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Category Archives: Science

How much does a ‘label’ matter in getting help?

Dr. John Kelly

By “label,” I’m talking about what we, what society, and what the treatment industry calls someone who has an alcohol or drugs problem.

Often, that label is “substance abuser,” a labeling that Harvard’s Dr. John Kelly, an associate professor of psychology, said can be harmful indeed.

He says that label adds to stigmatization of people with an addiction, not just in society in general but among people at the Ph.D. level of study in psychology or related disciplines, including people planning on entering addiction counseling and substance abuse treatment work.

At a White House meeting, Kelly specifically told the federal “drug abuse czar” that, from the top down, the country’s frontline people in dealing with addiction need to work on changing their labeling vocabulary.

Coming soon: The possibility for ‘bulimic alcoholics’?

That’s my bottom-line takeaway from this new story in Britain’s The Independent newspaper.

Let’s start here:

Scientists are developing a drug which mimics all the positive effects of being drunk without any of the health risks, addiction – or hangovers.

And then ask how realistic that is. In my opinion, as the rest of the story demonstrates, not a lot. And, it leads to the rhetorical question of my headline.

We go next to this:

The “serious revolution in health” is being pioneered by the former Government drugs advisor Professor David Nutt, and has been described as doing for alcohol what the e-cigarette has done for tobacco use.

Uhh, wrong right there! As far as his claims about this new drug, the analogy is wrong, because the verdict is still out, to a fair extent, on the e-cig. (Apologies to any e-cig users reading this.) A Google search of “e-cigarette” + “dangers” gets more than 7 million hits. Those include the fact that e-cigs have their own toxic vapors and have not been proven to help people quit cigarettes, as noted in this story.

Meanwhile, back to our story at hand, now that we know our good professor is wrong about e-cigs and we know to be skeptical.

Here’s where my “bulimic alcoholics” angle comes in:

It targets neurotransmitters in the brain directly, giving the taker feelings of pleasure and disinhibition that are in some cases “indistinguishable” from the effects of drinking. Yet because it acts directly, it can also be immediately blocked by taking an antidote – with “drinkers” potentially able to then drive or return to work straight away.

So, get “drunk” for an hour, take the “antidote” (interesting that its called that), then get “drunk” again. Lather, rinse, repeat!

Finally, the good ex-drugs advisor has not a clue, it seems, about the mental and psychological components of addiction.

 

You Are Not Your Habits!! New Book Shows How to Break Free of Them

I recently read a book called The Power of Habit:  Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” by Charles Duhigg.  I think that many folks in early recovery, or in contemplation of recovery, will find this book enormously useful.  It uses a number of real-life vignettes to illustrate the power of habit, how habits form, and how they can be changed.  One of the most intriguing concepts in the book is that of “keystone habits,” seemingly trivial habits that – if altered somehow – create a cascade effect that renders other, more pervasive and intractable habits, amenable to change.  Another crucial concept is that actually believing that you have within your power the ability to change your habits is an absolute prerequisite to changing them.

I think that this selection from the last chapter of the book does a fine job summarizing his thesis, and I have copied it for you below:
   “Habits are not as simple as they appear.  As I’ve tried to demonstrate throughout this book, habits – even once they are rooted in our minds – aren’t destiny.  We can choose our habits, once we know how.  Everything we know about habits, from neurologists studying amnesiacs and organizational experts remaking companies, is that any of them can be changed, if you understand how they function.
   “Hundreds of habits influence our days – they guide how we get dressed in the morning, talk to our kids, and fall asleep at night; they impact what we eat for lunch, how we do business, and whether we exercise or have a beer after work.  Each of them has a different cue and offers a unique reward.  Some are simple and others are complex, drawing upon emotional triggers and offering subtle neurochemical prizes.  But every habit, no matter its complexity, is malleable.  The most addicted alcoholics can become sober.  The most dysfunctional companies can transform themselves.  A high school dropout can become a successful manager.
    “However, to modify a habit, you must decide to change it.  You must consciously accept the hard work of identifying the cues and rewards that drive the habits’ routines, and find alternatives.  You must know that you have control and be self-conscious enough to use it – and every chapter in this book is devoted to illustrating a different aspect of why that control is real.
    “[A]lmost all the . . . patterns that exist in most people’s lives – how we eat and sleep and talk to our kids, how we unthinkingly spend our time, attention, and money – those are habits we know exist.  And once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom – and the responsibility – to remake them.  Once you understand that habits can be rebuilt, the power of habit becomes easier to grasp, and the only option left is to get to work.”
Joseph A. Mott, M.D., J.D.

Isolation’s role in addiction, graphically illustrated

This graphic comic by Stuart McMillan illustrates how early studies on lab rats and addiction went long by not looking at isolation and social settings.

McMillan talks here about what went into the creation of this comic:

The Rat Park researchers were originally united in their view that the 1950s/60s experiments had design flaws which undermined their usefulness as ‘proof’ for addictive drugs. However, the team was divided with predictions about what would happen to the colony rats if given free access to opiates. …

Also worth reading is Bruce Alexander’s Adult, Infant, and Animal Addiction (1985). Written after some of the dust had settled (including the Rat Park funding running out), the article describes the other experiments which were conducted in Rat Park, and by other similar animal drug experiments around the world. It mentions times where the results of the original, famous experiments were not repeated. …

It is clear that scientific accuracy is important to Bruce, and that he is not simply promoting Rat Park for personal glory. He recognises that the Rat Park experiments do not necessarily ‘prove’ anything regarding human drug addictions. After all, rats are rats, and people are people. Yet he sees the findings of Rat Park as consistent with his larger body of research into human addictions.

Anyway, read away, and view away.

Depressed? Have you tried talking about it?

A number of people with alcohol or drug addiction are “dual diagnosis,” that is, they have a mental health issue that interrelates with their addiction.

Often, this mental health problem is depression, and often, a person suffering from depression tries one, then a second, then even a third antidepressant medication, without getting a lot of relief. But, that doesn’t mean a depression sufferer should just give up.

Instead, good old talk therapy may still be very helpful.

A year-long study of cognitive-behavioral therapy showed the benefits:

Researchers found that people with depression who had not improved despite taking antidepressants were three times more likely to experience a reduction in their depression symptoms if talk therapy was added to their treatment regimen compared with those who continued to take only antidepressants.

It’s still not clear why not all people were helped, if cognitive behavioral therapy is better than other talk therapy, or other factors, but, that’s all going to come up for further study. Nearly 500 people were in this study. Between that, and the length of time, it seems to be statistically significant research.