Marijuana Contact Buzz: Myth or Not?

June 16, 2016 by  
Filed under Health, Treatment and Recovery News

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MJ_ContactHigh_PhotoHaving been involved in the treatment of substance abusers and also an active participant in substance abuse groups, I’ve has witnessed several individuals who tested positive for cannabis but claimed they did not use the drug. Most often these individuals swear that they were with someone who was smoking marijuana and that is why they tested positive. Typically, people will test positive for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, for up to 30 days following using it. In my personal interactions with these individuals, it seemed that their employers and the court system did not consider this to be a viable excuse, and quickly consider anyone who tests positive for cannabis to have used it at some time in the past. However, recent research may indicate that this attitude needs to be re-examined.

Testing Positive for THC

In one study researchers exposed non-marijuana users who were drug-free to secondhand marijuana smoke in a sealed chamber for one hour. The potency of the marijuana cigarettes was varied from low (5.3% THC) to rather high (11.3% THC). No ventilation was available in the room in two of the conditions (5.3% and 11.3%). In a third condition ventilation was employed in the room (11.3%).

The non-smokers tested positive for rather small levels of marijuana concentrations in their blood and urine. Interestingly, there was an effect for room ventilation such that in the condition with the better ventilation the concentration of THC in the blood was markedly decreased. Moreover there was also a dose effect such that individuals who were exposed to secondhand marijuana smoke with higher levels of THC were more likely to test positive [1].

Feeling the Buzz

In a second study, individuals in the high potency condition were subjected to physiological, behavioral or cognitive measures, and self-report measures of their experience. As stated above, exposure to cannabis smoke in poorly ventilated conditions produced detectable amounts of THC in the blood and urine of these individuals. Moreover, the individuals in the poorly ventilated room condition self-reported sedative effects of secondhand smoke as well as produced and impaired performance on a cognitive task of one’s ability to think quickly, react quickly, and make decisions. These effects were not seen in the ventilated room condition [2].

The Bottom Line

The researchers suggest that secondhand marijuana smoke exposure does produce detectable levels of THC in the blood and urine of individuals when there is little or very poor ventilation. Moreover, there is both subjective and objective evidence to suggest that secondhand exposure to cannabis smoke in such conditions can produce what most refer to as a “contact buzz.” However, the conditions under which this occurred in the studies were only positive for extremely poor ventilated areas.

Of course, much more research would be needed to actually determine the parameters regarding exactly how much secondhand exposure produces detectable results. The researchers in these studies concluded that objective measures like blood and urine tests coming up positive as a result of secondhand exposure to marijuana smoke in the real world are probably very rare.

References

[1] Cone, E. J., Bigelow, G. E., Herrmann, E. S., Mitchell, J. M., LoDico, C., Flegel, R., & Vandrey, R. (2014). Non-Smoker Exposure to Secondhand Cannabis Smoke. I. Urine Screening and Confirmation Results. Journal of analytical toxicology, bku116.

[2] Herrmann, E. S., Cone, E. J., Mitchell, J. M., Bigelow, G. E., LoDico, C., Flegel, R., & Vandrey, R. (2015). Non-Smoker Exposure to Secondhand Cannabis Smoke II: Effect of Room Ventilation on the Physiological, Subjective, and Behavioral/Cognitive Effects. Drug and Alcohol Dependence.


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.

STUDY: The “Love Drug” Oxytocin May Keep You Sober

May 5, 2016 by  
Filed under Treatment and Recovery News

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98468Oxytocin is a hormone that is produced by the hypothalamus in the brain and then secreted by the posterior pituitary gland. Oxytocin is a neuromodulator, which means that it is a substance that is released by one neuron in the brain that can affect populations of neurons. It is known that oxytocin is produced in large amounts during acts of sex as well as other acts of intimacy such as cuddling, holding hands, gazing into a loved one’s eyes, and even giving birth and nursing young children. Oxytocin interacts with the reward system in the human brain in much the same way that drugs such as alcohol and cocaine do [1]. Thus, many brain researchers think that the reason why human beings like to touch each other is because these behaviors lead to higher levels of oxytocin in the brain. But, can this hormone have an effect drug use?

Oxytocin and Drug Use

It is well-known that even in a small or moderate amounts, alcohol has a profound effect on motor impairment (e.g., staggering walk, lack of coordination, etc.). The effects of alcohol are linked to how alcohol affects GABA neurotransmitters, the major inhibitory neurotransmitter of the brain [1]. Researchers in Australia decided to look at the effects of giving oxytocin to rodents who were also given alcohol [2]. When the researchers were able to introduce oxytocin directly into the brains of rodents who had been given moderate levels of alcohol the rodents did not display the types of coordination difficulties and other motor difficulties commonly seen during intoxication. Rodents given the same doses of alcohol without the oxytocin were seriously impaired.

The researchers hypothesized based on their findings that giving oxytocin to humans would most likely leave a person’s thinking and speech patterns less impaired after they drink alcohol. There have been no empirical studies that have looked at how the hormone affects motor impairment in humans who drink, but the researchers report that that will be their next order of investigation.

A Solution to Drunkenness?

Before you get really excited about these findings there are couple of things that you should understand.

First, giving the rodents oxytocin after alcohol reduced their issues with motor control; however, this does not reduce one’s blood alcohol level. So if a method to use the hormone were developed for humans, it would not keep people from getting drunk nor could someone using the hormone drink significantly more than they can normally tolerate.

Secondly, oxytocin is known to reduce alcohol consumption and craving for alcohol in both humans and animals [1]. The reason for this is that the hormone works on the same aspects of the reward system in the brain that alcohol and other drugs affect. In the experiment, the rats were infused with alcohol and with the hormone. If a drug or medication were to be developed for humans, its use would also reduce alcohol consumption in individuals and directly reduce alcohol cravings in individuals trying to achieve sobriety. The goal of this type of research is to develop a clinical use for oxytocin for treating alcohol and drug abuse and not to allow people with addictions to indulge in their destructive behaviors. Thus, these findings are not going to lead to people drinking more if a drug is developed for humans based on this research.

Other Implications

Interestingly, there is plenty of research indicating that many individuals with substance abuse problems begin to recover on their own once they get in a serious relationship, have children, or have some other significant event in their life that they embrace [3]. However, we can all point to instances where drug use ruined a relationship, led to neglect of children, ruined a career, etc. It may very well be that there are subjective differences in the way that we feel things that may be based on experience and on our physical makeup that drive how such things as relationship status affect addiction. At this time, it is impossible to determine if increased levels of oxytocin in the brain as a result of life changes such as getting in a relationship or giving birth may have assisted in recovery for some people, but that certainly is a possibility. Thus, perhaps love is the drug that can keep you sober after all.

References

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

2. Bowen, M. T., Peters, S. T., Absalom, N., Chebib, M., Neumann, I. D., & McGregor, I. S. (2015). Oxytocin prevents ethanol actions at δ subunit-containing GABA A receptors and attenuates ethanol-induced motor impairment in rats. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(10), 3104-3109.

3. Heyman, G. M. (2009). Addiction: A disorder of choice. Harvard University Press.


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.

Medications to Curb Drinking Behaviors

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103036The medical response to treating most conditions, even psychiatric conditions, is to prescribe some form of medication. Can medication effectively treat alcoholism? An important study in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at the current evidence.

Let’s start with a quick primer on research methods.

Meta-Analysis

In statistics we refer to the term “power” as the ability to detect a significant effect when one is there. Certain types of different research approaches have more power than others. One particularly powerful approach in research methodology is a technique known as meta-analysis. Meta-analysis combines the effects of many studies to determine if the phenomenon being studied is indeed effective. For example, meta-analytic studies have been done in order to determine if medications like antidepressants or vaccines are effective, if different types of psychotherapy are effective at treating depression, etc. The basic idea behind meta-analysis is very quite simple. Being able to draw on the results of multiple studies would have more statistical power than just the results of a single study. So if meta-analytic studies suggest that a certain technique is effective in treating something, this is stronger evidence than the results of single studies.

Number Needed to Treat (NNT)

A particular statistic that comes out of epidemiology is called number needed to treat (NNT). The NNT basically represents the number of individuals that must receive the treatment in order for one person to be effectively treated by it. For example if the NNT is five, then five people need to get the treatment before one is successfully treated by it. If the NNT is one that means that everyone who gets the treatment is successfully treated (this almost never happens). The higher the NNT the less effective the treatment (or drug) is.

The Deal with Medications and Alcoholism

Alcohol use disorders are among the most common forms of addiction and treatment for alcoholism is difficult and often considered to be a lifelong process (Hatfield, 2013). Even with the development of many different types of medications to assist in the treatment of addiction less than 10% of the patients with alcohol use disorders receive medications to help them reduce their alcohol consumption. The results of a recent study may help increase the use of medications in assisting to treat people who suffer from alcohol use disorders.

A meta – analytic study recently reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association included 122 randomized controlled trials and one other study that all were at least 12 weeks long to determine the effectiveness of several medications in treating alcohol use disorders (Jonas, Amick, Feltner, et al., 2014). Randomized controlled trials are the gold standard in research because the methodology used allows for the researcher to determine if the treatment actually caused the particular outcome, whereas other types of studies cannot determine cause-and-effect relations (see Hatfield, 2013 for a complete review of research methods).

Most of the studies in the meta-analysis looked at the medications naltrexone (common brand names Revia or Depade) or acamprosate (brand name Campral). Both of these medications block neurotransmitter systems that are associated with the development of cravings and are believed to be able to reduce the urge to drink in people that take these medications.

According to the meta-analytic findings by Jonas et al. the NNT for oral naltrexone for return to any drinking at all was 20 and for a return to heavy drinking patterns was 12. The NNT for the return to any drinking at all for treatment with acamprosate was 12. There were no significant differences found between the use of the two medications (the researchers could not find any statistical evidence to establish the superiority of either medication compared to the other). As a comparison, meta-analytic studies using psychotherapy typically find an NNT of between 7 – 10 for psychotherapy and alcohol use disorder (e.g., Riper, Andersson, Hunter et al., 2014); however, psychotherapy has the added benefit of concurrently treating things like depression, anxiety, etc. whereas these medications are unable to do that.

Most of the readers of these articles are probably more familiar with the medication disulfiram (brand name Antabuse) for treating alcoholism. Disulfiram does not affect the urge to drink but instead results in the person developing a noxious reaction if they drink alcohol while on the medication. This results in the person getting very sick and hopefully will dissuade them from using alcohol in the future. The research on the effectiveness of disulfiram has never been positive because people taking this medication still get urges to drink and can often simply stop taking the medication for 48 hours before drinking with no ill effects at all (Jonas et al., 2014; Hatfield, 2013).

Thus, based on the current research findings it appears that these medications can be extremely helpful in treating alcoholism; however, it appears that combinations of medications, psychotherapy, group therapies such as AA, and other factors such as social support are needed to bolster treatment effectiveness.

Do you think that the use of medications has a place in treating addictive behaviors such as alcohol use disorder? Why or why not?

References

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

Jonas, D. E., Amick, H. R., Feltner, C., Bobashev, G., Thomas, K., Wines, R. & Garbutt, J. C. (2014). Pharmacotherapy for Adults with Alcohol Use Disorders in Outpatient Settings: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. JAMA, 311(18), 1889-1900.

Riper, H., Andersson, G., Hunter, S. B., Wit, J., Berking, M., & Cuijpers, P. (2014). Treatment of Comorbid Alcohol Use Disorders and Depression with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Motivational interviewing: A meta-analysis. Addiction, 109(3), 394-406.


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.

 

Treating Mental Health and Addiction: Our Flawed Approach

April 14, 2016 by  
Filed under People and Culture, Treatment and Recovery News

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146217Although substance abuse is generally left for the medical field to discuss, there are multiple faces of the issue, arguably the most important being the political and social spheres. Substance abuse is one of the leading callouses that has left America with the biggest prison population in the world. Instead of having accessible or inexpensive treatment centers, it is decently difficult if not impossible for an individual without medical insurance to receive treatment.

“For most people with addictions, there are many mental health problems that need attention. And for many people with mental health problems, substance misuse problems accompany and complicate the care of their mental health problems,” says Eric Collins, physician-in-chief at Siler Hill Hospital in new Canna, Conn.

These issues must be discussed in the public and political forums because legislation is the only way to establish a willful angle at tackling the greater issue. Incarceration may be looked at as an easy solution to getting substance abusers off the streets, but it costs tax payers a great deal of money and has been shown to be a vicious cycle of repeat offenders traveling in and out of prison multiple times for the rest of their lives.

Aside from the criminal aspects of substance abuse there is also the matter of 8.9 million American’s suffering from both mental illness and substance abuse issues. Of this figure, only 7.4 percent will be treated for both conditions and more than half will not receive any treatment at all according to a report from the National Alliance for Mental Illness.

According to Ron Manderscheid, executive director of the National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors, two-thirds of all people who suffer from substance abuse also have a mental illness. Their abusive habits combined with an impaired mental state make for a dangerous formula that puts the public at risk in terms of safety and also hits their pocket books in the form of incarceration tax dollars. To add a concrete figure to the notion of taxes, it roughly costs $70,000 per year per inmate, which is almost double what the nation spends per K-12 student.

The superseding point appears to be that mental illness, substance abuse, prisons and the public are all cemented to one another whether they like it or not. There is no easy way to say that this is a personal problem due to the large social impacts that are at stake. In recent years mental health has begun to be put on the forefront of American policy due in part to a large amount of shootings in which the accused were found to be suffering from various mental illnesses. It is only when the public sees what mental illness can cause that they become aware of how serious the problem really is. Moreover, when their children or loved ones could be affected by someone who has not received treatment for mental illness or substance abuse the matter becomes personal and is finally taken seriously.

There is no easy or simple way to combat each of these problems seeing as they form a complex network of victims, society and politicians. In 1998 Supplemental Security Income disallowed for substance abuse to be classified as being a disability. This in turn stopped Medicaid checks from going out and thus substance abusers without insurance could not afford to receive help. President Obama has sought to change this trend by introducing the Affordable Care Act, which hopefully will allow for those with mental illnesses and substance abuse problems to get the treatment they need at an affordable rate.

What remains unknown is how many in the mental illness and substance abuse category actually seek out help on their own accord. 24 million Americans suffer with substance abuse problems but only an estimated 2.5 million Americans go into rehabilitation centers every year. The general population cannot help those who don’t want to be helped, so it is quite possible that mandatory rehab stints should be implemented instead of sending criminal offenders to prison. Some of the responsibility must be placed on those who actually have the affliction, though this isn’t to say that it is their fault, just more their duty to society to try to get better.

Incarceration is currently the sham remedy in dealing with this demographic but by no means is it a solution; merely a Band-Aid hiding the fact that there is serious turmoil going on. A clear point must be made that whether or not the majority of Americans suffer from mental illness and substance abuse they are affected in one way or another by its byproducts. Society is only as great as it ‘lowest’ members and so to simply condemn them with bars instead of recovery is a chilling reality that must be curved by legislation and public sentiment. As stated earlier there is no easy fix but each faction of society must push forward together in order to come up with more cost efficient and effective solutions.


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.

Using the Placebo Effect as Addiction Treatment

March 3, 2016 by  
Filed under Health, Treatment and Recovery News

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A placebo effect occurs when some form of ineffectual treatment (in research studies a placebo) is actually effective in reducing or treating the symptoms of a particular disease or other type of disorder. Placebo effects are typically strongest in situations where it is the subjective viewpoint of the person that plays an important role in the interpretation and severity of their symptoms, feelings and/or attitudes [1]. Placebo effects have been highly researched and a recent study demonstrated how the power of belief, an important component of the placebo effect, affects the areas of the brain that are considered to be activated during addictive behaviors [2].

The researchers set out to determine if smokers’ beliefs about nicotine would have a positive effect based on their expectations. The researchers performed a true experiment where one group of smokers were told that the cigarettes that they smoked were nicotine free, whereas the other group of smokers were told that the cigarettes they were smoking contained nicotine. In fact, both groups of the participants were actually smoking standard nicotine-containing cigarettes. Following smoking the cigarettes all of the participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging of their brains (fMRI). Interestingly, the participants who believed that they had smoked cigarettes with nicotine demonstrated much higher brain activity in their brain reward-learning pathways compared to those who believed that their cigarettes contain no nicotine, even though both groups smoked regular cigarettes [2].

The researchers believe that these findings may be useful in developing new treatments for addiction that manage the person’s belief system. This type of research is actually not new and other studies have similar type findings regarding how a person’s beliefs influence the brains of individuals with other addictions such as cocaine, alcohol, etc. [see #3 for a discussion]. Moreover, older research has even indicated that some individuals who were told they are drinking alcoholic beverages when in fact no alcohol was in them began to display symptoms of drunkenness [1]. Thus, a person’s beliefs can influence both their addictive behavior and their recovery. This type of research often stirs a debate that giving addicts placebos can be a treatment option.

Placebos as Treatments: Yes or No?

This writer has written quite a bit on the effects of placebos and how placebos stimulate the central nervous system [1]. Interestingly, while the aforementioned studies do not propose using placebos as treatments for anything, a common conclusion made by many is something to the effect of”Well, if placebos work like treatments for many conditions and placebos are basically safe because they are inert, then why don’t counselors and medical professionals give placebos as treatments?”In fact, this writer has had to debate this potential type of practice with certain uninformed medical professionals and several previous studies have indicated that some medical professionals and clinicians believe that it is ethical and advisable to administer placebos as treatments when no other alternative exists. However, this belief is not true.

While working on a person’s belief system is a fundamental component of any form of therapy including therapy for treating addiction, formally using a placebo as a treatment is unethical. First of all, the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association consider the use of placebos as treatments unethical unless the person receiving the placebo is fully informed concerning what a placebo is and of its use and then after being fully informed agrees to receive the placebo in place of an actual treatment [4]. Most people upon learning about what placebos are would not pay a physician or other medical professional to treat them with one. Thus, the use of placebos is only justified in research such as clinical trials where the participants are informed that they might be getting a placebo instead of the treatment but are not told which one they are really getting.

The reader might ask themselves why using placebos is unethical. The reasons are quite simple. First, placebos are demonstrated through empirical evidence to have no real affects on the conditions that they are given for. If a clinician offers a placebo as a treatment without explaining to the patient that what they are getting is an inactive treatment this results in the use of deception and dishonesty by the clinical professional, especially if the placebo is used in the guise and effective treatment. Such a practice violates the ethical notion that clinicians must be frank and forthcoming regarding the types of treatments that they use with their patients.

Secondly, it is dishonest and unethical to charge someone for a treatment that the clinician knows is not established as being effective. Would you really pay a doctor to give you a placebo like a sugar pill after they told you that the pill had no real treatment benefit? Now you might say “What if the treatment provider does not charge me and gives me the placebo?” But think about that for a second. Do you really need to see a doctor or treatment provider to get a sugar pill? Does that even make sense? Why not just go take some sugar for your addiction or other ailment yourself (of course this won’t work because you don’t believe that it will). A big part of the placebo effect is the belief that one is receiving treatment.

Third, there is no way to predict whether a placebo will actually be effective with someone. Placebo effects vary widely with much more variation than actual treatment effects and are primarily effective when the complaint or symptom is subjective and subject to a person’s emotional state [1]. For instance, placebos have virtually no effect in helping people with physical diseases such as people who have cancerous tumors of their brain eliminate or shrink the tumor; however, placebos might help in lessening their pain (pain is a very subjective experience that is moderated by one’s emotions and there is no way to actually objectively measure a person’s pain; 1). Thus, placebo effects are often not strongly observed in research studies for diseases or conditions where the symptoms and their progression can be physically and/or objectively measured.

Finally, there is quite a difference between using or changing a person’s belief system in order to help them in recovery compared to administering placebos under the guise of offering a real treatment to an individual. Thus, the specific use of placebos by trained and licensed clinicians as actual treatments is both unethical and illegal; however, due to the nature of just being treated any individual in treatment may experience some level of placebo effects. What this means is that for many of the treatments that you use for problems that have a highly subjective component to them such as pain, your mood, and even your approach to recovery from addiction there is both a treatment effect and a potential placebo effect working in tandem. What qualifies many of these as actual clinical treatments is their ability to provide demonstrable benefits beyond the effects observed with placebos alone. Interestingly many of the alternative treatments you see advertised for many common ailments and conditions have a large placebo effect and little to no treatment effect.

Would you be willing to pay for treatment if you knew it was a placebo?

References

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

[2] Gu, X., Lohrenz, T., Salas, R., Baldwin, P. R., Soltani, A., Kirk, U., … & Montague, P. R. (2015). Belief about nicotine selectively modulates value and reward prediction error signals in smokers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(8), 2539-2534.

[3] Volkow, N. D., & Baler, R. (2015). Beliefs modulate the effects of drugs on the human brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(8), 2301-2302.

[4] http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/physician-resources/medical-ethics/code-medical-ethics/opinion8083.page?


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.

Treating Mental Health Disorders and Addiction: Our Flawed Approach

February 18, 2016 by  
Filed under Health, Treatment and Recovery News

Comments

Although substance abuse is generally left for the medical field to discuss, the issue has multiple faces, arguably the most important being the political and social spheres. Substance abuse is one of the leading callouses that has left America with the biggest prison population in the world. Instead of having accessible or inexpensive treatment centers, it is decently difficult–if not impossible–for an individual without medical insurance to receive treatment.

“For most people with addictions, there are many mental health problems that need attention. And for many people with mental health problems, substance misuse problems accompany and complicate the care of their mental health problems,” says Eric Collins, physician-in-chief at Siler Hill Hospital in new Canna, Connecticut.

These issues must be discussed in the public and political forums because legislation is the only way to establish a willful angle at tackling the greater issue. Incarceration may be looked at as an easy solution to getting substance abusers off the streets, but it costs tax payers a great deal of money and has been shown to be a vicious cycle of repeat offenders traveling in and out of prison multiple times for the rest of their lives.

Aside from the criminal aspects of substance abuse there is also the matter of 8.9 million Americans suffering from both mental illness and substance abuse issues. Of this figure, only 7.4 percent will be treated for both conditions and more than half will not receive any treatment at all according to a report from the National Alliance for Mental Illness.

According to Ron Manderscheid, executive director of the National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors, two-thirds of all people who suffer from substance abuse also have mental illnesses. Their abusive habits combined with an impaired mental state make for a dangerous formula that puts the public at risk in terms of safety and also hits their pocket books in the form of incarceration tax dollars. To add a concrete figure to the notion of taxes, it roughly costs $70,000 per year per inmate, which is almost double what the nation spends per K-12 student.

The superseding point appears to be that mental illness, substance abuse, prisons and the public are all cemented to one another whether they like it or not. There is no easy way to say that this is a personal problem due to the large social impacts that are at stake. In recent years, mental health has begun to be put on the forefront of American policy due in part to a large amount of shootings in which the accused were found to be suffering from various mental illnesses. It is only when the public sees what mental illness can cause that they become aware of how serious the problem really is. Moreover, when their children or loved ones could be affected by someone who has not received treatment for mental illness or substance abuse the matter becomes personal and is finally taken seriously.

There is no easy or simple way to combat each of these problems seeing as they form a complex network of victims, society and politicians. In 1998 Supplemental Security Income disallowed for substance abuse to be classified as being a disability. This in turn stopped Medicaid checks from going out and thus substance abusers without insurance could not afford to receive help. President Obama has sought to change this trend by introducing the Affordable Care Act, which hopefully will allow for those with mental illnesses and substance abuse problems to get the treatment they need at an affordable rate.

What remains unknown is how many in the mental illness and substance abuse category actually seek out help on their own accord. An estimated 24 million Americans suffer with substance abuse problems but only about 2.5 million go into rehabilitation centers every year. The general population cannot help those who don’t want to be helped, so it is quite possible that mandatory rehab stints should be implemented instead of sending criminal offenders to prison. Some of the responsibility must be placed on those who actually have the affliction, though this isn’t to say that it is their fault, just more their duty to society to try to get better.

Incarceration is currently the sham remedy in dealing with this demographic but by no means is it a solution; merely a Band-Aid hiding the fact that there is serious turmoil going on. A clear point must be made that whether or not the majority of Americans suffer from mental illness and substance abuse they are affected in one way or another by its byproducts. Society is only as great as it ‘lowest’ members and so to simply condemn them with bars instead of recovery is a chilling reality that must be curved by legislation and public sentiment. As stated earlier there is no easy fix but each faction of society must push forward together in order to come up with more cost efficient and effective solutions.


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.

Alternative Rehab Centers Increase in Popularity

January 28, 2016 by  
Filed under Treatment and Recovery News

Comments

92630

Alcohol and drug rehab treatment centers are invaluable, as they are centers that welcome struggling addicts and help them get free from addiction. Millions of men and women have attended rehab with the hopes of facing the disease of addiction and getting started on a new life of recovery. Yes, rehabs can truly be life savers.

One thing that’s great about rehabs is that not everyone is the same and in fact, there are some alternative rehabs out there that offer a more non-traditional approach to treatment. Today let’s take a look at a few of them.

Holistic Rehab Centers

A holistic rehab center will focus on the whole person, including mind, body, and spirit. They oftentimes use alternative therapies and methods when doing so and many do so without the use of any medications. At a holistic treatment center, you will be able to focus on your mental, physical, and spiritual health.

Just as traditional rehabs focus on treating addiction via counseling and education, so do holistic centers. In addition to these, you may find activities and techniques such as:

  • Visualization techniques
  • Deep breathing techniques
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage therapy
  • Exercise programs
  • Reiki and other energy healing modules
  • Spiritual counseling
  • Nature therapy

At a holistic center, you will still get all of the great recovery treatments as the traditional centers offer, but you will also have the chance to try out some alternative therapies. Many people really like having the chance to sample such therapies to see what they like and what works for them.

Narconon Drug and Alcohol Rehab Program

At Narconon, you’ll find an alternative addiction program that has helped many addicts become free and happy. The first obvious difference between this center and the more traditional center is that at Narconon you will go through the withdrawal process receiving no medication. You will be given nutritional supplements and engage in gentle exercise that calms your mind and relaxes your body. You will also get to enjoy a sauna.

Along with this, you will be taught communication and life skills that will help you in your recovery. The center does not advocate the 12 Step program and fully believes that once you graduate, you will be able to navigate life sober and clean- although you are always free to attend 12 Step meetings at your leisure.

Alternative rehabs have been highly successful, as more and more people are turning to alternative health therapies for health and happiness. If you are seeking a treatment center, be sure to look into your options and be open to trying something different. Take your first step toward recovery and reach out for help today.


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.

What Marijuana Does to the Casual Smoker

December 3, 2015 by  
Filed under Treatment and Recovery News

Comments

Smoky man

One can Google “the harmful effects of marijuana” and find a number of sites reporting marijuana smokers are at risk for lung cancer due the drug’s properties or that marijuana smokers smoke unfiltered cigarettes. This research is rightly criticized for having small sample sizes or other methodological problems. However, a large study followed 5115 men and women who were casual users of marijuana (average of one joint daily) for 20 years. Using a sophisticated analysis that accounted for tobacco use and other potential confounding variables the researchers were unable to find any association between casual marijuana use and impaired pulmonary functioning (Pletcher, Vittinghoff, Kalhan et al., 2102).

The National Institute of Health (NIH, 2014) reports that there may be some mild irritation or respiratory distress and an increased risk of lung infection as a result of smoking marijuana, but as of yet there is no research tying marijuana into lung cancer. Chen, Chen, Braverman et al. (2008) made a case that marijuana smokers have a reduced risk of lung cancer due less tobacco use. So any link between decreased lung functioning and casual marijuana use appears not to be strong.

Marijuana and Cardiovascular Functioning

The NIH (2014) reports that smoking marijuana can increase one’s heart rate between 20 and 100% for up to three hours. This could increase the risk of heart attack in susceptible individuals.

In the most comprehensive research review to date regarding marijuana usage and cardiovascular health Thomas, Kloner, and Rezkalla (2014) presented a number of studies that link the use of marijuana to increased risk for heart attack, stroke, arteriosclerosis, and several other cardiovascular conditions. However, there is no designation as to the amount of marijuana being used by the subjects of these studies and even the authors of this review recommended more research to determine any causal mechanisms. Moreover, a risk factor is not a direct cause. Risk factors interact with other factors in order to increase the probability of a certain outcome; they themselves cannot be considered direct causes.

Neurological Issues

There is been quite a bit of research looking at how marijuana use alters the brain. The results of these studies are mixed. The first thing to understand is that any experience you have alters your brain. Your brain is being altered as you read this article. The dilemma is to try and understand if certain types of experiences alter the brain in a detrimental manner. The NIH (2014) reports that there are no studies that link casual marijuana use to altered brain functioning in adults; thus, research has focused on children and young adults.

Perhaps one of the most publicized of recent studies came from Gilman, Kuster, and Lee (2014) who performed neuroimaging studies on 20 young adults between the age of 18 and 25 who used marijuana at least once a week. Compared to a matched group of young adults the marijuana users were found to have abnormalities in the brain structures known as the amygdala (involved in emotional processing and memory) and the nucleus accumbens (involved in various aspects of reward behaviors and movement).

However, marijuana use in the study varied greatly with some of the participants smoking as many as 20 joints weekly. Secondly, there was much higher alcohol use among the marijuana group. Third, the researchers ran hundreds of statistical tests without controlling for the potential to find significant results due to chance. Finally, the study suffers from the correlation cannot infer causation issue. The study simply reports an association between variables; it cannot demonstrate that the presence of one variable causes the other. Thus, due to the small sample size and the other issues with this study, this type of study would have to be repeated over and over before any meaningful results could be gleaned.

Bottom Line

At this time, the research tying casual marijuana use with pulmonary issues and neurological issues is inconclusive. There is evidence to suggest that even casual use of marijuana may be a risk factor for cardiovascular issues; however, a risk factor is not necessarily a direct cause. The bottom line to take from these studies is that there does appear to be some potential risks with casual marijuana use; however, the research is not clear on the severity or types of physical health risks associated with casual use of marijuana.

References

Chen, A. L., Chen, T. J., Braverman, E. R., Acuri, V., Kerner, M., Varshavskiy, M., … & Blum, K. (2008). Hypothesizing that marijuana smokers are at a significantly lower risk of carcinogenicity relative to tobacco-non-marijuana smokers: evidenced based on statistical reevaluation of current literature. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 40(3), 263-272.

Gilman, J. M., Kuster, J. K., Lee, S., Lee, M. J., Kim, B. W., Makris, N., … & Breiter, H. C. (2014). Cannabis use is quantitatively associated with nucleus accumbens and amygdala abnormalities in young adult recreational users. The Journal of Neuroscience, 34(16), 5529-5538.

National Institute of Health (2014). Drug Facts: Marijuana. http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana

Pletcher, M. J., Vittinghoff, E., Kalhan, R., Richman, J., Safford, M., Sidney, S., … & Kertesz, S. (2012). Association between marijuana exposure and pulmonary function over 20 years. Tama, 307(2), 173-181.

Thomas, G., Kloner, R. A., & Rezkalla, S. (2014). Adverse cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, and peripheral vascular effects of marijuana inhalation: what cardiologists need to know. The American journal of cardiology, 113(1), 187-190.


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.

Weight Loss Surgery (Gastric Bypass) May Lead to Alcohol Abuse

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iStock_000004332079_MediumGastric bypass (GB) surgery is the most common type of weight loss surgery in the U.S., attracting about 200,000 people per year.Also called Roux-en-Y bypass surgery or stomach stapling, the procedure appears more effective than other weight loss surgeries, resulting in about 50 to 80 percent weight loss in the period following surgery. It’s reserved for people whose weight affects their health and who have exhausted most other weight loss methods. However, growing evidence claims that it’s capable of turning social drinkers into hard core boozers.

What is Gastric Bypass Surgery?

GB surgery effectively shrinks the stomach to about 10 percent its former size and enables food to bypass a section of the small intestine. In this way, less food and calories are ingested. Stomach banding, on the other hand, is about surgically placing a flexible band around the stomach to decrease the amount of food it can carry.

The Research Findings

In a study conducted at the Medical Center of the University of Pittsburgh in June 2012, about 2000 participants from 10 U.S. centers were grilled about their drinking habits a year before they underwent various types of weight loss surgery. Of the GB bypass patients in the study, 7 percent reported excessive alcohol use before surgery. However, two years afterward, the figure had risen to 11 percent. But the figure remained constant for stomach banding patients. The 5 percent who drank heavily before surgery were the same who did so after surgery.

These findings were backed up by a study of the Obesity Nutrition Research Center in New York in October 2012. The study focused on 100 patients who’d received GB surgery and a further 55 who underwent stomach banding. All patients’ drinking and eating habits were assessed prior to surgery and then every three months post-surgery for two years. The study discovered significant incremental rises in alcohol use specifically among those who’d undergone GB surgery.

A further study in Sweden which monitored 12,000 patients over 25 years, found that GB patients were twice more liable to seek alcohol addiction therapy than those who received the stomach band, and other forms of obesity surgery.

How Alcoholism Happens

Some patients who drank moderately prior to GB surgery, found themselves with a drinking problem soon after surgery. Health experts put this down to physical or emotional issues, or both.

Physically, sensitivity to alcohol may be connected to how alcohol is metabolized in the body after GB surgery. The stomach contains enzymes which would normally breakdown the alcohol but because patients have very little stomach after GB, the alcohol reaches the intestines quickly and virtually in concentrated form. This makes for a short high even with little alcohol ingested. But the process is too quick to be satisfying so increasingly more drinking occurs. In one study, researchers had GB patients consume a glass of wine and then measured their blood alcohol content (BAC) every 5 minutes. They found that these patients’ BAC peaked at a higher level than those with regular stomachs, and it took them much longer to become sober again.

Other health experts say the increased ingestion of alcohol after GB surgery is caused by “addiction swapping.”They contend that the obesity was caused by addiction to food in the first place. So once the capacity to eat too much food is reduced, patients take on a substitute addiction alcohol. Addictive behavior, they say, is the patients’ usual response to emotional signals like anxiety and depression. So while the surgery took care of their outer body issues, it did nothing about the inner issues which still propel the addiction. This may explain why some social drinkers become alcoholics after the surgery. While patients appear to be evaluated psychologically before surgery there’s apparently no clear follow-up procedure afterward.

Conclusion

The controversy around GB surgery does not mean that everyone who has the procedure will become an alcoholic. And there’s no campaign for it to be discontinued seeing that its health benefits are considerable. It has helped high obesity sufferers improve their body image and ward off extreme weight-related problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, and therefore stave off early death. But if these benefits are not to be derailed by alcoholism, some revisions could be made in the way people are screened for emotional problems before surgery, and in the follow-up procedures afterward. But the best protection is to cut out alcohol altogether after surgery, or to opt for banding surgery, which hasn’t been linked to heightened alcohol sensitivity, and it still results in significant weight loss.

 

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.

Matthew McConaughey’s Lincoln Commercial Tells Us of Recovery

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mcconaughey_lincoln_640If you haven’t seen Matthew McConaughey’s new Lincoln commercial, it’s a must see. Not so much for the Lincoln car he’s driving, (though it is nice) but for McConaughey’s contemplative message about life. Once you get past the fact the one of Hollywood’s sexiest guys is doing a commercial, you begin to really take in what he’s saying, or pondering. It’s quite existential. It’s inspiring. Here is the script Matthew so wonderfully speaks, taking a rather long pause after each sentence:

“Sometimes you got to go back,to actually move forward.

And I don’t mean going back to reminisce or chase ghosts.

I mean going back to see where you came from, where you’ve been, how you got here.

See where you’re goin’.

I know there are those that say you can’t go back.

Yes, you can.

You just have to look in the right place.”

Is there any significance in this commercial when it comes to folks in recovery? Can recovering addicts take Matthew’s words and apply them to their own lives in order to gain some mastery over their mental, emotional, and behavioral health?

Surprisingly, McConaughey’s words can actually be applied by people in the recovery sphere. We dissect his script and explain its application to recovery below:

“Sometimes you got to go back to actually move forward.”

This sentence packs a powerful punch. It’s true. Sometimes you really do have to go back in order to move on with your life with a shot at peace and happiness. Not in the sense that you have to go back and beat yourself up over mistakes, trouble you’ve been in, grief you’ve caused others, chase ghosts, etc. No. Chances are you’ve beat yourself up enough.

Rather, just as Matthew states:

“I mean goingbackto see where you came from, where you’ve been, how you got here. See where you’re goin’.”

You didn’t end up an alcoholic randomly. You haven’t been carrying that weight of grief, anger, sadness, shame, etc. for no good reason. You aren’t living with some internal emotional mayhem just because. Some “things” got you here. Family problems, a certain person, grief, anger, loss of a loved one, bullies, poverty, disappointment, ended relationships, etc. The list could go on and on.

Think about how you got here. Going back in recovery is essential for growth. In fact, it’s the 4thStep in the 12 Step programs that will take you through a life inventory to see just where you came from, where you’ve been, and how you got here. This step is oftentimes quite scary for the newcomer, as the thought of honestly taking a look at your past can be incredibly frightening. Not only do you have to take a look at the part others may have played in your life of addiction, but first and foremost you must take a good look at how you let your instincts run amuck and how you used alcohol as a pain reliever and celebratory for the good and bad times of your life. In addition, you will be forced to stare at your pain face to face.

“I know there are those that say you can’t go back. Yes, you can. You just have to look in the right place.”

When it comes to recovery, just where is “the right place” to look when it comes to going back in order to move forward? Well, there are several options here. You can attend counseling, which is a wonderful tool to visit your past and with the help of a trained therapist, dig deep to get to the alcoholism. What led you to start drinking? What kept you drinking? Why in the world is it or was it so difficult to quit?

When you can identify the root issues and address them with the help of someone who has keen insights and success tips, you can experience peace. You can process and let go of the negative emotions you’ve been drowning in. You can move forward.

Another great place to perform some much needed “life inventory” work is the 12 Step support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). There you will have the opportunity to get yourself a sponsor/mentor and you can work the 12 Steps one by one, discussing each one with your sponsor as you go along. In Step 4 you are given the opportunity to visit your past and answer many questions about such. In Step 5 you can go over Step 4 with your sponsor, as talking to another person about your past and character defects is helpful in getting through it and moving on.

“Yes, you can.”

I love how the commercial gives people permission to go back in order to tie up loose ends so that they can move forward with greater ease. After all, who wants to tote around heavy baggage from day to day? When it comes to recovery, everyone who begins to recover has some baggage from the past that holds them back. Great news is that you do not have to keep lugging that baggage around and there are tools you can use to shoot that baggage to the moon.

“See where you’re goin’.”

Go back. Dig deep. Unearth what’s been driving you to drink. Process it. Take a look at it and understand at a deeper level. Then, take a deep breath and let it go with a firm resolve to keep your eyes on the future. Scan the horizon. Where do you want to go? What are your desires? Keep in mind you are given a clean slate in recovery. A blank canvas.

Now it’s time to move forward. Go, allow the ebb and flow of life to push you forward and create a life you love.

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.

 

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