Author Archives: Steve S

Loneliness vs aloneness

Especially early in sobriety, people may struggle with personal relationships.

Marriages or other long-term relationships may seem more fragile, whether due to raw emotions from early sobriety, or a relationship in which both partners had been drinking or using, and only one is now trying to quit.

While I don’t believe in a hard and fast rule, preached elsewhere, about making no major life changes in one’s first year of sobriety, there is some general value to the spirit of that as an idea.

So, that leaves dealing with loneliness, either from a relationship gone astray, or not having one.

Well, it means dealing with what is perceived as loneliness. And, that can include — and should include, as I see it — learning the difference between “loneliness” and “aloneness.”

We are all going to be alone at times in our life.

We’re also going to feel lonely at times in our life even when in the midst of a host of other people. Related to that, we may also feel alone, but yet not lonely, in the midst of one of those hordes.

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Sobriety, dual diagnosis, and personal OTC self-help

First, I want to make clear that this is just about my personal experiences, since Lifering is about personalized, individualized, self-empowerment, or self-help.

That said, let’s jump into what’s on my mind.

A fair percentage of people who eventually have addictive problems to drugs or alcohol are “dual diagnosis.” That is, they have some mental health issue connected with their addiction. Often it’s depression. Often it’s anxiety. Sometimes it’s bipolar disorder, occasionally schizophrenia.

For people that have “simple” depression or anxiety, and have been to a doctor before, for lower-level depression or anxiety, it’s tempting to self-medicate with over-the-counter items. For example, it’s a “commonplace” that Benadryl can help mild anxiety. Many people use St. John’s wort for mild depression. Beyond that, over-the-counter versions of lithium compounds, somewhat similar to, but not the same as, the prescription versions, are available. And more.

But, even over-the-counter medications aren’t risk free.

For example, prescription lithium has a narrow range of dosages. The non-prescription versions are presumably similar.

With St. John’s wort, there are studies indicating it can help with some cases of mild-moderate depression. There’s no “magic secret” as to why, though. The active ingredient is an MAO inhibitor, just like the first class of anti-depressant medications. Given that prescription MAO inhibitors come with certain warnings, like not combining them with aged cheeses, something similar might apply to St. John’s worth.

And, there’s the placebo effect. A lot of people swear by GABA, a natural neurotransmitter, to help with anxiety. However, GABA does not cross what’s known as the blood-brain barrier, therefore people are presumably just talking about a placebo effect.

Also, just as a prescription anti-depressant that works for one person might not work well for another, the same is true of these OTC self-helps.

A Lifering friend mentioned his doctor suggested he take a new OTC medication, which is GABA chemically linked to niacin, the B vitamin. He said it helped totally kill alcohol cravings, as well as some anxiety.

I decided to order it myself; it’s readily available online.

Well, my “sample size date” is only 10 days so far, but, I may discontinue it after another week.

While it’s not quite making me MORE anxious, I have had trouble falling asleep since then. I’ve had a couple of issues in my mind, but, this may be a contributing factor.

For me, the one time I went to a doctor with even more serious anxiety, it was anti-depressants that helped.

There’s nothing wrong with a prescription from a doctor, and there’s nothing magical about over-the-counter items. It never hurts to get professional advice.

No, moderate drinking is NOT healthier

No, this is NOT necessarily “heart healthy.”

It seems like every several months, though, there’s a new story out touting the health benefits of moderate drinking. Often, but not always, it seems focused on not just the alcohol, but on certain microchemicals in red wine. These studies all claim that the moderate drinking, and especially the wine, are “heart healthy.”

If you’re like me, even if these studies don’t have liquor industry sponsorship, you may wonder how accurate they are.

Perhaps not so much, according to a big new study which says moderate drinking is often NOT healthy. It’s actually a meta-study of a number of previous studies, and it says all those other studies dropped the ball by missing the genetics angle:

They found that those with a form of a gene tied to lower levels of drinking generally had healthier hearts. The gene affects how a person’s body breaks down alcohol, resulting in unpleasant symptoms such as nausea and facial flushing. Having this variant has been shown to lead to lower drinking over the long term, the researchers explained.

But the new study authors went beyond that:

“While the damaging effects of heavy alcohol consumption on the heart are well-established, for the last few decades we’ve often heard reports of the potential health benefits of light-to-moderate drinking,” study senior author Juan Casas, a professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said in a university news release. “However, we now have evidence that some of these studies suffer from limitations that may affect the validity of their findings.

“In our study, we saw a link between a reduced consumption of alcohol and improved cardiovascular health, regardless of whether the individual was a light, moderate or heavy drinker.”

So, don’t let the “lizard voice” or “addict voice” or whatever tempt you into believing you’re being healthy by grabbing that Merlot! It’s not true.

And (shockingly!) the authors note one other problem with most of these previous studies:

“Studies into alcohol consumption are fraught with difficulty, in part because they rely on people giving accurate accounts of their drinking habits,” Dr. Shannon Amoils, senior research advisor at the British Heart Foundation, said in the news release “Here the researchers used a clever study design to get round this problem by including people who had a gene that predisposes them to drink less.”

A drinker trying to pretend his or her drinking not accurately reporting drinking amounts for a study? Noooo!

So, there you go … stay sober and stay healthy.

 

Overcoming an old taboo — let’s talk about suicide

Many recovering alcoholics or addicts may have a suicide attempt in their pasts, either while clean and sober or else while under the influence. In years past, it was considered taboo to have survivors talk about their attempts, for fear this might be a trigger. In fact, aside from talking, survivors often were shunned.

Now, the nation’s leading organization of counselors, the American Academy of Suicidology, thinks it’s time to change all of this. Other organizations are thinking the same, it seems:

“We as a field need to hear these stories,” said John Draper, director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, “and not just to study them but to ask how they found a way to cope and connect: What did family and friends and doctors do that helped, and what did not?”

Lifering is a volunteer-based organization, above all in its convenors of its meetings. We are not professional counselors. However, if you are in recovery, and have a suicide attempt as part of your past, we encourage you to work with a counselor who is aware of the latest professional discussion on counseling in this area. And, as always, we encourage you to do whatever works best for  you to maintain and strengthen your sobriety.

Pot legalization has its dark side, too

Mark Kleiman/Wikipedia

Lifering takes no official policy on drug decriminalization or legalization, of course. Nonetheless, with legalized medical marijuana in California, and fuller legalization in Colorado and Washington State, and that wrapped around questions of addictiveness, it’s an unavoidable issue, how legalization or decriminalization will affect access, the number of people becoming addicted, quality of marijuana affecting possible addictiveness and more.

And, here’s a great discussion of related issues. Mark Kleiman, as his linked bio points out, is no cultural conservative;  that is, he’s no War on Drugs crusader who opposes legalization or decriminalization because of “Reefer Madness” type myths. So it’s significant that Kleiman, one of America’s top informed drug policy experts, does NOT favor full, “broad” legalization, in part because he thinks something similar to Big Pot might, like Big Tobacco, want to get people hooked.

Why? Well, marijuana is addictive. And, that’s Lifering’s starting point.

Kleiman talks more about its addictiveness, abuse potential and related issues that some ardent legalizers often try to avoid:

A lot of people on the pro-legalization side are still in denial about the cannabis abuse problem.  The numbers are about 33 million people will say in a survey that they’ve used cannabis in the last year.  About half of those, about 16 million, say they’ve used it in the last month.  Of those, about a quarter say they use 25 days or more per month.  In a different survey that folks over at Rand did the people who smoke many days per month also use a lot more per day.  That very heavy user group accounts for 85 or 95 percent of the total cannabis consumed.

About half the people who are daily or near daily users just from their own self-reporting in the surveys meet clinical criteria for abuse or dependence.  Cannabis is interfering with their lives and they’ve tried to cut down and they can’t.  It’s not as bad as an addiction to cocaine or methamphetamine or the opiates or alcohol. But it’s plenty bad enough if it happens to you or your brother or your kid or your parent.

Note that Rand is one of the nation’s top libertarian-oriented think tanks. If anybody had incentive to soft-pedal this issue, it would be a group like Rand. Again, though, like Kleiman, it’s presenting the information straight up, which should again indicate that it’s gotten serious consideration.

Kleiman draws parallels to “responsible drinking” PR of the alcohol industry or manipulation of tobacco by Big Tobacco.

Anybody who tells you, you can legalize cannabis and not have more drug abuse is fooling himself. Of course we’re going to have more. The question is how much more? My belief is if you can keep the prices close to the current illicit prices you won’t get a big upsurge in heavy use. It’s the heavy users and the kids who care most about price.

He also expects pot e-cigs to be the wave of the future. And, if anything like full legalization happens in other states, wants them to be.

This isn’t “just a political issue.” Rather, it’s spelling out likely public health impact of political action. Given that California, Lifering’s home state, has legalized medical marijuana, and Colorado, Lifering’s second-largest ground, has gone to full legalization, that’s part of why it’s important for Lifering to be aware of this, including Kleiman’s note about the number of people still in denial.

In fact, it’s arguably not just an American issue, as British Columbia, the home of Lifering Canada, allows medical marijuana, and across Canada, support for at least some form of decriminalization seems at least as high as in the US.