Overcoming Addiction

Alcohol Dependency & Detox

Reprinted from: http://www.lunaliving.org/

Alcohol is the drug of choice for most Americans. It can be the beginning of addiction.

Besides being legal, alcohol is relatively inexpensive and considered by most to be socially acceptable. Alcohol has been “sold” to us for thousands of years as a feature of good living. Our society celebrates special moments with champagne and drowns sorrows with drink.

From childhood we learn to hide or lie about liquor when we drink too much, or are underage. But apart from feeble resistance from a few religious groups, and a state’s legal restrictions, there is no barrier. Americans consume over $212 billion worth of alcohol per year.

If alcohol use is so widely accepted then what’s wrong with drinking? For most people alcohol isn’t a dangerous drug. But for the person with the chronic brain disease called Addiction, alcohol is pure poison and can be life-threatening.

Although the medical community acknowledges certain health benefits of moderate alcohol use (1 drink for women and 2 for men), they post a clear WARNING: More than three drinks a day for women, or four for men, puts you at high risk of irreparable brain damage.

An Alcohol Damaged Brain

Chronic alcohol abuse severely compromises your mental ability. In the short-term it can cause you to drink and drive. And, in the long-term it can irreversibly affect memory formation, abstract thinking, problem solving, attention, concentration, and emotions.

Alcoholics who abstain from drinking can recover from some alcohol-induced brain damage. But no one knows how much alcohol it takes to cause irreversible brain damage? Drinking can be like playing Russian roulette.

Alcohol immediately passes through the blood brain barrier, which is why people often say, “The drink went straight to my head”. Alcohol’s rapid absorption, in high concentrations (i.e., multiple drinks ingested quickly), can suppress the centers in the brain that control breathing causing you to pass out or even die.

Additionally, alcohol causes the release of a neurotransmitter in the brain called dopamine. Dopamine, labeled by neuroscientists, as the “addiction molecule” is responsible for the rewarding effect that keeps you drinking. For many this reward can be limited to a single cocktail but for an alcoholic this “pleasurable moment” can quickly turn into a life-threatening physical disease.

HOW MUCH CAN ONE DRINK depends on many factors – the rate of consumption, the quantity, how much fat and muscle mass you have, and whether or not you eat while drinking.

The kind of alcohol we drink is called ethanol. Once ethanol hits your bloodstream it travels to every organ in the body, which is why
heavy drinking is so physically, mentally, and spiritually debilitating.

HOW YOU DRINK ALCOHOL ALSO AFFECTS YOUR RISK. “Binge drinking” is particularly dangerous. When young people drink too much, too fast, they risk passing out and dying. Never leave someone who has passed out from alcohol alone. Too much alcohol suppresses normal breathing and is extremely dangerous. If in question, call 911.

Combining alcohol with drugs is a huge NO-NO! All sedatives can become deadly when combined with alcohol. Mixing alcohol with narcotics can result in overdose.

Alcohol should not be mixed with any drug that makes you sleepy – opiates (heroin, oxycodone, and morphine), Valium-like drugs (benzodiazepines, sleep medications (Ambien) and antihistamines found in cold medications.

• Mixing alcohol with antibiotics can cause convulsions (seizures), nausea, and vomiting.

• Mixing alcohol with antihistamines can enhance sedation and excessive dizziness, which is particularly dangerous for older adults.

• Mixing alcohol with Tylenol (acetaminophen) creates a chemical that causes liver damage.

• And, the list goes on.

Alcohol Dependence vs. Alcohol Abuse

In general, alcohol abuse refers to patterns of drinking that cause health problems or social problems, or both.

Alcohol dependence, more commonly known as alcoholism, refers to the brain disease we know as Addiction.

Addiction leads to lack of control over drinking and life. Signs of physical dependence (withdrawal) appear within hours of stopping to drink and may manifest as anxiety, hallucinations, seizures and tremors.

Alcohol dependence (alcoholism) is characterized by cravings. A person, who suddenly stops, without the proper medical care, can experience severe and sometimes deadly withdrawal symptoms. If you are an alcoholic do not try detox on your own. Seek medical help immediately! Don’t drink if you are pregnant

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) is the full range of neurological, cognitive, behavioral, and learning disabilities associated with prenatal alcohol exposure. Alcohol passes the blood brain barrier and immediately, and negatively, affects an unborn fetus. There is absolutely no safe level of drinking during pregnancy. Children born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) suffer learning impairments for life.

Addiction

Addiction is a primary, chronic brain disease that affects brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry. Without treatment and engagement in recovery activities, it often results in disability or premature death.

HOW DO I KNOW I AM ADDICTED? Addiction is characterized by your inability to consistently abstain; cravings; a dysfunctional emotional response and a diminished recognition of significant problems with your behavior and interpersonal relationships. Like other chronic diseases, Addiction can involve cycles of relapse and remission and premature death if left untreated.

A widely used screening test is CAGE. If you have two or more positive responses it is likely you have a problem with alcohol.

• Have you ever felt the need to cut down on your drinking?

• Have you ever felt Annoyed by someone criticizing your drinking?

• Have you ever felt Guilty about your drinking?

• Have you ever felt the need for an Eye-opener? (a drink at the beginning of the day)?

NO ONE IN MY FAMILY IS AN ALCOHOLIC. AM I AT RISK? Overexposure to alcohol can lead to alcohol dependence. Alcohol changes the brain of everyone! Anyone that chronically abuses alcohol will eventually become dependent. If you drink to self-medicate for co-existing conditions it is likely you will become addicted, if you aren’t already.

ALCOHOL WITHDRAWAL

Alcohol sedates your brain. Your brain works 24/7 to protect you, to do its job the brain offsets the sedative effects of alcohol consumption by producing larger and larger quantities of norepinephrine, a chemical similar to adrenaline. Although you abruptly stop drinking, your brain needs time to respond. It may take a few days to rebalance your brain chemistry, which is why the excess norepinephrine in your bloodstream causes withdrawal symptoms.

Only about 5% of alcoholics experience a dangerous withdrawal, known as delirium tremens, or DTs. Because your brain is unable to adjust to the quickly changing chemistry, you can experience confusion, hallucinations, and you are at increased risk of a heart attack or stroke. There is no way of knowing in advance if you are one of the 5%, which is why you should seek medical care to detox your body.

College Drinking

By Alta Mira

You started drinking in high school: sneaking beers with friends, raiding your parent’s liquor cabinet, attending (and hosting) well-stocked house parties. By the time you were a senior, you were drinking almost every weekend. You couldn’t wait to get to college and join the Greek life. And this was when the parties really started–every weekend there was some occasion to have a few beers with your brothers or sisters. Eventually you surrounded yourself with a group of like-minded partiers who were on an endless search for the next big binge. Almost anything became a reason to party: first day of classes, holidays, end of exams, obscure president birthdays, sun, snow, or rain. It was a drinking life for you, but you didn’t see a problem with that. You assumed it was just part of the lifestyle, and that it wouldn’t affect you after college. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a temporary thing. For some students, it was a college fad, but for you, it was the opening up of your latent addictive tendencies. Those college days of drinking have stayed with you–and now it’s time to acknowledge your addiction, and seek help for your alcoholism.
It seems obvious that students in Greek societies drink more–and there is ample research backing that up. But just how much more? A recent study showed that between their freshman and senior years, Greek students increased their number of drinks per week from five to eight–compared to an increase from two to three for non-Greek students. So not only are these students drinking over twice as much as non-Greek students, but they’re also increasing their intake more rapidly. This is always dangerous, but for some, it increases the chance of addiction. It opens someone up to a lifestyle that sticks with them. If this growth isn’t curtailed by graduation, where might it lead?
Nowhere good. With the increase in drinking comes a potential increase in negative outcomes.
We’ve all heard about the promising athlete who lost his scholarship due either to underage drinking, illegal activities performed while under the influence, or some freak accident that happened while drunk. And these are only the cases you hear about in the local paper. The effects touch far more students, and research paints a stark picture. Each year in the United States:
◦ Close to 700,000 students are assaulted by another student who has drunk.
◦ Over 97,000 students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.
◦ Close to 600,000 students suffer alcohol-related injuries.
◦ About 25 percent of students experience academic problems due to their drinking.
◦ 150,000 students develop alcohol-related health problems, and between 1.2 and 1.5 percent try to commit suicide.
◦ Almost 5 million students drive drunk, putting themselves and others at risk.
The saddest statistic of all: each year about 1,825 students will die from alcohol-related injuries.
You were one of the 150,000 students who developed an alcohol-related health problem while at college, and your drinking problem has followed you into the present day.
After college, you expected your drinking would slow down–after all, most Greek students are able to cut down their drinking after graduation. However, for you, Greek society was the catalyst for a lifelong addiction. You have realized that drinking has become a part of you, a part you can’t easily leave behind.
So maybe your drinks over lunch to discuss the latest ad campaign turned into two-hour liquid lunches. After-work drinks might have become an almost daily occurrence. Your weekends were a haze of bingeing. Alcohol might have been your escape from a hectic day–until one day, when it went too far. This was the moment when you realized you need help.
Seeking treatment seems like a daunting task. It is. Life or Death.

Stigma

By David L. Rosenbloom, Ph. D.
Stigma is one of the meanest and most difficult aspects of addiction because it makes it harder for people and families to deal with their problems and get the help they need. Society imposes stigma – and its damage – on addicts and their families because many of us still believe that addiction is a character flaw or weakness that probably can’t be cured. The stigma against people with addictions is so deeply rooted that it continues even in the face of the scientific evidence that addiction is a treatable disease and even when we know people in our families and communities living wonderful lives in long-term recovery.
Stigma is the reason there is so much social and legal discrimination against people with addictions. It explains why addicts and their families hide the disease. Discrimination always hurts stigmatized groups because they are excluded from the rules that apply to “normal” people. So insurance companies get away with refusing to pay for alcohol or drug treatment, or with charging higher deductibles and co-pays than for treating any other disease. People who need the help are often afraid to speak up. State and federal agencies feel safe in denying food stamps and baby formula to mothers who have past drug convictions because mothers who used drugs have few supporters in the political system and face lots of people who think they must be “bad mothers.” Though studies have found that helping employees to recover is more cost-effective than termination, some employers believe that firing an employee with a drinking problem is a lot easier than providing rehabilitation. A firestorm of protest would erupt if employers treated workers with cancer or heart disease the same way.
People who are victims of stigma internalize the hate it carries, transforming it to shame and hiding from its effects. Too often, people with alcohol and drug problems and their families begin to accept the ideas that addiction is their own fault and that maybe they are too weak to do anything about it. In many ways, hiding an addiction problem is the rational thing to do because seeking help can mean losing a job and medical insurance, or even losing your child when a social service agency declares you an unfit parent because you have an alcohol or drug problem.
The stress of hiding often causes other medical and social problems for the individuals and their families. This is especially true when an adolescent has an alcohol or drug problem. Fear often prompts kids to hide the problem from parents. Then, when parents find out, stigma makes them feel guilty and somehow negligent. Illness and family dysfunction explode. When that happens, parents find it even harder to fight for the care and resources their child urgently needs from a social and medical system that blames the family and the child.
FIVE THINGS YOU CAN DO TO FIGHT STIGMA

We may not change overnight the way society feels about people with alcohol and drug problems, but we can end the legal discrimination caused by stigma
1. Demand equal medical insurance coverage for alcohol and drug treatment.
2. Tell your elected representatives to stop punishing babies for the past problems of their mothers.
3. Tell your state lawmakers to remove the legal barriers that prevent people recovering from addictions from getting jobs.
4. Give more than lip service to the reality that addiction is a disease, not a character weakness.
5. Be an advocate for an individual or family with an addiction problem.

Substance Abuse Rampage: Report & NIH Update

NIH Report

A sobering report from the National Institute of Health offers an even more in-depth look at the potentially tragic effects of alcohol consumption, including cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias, stroke, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, cirrhosis, and a higher risk for mouth, esophagus, throat, liver, and breast cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control, excessive drinking kills about 88,000 Americans per year—making it the third-leading cause of lifestyle-related cause of death in the U.S.
But it’s not just getting wasted that’s dangerous. Just this week the British Journal of Medicine released a study showing that even one small alcoholic beverage per day can raise your risk of heart disease—findings which call into question the concept that drinking reduces one’s risk of heart disease.

The results are the first of their kind to show how young adults’ drinking on a single occasion can affect their social status—and run in direct conflict to a plethora of studies on the negative impacts for the Americans who took part in 1.5 billion episodes of binge drinking from 1993 to 2001, according to a study from JAMA.

So while men and women who drink the heaviest may have benefitted short term—they’re likely to pay for it in the long run. In a recent American Journal of Pediatrics study, researchers found underage binge drinking is a direct contribution to the three leading causes of death—unintentional injury, homicide, and suicide. Those who binge-drank were more likely to report poor school performance, sexual assault, attempted suicide, and the use of illicit drugs

SUBSTANCE ABUSE STATISTICS

Like physical illnesses, mental and substance use disorders cost money and lives if they are not prevented, are left untreated, or are poorly managed. Their presence exacerbates the cost of treating co-morbid physical diseases (1) and results in some of the highest disability burdens in the world for people, families, businesses, and governments.( 2)

The impact on America’s children, adults, and communities is enormous:
The annual total estimated societal cost of substance abuse in the United States is $510.8 billion. (3)

By 2020, behavioral health disorders will surpass all physical diseases as a major cause of disability worldwide. (4)

In 2008, an estimated 9.8 million adults aged 18 and older in the United States had a serious mental illness. Two million youth aged 12 to 17 had a major depressive episode during the past year. (5)

In 2009, an estimated 23.5 million Americans aged 12 and older needed treatment for substance use. (6)

Half of all lifetime cases of mental and substance use disorders begin by age 14 and three-fourths by age 24. (7)

References:

1 Stein, M. B., Cox, B. J., Afefi, T. O., et al. (2006). Does co-morbid depressive illness magnify the impact of chronic physical illness? A population based perspective. Psychological Medicine, 36, 587–596.

2 World Health Organization (WHO). (2004). Prevention of mental disorders: Effective interventions and policy options. Summary report. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO.

3 Miller, T., & Hendrie, D. (2009). Substance abuse prevention dollars and cents: A cost-benefit analysis (DHHS Pub. No. SMA 07-4298). Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention.

4 World Health Organization (WHO). (2004). Promoting mental health: Concepts, emerging evidence, practice. Summary report. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO. Retrieved March 25, 2011, from http://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/en/promoting_mhh.pdf

5 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2009). Results from the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National findings. (Office of Applied Studies, NSDUH Series H-36, DHHS Publication No. SMA 09-4434). Rockville, MD: SAMHSA.

6 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2010). Results from the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Vol. I. Summary of national findings. (Office of Applied Studies, NSDUH Series H-38A, DHHS Publication No. SMA 10-4856Findings). Rockville, MD: SAMHSA.

7 Kessler, R. C., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., Merikangas, K. R., & Walters, E. E. (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(6), 593–602.

8 World Health Organization (WHO). (2004). Promoting mental health: Concepts, emerging evidence, practice. Summary report. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO. Retrieved March 25, 2011, from http://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/en/promoting_mhh.pdf