How Trump is Uniting Both Sides

Democrats and Republicans may not agree on much, however, they do seem to agree on one thing: drug addiction is a huge problem for the United States. The drug epidemic sweeping nation is taking countless lives every day. This issue has only worsened over time and therefore needs all the help it can get. We saw a record setting amount of fatal drug overdoses in the US in the year 2014 and 2015. Of the more than 55,000 Americans who died from drugs in the year 2015, over 33,000 of them were from opioids. What is our President doing to help this cause? As this has become a very hot button issue, it is important to understand what is going on in the mind of our leader.

donald trump

Trump’s Plan of Attack

Since the 90’s Donald Trump’s stance on drugs has changed tremendously. Originally he was in favor of the decriminalization of illicit drugs. According to him, the drug law enforcement of America was a “joke”. He believed that the only way to end the war on drugs was through legalization of drugs. In return he claimed the tax revenue could be used to fund drug education programs. He was quoted as saying, “You have to take the profit away from these drug czars.”

So how did Trump feel during the election and what was his stance on drugs. Donald Trump himself says that he has not done any drugs ever. He has never taken drugs of any kind, never had a glass of alcohol, never had a cigarette, and never had a cup of coffee. According to him drugs and alcohol has never been a part of his life.  This is largely because his brother died from extreme alcoholism and made him promise he would never touch drugs or alcohol.

He also tries to be sympathetic to those struggling with addiction. One of his Miss USA Pageant winners, Tara Connor, was given a second chance after testing positive for cocaine. Instead of ruining her life, he gave her an opportunity of getting clean instead of stripping her of her title. This leniency could be a result of his brothers lingering influence.

With this in mind, he feels strongly that recreational drug use should not be allowed unless decided upon by each individual state. He is 100 percent behind medical marijuana but is opposed to the legalization of recreational marijuana. In his opinion it has caused Colorado a lot of problems. But if a state votes to legalize marijuana he will not stand in their way.

Marijuana isn’t the big problem in our country, though; opioids are. On the campaign trail Donald Trump shed light on this issue. His main goal was to stop the inflow of opioids into the United States. The cost of this may be considerable but in the long run it would be worth it. The billions of dollars lost in productivity take a high toll on the country. The money necessary to invest to stop this problem would be a high cost, however, it would more than pay for itself with the help it would offer the nation. Donald Trump said that the recovery of lives and productivity would help make the United States a healthier, wealthier nation.

What He Has Done So Far

One of the only issues that Democrats and Republicans can unite on is the combat of drugs and addiction that plague this country. With the rise in death toll every day from drug overdose, it is no surprise that this problem is on the minds of most Americans. This crisis has shown a new record for drug overdose deaths over the last three years. Of these drugs, Opioids such as heroin and prescription pills tend to result in the most deaths.

Under the Obama administration we saw a giant leap toward this goal. The Comprehensive Addiction & Recovery Act, a considerable opioid combatant, was unanimously passed into law by Congress. Obama also wanted addiction recovery to be a main priority. Any health insurance purchased from the ‘Obamacare marketplace, was required to cover addiction recovery. This was a huge step in the right direction because addiction recovery can be extremely expensive.

On March 29, President Trump established a commission (President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis) that had a main goal to target and fix the enormous opioid problem. Everyone working on the commissions is working toward the best possible plan to combat addiction. The main idea of the plan is to identify the flaws, what is not working, and find better ways to approach the situation. The mission consists of six basic parts.

  • Evaluate the federal funding that is going towards addiction prevention and treatment
  • Pinpoint which parts of the country do not have ideal access to treatment services or overdose reversal medication
  • Identify the best practices for preventing addiction. This could mean anything from educating healthcare providers so they monitor prescription drug assignment to evaluating nationwide opioid prescription as a whole.
  • To evaluate the educational approach to informing the country of the opioid crisis
  • To evaluate the federal programs used to combat addiction and overdose
  • To re-evaluate and make suggestions for changes to the federal criminal law

The members appointed by Trump will do so without pay and “shall be selected so that membership is fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented…,” as written within the executive order. By October 1, 2017, the commission will submit a composite report of each part; after which they shall dissolve. If more time is needed an evaluation will be done to allow for such.

A Part of the Team

Governor Chris Christie, a Republican Governor from the State of New Jersey, is willing to take a stand against drugs. Christie is Donald Trump’s appointed Chairman of the Commission. He realizes the hole that we have spiraled into. In his State of the State address on January 10th, Chris Christie said:

“Our friends are dying. Our neighbors are dying. Our co-workers are dying. Our children are dying. Every day. In numbers we can no longer afford to ignore.” He spent a lot of his time devoted to fighting the battle of addiction within New Jersey because “because our state faces a crisis which is more urgent to New Jersey’s families than any other issue we could confront.”

Why does he feel this strong tie to ending drug addiction? He has lost two people due to drugs and almost lost a third. The first was a friend from law school who died from an addiction to opioids. Second was his mother whose addiction to cigarettes gave her lung cancer from which she died. And lastly was AJ Solomon, the son of a Supreme Court justice who was addicted to heroin. He almost lost this friend who eventually got clean and started his own rehab facility.

If you are worried that the only help Donald Trump is receiving is Republican one-sided, fear not. Many Democrats have rushed in to aid the commission. Among these Democrats are North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, and senior advisor to the president, Jared Kushner. Many others from both sides are trying their best to step up. It is a bipartisan effort as a whole against a cause they hits home for many of us.

How Necessary is Drug Intervention?

Heroin use is an epidemic in the United States.  This issue hasn’t gotten any better over the last 15 years; in fact, it has gotten profoundly worse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that the number of heroin overdoses rose from just five people per day in the year 2001, to 29 people a day in the year 2014. This increase is close to six times the original amount and getting bigger every day.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, drug overdose is the single leading cause of accidental death in the US.  In 2014, over 47,000 occurred from drug overdose alone.  Of these 47,000, 10,000 were heroin-related and almost half were opioid based. A report by US News revealed that the rate of heroin dependence doubled from 2002 to 2013.

Studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) affirm that heroin abuse rates are rising most rapidly “…in demographic groups with historically low rates of heroin use.” This includes non-Hispanic whites aged 18-25 who the CDC say are increasingly becoming addicted in metropolitan areas. This means young white adults in cities where population growth is continually happening are most at-risk for becoming addicted to heroin.

Where is the pushback coming from?

While it seems Donald Trump shares an interest to combat drug addiction, it seems he is looking to cut federal spending wherever he can. The first part of his term gave us false promises and false hope. In the beginning of May, the Presidents administration revealed the 2018 budget for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Much to our surprise he decided to cut funding by about 95 percent according to an Office of Management and Budget document acquired by the New York Times. Donald Trump is proposing that the drug policy office budget be reduced from $388 million dollars to just $24 million.

For a man who is so dead set against drug use, this has thrown many supporters off his bandwagon. Democrats and Republicans are baffled as to why he would want to cut funding for a program that has helped youths in over 600 communities across the nation. This includes 4.4 million middle schoolers and 6.3 high schoolers since its creation in 1982, according to Republican Senator Rob Portman, Democratic Senator Dander Levin. Lawmakers are questioning why he would want to defund a program that is so evidently helpful.

Not only has his leaked plan upset those who had faith he would combat the opioid crisis in the United States, but he also wants to reverse an Obama policy that reduced mandatory minimum sentences. These sentences are not for violent offenders, but for non-violent drug offenders with a minor amount of drugs possessed. The overcrowding in prisons has decreased immensely since this policy was put in place. It stopped the arrest of minor marijuana possession which was instead solved with the issue of a ticket. This is the opposite of what most lawmakers want; they want to help addicts rather than incriminate them if possible.

What can we do?

The idea with this approach is to take a step back and figure out what can be done. Christie believes that current funding is not effective and can be distributed differently. Whether this is true or not, this budget is going to receive a lot of negative feedback from both sides. Hopefully Democrats and Republicans can overcome their differences to unite under a righteous cause.  One this is for sure, the opioid crisis is a serious epidemic and lawmakers need to figure something out to fix this problem.

With the cut in funding it is more important than ever to get involved and stay aware. With the Commission’s report coming out October first, we should get a good idea of how things can be adjusted.

 

“Everything in Moderation, Including Moderation” – Oscar Wilde | Alcohol Use Disorder

Most of us have overindulged in alcohol at someone point in our lives; however, the bulk of us know that binge drinking isn’t a healthy habit to carry out on a regular basis. This is why most Americans try to adopt moderation when drinking. This could mean having a drink here and there or even one beer to relax at night. While this may seem harmless, a recent study has shown that even moderate drinking can take a toll on our health. The question is where do we draw the line? Do new guidelines and limits need to drawn up in order to educate and inform the public of this new discovery; and how serious are the consequences that accompany even moderate drinking?

Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol Use Disorder is a newly coined term to describe people who participate in the drinking of alcohol. The age old term alcoholism is starting to be used less and less because it describes a more specific group of people. While the two terms can be used in interchangeably at times, they do not always go hand in hand. Alcohol abuse can be seen in many forms.

Alcohol Use Disorder allows the consumption of alcohol to affect aspects of your life. While alcoholism creates a desire and need for alcohol at all times, Alcohol Use Disorder doesn’t always have to be to this extreme. The individual may start to drink more but still in social settings. There can also be an increase in tolerance and a worsening of withdrawal, or hangover symptoms. These can all point to the development of a bigger issue.

One of the more common forms of alcohol consumption is binge drinking. This is the most common form of Alcohol Use Disorder. Binge drinking is the excessive consumption of alcohol over a short amount of time. The amount that it takes to classify binge drinking differs between men and women. Women must consume 4 drinks over the course of 2 hours, while men must consume 5. The effects of this alcohol abuse can be obvious short term; but long term effects are a still a strong possibility. When discussed binge drinking sounds quite severe, however, going out on a weekend night and drinking “a lot “ with friends can be considered almost causal and moderate drinking.

What classifies as a drink:

  • 12 oz. of beer
  • 8 oz. of malt liquor
  • 5 oz. of table wine
  • 5 oz. of 80 proof liquor

In 2015, approximately 6.2 percent or 15.1 million adults in the United States ages 18 and older had Alcohol Use Disorder. Alcohol Use Disorder occurs when the urge to drink or the act of drinking too much starts to have an impact on your life. While not every American who drinks suffers from Alcohol Use Disorder, it almost seems as though even casual drinking is going to have to be included in this spectrum now. If even moderate drinking does have an effect on your health then it is possible that it could fall under the umbrella of Alcohol Use Disorder.

Where is the Limit?

There are many arguments about the limitations we should set on drinking. What are the limits that need to be set to protect our physical and mental health? Depending on whom you ask, “moderate” drinking can mean two completely different things.

According to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, moderate alcohol consumption can be ok as long as it is limited to 1 drink a day for women and 2 drinks a day for men. This sounds very moderate, however when the weekend comes around, usually 1 or 2 drinks turns into many more. Another different recommendation that you may come across is one from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). The NIAAA states that there needs to be limits set on drinking to prevent a risk of alcohol dependency later in life. According to the NIAAA, this means no more than 3 drinks in a single day or a total of 7 drinks per week for women and no more than 4 drinks a day or 14 total drinks a week for men.

While these guidelines are set out differently, they essentially equal out to be the same. One drink a day set by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines is equivalent to 7 drinks a week as we see in the standards recommended by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. How effective are these guidelines compared to not drinking? Dr. George Koob, the director of the NIAAA believes that the current evidence that is available to us does not show any significant difference between someone who abides by these guidelines and someone who doesn’t drink at all. Some case studies even defend that a glass of wine a day can be beneficial to cardiovascular health.

The Effects of Moderate Dinking

If the above information is not enough to cause you to begin analyzing your own drinking habits or those of someone you love, maybe the results of a 30 year – that’s right, three decades – long study, conducted by the University of Oxford and University College London, both in the U.K. and published in the BMJ, will. The objective of the study was to investigate the link between moderate alcohol consumption and deterioration of brain health and mental function and whether moderate alcohol consumption has a favorable or adverse association or, possibly, no association with brain structure and function.

The study included 550 healthy, nondependent, men and women over a period of 30 years; starting in 1985. The average age of the participants at the beginning of the study was 43. Weekly data was analyzed for alcohol intake and cognitive performance throughout the entire 30 year-long study. In addition, over the last three years of the study, each participant had to undergo regular MRI scans and other brain function tests. The main factors considered in the outcome measures were structural brain measures (which generally measure anatomical connections linking a set of neural elements and are commonly measured as a set of undirected links – including hippocampal atrophy, grey matter density, and white matter microstructure) and functional measures ( which generally are obtained from time series observations, and describes patterns of statistical dependence among neural elements – including cognitive decline over the study and cross sectional cognitive performance at the time of scanning).

The study was broken into phases and designed to focus on alcohol variables which were collected in each phase which included units drunk per week, frequency of drinking a week in comparison to the previous year and the results of screen questionnaires. The standards for analyzing the data were based off of existing literature and the following UK 2016 guidelines on alcohol consumption:

how much alcohol is in a standard drink

Results:

After assembling 30 years of data and taking additional variable factors account which could have influenced the results of the study, including age, sex, education, social class, physical and social activity, smoking, stroke risk and medical history, the researchers found there is, in fact, a link between moderate alcohol consumption and deterioration of brain health and mental function. Specifically the some of the findings, resulting over the length of the study, included the following:

  • Higher consumption of alcohol was associated to increased risk of a form of brain damage which affects memory and spatial navigation known as hippocampal atrophy.
  • Participants who consumed over 30 units of alcohol a week were three times more likely to have hippocampal atrophy compared to those who abstained from consuming alcohol.
  • Interestingly, there was no significant effect of light drinking over abstinence.
  • Higher consumption of alcohol resulted in poorer white matter integrity which is a major and critical to cognitive function.
  • Higher consumption of alcohol also resulted in a quicker decline in language fluency.

In summary, the results of the study indicate alcohol consumption, not solely limited to higher levels but also in moderate levels, is linked to adverse brain outcomes. While the authors of the study indicate the nature of the study was observational and therefore no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, their findings without doubt highlight the significant and important health implications associated with high alcohol consumption and the long term, irreversible effects such consumption has on our brain. Which means you can take this next sentence quite literally – start thinking about what consumption of alcohol means to your future before you lose the ability to “think” at all.

“We all use rationalisations to justify persistence with behaviours not in our long term interest. With publication of this paper, justification of “moderate” drinking on the grounds of brain health becomes a little harder.” Killian Welch, consultant neuropsychiatrist at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital.

Why it matters:

While most (or possibly some) of us believe and overall truly accept that drinking too much is bad for you – something we may or may not have learned first-hand.  Or this knowledge can be attributed to our government’s dietary guidelines which are commonly known among the general population and state in summary that alcohol can be consumed but only in moderation. As noted herein, in the United States the government defines moderate drinking as one drink a day for women and two for men. This may or may not seem reasonable to you. However, the above study found drinking at these levels – according to our governments established guidelines – consumption of 8 to 12 drinks per week – is directly associated with certain measures of cognitive decline – these results are irrefutable – they appeared on brain scans. It matters! It really matters!

Advertising & Reality

Speaking of rationalizations to justify our behaviors, the advertising industry in America does an excellent job of creating a rosy picture of moderate drinking and its perks. A majority of alcohol ads depict hip and young looking people consuming alcohol with a handful of friends that look like they’re having a hell of a time in a sunny, warm environment. For anyone that has been to enough post-work “happy hour” outings, every once in a while there’s that one person that doesn’t understand the concept of moderation and ends up saying or doing embarrassing things.

Advertising is heavily protected by the First Amendment, which essentially allows people to say something ignorant without legal repercussions. Additionally, alcohol ads depict paradoxical situations where drinking alcohol in them would be objectively irresponsible. Coors Light’s recent “Whatever your Mountain” campaign is the most recent culprit. That particular campaign is a series of video clips of people completing impressive feats of strength and agility. One scene depicts three hikers ascending a mountain that would require a set of lightweight hiking gear and superb physical fitness. I don’t think those hikers have room in their hiking packs for a couple of Coors Light’s.

Everything in Moderation

They say that too much of a good thing can take its toll. While more data needs to be generated to truly understand the effects of moderate alcohol use on our bodies and minds, we can all agree that moderation is key. As with anything in our lives, we need to practice self-control. The argument is not whether we should give up drinking all together or not, but how much alcohol is too much. It seems that the view of “moderation” has become skewed. The goal as a society should be to practice a true moderation according to guidelines created through scientific discoveries. Only through that can we avoid significant negative impacts on our health and the health of those we love. As highlighted herein, the importance of seeking treatment for an alcohol use disorder cannot be ignored. Your health, your brain, quite possibly, your life depends on it.

English Boy, 13, Almost Dies of Alcohol Poisoning

We have all likely experienced peer pressure. Assuming you the reader are an adult, go ahead and think back to how much peer pressure there was in grade school. It begins early and continues all through high school. Regardless of your social status back then, you surely remember how perhaps the strongest form of high school peer pressure is the desire to fit in. Kids are willing to do just about anything to be popular.

Chase Owen, a 13-year-old boy from England, nearly died for a chance to be popular.

Just last month, on May 11th, Jo Owen found her son Chase sprawled out in their garden and knew immediately something was wrong. It turns out he had alcohol poisoning from having been taking shots at school over the course of three days.

The popular boys in Chase’s class were bringing soda bottles full of vodka to school. Attempting to impress them, likely in hopes of raising his own popularity, Chase was “downing vodka shots at school for three days,” as reported by Devonlive.

A Near Death Experience

It’s honestly a miracle Chase went three days. When his mother Jo found him, his blood alcohol content was two and a half times the legal limit to drive. This means Chase’s bloodstream was at least 0.2% alcohol – a level that could easily kill a full grown man.

Upon bringing him to the hospital, “…paramedics thought Chase might have meningitis, a possible stroke, or the effects of a bad migraine,” according to Yahoo Australia. Then a toxicity report showed the immense amount of alcohol Chase had in his system.

It turns out that Chase is going to be okay. That is the top story. However, a close second is the reaction Jo Owen had afterward. She decided to post photographs of Chase in the hospital and use his experience as a tool for educating other parents on the very real dangers of both peer pressure and underage drinking.

The Facebook Post

Jo Owen’s post was not restrained. She published photos of Chase in the hospital with gear attached to him in order to save his life. This picture in particular went viral, and received the attention of people around the country:

13 year old alcohol poisoning

Along with photos, Jo Owen wrote the following:

“Finding Chase collapsed in my front garden yesterday after school I instantly knew something wasn’t right. According to him he was just tired. We have now found out from investigations at the school, that over the course of three days Chase had been downing shots of vodka that the ‘popular’ boys were bringing into school in Coke bottles. He was trying to impress these boys to fit in with them! And in turn almost died!

“We need to educate our teens that it is okay not to fit in, be different & have our own identities. We don’t need to impress anyone, be yourself and you will find the right friends, not the most popular ones. You do not need to be in the popular group at school to be successful once you are no longer in school.”

Up to 75% of those aged 12-17 have at least tried alcohol. Chase got lucky. Not all kids do. Please, if you are the parent of a child who is experimenting with alcohol or drugs, or if you know someone who is, reach out today. We have help standing by.

British Comedy “Catastrophe” Portrays Lifelike Alcoholism

catastropheBefore you read this article, please be aware it contains plot-spoiling information about all seasons of Catastrophe, a British series debuted on Channel 4 and now available in the US since 2015. If you haven’t watched all of the show, or if you plan on watching in the future, you may want to choose a different one of our articles to read.

The show is about a man and a woman, Rob and Sharon, who meet in a bar, end up sleeping together, and it results in Sharon getting pregnant. Over time, they marry, have another child, and the content of the show is all of the drama that has come about as a result of this so-called catastrophe.

When they meet in the pilot episode, Rob is a recovering alcohol who has not consumed alcohol in quite some time. However, in the finale of season two, he ends up drinking the entire minibar’s worth in his hotel room. Here begins the show’s realistic depiction of alcoholism. Rob had a lot of sober time under his belt, but as can happen to any recovering alcoholic, he relapses during a hard time.

It is during season three of Catastrophe that Rob’s alcoholism begins to take his life over, for apparently at least the second time. What began as a minibar episode of relapse to end to the previous season becomes full-fledged alcoholism. The most realistic aspect of Rob’s addiction is how ‘well’ he hides it, especially from Sharon.

How You Drink and How Often You Drink

Early on in the season, Rob orders a cocktail at lunch with his former boss. He is on an unpaid leave. This is already an indication that he is drinking again, but it’s when he downs the whole thing in one gulp that it really hits home. He’s not only drinking again – he’s addicted again. See, plenty of non-alcoholics order cocktails at lunchtime. There is a way to do it responsibly. Slamming the whole thing like you’re at a college frat party is a surefire sign of alcoholism. Alcoholism is defined by how you drink, and how often.

On his way home afterward, he literally covers himself in cheese and potato chips in order to not smell like booze. Now, in the context of the show, this comes off as funny. But picture this happening in real life. This is actually desperate and saddening. Rob even lies to his wife Sharon and says he was at the movies.

In the next episode, Rob goes to a job interview drunk and the interviewer calls him out on it. He’s also been gaining weight – a possible indication of heavy drinking. Later on in the season, there are signs of a growing alcohol problem: finding a miniature bottle of vodka and being unable to not drink it, being drunk when his friend Chris randomly stops by, and even falling over drunk onto a sidewalk.

Rob eventually acknowledges his problem in a conversation with his mother, played by the late Carrie Fisher in her last role. “I know it would be a really bad thing to drink right now,” he tells her, “but I want to… a lot.” And that’s alcoholism, as real as it gets.

Rob in Real Life

As written by Mary Elizabeth Williams for Salon, the show “has from the beginning quite brilliantly communicated that whether we drink or not, we live in a drinking world. We pour wine at dinner parties. We clink glasses as work events. We meet our buddies down at the pub.”

The ability of Catastrophe to depict alcohol’s place in real life is relatively unique to television. The honesty is raw. However, there is good reason for the show to be able to realistically depict alcoholism, and it’s because of the actor who plays Rob. He is also named Rob. He is Rob Delaney, comedian, actor, writer, winner of funniest man on Twitter, and recovering alcoholic with over fifteen years and three months of sobriety.

Rob on the show is in some ways Rob in real life.

In the late 1990s, when Delaney was in his twenties, he was a self-described “disastrous, dangerous, ridiculous alcoholic.” He got so bad that he eventually began routinely wetting the bed. He attempted to order queen-size plastic sheets from a prominent mattress manufacturer, in order to be able to continue in this manner. When told they only exist in child-size, Delaney had them ordered.

Delaney wrote of this experience in 2013 for The Guardian, linked above. “In a moment of utter sobriety, I was 100% at peace with the fact that I was a voluntary, habitual, adult bedwetter and I was comfortable discussing it frankly with a stranger.” Delaney also wrote in this article about how he hid his alcoholism from his then-girlfriend. “My girlfriend at the time was bummed out by my drinking but not horrified,” he wrote. “She never really saw it all, since I’d try to keep it together around her.”

Perhaps Delaney never poured cheese onto himself in real life, but it’s easy to see parallels between the two Robs, beyond sharing a name.

Rob Delaney, Recovery Writer

Starting as early as 2010, Delaney has written in various publications about his life and his road to recovery. He has performed stand-up comedy on the topic, and has appeared on several television programs. It’s his writing that stands out as a testament to how low alcoholism can make you sink, and how it’s always possible to recover.

Tumblr

Depression is a very common precursor to drug and/or alcohol abuse. Delaney suffered for a long time from a deep depression, one he called “suicidal” and “unipolar” in a piece he wrote on Tumblr in 2010. He says that between 2003 and 2010, there were two distinct periods of extreme depression that were the two hardest experiences of his entire life. You can truly begin to see how bad depression can be when you understand what other life experiences Delaney considered less awful.

From his Tumblr piece: “To illustrate how horrible [the depression] was, being in jail in a wheelchair with four broken limbs after the car accident that prompted me to get sober eight years ago was much, much easier and less painful.” What a testament.

There’s more on the car accident later, but more important is the message Delaney is sending with the piece. He says he wrote it only so other depressed people might read it and realize help exists. He praises how far the mental health system has come, and strongly recommends that depressed people use medicine, regardless of the stigma.

Vice

Delaney wrote a rather vulgar piece for Vice Magazine that same year, this time talking about comedy and how it has helped him stay sober and happy. For this reason, we hesitate to link to the article.

It is here he mentions the car crash that changed his life. Rob Delaney was drunk, alone, and driving someone else’s car around Los Angeles when he blacked out and crashed into the city’s Department of Water and Power. He was the only one hurt, but had no idea upon coming to. He actually asked his arresting officer if he had killed anyone.

Delaney suffered “two badly broken arms that would require surgery and knees that were ripped open to the bone.” He spent his jail time in a wheelchair. It was when he would fall out of it and hit the floor, unable to support himself, that he would think about getting sober after all.

Since then, he has attended therapy, taken depression medication, and most importantly, has stopped drinking. “And therapy, plus not drinking, plus taking my little pills, allows me to put one foot in front of the other and put one word after another and produce the comedy that makes me, and often others, happy,” said Delaney in the piece. “Not only do I not want to die, but having gotten sober and treated my depression, I actually want to be happy too.”

Interview with Slate

In a spoken interview with online magazine Slate, Delaney spoke about how the next step after recovery was to do stand-up comedy. It’s wonderful that he chose this direction, as it has given us a wonderful actor who is very funny, and has even been nominated for a daytime Emmy.

Delaney talks about how entering rehab felt like going home for him – that he belonged there. He says he had to wait about a year after the accident to be fully healed, but went right on stage once he could.

Most crucially though, he talks briefly about how it felt to be an alcoholic. “I can only speak for myself, but I will say that back when I was drinking, if I had no alcohol in my system and then I added it to my system, it felt like sort of a chemical equation being completed. Like, I felt incomplete, and then, with alcohol, I almost had the thought, ‘Oh, here I am. Here’s me.’”

Feeling incomplete without alcohol is yet another surefire sign of alcoholism.

The Finale

The very end of season three of Catastrophe shows Rob (the character) searching for a parking spot. His car is then hit by another car. The bigger problem is that Rob is drunk. Now, we all sometimes draw parallels to our own lives using TV, but for Rob Delaney, this is extremely close to home. The show has taken a cue from Rob’s real life, and has shown us how devastating alcoholism can be, in the form of a car crash that started with a drink at lunch.

The show is funny, but the premise is not. Every 53 minutes, another American dies due to an automobile accident involving a drunk driver. That’s almost 30 people a day. Rob the character and Rob the actor both survived their crashes. Some are not so lucky. However, an alarming number of people drive impaired.

By self-report, according to the CDC (linked above), there are approximately 121 million instances of someone in America driving drunk every year. This means across the country, on any given day, there are 331,507 motorists drunk on the road. That’s an average of 6,630 drunk drivers in every state, every day.

Now it’s easy to see how someone dies because of it more often than every hour.

If you have feelings of depression, thoughts of suicide, are abusing drugs and/or alcohol, or any combination of these, please seek help immediately. That is no way to live life. However low you think you are, you can always climb back up, and you will. Things simply get better. They just do. If you don’t believe it, ask Rob Delaney from the past, who went from having broken limbs in jail to being nominated for an Emmy.

MAY Mental Health be with You (It’s Mental Health Month)

mental health monthMay is Mental Health Awareness Month. Also referred to as “Mental Health Month,” it has been observed in the United States since 1949. It was established as an effort to reach out to and educate millions of people through various means, including media and local events.

We live in an age where it is not uncommon for there to be an Awareness Month or even an Awareness or National Day or Week for any number of issues, causes, or conditions. Some are for seemingly obscure reasons or issues that are of importance to a limited portion of the population. You might see reminders of National Car Care Awareness Month for example, or World Vegan Month. Word has it (perhaps tongue in cheek?) that December is actually Awareness Month of Awareness Months Month!

However, if we stop to consider how utterly different the world we live in was back in 1949, we can begin to understand how important Mental Health Awareness was. We can see how determining that a month be designated as a time for outreach was vitally important in shedding light on mental health issues and mental illness.

Mental Health Month

Developed by The Mental Health America Organization, Mental Health Awareness Month was and is a way to help to spread the word that mental health is something everyone should care about. In the 1950s, America was in its infancy, if you will, as far as de-stigmatizing mental illness. Not too long beforehand, those considered mentally ill were institutionalized and in many cases subjected to drastic medical procedures in an effort to treat or cure the illness. Those not considered to be mentally healthy were often feared and misunderstood.

It was commonplace for them to be seen as violent, people who were unable to conform to the rules and norms of society at large. Treatments like lobotomies (a surgical procedure where neural passages from the front of the brain were separated from those in the back of the brain) and electro-convulsive shock therapy were routinely used. These same barbaric approaches were used to treat illnesses as benign as depression and anxiety, as well as psychosis or far more serious mental illnesses.

Mental Health Month came about just as there began to be a shift in the perception of those in need of mental health care. The fifties were the early days of de-institutionalizing those with mental illness. It was also when medications like anti-depressants came to be used in the treatment of mental disorder and disease, instead of life-altering surgical procedures. So we can see, then, that having a month set aside to concentrate on educating the public in areas of mental health was vitally important.

It is still very important.

Today’s Day and Age

One is left to imagine how well such information was received, how much impact it had in those earliest days, and how far-reaching and permanent the consequences were. Although treatment has come quite a long way, society’s view of the mentally ill has not.

For years the Mental Health America Organization has developed themes each May to highlight various aspects of the broader topic of mental health. Themes such as 2008’s “Get Connected” sought to underscore the importance of social connectedness in one’s overall well-being, particularly in times of personal stress. More recently, last year’s “Mental Illness Feels Like…” utilized social media as an aid to encourage mentally ill people to share what they are feeling. It’s quite beneficial to discuss stressors or traumatic events they have experienced. It tends to help others suffering from mental illness to recognize in themselves symptoms of mental illness, ways to cope, and even risk factors to substance abuse.

There appears to be a high correlation between drug and/or alcohol abuse and mental illness or disorder. This is not to say that one is a direct cause of the other; however, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) maintains that drug use can be a means of self-medicating for people suffering from mental illness.

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) also points out that some drugs can trigger or create mental health symptoms like paranoia, depression or even delusions. Another unfortunate fact is that people who are dealing with a drug/alcohol addiction or a mental illness (or who have a dual diagnosis) fall into the category of individuals least likely to seek help with these issues. This leads one to believe that even given as far as we have come as a society, there is still a pressing need for the insight and education that having a Mental Health Awareness Month can afford us.

Even though we don’t necessarily seek to institutionalize or surgically alter a person with mental health issues, we still have far to go before one’s mental health or lack thereof is given the same respect and consideration that a person’s physical well-being is afforded.

Mental Health Defined

So what is mental health? Surely it involves more than just the absence of a diagnosed mental illness! Dictionary.com defines it as “psychological well-being and satisfactory adjustment to society and to the ordinary demands of life,” as well as “the field of medicine concerned with the maintenance or achievement of such well-being and adjustment”. The World Health Organization defines it as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.

Given these similar but verbally diverse definitions, one has to wonder why there remains such a stigma regarding mental illness or disorder. How many of us can say confidently and consistently that we are in a good state of mental health? How many of us are even comfortable in discussing issues surrounding our mental health, surrounding our ability to cope with daily stressors, setbacks, trials & tribulations, much less serious trauma or hardship?

Removing the Stigma

How many of us can say we have never questioned our ability to contribute to our community? How many of us have not questioned our worth, our inherent value when faced with so many of life’s demands and setbacks? How many among us can say that we have never sought to “solve” a problem with a glass of wine or some beers with friends?

Is it not easier to see, if not to identify with, a person who seeks such self-medication only to find out they are NOT in control? That they are in fact addicted? That they can no longer function without the crutch of a drink or a drug?

Isn’t it time that shame was taken out of the equation?

Perhaps that is one of the many goals of Mental Health Awareness Month. Let’s take this topic out into the open where it belongs, where it can be seen, discussed, understood. No one would cower in shame if they were diagnosed with a setback to their physical health. Sometimes even those challenges, physical health problems, have roots in voluntary behaviors. Sometimes a physical health issue will arise directly or indirectly as a result of life choices and decisions we have made.

Why then is mental health so often viewed through a different lens?

Mental Health Awareness Month is a valuable tool in at least opening a dialogue that can have broad repercussions for those people who also find themselves dependent on drugs and/ or alcohol. It is an opportunity to reach out and say “you are not alone” and “I know how you feel”.

Mental Health America also offers mental health screening which can, through a series of tests a person can take independently, help one to identify or recognize that they are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition. These can include tests for depression, anxiety, PTSD, psychosis, or alcohol/substance abuse. These screenings can help at-risk populations to identify problems and seek help before the mental health condition severely impacts their lives. Once identified, these mental health conditions can be treated and recovery is possible.

May 2017

This year Mental Health America chose “Risky Business” as its theme for May’s Mental Health Awareness. It is an effort to make people aware of habits and behaviors that can put them at risk for either developing a mental illness or for making an existing mental health issue worse. Also, quite significantly, this month seeks to make people aware that sometimes a risky behavior one is engaged in can actually be a sign or symptom in itself of an underlying mental health issue they are already suffering from – perhaps without even being aware of it.

One would hope this would be the type of outreach that may reach the youngest of the “at risk” population: college age kids, teenagers, even kids at the elementary school level. If we consider the self-medicating theory set forth by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the very definition of mental health noted previously, then our children seem particularly vulnerable. There is the need to belong and to fit in, coupled with the increased prevalence of bullying which has been taken to an all new level with social media and its power to influence young minds. No longer is a child just made to feel worthless or outcast on a playground or school campus; now their humiliation is on the internet for all to see and hear about.

Bullying has the power to shape kids’ realities. And then there is the impact that celebrity and mainstream media can have on how mental health is viewed as well as how substance use and abuse is viewed. Both mental illness and substance abuse are not realistically portrayed in the media. Mental illness still has a tendency to be depicted in a stereotypical way, and substance abuse is often treated less as the disease that it is than as a matter of personal choice and even privilege. Once again, the afflicted, or the user, is portrayed as being somehow responsible for that which is not theirs to control.

Conclusion

No doubt we as a society, and the mental health and medical professions, have come a long, long way since the seemingly ancient days when those suffering from mental illness or alcoholism were thought to be possessed by evil spirits and were housed in asylums which were little more than prisons. Locked away from society and any semblance of beneficial treatment. But there can be little doubt either that we have much room for continued improvement in the understanding of and care for those who suffer from mental health and substance abuse issues.

Remembering Mental Health Awareness during the month of May, year after year, continues to bring this most worthy of issues to light. Mental Health Month brings greater and more open dialog to a much misunderstood topic which seems only to become more important as the years and decades pass.

Alcohol and Suicide | The Deadly Relationship

“I have absolutely no pleasure in the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly indulge. It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure that I have periled life and reputation and reason. It has been the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories, from a sense of insupportable loneliness and a dread of some strange impending doom.” – Edgar Allen Poealcohol and suicide

When things get tough, when it’s hard to cope, when feeling becomes too much – places where we all have been – the need to make it through becomes eminent. As this is something we all can relate to in one way or another, it should be easy to understand why you or someone you love has turned to alcohol to soothe or numb the pain. After all, it’s a quick and readily available solution, right? Well, quick and readily available – yes. A solution – no.

Alcohol is a depressant. This is pretty commonly known, but not properly acknowledged in the way it should be as the immediate effects of a few drinks can feel far from depressing. And if you are drinking as a way of coping when things get hard and you are feeling down, the mood-enhancing effects of alcohol are undeniably tempting. Whether we are aware of it or not this is a form of self-medicating. The unfortunate truth is this behavior results in a downward spiral effect. Individuals who drink heavily are more likely to be depressed or suicidal. It is also commonly known that, drinking lowers an individual’s inhibitions, impairs their ability to make smart decisions regardless of the consequences.  Did you know the use of alcohol also simultaneously increases negative feelings about oneself, thus continuing the cycle of depression and suicidal thoughts?

Alcohol abuse and suicidal behaviors leads to more destructive behaviors. For some, heavy drinking may result in depression (this is not rocket science – alcohol is a depressant after all), but these individuals, once sober the depression goes away. While for others (and as studies show, this may be the majority), drink alcohol excessively as a way to self-medicate against their diagnosed or undiagnosed depression or various other mental health disorders. Whichever category you or a loved one fall into, we are all ultimately trying to achieve the same goal – to find a way to tolerate the pain and find a way through to tomorrow. Seeking help through self-care and education, support systems with family and friends, and professional support will provide you or someone you love with the means to gain new methods to achieve what you need and beat the cycle of abuse – it truly will save your life.

The Facts: Alcohol Increases the Risk of Suicide

Although we all may be pros at fooling ourselves when it relates to something we find difficult to admit, the facts don’t lie. Alcohol abuseeducation is important to understanding what you or someone you love is going through. It is even more important as it relates to individuals who are using alcohol as a way to cope with depression as they might even know how much worse they are making their symptoms and increasing the risk of suicide. Let’s look at the basics:

  • Drinking alcohol is generally viewed as a social norm and a way of having a good time – happy hour, weddings, parties, events, fundraisers – you name it. However, as previously noted, alcohol works as a depressant to our systems. What does that mean to you? Alcohol will not make you feel better – maybe in the moment but the moment is fleeting. Simply stated, if you are already feeling down and out, adding alcohol will only make it worse as it will heighten the depression and ultimately lead an individual ending their life.
  • As suicide is often considered an impulsive act, of course consuming alcohol will increase the risk of suicide. Alcohol increases impulsiveness and lowers our inhibitions, causing, quite literally, lethal effects.
  • Let’s look at the numbers. One in ten people in the U.S. abuse alcohol. Alcohol is involved in 40% of all suicides. What this means is, if you abuse alcohol, you’refour times more likely to die from suicide.

Relationship Between Alcohol and Suicide

There is an undeniable relationship between alcohol and suicide and this relationship is quite literally one of the most toxic combinations in yours or a loved one’s life. TheCenters for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) study in 2009, measured blood alcohol levels post mortem and found that one in four suicide victims were legally drunk.Hence, when alcohol is involved, you are four times more likely to die from suicide. According to the CDCP report, the relationship between alcohol and suicide is described as one which “leads to disinhibition, and it can enhance feelings of hopelessness and depression.”

“Alcohol impairs judgment and can lead to much more impulsive behavior. Any suicide prevention efforts must take that into account and address alcohol and substance abuse as well.”

What are some of the factors contributing to this relationship? Here are a few:

  • Heavy drinking only makes mental health issues worse. According to the American Psychological Association, “Alcohol abuse and alcoholism can worsen existing conditions such as depression or induce new problems such as serious memory loss, depression, or anxiety.” Alcohol is only adding to the problem not helping. The limited relief one experiences from alcohol is diminished by the risk one is putting themselves in by consuming it.
  • Research has shown that alcohol is often associated with suicidal behavior. Do you believe us yet? According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “Alcohol abuse may lead to suicidality through disinhibition, impulsiveness and impaired judgment, but it may also be used as a means to ease the distress associated with committing an act of suicide.” As previously noted, alcohol lowers an individual’s inhibitions – ya know, the ones that might otherwise stop us from doing something regrettable – and in turns causes deadly consequences.
  • Alcohol use disorder and depression often go hand and hand. Statistics indicate that at any given time up to 50 percent of people with alcohol use disorder are also suffering from a major depressive disorder. The link between the two is easy to understand as alcohol is proven to be one of the easiest ways to self-medicate. In addition, drinking while taking antidepressants is also a very bad idea as it can worsen symptoms and side effects, cause drowsiness, impair alertness and even potentially cause a dangerous reaction depending on your medication.

Suicide Warnings Signs, Prevention and Resources

Warning Signs

While time might find the warning signs to be quite obvious, other might struggle to understand exactly what it is you should be looking for. We all have to realize that sometimes people will commit suicide impulsively while under the influence of alcohol but that does not always mean there were not any warning signs. Below is a list of somethings you or a loved one could look for to prevent a suicide:

  • Talking about suicide openly. Does this sound familiar to you? Do you know someone who threatens to kill themselves? Please know this should always be taken seriously.
  • Withdrawal from family and friends. Has someone you loved stopped communicating? Do you notice a change in their behavior? Maybe it is time to get them help?
  • Giving away possessions. Pay attention. If someone you love begins giving away their things this is a sign. They may need help. Be there for them.
  • Increasing use of alcohol and/or drugs. In no way will increased use of alcohol or drugs aid an individual in recovering and will only make things worse. Please save a life and if you know someone who is self-medicating with alcohol or drugs, get them the help they need
  • A sudden period of happiness after an episode of depression. The individual may feel relieved to have found a permanent solution to their problems – this solution could be suicide.
  • Making comments to others as if they are not going to see them again. It is so detrimental to recognize these behaviors as they are whether the individual acknowledges it or not, cries for help.
  • An obsession with death or actively seeking tools to commit suicide with. It just takes someone who cares to notice when everything is going wrong.
  • Increased impulsive acts – this may be directly linked to alcohol use as we are all aware by now, drinking can increase the likeliness of impulsive acts.

Prevention

There is hope as suicide can usually be prevented if the right steps are taken and we act in a timely manner. Whether you or the one you love are struggling and need to take action, educating yourself on recognizing the symptoms and finding the help could prove to be vital in a life or death situation. The following are some helpful aids in suicide preventions:

  • First and foremost, if you or someone you love is experiences suicidal thoughts, you should immediately talk to someone about it. If you are not sure who to talk to, please use the National Suicide Prevention Line which offers a free and confidential service on 1-800-273-TALK. If you believe the risk is that eminent, please go to the nearest hospital and seek emergency care. The National Suicide Prevention Line can also offer advice to friends and family of individuals who appear suicidal.

 

  • Suicidal talk should never be ignored or not taken seriously. It is important to not make individuals feel guilty about their feelings as it might only make them feel worse. Let them know you are here to help.
  • Although you might have made a promise not to tell anyone, if an individual tells you they are feeling suicidal thoughts or have being thinking about taking their life, tell someone! Get them help! Their life is at risk and they are coming to you for help.
  • Encouraged the individual to talk about how they are feeling. Listen to what they are saying without judgement and aid them in seeking help from a medical professional as soon as possible.
  • Individuals who abuse alcohol and/or drugs should be made aware of the treatment options available for their addiction. Help them find medical help. Sobriety could ultimately save their lives.

Resources

If you believe that you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts or is on the verge of suicide, below are several resources available to educate yourself and find a way to help yourself or a loved one before it is too late:

Survival: Treatment and Recovery

There have been so many studies that closely link addition and suicide, and it is time to stop overlooking these studies and to start getting you or a loved one the help you need. If you don’t know where to start, go to your doctor. Your primary care physicians will be able to help identify and prevent suicide. Doctors and medical professionals are there to ask the difficult questions about whether you or someone you love has ever considered or attempted suicide and whether you make currently be thinking about or intend to commit suicide. They are also there to let you or someone you love know that they are not alone, that there is still hope, that they are cared for, that they will work together to with the individual and their loved ones to develop a recovery plan that ensures their safety and address the issues that needed to be treated. You are never alone and hope in never gone.
Finally, don’t fear hurting someone’s feelings if they are exhibiting signs of suicidal thought or worse. Not saying something is far worse. We worry about those in our lives that are struggling with addiction for good reason – they are at high risk for death (not just limited to suicide). Prevention, treatment and recovery are all possible when we are brave enough to take the next step.

Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

Why is America home to 18 million alcoholics? Why is one out of every twelve American adults alcohol dependent? Why do 240 US citizens die every single day from alcohol? Why do more than 9,000 people worldwide die every single day from alcohol? Why is $250 billion spent every year on excessive alcohol consumption?  Why, you may ask, have over 85% of Americans reported having drank at least once in their life? Why is a full quarter of global deaths attributable to alcohol for those between age 20 and 39?

The answer is the human brain.

What we commonly call alcohol, when it comes to drinks, is actually ethanol, one of over fifteen types of alcohol. Ethanol is the type of alcohol inside of adult beverages. As a standalone substance, it is non-addictive. What are addictive are the chemical reactions that happen in our brains when ethanol is consumed.

What’s Up with the Brain?

effects of alcohol on the brainWe must first understand the basics of how the brain operates before we can understand the effects of alcohol. As you may remember from high school, all living things are made up of cells. Brain cells are called neurons. There are over 100 billion neurons in the average human brain. Each neuron is responsible for tens of thousands of different connections, which enable every single thing we do.

The brain is the control room of the body. Every function you can think of is controlled by the brain. Movement, emotions, our five senses, thought, blinking, breathing, heartbeat, pain and pleasure are all controlled by and made possible by the brain. The chemicals responsible for all of this are called neurotransmitters. They deliver messages that tell the body what to do.

There are two basic types of neurotransmitters: inhibitory and excitatory. Inhibitory neurotransmitters slow down overall brain activity, allowing for rest, ease, balance, peace of mind, and general calmness. Excitatory neurotransmitters speed up brain activity, allowing for focus, attention, alertness, possible unease, and nervousness.

Alcohol creates changes in the brain. Three different types of neurotransmitters are affected in particular by alcohol: GABA, dopamine, and endorphins. For non-problematic drinkers and for those just beginning to drink in their lives, alcohol creates pleasurable effects in the brain, which we called being buzzed or drunk. However, excessive drinking over time causes the brain to adapt to these changes.

Eventually, the brain cannot function without alcohol, and we call this alcoholism.

Let’s take a look at how alcohol affects these three neurotransmitters. Then let’s discuss potential brain conditions that are caused by alcohol. Finally, let’s talk about how to treat and/or prevent such alcohol-caused brain conditions.

The Three Neurotransmitters

  1. GABA

Gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, is the brain’s principal inhibitory neurotransmitter. Its main function is to reduce activity in the brain, such as when we are concentrating, sleeping, resting, or attempting to calm down, or even maintaining a normal overall bodily balance. Alcohol increases the flow of GABA inside the brain. If this sounds bad, that’s because it is.

Alcohol-caused increases in GABA explain why drunk people have trouble with their motor skills. Off-balance walking, slurred speech, and poor memory of time spent drinking are all results of increased GABA. Essentially, the overflow causes mild sedation of the brain. This happens every time alcohol is consumed, a GABA increase, and will happen more and more intensely over time, as long as there is drinking.

In response to increased GABA levels, the brain creates more glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter. Glutamate counteracts the over-calming effects of GABA. However, the more alcohol one consumes, the more GABA produced, and the more glutamate produced in order to keep the balance. This chemical chain reaction is what causes a tolerance to alcohol.

  1. Dopamine

Most of the entire reward system in our brain is due to dopamine. This neurotransmitter is released whenever we feel pleasure, whether it be from eating, sleeping, having sex, using the bathroom, exacting revenge, lifting weights, scoring the winning shot in your YMCA basketball league, or any other moment we consider pleasurable. Dopamine is released as a reward for pleasure, allowing us to physically feel good when something pleasurable happens. Dopamine, however, has no morals. It’s released in excess by the consumption of alcohol, as well as from most other drugs.

Because some of the initial effects of alcohol are pleasurable, the brain considers alcohol use to be rewarding, and reinforces this by releasing dopamine. Too much dopamine causes an imbalance in the brain, but being the amazing animals that we are, the brain actually adapts to this imbalance, considering it normal. We mentioned this previously. However, with dopamine, there’s more:

Prolonged alcohol abuse physically wears down the brain’s dopamine transporter and receptor sites. Scientists recently conducted a test on brains of deceased alcoholics and consistently found the damage. According to the scientists, long-term drinking will “ultimately interfere with the brain’s ability to use dopamine, and subsequently inhibit the individual’s ability to feel pleasure.”

Repeatedly flooding the brain with dopamine eventually decreases overall dopamine levels. Think of it like over-milking a cow. Eventually the well runs dry. Tolerance builds with increased drinking, but the inability to feel pleasure without dopamine is what actually causes increased drinking.

  1. Endorphins

You may have heard of these pleasure-givers. Endorphins are basically neurotransmitters for nerve cells – they are called neuropeptides. The word ‘endorphin’ is actually a blend of two words: ‘endogenous’ and ‘morphine’. Something endogenous originates from within an organism. Morphine is a strong opioid painkiller. Endorphins are morphine-like molecules produced by the central nervous system, released by the body to counteract physical pain. Endorphin release can also create a feeling of euphoria.

Endorphins are produced naturally in response to pain, but are also produced by human activities such as working out and laughing. Alcohol abuse also releases endorphins. Different parts of the brain release endorphins according to different responses, and alcohol releases endorphins in two different parts: the nucleus accumbens and the orbitofrontal cortex, which control addictive behavior and decision-making, respectively.

With so many neurotransmitters being released when we drink, along with endorphins, it’s almost no wonder alcohol is so addictive. Not only does alcohol trick the brain into thinking that drunk is the normal way to be, alcohol also releases several pleasure-inducing chemicals. The brain becomes used to this rush of pleasure, and problematic drinking begins its course.

When alcoholics stop drinking, the increased GABA, glutamate, and dopamine levels cause withdrawal symptoms, such as hallucinations, tremors, convulsions, and even delirium tremens, a condition lasting 2-3 days which includes shaking, shivering, irregular heartbeat, sweating, high body temperature and/or seizures.

Alcohol is addictive because the brain becomes used to it in order to function properly. The neurotransmitters and endorphins reward the brain for drinking. There is a cruel irony here… we are being ‘rewarded’ for creating potential brain conditions and/or illnesses.

Brain Damage from Alcohol

Aside from being addictive due to brain changes, excessive drinking can lead to several different brain diseases or conditions. We will leave out the obvious: fatigue, hangover, headache, dehydration, irritability, slurred speech, blurry vision, slower reactions… It’s obvious that alcohol affects the brain. It’s scary just how much.

Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

If you are an alcoholic, your brain has become completely used to the presence of alcohol. Stop drinking all of a sudden and you are at risk for alcohol withdrawal syndrome, or AWS. Also, anyone who drinks heavily for an extended period of time and then stops altogether is at risk for AWS. Symptoms are plenty, and if severe, a medical emergency is at hand. About half of those at risk will become affected.

Symptoms of AWS include nausea, vomiting, headache, sweating, anxiety, tremors, sleeplessness, nightmares, increased heart rate and high blood pressure. Severe symptoms include heavy confusion, extreme irritability, fever, hallucinations, and in the most dangerous cases, seizures. Delirium tremens, known as DT, can be deadly, and consists of full body convulsions.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

WKS occurs most often among alcoholics, and encompasses two closely related conditions: Wernicke’s encephalopathy (WE) and Korsakoff’s syndrome. WE consists of lesions in the central nervous system, causing ataxia, paralysis of eye muscles, and overall confusion. Korsakoff’s syndrome consists of a lack of vitamin B1 in the brain, caused by alcohol abuse. Symptoms include severe memory loss, inability to form new memories, confabulation (inventing memories), and apathy. Both WE and Korsakoff’s syndrome are neurological disorders.

The two often co-occur in alcoholics, and together form WKS, a memory-impairing, vision-affecting, seizure-causing brain disorder. The more one drinks, the more at risk they are. WKS is a multi-symptom form of amnesia, and up to 2% of the population is afflicted. This may seem low, but 2% of America is almost six and a half million people.

Neuroinflammation

Swelling of the brain, or neuroinflammation, can occur from many things. Infection, injury, aging, and toxic metabolites are among the causes. When alcohol is metabolized by the liver, a chemical called acetaldehyde is left over. Acetaldehyde is a toxic metabolite, so harmful that it can cause cancer.

Neuroinflammation is one of the primary causes of Parkinson’s disease, and can cause a multitude of other issues, including Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis. Excessive drinking can cause neuroinflammation by creating too much acetaldehyde.

Impaired Development in Minors

A study done by the University of Eastern Finland shows that alcohol dramatically impairs brain development in teenagers. “The maturation of the brain is still ongoing in adolescence and until the twenties. Our findings strongly indicate that alcohol use may disrupt this maturation process,” said Noora Heikkinen, lead researcher.

This is a problem, considering up to 20% of Americans aged 12 to 20 reported themselves as drinkers in the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Underage alcohol abuse can cause schizophrenia, OCD, depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, autism, and damage to the insular cortex, a part of the brain responsible for perception and motor control among other things.

Underage alcohol abuse can also cause increased levels of GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, in teens. High GABA levels can cause shortness of breath, high blood pressure, increased heartrate, and night terrors, among other disorders. Yet another disorder caused by underage drinking is cortical thinning. This is when the cerebral cortex loses mass, causing a reduction is cognitive ability. Normally, cortical thinning only occurs with old age.

Alcoholic polyneuropathy

Also known as “alcohol leg,” polyneuropathy is a brain disorder which causes nerves throughout the body to function improperly, causing loss of mobility. Paresthesias, or feeling pain without cause, also occurs with alcoholic polyneuropathy. In its early stages, alcohol leg is reversible, but in mild to severe cases it could be permanent.

Liver-related Brain Disorders

Hepatic encephalopathy, also known as HE, can occur as a result of severe alcoholic hepatitis, a disease caused by heavy drinking. Symptoms include extreme confusion, altered levels of consciousness, coma, and even death. Treatment includes removal of toxins directly from the intestines.

Also, liver cancer can cause severe brain disorder, and can be caused by heavy drinking when cirrhosis is occurring.

In Conclusion

Alcohol causes an absolute plethora of brain disorders, diseases and damage types. Please drink responsibly. If you are alcohol-dependent, or feeling like you’re close, please seek professional treatment today.

Are You an Alcoholic? | Symptoms of Alcoholism

If someone called you an alcoholic, would it bother you? If you believe you aren’t an alcoholic, would you be willing to be evaluated by a Substance Abuse Counselor? Most people aren’t aware of what classifies someone as an alcoholic. Is it the drink consumption? Is it only when you drink alone? Is it when you depend on alcohol to cope?

are you an alcoholic

What about sanctioned alcoholism that has, in this day and age, come in the form of bar crawls, frat parties, fundraisers, drinking games, open bars at weddings and any other venue or event that will allow alcohol? Are we forgetting that alcoholism is a disease? Alcoholism, as the late Mitch Hedberg said, is the only disease you can be yelled at for having.

According to Jerry Nelson, a Substance Abuse Counselor, it is this very question we ask ourselves that may classify us as being alcoholics. When asked by clients ‘Am I an alcoholic?,’ Nelson’s response was “Do you think ‘normal’ drinkers ask that question?”

Nelson goes on to say that “Only alcoholics understand what ‘normal’ drinkers are. They’re the ones that walk into a bar, order a drink and leave an hour later with half the drink still in the glass.” Does this sound like you? Or do you stay and have a couple more leaving nothing in your cup? Do you think this is normal? Nelson would say no.

Alcoholism has many faces and we can’t ignore the health effects of alcoholism being more prominent in individuals of low socioeconomic status. That’s just one statistic from one study so please don’t ignore that alcoholism is everywhere. Alcoholism is not just the fall down scruffy looking drunk guy in a bar and it’s not a group of laborers that just finished their day at a local factory. Alcoholism is not exclusive to Frank Gallagher of the hit Showtime series Shameless. The Institute of Alcohol Studies actually suggests that individuals in high-income earning managerial positions are more likely to drink regularly and above recommended levels during the week.

Let’s put it to the test…

If you use alcohol enough, you’ve probably been ‘yelled at’ for something alcohol related. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol-related accidents costed $44 billion in the United States in 2014. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself if you depend on alcohol, or if your alcohol use has become problematic? The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders would find reason to believe you have Alcohol Use Disorder if you meet 2 of the 11 following criteria:

1. Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?

Ever go to a happy hour with co-workers for just one drink and find two hours later… a few drinks in… you’re still there? It is easy to tell ourselves that this is normal and we aren’t the only ones. And that is likely correct, you aren’t the only one. But does this behavior become acceptable because you are surrounded by others doing this same thing?

2. More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?

Let’s say you’re meeting an old friend for a drink and to catch up on old times. You’re friend orders you both one of your favorite glasses of wine. You’ve already told yourself that you’re just going to have one or two drinks as you have been drinking a lot lately and are trying to stay on the wagon. While your friend sips on their first glass you have already finished and are ready for the second. You wait painfully for your friend to finish ordering another. Is this normal behavior?

3. Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the after effects?

Many of us can probably say we have spent more time drinking than we like to admit at certain times in our lives. We rationalize with ourselves – what is a lot of time? Is it two days? Three? What it may come down to is how it’s affecting us? Do we get sick? Does it affect our relationships? Our work? It is important to take the time and recognize what drinking is doing to our lives.

4. Experienced craving — a strong need, or urge, to drink?

Think of it like cigarettes – do you have to stop what you’re doing to have a drink? Is there an urge that is nagging you so much you can’t get through the day without a drink? Alcoholism is an addiction and cravings go hand and hand with addictions. Asking for help is the first step.

5. Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?

While all of these questions are important to our health and our future when it comes to our alcohol intake, please take some time as you answer question number five. No one likes to think they are out of control and it is difficult to admit when we are. Once our drinking starts affecting our livelihood it is time to admit that we may need to make a change.

6. Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?

As mentioned above, when our loved ones begin to notice a problem, let them in. Let them help. Sometimes as much as we want to stop we just can’t. It may seem impossible but know that it is not.

7. Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?

Are you someone who used to play a sport but gave it up? Did alcohol have anything to do with why you gave it up? Did it start with stopping at the bar with teammates to celebrate a victory and then spiral from there?

8. More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?

Drinking and driving. It is well known that alcohol lowers our inhibitions and as such we are not as likely to make the sound and responsible decisions our sober selves may have made. If you answer yes to this question please seek help before you hurt yourself or others.

9. Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having a memory blackout?

According to the New York Times, “Alcoholism is not a form of depression, but both are quite common, and there is plenty of overlap between the two.” Sometimes it is hard to tell what is causing what. Is the depression causing the drinking? Is the drinking causing the depression?

10. Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?

Drinking to get drunk. Is this you? Have you ever uttered these words? You just don’t want to feel anymore. One drink isn’t going to do it. Is two? Three? Four? How much does it take to get to the desired state of mind?

11.Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?

The most common psychiatric disorders that co-occur with alcoholism are depressive disorders and bipolar disorder, which are both under the mood disorder umbrella. Depressive disorders affect 6.7 percent of the United States population. Instead of walking you through another dry set of criterion for a depressive disorder, it’s safe to say if you are experiencing a recurring depressed mood, have lost interest in pleasurable activities and are drinking alcohol to excess, you may benefit from a formal evaluation.

Now What?

Moving away from the psychiatric disorders, don’t you want to know if you’re an alcoholic? The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) made a nifty questionnaire to help you take your first step toward a definitive answer. Some of the questions include:

-Do you drink heavily when you are disappointed, under pressure, or have had a quarrel with someone?

-Have you ever been unable to remember part of the previous evening, even though your friends say you didn’t pass out?

-Do you often want to continue drinking when your friends say you’ve had enough?

-Have any of your blood relatives had trouble with drinking?

The questionnaire is sure to disclaim that they are not giving official diagnoses but they sure did a great job of highlighting events that we’ve come to be comfortable with in movies, sitcoms and other portrayals of human interaction. I dare you to watch a major network on television for 2 hours and not see a depiction of one the above questions. We see signs of alcoholism in society everyday but we minimize it through statements such as ‘blowing off steam’ or ‘celebrating’.

In summary…

Don’t panic if you think you’re an alcoholic because you had one too many last night, or made a poor decision after a late night of drinking and showed up late to work the next morning. It’s possible you’re experiencing an underlying psychiatric disorder and you’re using alcohol to cope with that disorder. It’s also possible that you’re perfectly fine and simply drank irresponsibly.

Either way, you may have to improve your ability to cope with stressful life events. If you want to go to a professional, he or she can charge by the hour and sift through your mental health status and history, alcohol consumption, genetics and additional life domains and still end up with a chicken or egg situation. However, regardless of the cause, a trained professional can help you evaluate your drinking habits and assist with extinguishing the abuse.

Even when we think we are alone, there is always someone there to help. Sometimes it takes us being honest with ourselves to make the first steps towards getting help. It is never too late to make the healthy choice and always know you are not alone. You are not the first person who answered yes to two or more of the above questions and you certainly won’t be the last. As scary as it may be at first it’s your life, don’t you want to live it?

Alcoholic Hepatitis: Say Goodbye to your Liver

The liver is a rather important organ. It is a vital organ, meaning we could not live without one. Its name is perfect. The liver is responsible for detoxification, metabolism, protein synthesis, digestion, and up to 496 other bodily functions. It’s bigger than the stomach, spleen, and gall bladder combined. No artificial organ exists to replace the liver, which is one heck of a statement in today’s day and age. Liver failure often leads to death. The liver is essentially made up of very specialized tissues.

Hepatitis is the inflammation of these liver tissues. There are five types of hepatitis, A through E. Food and/or water contamination causes types A and E. Type B is mainly a sexually transmitted disease, and type C is most commonly transmitted during shared intravenous drug use. Type D only develops with the occurrence of type B, an offshoot of sorts, and type D is the most deadly form of hepatitis. There is also another form of hepatitis, known as alcoholic hepatitis, which is an inflammation of liver tissue caused by alcohol abuse.

Alcoholic hepatitis can be deadly, and is a stepping stone on the way to cirrhosis and worse yet, liver cancer. Let’s talk about what causes alcoholic hepatitis, what the symptoms are, and how it can be treated and prevented.

Liver Working Overtime

When you drink an alcoholic beverage, one-third of the liquid goes into your stomach and the other two-thirds ends up in your small intestine. The alcohol itself is absorbed into your blood from there. Your kidneys filter some alcohol out, but the remainder is sent to your liver. Here, the alcohol is metabolized, or broken down, into a chemical called acetaldehyde, which is toxic. Your body knows it’s bad for you, so the acetaldehyde is burned as fuel for the body instead of fat like usual.

Drink too much, and two things happen: the fat that should be used by the body gets stored in your liver, and excess acetaldehyde damages liver cells.

Too much fat in the liver causes fatty liver disease. Symptoms include abdominal pain, fatigue, and weight loss. Fatty liver disease cannot be cured. Symptoms can last an entire lifetime. More than 3 million Americans suffer from it every year. Obesity and diabetes can cause fatty liver disease, but it is most commonly associated with excessive drinking. Although not necessarily caused by fatty liver disease, continuing to drink with fatty liver disease can cause alcoholic hepatitis.

Alcoholic Hepatitis

Over time, acetaldehyde causes damage to liver cells. Eventually, due to the damage, the liver becomes inflamed. When the liver becomes inflamed, it cannot function properly. This is a condition known as alcoholic hepatitis. You do not have to be a heavy drinker to be at risk. In fact, all but occasional drinkers and non-drinkers are at risk.

alcoholic hepatitis

There are other possible factors that may contribute to alcoholic hepatitis, including malnutrition, consistently drinking without food intake, genetic factors concerning alcohol metabolism, and any other liver disorders. Severe cases can be fatal. Those with alcoholic hepatitis may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain and/or bloating
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Appetite loss
  • Weight loss
  • Jaundice
  • Fever
  • Mental confusion
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Male impotence and/or testicular shrinkage

The damage of alcoholic hepatitis can be reversed, but requires long-term abstinence from drinking. If you are even a moderate drinker, let alone a heavy drinker or alcoholic, and you have been diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis, please seek professional treatment immediately. Over fifty people die every day from alcoholic liver disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Prevention

The best way to prevent any and all complications associated with alcohol is to, of course, not drink alcohol. However, in America, that’s like asking us not to eat cheeseburgers. The best thing you can do if you’re a responsible drinker is maintain a healthy diet, stay hydrated, and only drink in moderation.

Again, we cannot stress enough that you should seek professional treatment if you are at all dependent on alcohol, and especially if diagnosed with alcoholic hepatitis. This is a serious disease which can be fatal, and is more common than you might think. In the US there are over 500 cases per day on average.

Diagnosis and Treatment

To diagnose alcoholic hepatitis, a doctor must perform a series of tests, as well as analyze the patient’s health history and drinking habits. Tests include a complete blood count, a liver function test, a CT (computerized tomography) scan of the abdomen, and an ultrasound of the liver. Alcoholic hepatitis cannot be diagnosed without such tests.

If these tests do not show definite results, a liver biopsy must be performed. A biopsy consists of removing tissue for examination. It is a rather invasive surgery, and presents risks all on its own. Alcoholic hepatitis may be diagnosed by a biopsy, as well as any other liver diseases.

When it comes to treatment of alcoholic hepatitis, number one is to stop drinking. If you continue to consume alcohol with alcoholic hepatitis, the next step is cirrhosis, as we will see further on. Once the body is clear of alcohol, further treatment can begin.

Next comes hydration, nutrition, and stacking up on vitamins and minerals. More than likely if you have alcoholic hepatitis, you are also malnourished and dehydrated. Also, a doctor may prescribe steroids to reduce the swelling in the liver. According to Love Your Liver, “If heavy alcohol use is reduced and kept within recommended limits, alcoholic hepatitis usually reduces slowly over weeks to months, but often residual cirrhosis will remain.”

In severe cases, a liver transplant may be required. This surgery will not be performed if the patient cannot prove beyond a doubt that alcohol consumption has ceased. Sometimes six months of sobriety is required before even being considered for transplant. Imagine, though, what a slap in the face it would be to take a liver from someone who needed it only to damage it with alcohol all over again.

Next in Line (HE, Cirrhosis, Cancer, & Death…)

HE

Hepatic encephalopathy, also known as HE, can occur as a result of severe alcoholic hepatitis. This is a brain disease caused when toxic substances, normally removed by the liver, end up reaching the brain. Symptoms include extreme confusion, altered levels of consciousness, coma, and even death. Treatment includes removal of toxins directly from the intestines.

liver cirrhosis

Liver Cirrhosis

This occurs when liver cells become so damaged that they literally get replaced by scar tissue. At this point, the liver has been inflamed so often and for so long that it becomes lumpy and hard. Blood and other bodily fluids can no longer easily pass through and be filtered. This is malfunction – more serious than improper function.

Cirrhosis can occur from continuing to drink with either fatty liver disease or alcoholic hepatitis. It can also occur from certain medications, abuse of other drugs, and gallstones, however it is most commonly associated with alcohol abuse. (Hepatitis B can also cause cirrhosis, and can be prevented with vaccination).

Cirrhosis can NOT be cured, just as with alcoholic hepatitis. The liver damage caused by cirrhosis cannot be reversed. Symptoms include:

  • High blood pressure and/or swollen blood vessels
  • Reddening of the palms
  • Increased breast size, infertility, loss of libido, testicular atrophy (in men)
  • Fluid in the abdomen
  • Jaundice
  • Abnormalities of the fingernails
  • Swelling of bone tissue
  • Hand-related deformities
  • Anorexia and/or unwanted weight loss

A long list of other less common symptoms of cirrhosis is available on Wikipedia. Essentially, the liver is scarred to the point of malfunction. Again according to Love Your Liver, linked above, “If you continue to drink at this stage [cirrhosis] you will accelerate damage to your liver and rapidly increase your chances of liver cancer as well as death.”

Liver Cancer

There are many different types of liver cancer. The type associated with alcohol-caused cirrhosis is called hepatocellular carcinoma, or HCC. It is the most common type of liver cancer. The scarring from cirrhosis can develop a cancerous tumor inside the liver. Aside from pre-existing liver conditions, alcohol use is the main risk factor for HCC.

Liver cancer is incurable. It can be treated with chemotherapy and/or radiation. Other options include liver transplant or removal of part of the liver. Symptoms are similar to those of cirrhosis, only more intense. Hepatitis types B and C are the most common causes of liver cancer.

Over seventy people die every day from liver cancer. More than twice as many men than women get diagnosed. Nearly 60% of those diagnosed will die within a year. After five years, that jumps to 83%. For advanced liver cancer, the only treatment is to “experience a quality of life similar to that of before their diagnosis, at least for some time.”

In Conclusion

This could all happen from drinking. Moderate to heavy drinking on a regular basis for a handful of years or any longer puts you directly at risk for liver complications. A detailed dietary guideline was issued in 2015 by the CDC, and part of it is dedicated to recommended alcohol intake. Women should only consume one drink per day, and men should only consume two per day. These are standard sized drinks, containing 0.6 fluid ounces of alcohol.

Standard drinks include: one 12 ounce beer with 5% alcohol, one 5 ounce glass of wine with 12% alcohol, or one 1.5 ounce glass or hard liquor with 40% alcohol. Keep this in mind next time you grab yourself a “tallboy” of beer with alcohol content above five percent. That 24 ounce can is literally more than two standard drinks.

One tallboy a day will NOT keep the doctor away.

Alcoholic hepatitis is basically the halfway mark from healthy liver to failed liver. None of the symptoms are pleasant, and in order to prevent further damage, immediate action must be taken.

Please, please, please seek professional alcohol-dependence treatment if need be. The early stages of alcoholic hepatitis may not be detectable without screening. If you are a heavy drinker, a problematic drinker, an alcoholic, or even someone who drinks moderately but wants to cut back, seek help. Quitting alcohol should never be attempted cold turkey, especially without assistance.

Take care of your liver, and you’ll live longer.

Predicting Future Drinking Patterns in Adolescents

What if there was a way to tell whether or not a teenager was going to grow up and be a heavy drinker? If we knew an adolescent was going to be a heavy drinker later in life, could we prevent it from happening? A research team from the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) recently attempted to do so in a study published recently, and so far they’ve been successful.

Adolescent drinking is completely out of control in this country. Alcohol is the most commonly abused drug among US youth, reports the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Nearly 5,000 underage drinkers die each year, and nearly 200,000 ER visits are linked to alcohol each year. That’s about 12 deaths and 518 hospital visits every single day from underage drinking. Adolescents consume more than one out of every ten drinks, 11%, and almost all of it is consumed while binge drinking.

Not enough tragedy for you? 1/3 of high-schoolers drink, 1/5 of them have ridden with a drunk driver, and 1/10 of them have driven drunk themselves. Even eighth-graders are drinking – one out of ten of them on average. Adolescents who drink are more likely to experience problems with school, social life, the law, physical and mental development, unwanted sexual activity, violence, memory issues, and the abuse of other substances.

And here’s the kicker. According to the CDC, “Youth who start drinking before age 15 years are six times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse later in life than those who begin drinking at or after age 21 years.” In a way, this fact is a prediction in and of itself.

The MUSC research team took this idea further and (possibly) found a way to predict whether or not a child would drink as an adult. As noted in their study, not much significant research had been done up to this point on what’s called ‘risk determination’ for adolescent alcohol abuse. However, also noted is how important risk determination is when it comes to substance abuse prevention. Let’s talk about what they did, what they found out, what it means, and how it could upgrade current adolescent alcohol abuse prevention efforts.

The MUSC Study

A total of 137 children between the ages of 12 and 14 participated in the study, none of whom abused any substances (at the time). Every year, until each participant turned 18, the research team conducted neuropsychological testing as well as two types of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The six-year study aimed to “identify predictors of alcohol use initiation” among adolescents. Using brain testing and imaging dramatically helped achieve this goal.

According to an article on the study by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, “By adding imaging data and neuropsychological data such as the cognition and attention tests, the researchers were able to improve the accuracy of their model beyond those that use only demographic or behavioral data.” Of course demographic and behavioral data were still included.

During the study, 70 participants started moderate to heavy drinking, defined as having at least three drinks on three separate occasions. The other 67 participants remained alcohol-free. (With almost perfectly split groups, the research team got lucky). Then, once all participants were age 18 or older, “…classification models identified the most important predictors of alcohol use from a large set of demographic, neuropsychological, sMRI, and fMRI variables,” as written in the study.

The Results

With an incredible 74% accuracy, the team identified 34 predictors of alcohol abuse in adolescents. The complete list is unavailable without a paid prescription to the American Journal of Psychiatry. What follows are some of the predictors, split between demographic factors and neurological factors.

Demographic Predictors:

– Being male

– Being wealthy

– Dating early

– Being extraverted

– Having positive expectations of alcohol

Neurological Predictors:

– Worse-than-average executive brain function

– Lower-than-average scores on cognitive, attention and memory tests

– Having thinner-than-average cortices (physical parts of the brain)

– Having less-than-average overall brain activation

As informative as it would be to learn what the other 25 predictors are, it is already clear to see how wide of a range they fall under. According to what we know, a rich and outgoing teenage boy who started kissing girls early has a much better chance of becoming an alcoholic than a poor, shy girl who has never had a boyfriend. God forbid that boy has below-average cognitive skills and thin cortices!

Forgive a little comic relief. The implications here are huge, and the conclusions drawn by the research team are exactly what you would expect. They suggest “a mix of demographic, behavioral, neuropsychological, and neuroimaging data” when it comes to “identifying youths at risk for initiating alcohol use during adolescence.” The team goes on to say: “The identified risk factors will be useful for alcohol prevention efforts and in research to address brain mechanisms that may contribute to early drinking.”

What they’re really saying is that using MRI and neuropsychological tests are going to greatly help identify predictors of adult alcohol abuse among children. This is not necessarily to say previous findings were wrong, however there do seem to be some notable differences between the MUSC study’s results and the results from a similar (and much larger) study completed back in 2008 (and without brain imaging/testing).

Previously Found Predictors

Nine years ago, the Society for the Study of Addiction (SSA) published the results of a very large long-term study aiming to identify childhood and adolescent predictors of adult alcohol abuse. It was an off-shoot of the National Child Development Study, a Britain-based comprehensive project involving one weeks’ worth of 1958 births, tens of thousands of people.

The SSA study involved a total of 16,009 participants. “Social background, family, academic and behavioral predictors measured at ages 7, 11 and 16 years [were used] to predict quantity of alcohol use at ages 16, 23, and 33 years and harmful drinking by age 42 years.” No brain imaging or testing was involved. Here are the predictors found by the SSA:

– Having “greater childhood and adolescent social advantage,” especially for females

– Strained family relationships

– Difficulty blending in

– Getting good grades

– Being a truant (late) person

– Having immediate plans to leave for college

Similar to with the MUSC study, there is a wide range of predictive factors. However, there are some differences in the two studies’ results. The MUSC study says males are more likely to become heavy drinkers, whereas the SSA study says females are, provided they are socially skilled. The MUSC study says being extraverted is a predictive factor, yet the SSA study says having trouble making friends is actually a factor. There are more clear differences, and probably even more considering the 25 unseen predictors from the MUSC study.

The SSA study acknowledges these paradoxes in an almost psychic fashion. In a section dedicated to the paradoxes, they explain how some evidence suggests that being introverted, getting poor grades, and being a social outcast all predict future heavy drinking. Yet other evidence suggests that heavy drinking patterns are formed by being extraverted, getting good grades, and being socially accepted.

Considering the MUSC study used the same data as the SSA study, plus used MRI and neuropsychological testing, it would seem that the MUSC study’s results are more trustworthy, even though the sample size was smaller. Let’s not forget, though, how the Medical University of South Carolina’s use of brain imaging and testing was relatively new in its field. More research must be done, it seems, in order to compile a totally accurate list of predictive factors. Still, from here on out let’s consider the MUSC study to be the real deal when it comes to predicting alcohol abuse in kids.

Evidence MUSC is Correct

The study is innovative and helpful in the world of addiction prevention, but some of the results are nothing new. For example, they found that boys are more likely than girls to abuse alcohol as adults. Science agrees, like the rest of us, but here’s more evidence:

  1. Men Drink More

According to the CDC, it’s much deeper than men simply drinking more than women. Men are more likely to:

– Drink excessively

– Take risks while drinking

– Be hospitalized due to alcohol

– Die due to alcohol

– Become violent due to alcohol

– Commit suicide due to alcohol

– Become an alcoholic

– Drive drunk

On top of all that, heavy drinking “can interfere with testicular function and male hormone production resulting in impotence, infertility, and reduction of male secondary sex characteristics such as facial and chest hair.”

  1. The Wealthy Drink More

The MUSC study also concluded that being wealthy was a predictive factor of future drinking among adolescents. According to a 2015 Gallup poll, the study is dead-on. Take a look at the image below and take note of the extreme differences in alcohol consumption among economic classes.

Nearly eight out of ten people who make good money drink regularly, whereas less than five out of ten people who struggle financially drink regularly. Don’t blame cost either, because we all know how cheap alcohol is when you don’t care what brand you buy.

  1. The Socially Skilled Drink More

This can tie together early dating and being extraverted. Common sense tells us that adolescents who date early are more than likely socially adept. They are probably outgoing and social as well. The same goes the other way around. The MUSC study suggests that these socially skilled kids are more likely to drink heavily later in life.

In 2012, Science Direct discovered “a statistically significant association between peer-nominated popularity and the probability of alcohol consumption…” They even went so far as to suggest a direct relationship between making more friends and drinking more.

Because the MRI and brain testing portion of the MUSC study was innovative of the research team, there is not too much pre-existing information to show how they were correct. We suppose you’ll have to take their word (or not) on the predictive factors regarding the brain.

In Conclusion

We believe any and all available data should be taken into account when it comes to something as important as preventing alcohol abuse in children. The majority of alcohol addictions begin before age 21, and underage drinking is a big problem here in the US. This basically makes this country a breeding ground for alcoholics.

Therefore, the more ways to predict future drinking patterns we have, the better off we will be. As science continues to improve, so will methods of determining predictive factors. For now, thank you very much to MUSC for the most accurate model to date.