve the problem.

Tulli states that the best bet for maintaining sobriety is cutting out all addictions at one time, including nicotine, which is seldom counted as a cross-addiction.

“It’s hard for people to give up everything at once, and it’s a tough sell we have to make,” she says. “But the point is, as we say in treatment, to deal with life on life’s terms.”

The superseding premise is that the recovery process should be looked at as a behavioral transformation, in which the overt goal is to monitor and moderate all facets of addictive behaviors. Since the range is so broad and diverse between individuals it is hard to classify any particular behavior as being a “death-trap” of sorts.

Instead the point is to remain vigilant of activities or behaviors that resemble the same compulsions and reactions once obtained from the users primary drug of choice. It is not enough simply switch, an entire behavioral transformation must be undergone in order to give the recovering substance abuser the best possible chance at maintaining sobriety.

Chad Arias has a B.A. in journalism and is a contributor for the Latino Post and Opposing Views. In his free time, Arias writes poetry, short stories and is currently working on a novel detailing his experiences with substance abuse. He is most interested on the philosophical and psychological aspects of the subject.

New Fingerprint Test Can Determine Cocaine Use

July 22, 2016 by  
Filed under Health, Treatment and Recovery News



Mass spectrometry analysis is a method of analysis that can measure specific types of chemicals in a sample. Researchers in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom used different types of mass spectrometry analyses to analyze the fingerprints of people who attended drug treatment programs [1]. They compared the fingerprints of the individuals to saliva tests in order to determine how the saliva tests and the mass spectrometry analysis tests were related.

When a person uses cocaine, they excrete traces of the chemicals benzoylecgonine and methylegonine as they metabolize the drug. Both of these chemicals show up in saliva tests and in other bodily fluid tests and, if present, indicate that a person has used cocaine because excreting these metabolites is impossible for someone who hasn’t used. However, previous tests that use fingerprint analysis and employ similar methods could only determine whether the person had touched cocaine—they’re unable to determine if the person had actually taken the drug internally. In this study the researchers were able to use an additional technique known as Desorption Electrospray Ionization to determine if these two particular chemicals that are metabolites of cocaine, benzoylecgonine and methylegonine were present in the fingerprint residue of individuals. If these chemicals are present, it would be certain that the person providing the fingerprint has used cocaine because they can only be present when the body metabolizes cocaine. The findings indicated that for people who had used cocaine these two chemicals are present in their fingerprint residue.

This type of test has some pretty interesting implications. For example, drug testing is used mainly by the courts, probation departments, prisons, law-enforcement, etc. Traditional drug testing methods that use a person’s urine, saliva or other bodily fluids are often limited by the need for special training, specific storage and disposal methods, off-site analysis of samples, can be vulnerable to tampering, and can be potentially hazardous to individuals doing the testing. This particular technique circumvents all of these issues. In addition, fingerprint analysis is much more difficult, if impossible, to fake.

At the current time this technology is not available for practical use; however, the researchers believe that in the future law-enforcement agencies and other interested in agencies could have a number of portable fingerprint drug tests available to them. These fingerprint analysis techniques would be able to specifically determine if an individual had used cocaine and also are infallible in their ability to identify that the sample comes from that particular person because everyone has a unique fingerprint.


[1] Bailey, M. J., Bradshaw, R., Francese, S., Salter, T. L., Costa, C., Ismail, M., … & de Puit, M. (2015). Rapid detection of cocaine, benzoylecgonine and methylecgonine in fingerprints using surface mass spectrometry. Analyst.

Dr. Hatfield is a clinical neuropsychologist with extensive experience assessing and treating neurological and psychiatric disorders. His areas of expertise include neurobiology, behavior, dementia, head injury, addiction, abnormal psychology, personality disorders, statistics, rehabilitation psychology and research methodology.

Why Cigarettes Seem More or Less Harmful in Various Countries


A recent episode of John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” took a major jab at tobacco industry giant Philip Morris. According to Oliver, the large corporation uses unsavory tactics to make sure that citizens of various countries are not exposed to tobacco warnings, like the photographs found on some cigarette packaging that depict diseased lungs and other negative side effects tobacco use can have on the body. Oliver pulled up legal documents between the company and Togo–a small and poor country compared to the business–that were unsettling. According to Oliver, Philip Morris has threatened to sue Togo, as well as Australia, for attempting to use visual methods of warning consumers about the harmful effects of tobacco smoke.

Cigarettes are notoriously addictive and deadly. The tobacco industry is also notoriously manipulative and reckless with their marketing, advertising, and, apparently, their legal actions. When a person is addicted to tobacco and nicotine, his or her life is indisputably in danger. And this kind of addiction isn’t small change—according to the CDC, more people in the USA are addicted to nicotine than any other drug. The CDC also officially warns that quitting smoking is universally difficult, often leading to many failed attempts. Much of the attention in the effort to lower the number of smokers in the USA and worldwide is turned toward making sure people don’t start smoking to begin with, since quitting is such an obstacle. But how successful can those endeavors be if cigarette producers themselves have a say in a country’s marketing and advertising laws in regard to warning labels? How is it possible that the tobacco industry has a voice in this issue at all? It’s hard not to wonder how many fewer smokers we might have across the globe right now were it not for the deceptive intervention of tobacco producers.

Indeed, cigarettes might seem more or less harmful in various countries depending largely on what kind of warning labels are presented to consumers and, perhaps, whether or not a tobacco corporation like Philip Morris had any role in creating or upholding the marketing laws that allow or ban explicit warning labels. Pictorial warnings on cigarette packaging are useful. Various focus groups as well as scientific studies have revealed to us that pictorial warnings on cigarette packaging can be significantly more effective in conveying the danger of cigarettes and other tobacco products to consumers, even enough to sway some consumers toward not making the purchase.

Since we know tobacco products are highly addictive and dangerous in myriad ways to general health, there shouldn’t be any limit to the type of warnings our government or any other government would like to provide its citizens with in an effort to reduce tobacco use. The number of people diagnosed with diseases directly related to or otherwise complicated by tobacco use is staggering. Something clearly has to change and Oliver is not mistaken to point his finger at a company like Philip Morris because the first thing that should be changed in an effort to resolve this issue is, perhaps, the influence the tobacco industry appears to have on tobacco warnings and the general public perception of the safety of tobacco products.

Elizabeth Seward has written about health and wellness for Discovery Health, National Geographic, How Stuff Works Health, and many other online and print publications. As a former touring rock musician, Elizabeth has firsthand experience with the struggles of substance abuse and the loss of loved ones because of it. She believes in the restorative power of yoga, meditation, talk therapy, and plant-based diets and she is an advocate for progressive drug policy reform.

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