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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.

GUIDE – How To Quit Drinking Alcohol

Have you’ve struggled with your drinking? Have you ever questioned your relationship with alcohol? Are you wondering if you should quit, or do you have to quit? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, then you know one thing for sure: it’s scary as hell, and it can be really hard.

The scariest, hardest part isn’t quitting. It isn’t even what happens on the other side of quitting that’s hardest to overcome. The biggest roadblock between anyone and sobriety is the decision to attempt it in the first place.

YOU’RE AFRAID YOU MIGHT HAVE A PROBLEM, BUT YOU’RE NOT REALLY SURE

We tend to think of drinking habits in black and white terms, focusing on whether or not we are alcoholics or normal drinkers. Meanwhile, a problem may be developing amidst all that focus.

If you find that you’re caught in this “do I or don’t I” thought cycle – comparing your drinking to your friends, taking online assessments, or otherwise trying to qualify where you fall on the range of problem drinking – give these two things a try:

  1. Quit asking yourself if you have a problem or comparing yourself to others. Rather, ask yourself if you are living to your full potential, and if alcohol is standing in the way of that. Literally EVERY TIME you start to go down the path of comparison or analysis, stop and ask yourself if alcohol is getting in the way. More so, does it prevent the life you want for yourself? If this answer is yes, that’s all you need to know. Step one is over. You’ve admitted you have a problem. It then becomes a choice of what you want out of life and what is standing in the way.
  2. Do some future-self meditation. I know this sounds a bit out there, but it works. A decade from now, you’ll have the answers to today’s questions. The meditation itself will do a number of positive things, but most importantly, it will help create a vision of what direction you want your life to go in. Become who you want to become. Chances are that person isn’t stumbling out of bars or drinking a bottle of wine in the evenings by themselves 10 years from now, even if that’s true today.

WHY STOP DRINKING?

The long-term effects of bad habits are rarely enough to motivate people to quit.  Drinking is no exception. The near-term benefits of giving up alcohol are much more useful and interesting anyway. Here are the changes I experienced:

Productive socializing. Talking to strangers is a great way to build character, but the benefits are greatly reduced when you’re drunk. The alcohol represses much of the social anxiety, yes, but this inhibits lasting change. It might seem terrifying to meet new people without being drunk, but the long-term effects of alcohol are much more terrifying.

Reclaim lost time. Let’s say you have a few drinks around the house, three times a week, and that light touch of drunkenness costs you three hours of productive thinking each time. Within a year, you’ll have shaved about one full month off your life. That’s a lot of lost time that could have been put towards reading a book, writing a speech, playing a sport, or even starting a business. And this doesn’t even count the time lost waiting for your brain to recuperate the morning after a night on the town.

Get rich quickly. You don’t have to party that hard to spend $100-$150/week or more on alcohol and related expenses. If you quit drinking today, you could reasonably expect to convert that choice into a bankroll for backpacking around the world in about six months. Telling yourself it only costs a handful of dollars to get drunk is like telling yourself you’re willing to pay $400-600 a month for health problems.

Become an early riser. I’m currently readjusting my sleep schedule to wake up at 5:30 AM, seven days a week. Alcohol, and the lifestyle that often accompanies it, work against this process. Alcohol makes me feel tired when I want to feel energetic and awake. Ironically, it also increases wakefulness during sleep, even though it’s a depressant.

You can probably think of other instantly gratifying benefits to life beyond the bottle. The important thing is to actually have a reason that is important enough to you. One must be willing to quit in order to achieve sobriety.

MAKE SOBRIETY PRIORITY NUMBER ONE

Giving up alcohol is one of the easiest and hardest changes you can make in your life.

It’s easy once you’ve established the right rules, configured your environment to support you, and set up useful boundaries of pain and pleasure to help direct you towards your goal. The hard parts are the social implications and fighting off the One Man Army that is your ego, with its barrage of self-limiting beliefs and drink requests.

Giving up alcohol must be made priority number one in your life. A partial commitment is a commitment to failure. Even if you already don’t drink that often, it will be tempting to break your own rules when your friends call you up and invite you out. You’ve got to be willing to prioritize this decision in every situation where it’s relevant, even when that means Just Saying No to pub night.

IT’S NOT A BIG DEAL, RIGHT?

Ever notice how some people act as though the end of their relationship is the end of the world? It’s as if there’s no point in living if they can’t be with that person any longer. Yet other people come along and date that person who left them, eventually break up with them, and see it as hardly more than a blip on the radar.

You may feel that it’s pretty easy to give up drinking. Or you may feel that it’s an addiction with a stranglehold on your life. Either way, there is no inherent magnitude to this task. It’s as big or as small as you make it. Turn it into a blip, and let it fade off your radar. The most effective way forward is to not only make quitting drinking a top priority, but to think, talk, and act like it can be done.

COMMIT TO 30 DAYS DRY

If you’ve never done it before, it can be hard to think of giving up drinking forever. It’s discouraging to commit to permanent change, only to back out a few days or weeks into it. Most people will face social friction and lifestyle changes for which they’re unprepared. Ninety percent of alcoholics relapse. Help lower that number, and commit to a thirty-day regimen of no alcohol consumption. Here’s two ways you can start:

Fire Your Drinking Buddies

Alcohol may be so tightly integrated into your social life that it seems almost impossible to go an entire weekend without drinking. If the only thing you have in common with your friends is that you like the same lagers, you might want to consider finding new friends. If the relationship is deeper than that, but alcohol is always involved, you need a break… perhaps a long one.

I’ve let go of people in my social circle before and I know it’s not easy — but that doesn’t make it unnecessary. This might be the hardest thing you do in choosing a life without alcohol. The key is to remember that friends are an abundant resource. Having a strong social circle is purely a function of the effort you invest into it. That includes choosing to associate only with people who are aligned with your purpose, while avoiding the energy vampires.

This is another benefit of a 30-day commitment. Instead of permanently downsizing your social life, you can choose to be busy only for the next few weeks. Observe how it affects you when you stop spending time with your beer buddies. Join a local user group for something you’re interested in to bring yourself into contact with people with whom you share more than just a bar tab.

Advertise Your Decision

I told most of my friends about what I was doing. Not only does this add accountability to your goal, it also drops the hint that if your friends are planning on going out and getting wasted, you’re probably not interested. Plus, if someone offers you a drink and you look at them and say, “I can’t. I’m a full blown alcoholic,” they probably won’t ask you again.

ISN’T IT DANGEROUS FOR ALCOHOLICS TO QUIT DRINKING?

When someone makes the decision to stop drinking, the first 72 hours are critical, as they’re in the most painful part of the recovery process. As your body flushes all the alcohol from your system, you’ll experience the unpleasant pangs of acute withdrawal. Alcoholics will experience especially brutal recoveries, and professional help is recommended for them. Regardless, the benefits of quitting drinking will soon make themselves known.

Even though it may not feel like it, the acute withdrawal stage of the recovery timeline can be the beginning of something great. The onset of the first symptoms is evidence that your body is beginning to shift into healing gear. If alcohol is used over the long term, it can actually affect the brain’s electrical potential.

The onset of withdrawal symptoms can begin as soon as six hours after your last drink. You may experience:

  • Elevated temperature
  • Increased blood pressure, breathing rate and pulse
  • Excessive sweating
  • Tremors
  • Insomnia

In extreme cases, people may even have seizures leading to loss of consciousness. The body is working overtime to cleanse itself of alcohol, and the symptoms it creates can be so uncomfortable that people immediately relapse. This is why it is so important for someone attempting to overcome alcoholism to go through the withdrawal process under medical supervision

If done correctly, detox is the first meaningful step in the recovery process. At the same time, it’s also the stumbling block that can completely derail any attempts at long-term sobriety. This is why it’s important to enlist the professional services of a detox program that can ensure you’re receiving the nutrients, medication and support you need to make it through the first stages after quitting drinking.

POST-ACUTE WITHDRAWAL:  2+ WEEKS AFTER QUITTING

While the most infamous phase of recovery is the initial withdrawal stage, full detoxification can take up to two weeks in some cases. As your body is getting rid of the last remnants of alcohol, psychological symptoms can advance quickly — but so can the positive effects.

As most would expect, mixed in with the highs are periods of emotional lows. These effects aren’t as physically urgent as the ones experienced in the first stages of withdrawal, but they can take a big toll on your newly sober psyche. They may include:

  • Anxiety & depression
  • Decreased energy & metabolism
  • Feelings of aggression or hostility
  • Declined sexual interest or function
  • Sleep disruption & nightmares

These symptoms develop after the acute withdrawal period, and can last for a couple of weeks all the way up to a year depending on the severity of prior alcoholism. The name for this phenomenon is “protracted/post-acute withdrawal symptoms,” or PAWS.

The worst part of these symptoms is the formidable cravings for alcohol. Even after removing all traces of alcohol from your system, the brain will still want it to help return to the balance of chemicals it has gotten used to — but knowing the source of these symptoms is key to dealing with cravings appropriately.

In this time period, it’s crucial for people in recovery to develop and enforce new and healthy coping habits without turning back to the bottle. In effective treatment programs, you can learn how to augment the positive effects of quitting drinking with therapy, group work, and one-on-one attention from medical and clinical professionals. Building effective coping skills and getting to the root of addiction is paramount at this juncture in the quitting alcohol recovery timeline.

You might spend several days in detox. Treatment in rehab can last a few days or a few months. You’ll be in a controlled environment, so if you have any cravings for alcohol, you won’t have access to it. At treatment, you’ll be engrossed in recovery.

At this point, you should have learned some tools and coping mechanisms to keep you away from a drink.

Regardless, you should continue to see a therapist or attend some type of group meeting, such as AA. It’s always helpful to have a support system of counselors and people who understand what you’re going through. This will contribute to a happy and healthy recovery. Recovery is a lifelong process, and the post treatment maintenance is just as important as the initial treatment process.

 

A Dry January Goes a Long Way

We drink a lot during the holidays. This is especially true at the end of the year, starting with the day before Thanksgiving and on through to New Year’s Day. The day before Thanksgiving is actually the biggest drinking night of the year in the US, and has come to be called ‘Blackout Wednesday.’ Christmas brings its own rush of alcohol, and we all know how drunk Americans get on December 31st. Some may find this amusing, but really it’s not funny at all.

Holiday drinking creates an extremely dangerous period of time.

During these short five weeks, drunk-driving violations increase by 33% across the country. More than 20 people a day are injured or killed from alcohol-related causes, triple the average rate. New Year’s Eve is the most dangerous drinking day. Drunk-driving violations increase by 155% and injury/death rates nearly quadruple. As bad as it may sound, nothing’s going to prevent this from happening. Americans are going to drink more than average during the holiday season. Many of us drink problematically during this time.

So why not take a break?

In the information age, ideas spread very quickly. Back in 2006, author John Ore began writing about something he was doing at home: taking January off from drinking. His then-girlfriend and future wife first suggested it to him then, and it’s become a tradition. Ore wrote about it more and more, and the tradition came to be known as “Drynuary.” Within a couple of years, the idea went viral and people were doing it all over, using social media to brag about it.

In 2010, a non-profit organization called Moderation Management (MM) linked up with Ore to promote a non-drinking January. According to their mission statement, MM provides “…peer-run non-coercive support groups for anyone who would like to reduce their alcohol consumption.” Together, MM and Ore started a website dedicated to the practice.

Participating in the dry January is now officially known as “Dryuary,” losing the ‘n’ due to web address availability. From the website: “The goal of Dryuary is to offer a supportive environment for taking a month-long break from alcohol. It’s an invitation to give your body a break for 1/12th of the year from a diet that includes alcohol. Dryuary is not therapy; it is simply an opportunity to reset your relationship with drinking by taking a break at the beginning of the year.”

There are inspirational quotes and songs for each day, along with blogs and forums to share your Dryuary experiences. You can access Dryuary through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube. Although it’s over for this year, you can sign up to participate in 2018.

While obviously healthy and positive, it’s easy to see how someone could dismiss Dryuary at first glance. It’s just a silly thing to brag about on social media, right? Very, very wrong. Yes, it’s on social media, but Dryuary has become so popular, and is so obviously healthy, that even the American Psychological Association (APA) officially recognizes the health benefits. Let’s talk about what they are.

Major Health Benefits to Dryuary

US News published an article this January about four “surprising things that happen to your body” when you participate in Dryuary. In short, you drink less, you sleep better, you eat less, and you may even lower your risk of diabetes. We want to expand on these benefits and show exactly how just one 31-day period of abstinence can go such a long way. Here are four major health benefits to participating in Dryuary:

1. You’ll Drink Less

People who participate in the dry January actually drink less for at least six months in the future. Plus they “have greater confidence in their ability to say no to alcohol…,” as written in the US News article. Science has backed this up, officially recognizing the health benefits of Dryuary.

A study published last year in Health Psychology, backed by the APA, “revealed that participation in Dry January was related to reductions in alcohol consumption and increases in DRSE among all respondents at 6-month follow-up, regardless of success, but indicated that these changes were more likely among people who successfully completed the challenge.”

DRSE stands for “drink refusal self-efficacy,” and is basically a measurement of the strength to say no to a drink. How good are you at not drinking when either offered one or surrounded by the opportunity to do so? DRSE numerically measures this.

First of all, it’s amazing that drinking rates went down even for those who did not finish the month out. Secondly, it’s incredible that one month of sobriety reduces drinking for half of a year! It’s important to note that ‘rebound effects,’ or the tendency to drink more after a dry period to ‘make up for lost time,’ do not occur after Dryuary. According to the study: “The findings suggest that participation in abstinence challenges such as Dry January… is unlikely to result in undesirable ‘rebound effects’: very few people reported increased alcohol consumption following a period of voluntary abstinence.”

2. You’ll Sleep Better

As reported by Time, a study performed recently at the University of Melbourne showed how even one drink of alcohol near bedtime can result in lower quality sleep. In the study, twenty-four people between the ages of 18 and 21 spent about a week at the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences Sleep Laboratory.

One night they were each given a nightcap of vodka and orange juice, and the next night they were given a placebo: orange juice with a straw dipped in vodka. Before lying down for the night, each participant was hooked up to an electroencephalogram, or EEG. This machine measures brain activity with high accuracy.

According to Time: “Not surprisingly, on the nights they drank alcohol, people showed more slow wave sleep patterns, and more so-called delta activity…,” which occurs during deep sleep. However, alpha activity was also increased when they drank, which only occurs when the brain is awake.

The article continues: “Having both delta and alpha activity together therefore leads to disrupted sleep, since the alpha functions tend to offset any restorative efforts the brain neurons are trying to squeeze in.

So while it may seem that a drink or two before bed helps you sleep, it does not. That nightcap helps you fall asleep, but lowers the quality of the actual sleep you get. Therefore, a month of no drinking after that holiday period of bad sleep will ensure that you sleep better. More sleep means a better mood and better concentration, which overall means better performance. Thanks, Dryuary.

3. You’ll Eat Less

How much food do you eat on Thanksgiving? Are there leftovers that you nibble on for the rest of the month? When all the Christmas candy goes on sale in early December, do you buy any? How about on Christmas itself – do you eat a nice, big meal? Are there snacks out for your alcohol-fueled New Year’s Eve party? If you’re a fan of the NFL, are you eating “football food” during the playoffs in January? Are you drinking throughout all of these occasions?

Let’s face it. Holiday season is all about the eating… and drinking alcohol. Turn on the sobriety for a month starting on New Year’s and you’re guaranteed to eat less during January, which could lead to better eating habits.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition performed a five-year long study of 7,608 men, who at the end “completed a postal questionnaire on changes in alcohol intake and body weight.” The results were not so great. Body mass index, or BMI, “increased significantly from the light-moderate to the very heavy alcohol intake group…,” wrote the researchers. “Similar patterns were seen for all types and combinations of alcohol.”

The conclusion of the study was literally summed up into one sentence: “Heavy alcohol intake contributes directly to weight gain and obesity, irrespective of the type of alcohol consumed.” The bottom line is that alcohol has a lot of calories, especially beer and wine. Liquor might not have a huge calorie count, but it is often mixed with sugary drinks.

On top of alcohol causing weight gain, drinking makes you eat more in general, and usually not health food. An unnamed study, referenced in the US News article linked above, found that on drinking days, men consume 433 calories more than they would on non-drinking days. Women consume 300 more calories.

Participate in Dryuary and lose that New Year’s resolution weight!

4. Possible Lower Risk of Diabetes

Another unnamed study was referenced in the US News article, this time regarding alcohol use and liver health/glucose levels. The study involved ten regular drinkers staying sober for a five-week period. Six of the participants went the whole time without drinking. Four participants drank.

For those who succeeded, both liver health and blood glucose levels improved. Also, liver fat, (which is a precursor to fatty liver disease, which is a precursor to cancer), fell by 15% or more after five weeks. Blood glucose levels fell by 16% on average. No such improvements were noted for any of the four who drank.

This particular study is a pilot study, meaning it is in the beginning stages. As said in the US News article, “This pilot study gives no indication of how long the improvements persist, but it does lay the groundwork for larger studies.”

In Conclusion

These four benefits of not drinking for a month are backed with science, not just opinions. There are countless more benefits. For example:

  • You will save a bunch of money.
  • You will be hangover-free for a month.
  • If when you drink, you use nicotine more, that will stop.
  • You will be alert and conscious if and when the time comes.
  • You have zero chance of getting alcohol poisoning.

Many more benefits exist; all you have to do is go sober for a month and see for yourself. It doesn’t have to be January. It can be any month. It can be any thirty-day period of time. Regardless of when you choose to do it, one month of no drinking will make you drink less alcohol in the future. It will give you better sleep. It will make you eat less, and it more than likely reduces your risk of not just diabetes, but liver problems as well.

For those who are not alcoholics and only enjoy responsibly, consider this: Alcohol isn’t going anywhere. Resisting for a month won’t make it disappear forever. Just try going for a month and see how you feel.

We bet you’ll feel like a million bucks.

Alcoholism, Genetics and Parenting

Parenting is one of the toughest jobs in the world, and teaching children about drugs and alcohol isn’t always easy. But it is important and can make a difference in the lives of your children.

How to Talk To Your Children About Drugs and Alcohol

The Center for Child Welfare asserts that admitting mistakes they’ve made is a powerful way for parents to role model for their children. In an age-appropriate way, you can tell your children about a time when drinking too much alcohol or even using too much of a tobacco product made you sick and resulted in poor decision-making. Likewise, it’s important to apologize for mistakes even when they’re not related to substance abuse. Everyone makes mistakes; by being honest, apologizing and acting to correct your course you show your children how to do the same.talking-to-children-about-drugs-and-alcohol

The University of Rochester Medical Center suggests that you can begin very basic, age-appropriate conversations about drugs and alcohol with children as young as five years old. At this point, a conversation may consist of saying “The people in that commercial are acting silly when they drink beer, but they have to be careful because drinking too much can be very dangerous. Children shouldn’t drink alcohol because it’s not safe.” Discussion prompts such as this one will pave the way for questions and answer sessions that can help you build a foundation of safety and prevention that can be built upon as your children grow older.

The links between alcoholism, genetics and family history are not easy to understand. What we know for sure, though, is that there is a connection.

Is Alcoholism Genetic?

This does not mean that if you had an alcoholic parent, or if both of your parents suffered from alcoholism, that you are destined to become one as well. It does mean that you may be more predisposed to drink and abuse alcohol than others. If you have a family history of alcoholism, learn more about what it means for you and your life.

Understanding Risk

While alcoholism is influenced by genetic factors, these elements allow for, at most, an increased risk of developing alcoholism, and are by no means deterministic regarding the future of any particular individual. In addition to the contribution of genetics, family members, close friends, teachers, employers, the media, and other societal influences all contribute to shape a person’s relationship with alcohol and other drugs of abuse. Furthermore, severe alcoholics can and do achieve sobriety and lasting recovery through alcohol addiction treatment, showing that each anyone can make the decision to change, regardless of any risk factors, genetic or otherwise.

Among those abusing alcohol, people who are genetically predisposed to alcoholism have a higher risk of becoming addicted. Although people can inherit alcoholic tendencies, the development of an alcohol use disorder is also dependent on social factors. Some who have inherited genes making them susceptible to alcoholism are responsible drinkers or never take a drink in their life.

Our hereditary behaviors interact with our environment to form the basis of our decisions. Some people are more sensitive to stress, making it harder to cope with an unhealthy relationship or a fast-paced job. Some people experience a traumatizing event and turn to alcohol to self-medicate.

However, even those with a high genetic risk to substance abuse must first be driven by a nonhereditary factor to do it. The catalyst that leads to alcohol abuse is usually an environmental factor, such as work-related stress.

Some environmental factors that are particularly risky for those who are genetically inclined include:

  • Drug accessibility
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Peer pressure
  • Witnessing violence

Alcohol Causes 7 Types of Cancer

Bob and his work buddies head to Applebee’s on lunch. Everyone gets a beer. Bob drinks about half of it, finishes his food and heads back to the office. Later that evening, he has two Bud Lights while watching the big game. This is Bob’s average weekday, and over weekends, he might have a few glasses of wine.

Guess what? Bob is now at risk for at least seven types of cancer.

As if there weren’t enough health risks associated with alcohol use, a recent study has found ten more. In July, the Society for the Study of Addiction (SSA) found that alcohol consumption leads to seven different types of cancer, and possibly to three more. Every year in America alone there are 88,000 alcohol-caused deaths. The SSA study’s findings will sadly increase this already outrageous death toll from alcohol consumption.

Nearly 6% of worldwide cancer is attributable to alcohol, according to the study. Those at highest risk are those who abuse alcohol, and the risk increases with consumption. Regardless, this is big news, showing that drinkers like Bob are at much more health risk than previously thought.  Let’s discuss which cancers alcohol causes, how alcohol causes them, how to reduce your risk level, and why this is causing a stir among health experts.

The 7 (or Ten) Cancers Alcohol Causes

1. Liver Cancer

It’s well known that alcohol use causes liver damage. However, it may be lesser known that alcohol use can lead to liver cancer. The breakdown of alcohol inside of the liver causes damage to the liver cells. Essentially, inside the liver, broken-down alcohol is used as fuel for the body, as opposed to fat like usual. This leads to fatty liver disease. Continued alcohol use with fatty liver disease leads to alcoholic hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver. The last step is cirrhosis, when liver cells are replaced by scar tissue and blood flow slows down. This can lead to cancer and even death.

Drinking like Bob, (2.5 beers or 18 oz. of wine a day), results in a 1.5 times greater risk for liver cancer versus drinking less or not at all. As always, the more you drink, the more you put yourself at risk.

2. Colon Cancer

Alcohol consumption, whether excessive or long-term or both, causes what are known as adenomas in the colon. These are tiny and benign tumors, and are harmless at this stage. However, adenomas can develop into polyps, which are larger and can be pre-cancerous.

A 2001 study published by the British Medical Journal showed that “alcoholism was a risk factor for the development of high risk adenomas or colorectal cancer.” The authors of the study even went so far as to recommend that all alcoholics be screened for such health issues. Drinking like Bob results in a 1.5 times greater risk for colon cancer.

3. Rectal Cancer

This is basically the same as colon cancer. Instead of forming on the colonic walls, the cancer develops from benign growths in the rectum. An article published in 2011 in the Oxford Journals concluded that any more than one drink a day puts one at risk for rectal cancer. “Our results have shown that alcohol consumption was associated with an increase in risk for colorectal cancer, for intakes of >1 drink/day. Thus, public health recommendations for colorectal cancer prevention should consider limiting intake of alcoholic beverages,” wrote the authors.

Drinking like Bob results in a 1.21 times greater risk for rectal cancer, but having four or more drinks a day results in a 1.52 times greater risk. Only by consuming one or less alcoholic beverage daily can one be risk-free.

4. Breast Cancer

It’s not exactly common knowledge that alcohol use can lead to breast cancer. Yet the risks here are rather high. According to non-profit website Breastcancer.org, “Research consistently shows that drinking alcohol beverages… can increase levels of estrogen and other hormones associated with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer.” It only three drinks a week for a woman to have a 15% higher risk. If that woman is fifteen years old or younger, her risk is tripled.

Men who drink are also at risk. Cancer.org, a similar non-profit devoted to all types of cancer, states that men “have a higher rate of benign male breast growth (gynecomastia) and also have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.” This happens by lowering the amount of androgens, or male hormones, in the body.

Drinking like Bob can result in a risk increase anywhere from 15-45% for women, and results in a 1.5 times greater risk for men.

5. Oropharyngeal Cancer

oropharyngeal cancer

As pictured above, the oropharynx is the middle of the throat. The back of the tongue, the tonsils, and the walls of the throat are part of it. Oropharyngeal cancer occurs when malignant cells form in the tissues of the oropharynx. Alcohol consumption greatly increases the risk of this type of cancer, and the ratio of quantity to risk is frightening. Consider this…

A study published by the National Library of Medicine in 2011 showed that drinking like Bob results in a 1.75 times greater risk for oropharyngeal cancer. However, if you drink four or more a day, it results in a risk anywhere from 3.2 to 9.2 times greater. Plus, in order to become risk-free after having been at risk, one must go 10-15 years without any drinks, according to the study. On top of it all, the risk of oropharyngeal cancer from alcohol is the same for cigarette smokers as for non-smokers.

“The evidence for the human carcinogenic effects of alcohol drinking on the risk of cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx has been considered sufficient,” wrote the authors.

6. Laryngeal Cancer

The two main risk factors for developing cancer of the larynx, otherwise known as the voice box? Tobacco and alcohol. Known as one of the more unpleasant cancers, as if any were pleasant, laryngeal cancer occurs when malignant cells form in the tissues of the larynx. This is located between your throat and esophagus. (See above picture for more detail.)

According to Oral Oncology, “Epidemiological studies consistently showed that alcohol drinking increases the risk of laryngeal cancer. This risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed…” Furthermore, concurrent tobacco use dramatically increases the risk. “Alcohol drinking may influence laryngeal cancer risk particularly through its direct contact or solvent action, perhaps by enhancing the effects of tobacco or other environmental carcinogens.”

Drinking like Bob increases the risk of laryngeal cancer by four to seven times.

7. Esophageal Cancer

Just as with laryngeal cancer, the two main risk factors here are tobacco and alcohol. It’s common sense, really. Any cancer associated with the mouth/throat probably derives from something carcinogenic being introduced regularly to that area of the body. If that something is alcohol, you increase your risk of developing cancer of the esophagus, the tube that leads to your stomach, (AKA the food pipe), by up to 7.65 times in heavy drinkers.

As stated in a 2008 National Library of Medicine study, “Alcohol was a potent risk factor with a clear dose-response relationship, particularly for esophageal squamous-cell cancer.”

Drinking like Bob results in a 4-7 times greater risk for esophageal cancer.

8. The Other Three Cancers

Remember the Society for the Study of Addiction study? According to Jennie Connor, one of its authors, alcohol may also lead to cancers of the skin, the prostate, and the pancreas. Not enough evidence was found to affirm this in writing, but Connor believes alcohol does indeed cause ten different forms of cancer. So how exactly does alcohol do this?

Acetaldehyde

A ‘carcinogen’ is anything capable of causing cancer in living things. Alcohol is classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, meaning it causes cancer in human beings. When alcohol is broken down by the body, it is turned into acetaldehyde. “Most of the ethanol in the body is broken down in the liver by an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase, which transforms ethanol into a toxic compound called acetaldehyde, a known carcinogen,” according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Regarding cancers of the liver, colon, rectum, breast, skin, prostate, and pancreas, it’s safe to say acetaldehyde is the main culprit. Regarding the mouth and/or throat cancers, the answer is fairly obvious. Alcoholic beverages pass through these regions with every sip, and the breakdown process begins in the mouth. Science does not have every single detail figured out, but on average, drinking ANY amount of alcohol increases risk of cancer anywhere from 10 to 15 percent.

How to Avoid Risk

Frankly, there is no other way to avoid being at risk for cancer than to simply not drink. According to Jennie Connor, the so-called ‘benefits’ of light to moderate drinking are “…irrelevant in comparison to the increase in risk of a range of cancers.” Connor goes on to say that there is literally no safe level of drinking when it comes to risk of cancer.

The SSA researchers note in their conclusion that many studies have proven alcohol to have cardiovascular benefits, especially red wine. However, according to the authors, “…a high level of skepticism regarding these findings is now warranted.” That being said, drinking lightly, which is one drink or less per day, places you at minimal risk for developing any of these ten cancers. Also, simply knowing these risks exist can help. The problem is we don’t know they exist.

As said by Jana Witt of Cancer Research UK, “We know that nine in 10 people aren’t aware of the link between alcohol and cancer, and this review [the SSA study] is a stark reminder that there’s strong evidence linking the two.” This means millions of people are at risk. Bob is at risk. Are you? Perhaps you are not, since last year, for the first time in fifteen years, the world drank less than usual.

Drinking Rates are Down?

According to a Newser article published this year, “…global alcohol consumption fell by 0.7% in 2015. It’s the first time people are drinking less alcohol since Euromonitor started tracking that stat in 2001—and likely even before that.” Although experts believe the decrease is due to a slumping economy, facts are facts. Still, the authors of the SSA study estimated that half a million Americans (and therefore many more worldwide) may have cancer as a result of alcohol consumption.

You Can Still Have a Beer

All of this doesn’t mean you can’t have a few drinks responsibly now and again. There is a thick line between alcohol abuse and enjoying alcohol maturely. What all of this does mean is to be more careful and aware of your drinking habits, especially if you drink like our friend Bob or more often. Let’s be honest. Chances are most people will not hear about the results of this study. Chances are nine out of ten people will remain in the dark about this eye-opening information.

Some are trying to raise awareness. According to Newser, “Health experts are calling for warning labels on booze, like those on tobacco products…” Currently there are warning labels on most alcoholic beverage containers, but they are in tiny print and off to the side. The push is for them to be clearer and perhaps now to include the fact that alcohol consumption can be carcinogenic.

If you are a drinker, consume alcohol safely. Don’t let alcohol consume you. If you or someone you love is caught in an alcohol addiction, please, seek help immediately.

Harlem Church Offers Free Mental Healthcare

Mental illness has no prejudice. Whatever your race, religion, background or creed, we’re all equally susceptible to mental problems. When it comes to seeking help for such problems, some people are more reluctant than others. Perhaps a fear of being labelled as crazy holds some back.

According to Psychology Today, many members of the African-American community “continue to hold stigmatizing beliefs about mental illness.” Furthermore, a 2008 study showed that “over a third [of African-Americans] felt that mild depression or anxiety would be considered ‘crazy’ in their social circles.” Not receiving help for mental illness leads to worse and worse conditions for people.

Reverend Michael Walrond of the First Corinthian Baptist Church is tackling this issue.

The H.O.P.E. Center

Rev. Walrond has a goal: to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness and its treatment within the black community. Where else to start but his church? Walrond recently launched the H.O.P.E. Center, which stands for Healing On Purpose & Evolving. The program offers therapeutic services that are affordable and community-based. Located at 228 W 116th St. in NYC, the center is open to people of all ages, and offers both individual and group therapies.

“There’s a normalization of trauma in this community. We don’t engage it, we don’t address it. The traditional response was to pray about it. Not to negate that, but that’s not the same as having a mental health practitioner. Language is the biggest way to take the stigma away,” said Rev. Walrond.

the H.O.P.E. Center Harlem

Rev. Frazier (L) and Rev. Walrond (R) of the HOPE Center

NYC First Lady McCray

Last week at the grand opening of the HOPE Center, Chirlane McCray, wife of NYC Mayor Bill deBlasio, was there for support. The couple advocates for mental health, and in November of last year launched ThriveNYC, an outline of initiatives that support the mental health of New Yorkers. If anyone understands the plight of New York’s mentally ill, then it’s Chirlane McCray.

At the HOPE Center’s opening, McCray said the following: “Government cannot do this work alone and we shouldn’t expect people to travel someplace unfamiliar to deal with people they do not trust when they’re suffering. Now folks who live, work and worship in this community are only a short walk away from high-quality affordable mental health care and that care will be delivered by people who understand this community.”

What We’re Hoping For

Mental illness, especially that of drug addiction, has a negative connotation in American society. People like Rev. Walrond and Chirlane McCray want that to change. Also, through community support, we hope that people of all backgrounds begin to understand that they are not crazy. Having a mental illness, knowing it, and leaving it untreated… now that might be crazy.

If you or someone you love is dealing with mental illness, seek help today. Better yet, if you are in the NYC area, drop by and see the Reverend.