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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.

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.

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.

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

Blog Coming Soon!

Thank you for all the support over the last few months. We are working on getting our writing team together, and will be releasing the blog in the near future. Please continue to help support us as we strive to provide the best information possible for those seeking alcohol addiciton, prevention and awareness information. – AlcoholAwareness.org Team