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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.

Alcoholics Anonymous and other Support Groups (They Help!)

You’ve probably heard of AA, or Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s an international support group for those who have drinking problems. It’s free, anybody can join, and AA meetings are held almost daily, and almost everywhere. Each individual meeting will have a group leader who is officially affiliated with AA. This leader guides the members through what’s called the 12-step program. Although the program is strongly recommended by AA in order to achieve and maintain sobriety, participation in the 12 steps is not required to be a member.

AA is simply a free place to meet and talk with others who share your addiction.

How it Started

It all began in the 1930s, when a wealthy American named Rowland H. visited famed psychologist Carl Jung with an alcohol problem. Jung assumed Rowland was helpless, and referred him to the Oxford Group, a newly formed Christian organization that promoted and practiced self-improvement. The Oxford Group’s formula, according to AA’s website, was “performing self-inventory, admitting wrongs, making amends, using prayer and meditation, and carrying the message to others.”

Rowland benefitted from the group and showed his friend Edwin, who later introduced a man named Bill W. The story goes that Bill’s entire life changed for the better due to the Oxford Group, so much that he wanted to tell the world about it. In 1935, he met a doctor from Ohio with the same mentality, and AA was born. By 1940, membership grew to 1,400 people among 50 groups.

Today there are well over 2 million active members, with over 115,000 groups.

How it Works

Joining is as easy as showing up to a meeting… but what does the meeting consist of? In their own words, “The leader opens and closes the meeting and introduces each speaker… Each, in turn, may review some individual drinking experiences that led to joining AA The speaker may also give his or her interpretation of the recovery program and suggest what sobriety has meant personally. All views expressed are purely personal, since all members of AA speak only for themselves.”

That’s how the meetings themselves operate. Now let’s talk about how AA works, in the sense of helping people achieve sobriety.

A study conducted in 2007 by the National Council on Alcoholism reported that people attending 12-step treatment programs had a 49.5% abstinence rate after a single year. Those who were in CBT [cognitive behavioral therapy] programs were less successful, maintaining a 37% abstinence rate. This means AA works better than your traditional rehabs. However, with AA, you truly only get what you put into it.

You Must Make the Effort

Statistics can tell many stories. While the 2007 study showed nearly half of AA participants to be abstinent, a summary of five membership surveys, taken from 1979-89 and conducted in 1990, “reported that 81 percent of alcoholics who engaged in the program stopped attending within a year. And only 5% of the AA attendees surveyed had been attending meetings for more than a year,” reports The Fix.

The bottom line is that success from AA comes when you stick to it. Success comes to those who complete the 12-step program. However, AA is NOT a treatment plan. It is not medical in any way, and is solely a self-help support group. Much like church, AA works very well for those who believe in it. Plenty of help exists for those who do not turn to AA.

How do I Participate?

CLICK HERE to find the next AA meeting near you in the United States.

CLICK HERE to find the next AA meeting near you in Europe.

CLICK HERE for web-based, strictly online AA meetings.

CLICK HERE for links to the other 35+ support groups patterned after AA

Alcohol Culture in America

This country is soaked in booze. Drinking to excess is widely accepted in the US, even encouraged. This may not be true for daily use, but it’s certainly true for holidays, weekends, big sports games, nights out to eat, and backyard barbecues. Don’t forget concerts, weddings, graduation parties and birthday parties. Are you drinking at all of these events, maybe even buzzed or drunk? Where is the room for having a few drinks at home then? Social events almost always seem to involve alcohol.
It’s hard to escape this wide reach of alcohol in America. Sure, someone can enjoy a holiday or a sports game without booze, but the fact that drinking is accepted and/or encouraged for such events is inarguable.

beer commercialsNo evidence exists for the spirit of drunkenness that runs through America. There are no numbers to prove how alcohol is widely accepted by society. However, plenty of evidence exists to support these claims. Movies, songs, and TV shows all contribute to the glorification of booze. Alcohol advertising has reached outrageous levels. An overwhelming amount of establishments sell alcohol. Worst of all, high school and college students consume ridiculous amounts of alcohol, encouraging it all the while.

Let’s talk about some of that evidence, maybe see why America is dripping with alcohol, and maybe even come up with some ways to slow down.

Alcohol and Social Events

It’s very likely that if you are a drinker, alcohol will be involved in your social events, whether at home or in a giant stadium. This is called social drinking, and for many serves the purpose of relaxing a bit in order to communicate better. Social drinking is literally a part of our culture.

If you’re going to a restaurant, and not in a dry county, chances are they serve alcohol. Are you attending a house-warming party? You’ll likely be served alcohol. Heading to a concert? Find any one of the several beer-selling kiosks. You get the picture.

Alcohol and Entertainment

American entertainment and alcohol consumption are definitely friends. Popular media today promotes and encourages alcohol consumption. Let’s start with music, because we all love music! This article is being written on January 18th, 2017. Here are lyrical samples from three of the top five songs on today’s Billboard Hot 100:

  1. “Black Beatles” by Rae Sremmurd – This song is commonly used as background music for the popular craze known as the mannequin challenge. Some of the lyrics include: “Haters mad for whatever reason // Smoke in the air, binge drinkin’”
  1. “Starboy” by The Weeknd – Here is a hit song from one of America’s most popular artists. One of the lyrics is: “I switch up my cup // I kill any pain.” While alcohol is only briefly mentioned, the implication is that alcohol numbs.
  1. “Closer” by Chainsmokers & Halsey – Here is a hit song from two up-and-coming superstars in America pop music. The second line in the song? “I drink too much and that’s an issue.”

One is a hip-hop song, one is an R&B song, and one is a pop song. Other popular genres in American music include country and rock. Do you really need proof that country and rock artists glorify alcohol? Hank Williams died from alcohol in 1953, and Amy Winehouse died from alcohol in 2011. The times, they are not a-changing.

The movie scene isn’t too different. It’s not uncommon to see alcohol use (or abuse) in an American film. Lately, some of our most popular films are actually about partying with alcohol. Consider these titles: Beerfest, Neighbors, Project X, Superbad, Old School, 21 and Over, and especially The Hangover trilogy, an immensely popular trio of movies about grown men getting absolutely hammered.

How about television? One of the most popular shows of all time was Cheers, centralized around a bar and its regulars. Two and a Half Men was another incredibly popular TV show, and much more recent. It starred Charlie Sheen as basically himself, a drunken fool whose intoxicated lifestyle is glorified. Syndicated episodes still play often. Reality TV is even worse regarding alcohol acceptance. A tiny sample of the reality shows about alcohol: Moonshiners, Booze Traveler, and The United States of Drinking.

Alcohol and Advertising

Ah, beloved beer commercial, how we love thee. If you are 21 or older, you most likely remember the ‘Whassup?’ commercials for Budweiser. The ads were outrageously popular, taking over America for a short while, and even wound up in the advertising hall of fame. Coming full circle for a moment, the commercial first aired during Monday Night Football.

There are many others. Do you like The Most Interesting Man in the World commercials? They are for Dos Equis beer. Have you laughed at Ken Jeong in a Miller Lite commercial? Remember the humanized bear from Labatt Blue ads? The point is that not only are beer commercials prevalent, they are made to be funny. Comedy usually creates a good, positive mood. Doesn’t this mean beer companies want viewers to associate alcohol with being happy? They definitely want something…

The alcohol industry spends $2 billion every year on alcohol advertising, as reported by the American Public Health Association (APHA). Apparently, the ads are working.

In 2007, Boston Medical Center performed a study to determine how much alcohol advertising affects alcohol purchasing. The results, summed up in the following graph, are staggering.

Alcohol Advertising vs Alcohol Purchasing

Worse yet, although the industry claims to not appeal to children, that’s not the case at all. According to the APHA, “…research documents that cigarette and alcohol advertising and promotional campaigns are especially appealing and attractive to teenagers and children.

“Both the tobacco and alcohol industries rely heavily on images in print, broadcast, and point-of-purchase campaigns that link their products with success, social acceptance, sexuality, friendship, youth, attractiveness, and physical vigor. Such images often have a significant impact on impressionable teens who are grappling with these issues.”

It seems even the country agrees. The APHA reports that 73% of people believe alcohol ads to be at least partly responsible for underage drinking

Alcohol’s Availability

As discussed, you can buy alcohol almost anywhere. With the exception of five dry states, alcohol is readily available all over America. Something strange happens in areas with high concentrations of booze-selling stores. Positive attitudes toward drinking increase 15%, and consumption increases 11%, according to Alcohol Policy MD. Making alcohol more available leads to more drinking. What a hoot!

Drinking can be expensive, but America makes sure even the light-walleted can have some alcohol. “Studies have shown that the lower the price of alcohol, the more people will drink. Drink price specials, kegs, and other sources of low-priced alcohol encourage binge drinking and intoxication,” also according to Alcohol Policy MD.

Make it cheap, make it available, make more alcoholics.

Only five US states deny any and all alcohol sales: Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland. Five other states only sell beer, and only beer with low alcohol content: Minnesota, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Utah. The remaining forty US states at least sell all types of beer. Consider this graphic, provided by the Washington Post:

Buying Booze at The Grocery Store

The majority of America is free to drink alcohol almost whatever it wants, and buy alcohol almost wherever it wants. The ‘notes’ section below the picture says it all.

Alcohol and Students

Nobody in high school or college drinks, right? Those times in an American’s life are sober and dry, correct? You’re insane if you answered yes. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) wrote the following in an article on the psychological influences of alcohol:

“In North America and many other industrialized societies, binge or excessive drinking during emerging adulthood is condoned, and perhaps even encouraged, particularly for those attending college.” The article goes on:

“Some argue that the college campus environment itself encourages heavy drinking. Alcohol use is present at most college social functions, and many students view college as a place to drink excessively. Students experience greater exposure to drinking and encounter higher levels of peer drinking and positive attitudes toward alcohol as they transition from high school to college.”

Okay, enough quotes about it, perfect as they are. We all know that students drink to excess. Beer pong and flip-cup are two among several popular high school and college ‘sports’ that involve binge drinking. Yours truly knew several people in high school who were already full blown alcoholics. College was worse.

It’s really no joke. One-third of high school students drink regularly, and nearly 20% of them are binge drinking. More than 4,300 high-schoolers die from alcohol abuse every year. Not to mention, drinking regularly by age 15 (or younger) increases the chances of being alcohol-dependent by six times. The heaviest fact of all is that 90% of adult alcoholics began drinking while underage.

Regarding college students, 60% of them drink regularly, with 40% of them binge drinking. This means that from 12th grade to freshman year at college, drinking doubles! Plus, a quarter of college students suffer academic consequences as a result of alcohol use. Let’s not forget the nearly 2,000 college students who die from alcohol each year. The reason this statistic is lower for college students than for high-schoolers is most likely increases in tolerance.

Put the Drink Down, America!

Really, the battle against alcohol abuse starts with the individual. Simply not ordering a beer with dinner might be where sobriety starts. However, serious actions need to be taken on a governmental level, as well as on a societal level.

We already know full well that American society encourages drinking. Booze is at the restaurant, at the grocery store, at the convenience store, at the bowling alley, at the golf course, at the concert, at the sporting event, at the high school, at the college, at the wedding, at the party, at the barbecue, and it’s in your home liquor cabinet. It’s being advertised on your television, in your movies, and in your music.

You’re not going to be able to live a life in this country without being exposed to alcohol. People will abuse alcohol as long as it’s readily available and legal. However, here’s a list of ideas, both societal and governmental, that could help us put the drinks down:

  • Increase training to bartenders and store staff regarding alcohol safety
  • Get rid of drink specials and minimal drink-pricing at bars/restaurants
  • Cut back or even get rid of the sale of alcohol at public events
  • Reduce advertising for alcohol
  • Tighten-up the laws that govern responsible drinking
  • Make drunk-driving laws (and other alcohol-related laws) more strict
  • Crack down on underage drinking, any way possible

In Conclusion

There’s not much left to say, other than to ask you the reader to actually be responsible if and when you consume alcohol. Maybe as a country we need to try and be able to get through a concert or a wedding without being drunk. Also, peer pressure isn’t just for kids. Plenty of times, adults pressure other adults into drinking, especially at work events and sporting events. This needs to stop.

It’s almost as if we forget alcohol is a drug. I thought drugs were bad? Alcohol literally kills almost 90,000 Americans every year. The deaths indirectly caused by alcohol far exceed that number. We need to put our bottles down, and maybe start to realize how much damage alcohol actually causes.

Brain Changes in Drinking Teens

Finland is the eighth largest country in Europe, with an estimated population of nearly 5.5 million people. The Finnish people have a long and cultural history, and it shows in their country’s beautiful architecture. Finland also has a terrible alcohol problem. Medical treatments required due to alcohol have increased 30% recently, and a top health expert believes that alcohol abuse disorders affect one million Finns.

Now, this includes both alcoholics and those directly affected by them. Still almost 20% of the country feels the pain of substance abuse. Children always end up hurt most by addiction. This is surely why in the early 2000s Finland launched the Adolescents and Alcohol Study, or AAS, a country-wide series of studies aimed at reducing and preventing teen drinking.

One of the studies performed as part of AAS involved a research team from the University of Eastern Finland examining changes over time in the brains of heavy-drinking teenagers. We will refer to it as ‘the teenage brain study.’ After eighteen years research team recently published the results.

Alcohol dramatically alters the brains of teen drinkers.

We review the study itself: what they did and how they did it. Then we discuss what these brain changes are. Finally, we talk about the implications of this study’s results. Get ready for some “shocking” information.

The Teenage Brain Study

For ten years, starting in 2005, the team followed 27 participants, aged 13 to 18, all of whom consumed alcohol “approximately six to nine units roughly once a week…” reports Science Daily. None of these participants, however, had diagnosed alcoholism. (This is a very important factor, and will be brought up later on). The team also used 25 control subjects of the same age, gender, and education level. These participants consumed little to no alcohol.

Brain studies were performed on all fifty-two participants in 2005, in 2010, and in 2015. Two different tests were run each time, a TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation), and an EEG (electroencephalography). Over the decade, the tests showed some alarming changes occurring in multiple areas of the heavy-drinking teens’ brains. Here’s what the tests consist of:

TMS

TMS-BRAINDuring this test, electromagnetism is used to stimulate certain parts of the brain. The results are measured, and are used to “…examine the integrity of the fast-conducting corticomotor pathways…,” as said by Clinical Neurophysiology. Essentially, a TMS shows how efficiently whichever part of your brain being tested is working. The magnetic coil produces small electromagnetic currents in the brain, able to be measured. Here’s a picture for clarification:

Most commonly, TMS is used as a diagnostic tool to measure brain damage caused by things like a stroke, multiple sclerosis, and plenty of other brain-related injuries and ailments. It is not common for TMS to be used in an alcohol-based study.

EEG

This measures and records the overall electrical activity in the brain. Electrodes are placed on the scalp, translating brain waves into visible waves. Think of it as an EKG but for the brain. On the left is a person set up for an EEG, and on the right is an example of what normal results would look like:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Using one test for brain function in exact locations and another test for overall brain function gave the research team a special distinction. This study was the first of its kind ever used to study the long-term effects of adolescent alcohol use. However, surely none of the scientists involved were happy with the results.

All 27 heavy-drinker participants displayed significant changes in the brain, and none of them for the better. None of the 25 non-drinker participants showed these changes. Five major alterations to normal brain behavior were discovered. Two of them involve specific regions of the brain, one of them involves a specific neurotransmitter, and the other two are more general effects.

Brain Changes in Drinking Teens

Before we discuss the five brain changes, there’s something important to recognize. As mentioned, the teenage brain study only used participants who did NOT have diagnosable alcohol dependence. This means two things. Number one is that for teen alcoholics, the following changes are more intense than for those in the study. That’s fairly obvious. Number two is more subtle, and more important to know.

Even light-drinking teenagers are at risk to these changes.

“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, the lead researcher. What follows are the five ways this happens.

  1. Anterior Cingulate Cortex

‘Anterior’ simply means front. The cingulate cortex is a part of the limbic cortex, responsible for memory and navigation. The part of the brain that alcohol use damages in teens is the anterior cingulate cortex, or ACC. The grey matter actually wears down in the ACC in drinking teens. This is scary because most of the brain consists of grey matter. Therefore, alcohol abuse in teens literally eats away at this part of the brain.

The ACC itself is primarily responsible for the regulation of blood pressure and heart rate, but also for decision-making, impulse control, and emotional balance. Damage to the ACC can result in “a number of psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, OCD, depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and autism,” according to an article published by the National Library of Medicine.

  1. Right Insular Cortex

Teenage alcohol abuse also eats away at the right side of the insular cortex. This part of the brain is responsible for perception, motor control, self-awareness, cognitive function, and is believed to be at least partly responsible for consciousness. Just as with the ACC, grey matter breaks down in the right insular cortex in drinking teens’ brains.

Damage to the right insular cortex can lead to “disturbances” in all senses except sight. Also, perception, body awareness, mood, disgust, addiction behavior, and even language can be affected by insular damage. Experts believe there are several more responsibilities of the insular cortex. Therefore, damaging this part of the brain can lead to any number of disorders.

  1. GABA

Gamma-Aminobutyric acid, or GABA, is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. This means it’s responsible for calming your nerves by slowing down brain activity. This sounds dangerous, slowing down the brain, but GABA is both naturally-occurring and vital.

Basically, it prevents nerve overstimulation. Without it, we would be anxious, depressed, panicky and unable to sleep, all at once. However, too much of it can cause all of these symptoms and more. Excess GABA also causes shortness of breath, high blood pressure, increased heartrate, and night terrors.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, teen alcohol abuse leads to a higher volume of GABA in the brain. In a United Press International article about the University of Eastern Finland’s teenage brain study, author Amy Wallace mentions the effects this increase could have on teenagers: “GABA is a vital neurotransmitter that inhibits brain and central nervous system function and may cause… the pathogenesis [development] of numerous neurological disorders.”

  1. Cortical Thinning

The fourth major brain change caused by teen alcohol abuse is cortical thinning. This is when the thickness of the cerebral cortex decreases. Someone’s cortical thickness is “often taken as indicative of the cognitive abilities of an individual…” and cortical thinning is closely related to Alzheimer’s disease.

Old age brings the only natural occurrence of cortical thinning in humans. Therefore, when teens abuse alcohol, they are literally aging their cerebral cortex. This part of the brain is at least partly responsible for most of our human functions. Damaging the cerebral cortex leads to endless possible brain disorders.

  1. Overall Transmission

Simply put, overall brain function decreases in alcohol-abusing teens. Wallace mentions this in her article: “Researchers found that heavy alcohol use causes alterations in the electrical and chemical neurotransmission in study participants.” The human brain is already a near-perfect machine. Any outside ‘alterations’ cannot be good. If a normal brain is live-streaming, then the brain of someone who spent their teenage years drunk must be in slow-motion.

Parts of the teenage brain are damaged by alcohol use, but so is the connection between these parts. The University of Eastern Finland research team believes their findings to be a reason for changing how alcohol disorders are diagnosed in teens.

New Way to Diagnose?

“As is true with virtually any mental-health diagnosis, there is no one test that definitively indicates that someone has an alcohol-use disorder,” states MedicineNet.com. The current method for diagnosing an alcohol disorder actually seems primitive when compared to TMS and EEG. Plus, aside from pre-existing knowledge and screening for other disorders, doctors pretty much have to trust what their patients tell them. Let’s compare the current method for diagnosis with what could be a new way to diagnose.

Currently, health professionals begin with a patient’s full medical history, including family history. Also, a physical examination, including blood tests, is usually performed. The idea is to have the clearest possible picture of the patient’s current overall health. Also, patients are screened for any other disorders, since alcohol abuse could cause another disorder, and vice-versa.

In addition to using medical history and conducting a physical exam, according to MedicineNet.com, “Physicians may provide the people they evaluate with a quiz or self-test as a screening tool for substance-use disorders.” Several variations of these quizzes exist, and you can access them online.

In Conclusion

Doesn’t this sort of mean that doctors are relying on a combination of medical history, screening for other disorders, and trust in their patients? No part of the current method for diagnosing is an actual test for alcohol disorders. In the Science Daily article, linked again here, lead researcher Heikkinen very nicely sums everything up to this point, even adding some much-needed hope:

“The exact mechanism behind these structural changes is not known. However, it has been suggested that some of the volumetric changes may be reversible if alcohol consumption is reduced significantly. As risk limits of alcohol consumption have not been defined for adolescents, it would be important to screen and record adolescent substance use, and intervene if necessary.”

So, these brain changes are reversible, to some degree. Better yet, they can be prevented very easily. Screening and recording adolescent alcohol use, as Heikkinen suggests, combined with TMS and EEG would seemingly be the perfect method for diagnosis. We would know how much teens are drinking, how much their brains have changes as a result, and how to best reverse the damage.

Ultimately, prevention is what we’re after. If teens knew they would be screened for and tested for brain changes caused by alcohol, it might stop them from drinking. Worst case scenario, we can begin to reverse these negative effects.

How Iceland’s Youth got Sober Fast (and ours could too)

The story begins nearly thirty years ago, in the early 1990s, when Icelandic teenagers drank heavier than most other European teens. This likely had a lot to do with the fact that Iceland prohibited alcohol from 1915 until March 1, 1989, a day the country now refers to as Beer Day. In a very short time, “…beer became the most popular type

of alcoholic beverage, changing the structure of the alcohol sales, and shaping drinking habits,” as quoted from Nordic Studies on Drugs and Alcohol.

Things were very bad. By 1998, an overwhelming 42% of fifteen and sixteen-year-olds reported having been drunk in the last month. Also, 17% of them smoked marijuana regularly, and 23% of them smoked cigarettes daily.

Harvey Milkman is an American psychology professor who teaches at Reykjavik University. He was instrumental in reversing the Icelandic youth’s drinking problem. However, he remembers the 1990s in Iceland: “You couldn’t walk the streets in downtown Reykjavik on a Friday night because it felt unsafe. There were hordes of teenagers getting in-your-face drunk.”

Today, Iceland just about tops the charts for having the most sober youth. Remember when 42% of teens in Iceland were getting drunk once a month? Now it’s 5%. Marijuana use has fallen to 7% and only 3% of Icelandic youngsters smoke cigarettes. That’s rather impressive.

It’s all thanks to a program called Youth in Iceland, and it’s a bit radical.

From here, the story takes a 3,650 mile turn to Denver, Colorado, where a youth program organized by Milkman in 1991 sparked what would become the victory in the war on drugs for Iceland. As beautiful and successful as the story is, the US will not follow suit. Reasons exist for why the US won’t do it. Reasons exist for why the US should do it. Read and decide for yourself.

Project Self-Discovery

The entire idea behind Youth in Iceland, (and all the other programs it spawned – see below), is thanks to Harvey Milkman’s doctoral dissertation. His thesis said that people would choose either heroin or amphetamines depending on how they dealt with stress. Those who numbed the pain, so to speak, chose heroin. Those who actively confronted it chose amphetamines. His college paper went places.

Soon after publication, Milkman was hired by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse. His job was to research the answers to seemingly simple questions: Why do people begin using drugs? Why do people continue using drugs? When do people reach their limits of drug abuse? When and why do people stop using drugs? When do people relapse?

While researching his answers, Milkman had his “version of the ‘aha’ experience,” as he told Mosaic Science in an article about Youth in Iceland. “So I got to the question about the threshold for abuse and the lights went on. They could be on the threshold for abuse before they even took the drug, because it was their style of coping that they were abusing,” he continued.

Milkman started to see how kids might be addicted to changes in their brain chemistry caused by the drugs, as opposed to addicted to the drug itself. Whichever drug a kid chose was merely a pathway to that desired change in consciousness. Milkman called it behavioral addiction, and it led to another, bigger idea: Project Self-Discovery.

“Why not orchestrate a social movement around natural highs, around people getting high on their own brain chemistry? Because it seems obvious to me that people want to change their consciousness, without the deleterious effects of drugs,” added Milkman.

With this idea, plus a $1.2 million grant from the government, Project Self-Discovery was born. Kids were told they could learn anything they wanted to, from music to kickboxing to chemistry to painting. The program was never called a treatment of any kind, but only took in kids from age 14 that were drug abusers and/or committing crimes.

The Evolution of a Youth Program

Changes in brain chemistry came naturally, and the learning experiences offered kids alternatives to drugs. Plus, life skills were being learned. The program was to last three months for each child. Some ended up staying for years. “The main principle was that drug education doesn’t work because nobody pays attention to it. What is needed are the life skills to act on that information,” said Milkman.

Shortly after launching his project, Dr. Milkman, as he was now called, was invited to Iceland to discuss his work. He ended up becoming a consultant at Iceland’s first residential adolescent drug treatment center, in a town named Tindar. He would visit Iceland regularly, giving lectures and consulting. His ideas caught the attention of Inga Dora Sigfusdottir, a researcher with University of Iceland.

Her idea was to use healthy alternatives to drugs, like Project Self-Discovery, but not to treat kids with drug problems. She wanted to prevent drug abuse altogether. Inga Dora, her brother Jon Sigfusson (an equally involved psychologist), and Dr. Milkman all collaborated, and by 1992 had formed the beginnings of what would become Youth in Iceland. Those beginnings came in the form of a questionnaire given to every single 14, 15, and 16-year-old student in Iceland. Some example questions:

  • Have you ever tried alcohol?
  • If yes, when did you last have a drink?
  • Have you ever been drunk?
  • Have you tried cigarettes?
  • If yes, how often do you smoke?
  • How much time do you spend with your parents?
  • Do you have a close relationship with them?
  • What activities do you take part in?

The results of these surveys showed the hard data that proved how bad Icelandic youth had gotten. Those high percentages you remember from before came from these surveys, taken in 1992, in 1995, and again in 1997. Aside from how many kids took drugs, the research team began to recognize factors that contributed to both sobriety and drug abuse.

For example, participating in activities, spending time with parents, feeling cared about in school, and not being outside late were four factors shown to contribute greatly to a drug-free lifestyle. On the contrary, lacking these factors contributed to drug use. It was clear something had to be done, and the research team knew what it was. Nobody knew how radical it would be.

When the country of Iceland went to war on drugs, it went to war.

The mayor of Reykjavik also recognized at this time, around 1999, that a change was needed. So, the mayor, Dr. Milkman, and the Sigfusdottir siblings together formed a national plan for Iceland, based on all the related research that had been done so far. That plan became known as…

Youth in Iceland

The national plan was more of a national makeover. Laws were changed, and new laws were made. Parents were basically forced to be more involved with their children. Government money was poured into the program, and was given to the less fortunate. The surveys of teenagers continue to happen every year, producing up-to-date information. Here’s a breakdown of what happened once Youth in Iceland officially began:

Laws

The legal age for tobacco purchases became 18, and for alcohol purchases became 20. (They got us by one year). Also, in a very bold move, all advertising for both tobacco and alcohol products was banned nationwide. (Imagine that happening here). Furthermore, it became illegal for children between ages 13 and 16 to be outside after 10 PM in winter, and midnight in summer. All but the advertising (and only to a certain degree) are still in effect today.

Parents

One more law was made when Youth in Iceland went into effect: EVERY school in Iceland had to establish parent organizations, and had to create a school council with parental representatives. (Imagine that happening in America). There was even a national organization formed, called Home and School, which focused on four major areas involving parents and their children:

– Spending more time with their kids overall, as opposed to occasional ‘quality’ time

– Talking to their kids about their lives

– Knowing who their kids’ friends are

– Keeping their kids inside during nighttime

Parents were also made to sign agreements. They varied depending on circumstance and child age, but for the most part parents had to agree to the above four things. Also, pledges to not allow unsupervised parties, to not purchase alcohol for minors, and to keep an eye out for others were highly recommended.

Funding

Government funding increased for sports, music, art, dance, and other such organizations. The reasoning was simply to make kids feel like part of a group, make them feel good. As discovered by our trusty research team, drug and alcohol use decreases naturally when replaced with healthy activities. (The brain is equally satisfied, it turns out, with drawing as it is with drinking).

Low-income families were given the chance to participate in such activities as well. For example, in Reykjavik, where 1/3 of Iceland lives, qualifying families are given 35,000 krona (approximately $300) every year, in order to help fund their children’s participation in organized activities.

The Surveys (and their current results)

As mentioned, the school surveys have continued annually since the inception of Youth in Iceland. As of 2012, the number of children that spent regular time with their parents on weekdays doubled, going from 23 to 46 percent. The number of children actively involved in organized sports nearly doubled, going from 24 to 42 percent. Also, as mentioned in the beginning of this article, tobacco use, alcohol use, and marijuana use all fell dramatically among children.

“This is the most remarkably intense and profound study of stress in the lives of teenagers that I have ever seen,” says Dr. Milkman, who was a psychology student in the 1970s, and has seen it all. “I’m just so impressed by how well it is working.”

But Wait, there’s More

Youth in Iceland was (and is) working so well, that in 2006, Jon Sigfusson launched his own program, called Youth in Europe. The surveys were again the core of the program. Seventeen countries have so far participated, and as of recently, nearly 100,000 surveys have been returned to Iceland for analyzation. The same factors that contributed to sobriety and drug abuse were found. However, some countries continue to refuse to cooperate, and others simply prefer treatment to prevention.

Numbers overall aren’t necessarily impressive. Kaunas, Lithuania is the exception.

“Since 2006, the city has administered the questionnaires five times, and schools, parents, healthcare organizations, churches, the police, and social services have come together to try to improve kids’ wellbeing and curb substance use,” according to the Mosaic Science article. Flash forward to 2014. Alcohol abuse fell 25% and tobacco use fell by over 30%.

Youth in Europe is not nearly as stable or successful as Youth in Iceland, which makes sense which you consider the fact that it’s one country against seventeen (participating) countries. Still, everyone involved with both programs wonders why the world isn’t fully on board. The results are undeniable, especially for Iceland, and everyone should have a ‘Youth in’ program, right? Well, read and decide for yourself.

Youth in America?

The chances honestly are that it would not work.

Iceland has a population of 330,000 people. America has a population of roughly three hundred and fifty million. That’s a major difference, especially when it comes to the number of low-income families without the resources to have their children participate in such ‘Youth in’ programs. Even worse, America is home to just about 1.5 million homeless people. Do you think our government is about to give $300 to each and every family under these circumstances?

In Conclusion

Yes, every country should have a ‘Youth in’ program. Yes, every country would surely benefit from laws that make it all but impossible to have a drunk and stoned youth. And yes, every country would be healthier without tobacco/alcohol advertising, and with age limits on the purchase of such products.

It’s just not going to happen until prevention becomes the priority.

90% of American drug addicts began using before age 18. Stop the youth from doing drugs and drinking, and you stop the world from doing so.

[Please note that all information and all quotes that are unsourced come from the Mosaic Science article, linked again here.]

Second Chances are Given, Not Taken.

Few things are unforgiveable. Aside from that short list which shall not be put to words, because either it is universal or personal, few things take away the individual’s right to a second chance. People make mistakes; some of them are minor like dropping a glass, and some of them are major like committing homicide. Every mistake has consequences. The glass dropper may cut his or her foot. The murderer may spend 25 years in prison. Each of them deserves a second chance. What truly matters is realizing the mistake, learning from it, and knowing you will never make it again.second chances

However, some things truly are unforgiveable. Plus, some people never learn from their mistakes, whether they’re given a second, third, or fiftieth chance. All we can do is look at some evidence, but we can also look inside our hearts. Second chances are given, after all, not taken, and so the decision lies with you.

Learning from our Mistakes

John Dewey, an American philosopher important in education reform, said, “Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.” This can be proven in the case of human infants. As they get older, they try multiple things on their own, such as drinking, eating, and using the bathroom. Mistakes are made along the way, but once it is done correctly, that is how it is done and it is never done any other way.

Once we are older and mature, mistakes happen still, but it is up to us to learn from them. Mistakes have an infinite range of impact, from something as simple and harmless as working on your lay-up skills to something as complicated and egregious as rehabilitating your way out of being a murderer. Mistakes also have an infinite range of possibility. Learning from them cannot be taught. We must realize what the mistake was and render it when repeating whatever we were doing in the future.

What about those who will never learn?

Unfortunately for society, there are a large number of people who make criminal mistakes and can’t seem to stop making them. The Bureau of Justice published a report in 2014 about the rate at which released prisoners commit a crime and go back to prison, called recidivism. The results are astonishing. Over two-thirds of prisoners released between 2005 and 2010 were arrested for a new crime within three years. The amount jumps to over three-quarters for within five years. This means for every 4 prisoners released, 3 go back to jail.

It would be nice to say the crimes they go back for are petty and victimless, but this is not true. Actually, recidivism rates are high for almost every type of crime. Property offenders have the highest recidivism rate, followed by drug offenders, and then public order offenders, and lastly violent offenders. However, even violent offenders return to prison at a rate of 71.3%.

People still deserve a second chance.

The bottom line is that everyone deserves a second chance. Perhaps the circumstances surrounding these chances need to change, in order to protect the public, but mistakes are meant to be learned from. We therefore need a chance to prove that we have learned.

To join in on this discussion, click here to visit an interactive debate.