Monday, July 24, 2017

Drugging, drinking, and grasping at straw

drug use, drug, addiction

(Originally on Addicted Minds)

The real power drugs hold is how they make the user accept magical thinking as real
In the 16th century, Sir Thomas More originated the idiom ‘grasping at straws’.  In actuality, the lawyer, philosopher, and Roman Catholic saint was referring to straw – cattle bedding – and that a drowning man will grasp at anything floating, even straw, to try to stay afloat (paraphrasing). It’s a perfect idiom 483 years later to illuminate how drug use is rationalized by the user and by American society.

Any drug use. Any time.

Every rational man and woman knows the risk of addiction – and death – from using opiates and opioids, for example. There is a well-documented history of addiction and death from this class of drug, dating to it’s first cultivation and use 3,400 years BCE. Why is it still around? Because people will use it. That’s why.
One of the first affects of any mind-altering drug is that it convinces the user it is somehow safe and the consequences are for the other guys. Magical thinking. Like a drowning man believing a single stalk of dried grass in an ocean will buoy him and float him to safety. Once the drug of choice takes over that human, the magical thinking gives way entirely to chemical dependence.
Even when the drug use doesn’t escalate to dependence – or I should say ‘especially’ when it doesn’t – magical thinking trumps intellect every and any time a person is under the influence.
A recovery pioneer and modern-day anti-alcohol trailblazer in the 1970’s, Father Martin, put it succinctly in his Chalk Talk. He said the human mind works best when it operates as Intellect over Emotion, or I/E. Add a mind-altering drug, any of them, and the equation flips to Emotion over Intellect, E/I. That’s a good explanation to why we say and do incredibly stupid stuff while impaired. Your grandmother was right when she said, “That’s not your Rhodes Scholar Grandpa, it’s the booze talking,” right after he declared he was going to shave the cat.

We do dumb stuff, and believe dumb stuff

A lot of recovery professionals, especially in court-ordered programs, see the aftermath of the dumb stuff followed by some more magical thinking. Every single person charged with DUI or other drug-related crime believes in magic. He or she will be sentenced lightly because of their unique situation, or get off on a technicality, or the evidence will be lost because it happened to his ‘guy’ ‘a couple years ago’ and the ‘law is muddy on this issue.’
When a drug tells the same brain it’s poisoning that the stuff isn’t so dumb, we do the dumb stuff. Including rationalizing the use of the drug. Two common examples are the well-funded oversimplifications of marijuana benefits, and the widespread acceptance of alcohol risks.
A medical user of marijuana dislikes the getting stoned part. Just like a medical user of Oxycontin doesn’t care for the high. When a recreational pot smoker wants to rationalize use, however, out comes the Emotion. Drinkers… well, there isn’t medical use and there aren’t any health benefits. It’s all about the buzz.

Send life rafts, not more straw

They’ll trot out the ‘medical benefits’ to support their continued consumption of a drug… when the medical benefits are far from their reason for smoking dope. They’ll roll out the frequently misquoted safety argument in favor of the drug. It sounds like ‘nobody ever died from smoking weed’.  True, nobody overdosed on weed, put the drug is linked to more deaths and health consequences than can be dismissed as coincidence. They’ll spout the long history of smoking herb, embraced by cultures vastly older than ours. Drowning… grasping at any fleck of straw that will keep them afloat.
The scientific evidence on alcohol as a toxin and carcinogen is even more concrete than the evidence of health damage from marijuana use. The drug can change DNA! It begins damaging otherwise healthy tissue from sip one. It’s so poisonous that if the liver had pain nerve endings, none of us would take sip two. Very scientifically sound and highly intellectual. However, even moderate use of the drug alcohol flips the I/E equation to E/I.
The grasping for straw sounds something like: ‘It’s legal’… ‘It relaxes me’… ‘Moderation is safe, the ad said so’… ‘It’s good for the heart’.  That last point has been discredited for more than a decade, by the way.  Rationalizations… buoying a drug-altered brain modified to E/I by the same drug that’s killing it. When someone is drowning, they want to believe in the straw. What if you drift to them a life raft of factsinstead? We have to deliver them back safely to the boat off which they jumped. That boat  – society and social behavior  – may not be Utopia (Sir More’s more famous work), but it beats drowning.

Scott Stevens, is the author of four alcohol books including the December 2016 release, I Can’t See The Forest With All These Damn Trees In The Way: The Health Consequences of Alcohol. Get the new BookLocker title now on Amazon (,, and everywhere you buy books.  Click Alcopocalypse for the author’s 2017 Alcohol Awareness Month whitepaper. Image by Kevin Carden, used with permission.

Photo by Dusan Petrovic, used with permission.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Alcohol, addiction, education… and the barbarians at the gate

medicine, health, alcohol, alcohol policy, CDC, NIH, ONDCP
(Originally on Addicted Minds)

Archaic, or ancient, Greece saw unequaled advances in art, medicine, poetry, science, technology, and philosophy. Before this period, around 800 BCE, people lived scattered in small farming villages. Around 1,000 BCE, villages grew. People became closer. Some villages built walls. Most built a market and a community meeting place, developed governments, and organized their citizens according to some of laws. It was the rise of the city-state humankind, being social creatures, was destined to populate. What did we know in Archaic Greek times? That alcohol is a toxin and some of our neighbors were no damn good when they drank alcohol. You couldn’t witness either when people were nomadic or living is sparsely populated villages.
Here are two important factors in which to frame the discussion of this drug:
A) Alcohol is a mood-altering drug. Case closed. Every physical and mental health professional since Hippocrates knows this clinically if not from personal consumption. This fact has been undisputed for millennia or the human race would have abandoned the relationship with this toxin and known carcinogen before the rise of the first city-state, Sparta.
B) Today exists a mountain of conclusive evidence that it is a mind-altering drug, impacting at the molecular level the organ that houses it, the brain. Evidence-based research in the later half of the 20th Century has demonstrated it damages or destroys other organs and tissues as well.
So why is this drug still so widely used today? Go back to A. It’s damn effective. Alcohol users, advertisers, brewers, distillers, and economic engineers who insists on alcohol’s pertinent role in commerce will do anything to preserve the dominance of A over B. There is no amount of wishful thinking, junk science, or fantasy those with a vested interest in alcohol use won’t embrace to preserve the status quo. Follow the money behind every observational study appearing in mainstream media in favor of this drug’s use – theorized health benefits, for example – and here’s who you’ll find writing the check: Alcohol users, advertisers, brewers, distillers, and economic engineers who insists on alcohol’s pertinent role in commerce.
Not physicians. Not mental health professionals.

David v. Goliath

It’s not that people trust ads more than doctors as much as that human nature supports keeping doing what we’re doing. Change isn’t on fleek.
What this spells is out is the David v. Goliath battleground onto which every puny addiction professional trods every day. Helping professionals aren’t just trying to reach an altered brain with no interest in stopping A. They also battle a culture, family, friends, and economy that are so immersed in A that they’ve become alco-centric when it is killing clients.
Nobody seeks out a helping professional because they want change. They seek out to keep doing what they’re doing and just feel better about doing it. I wrote that for 2012’s Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud in respect to how addiction runs counter to common disease procedure. When I have a tumor, I ache. So I see a professional to change. When my blood sugar is out of whack, I’m lethargic and achy. So I see a professional to change. When I am drinking, I feel crummy only when I stop. So I don’t really want to change because I don’t feel achy when I do it. To put it another way, when a physical system driven by the brain becomes dependent on a drug that alters the brain, the physical system is at dis-ease when it’s NOT getting the drug. The defense mechanisms to preserve A come out in full force despite B.
That alone is reason enough why addiction treatment isn’t immediately effective. Throw in alco-centric attitudes in society telling everyone ‘moderation is safe and even healthy’ and Goliath has an AR-15 compared to David’s slingshot. That’s why it sometimes takes two or four or fourteen kicks at the cat to make the transition to long-term recovery.
Succeeding against drug use requires a talented professional or para-professional who can battle through the defense mechanisms to demonstrate the consequences of B outweigh any benefit of A. That’s the case-by-case victory everyone in this profession takes on daily. A larger battle stays largely unfought. We fight tooth and nail to save the life of someone addicted, but expend very little energy in preventing use in the first place. It isn’t a desire to preserve job security that addiction pros will always have someone to save. Instead, it is unwinding centuries of accepted use of the drug that predate Sparta by about four thousand years.

Barbarians at the gate

We’ve already convinced most of the 7.5 billion people on this rock that this drug is ok, safe, fun, ceremonial, and celebrated. So what if some will use it and become addicted to it… it’s good for the economy, healthy, and a rite of passage. We fix the addicts or cast them out. We don’t prevent them from using the drug in the first place.
Have we created the same aura of safety around cocaine? A little use is ok… more, not so much? Is there a meth bar on Main Street? Have we identified a moderate use of heroin? Do we have crack and smack ads? What is the suggested daily intake of tobacco smoke as part of a healthy diet, two Pall Malls? No. Preposterous. We have prevention education that talks about health consequences beyond addiction or car wrecks for those drugs.
We lack meaningful prevention education for the world’s deadliest drug, alcohol. Alcohol advertisers provide their own at $1.5 billion a year.
The ‘alcohol-is-the-antidote-for-wellness’ message has been out there for decades on page three (if covered at all) buried behind the slick alcohol ads and front-page, above-the-fold article on alcohol health promises and underneath the announcements for the church beer tent at the fall festival. For the last 36 months, in fact, has tracked that for every pro-alcohol study mention in an article on Google (109 studies, 10,419 mentions) there were three evidence-based research projects (320 studies) on adverse health consequences of alcohol released… but a 10th of the mentions (1,022).
Where the dialogue is moving is that it is not just the addicted who become sick. Every user faces an increased risk of physical illness and disease from any use of the drug. Even moderate users.
Prevention of alcohol use disorders starts with prevention of alcohol use. It is the same tape the tobacco industry has heard for the last two decades: We prevent substantial loss of life and productivity by keeping people from smoking in the first place. We still make cigarettes. And we’ll still make alcohol, even when it isn’t glorified any longer.
The tide began to turn against tobacco in 1964. The U.S. Surgeon General issued a landmark report on health problems related to a very popular thing to do: Smoking tobacco. Thirty-four years later, the U.S. had the unprecedented Tobacco Settlement, capping a shift in education. The anti-tobacco sentiment took 34 years to soak in sans the internet. Last fall, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a landmark report on the health problems related to a very popular thing to do: Drinking alcohol. The public sentiment toward the drug is beginning to shift as indicated in this very clear signal to change the current alcohol policy costing the U.S. economy $250 billion a year.
It won’t take 34 years this time.
To the citizenry of Archaic Greece, a barbarian was anyone who was not of their extraction or culture. Because these ‘strangers’ regularly challenged Greece’s established ways, ‘barbarian’ gradually evolved into a negative term… only because the history books were written by Greeks. The truth is that they were far from barbaric and they were actually enjoined with the Romans, who took over the joint. Those who challenged the established Greco lifestyle were of nutty acts and opinions, not welcome, and kept outside the gates… no matter what their beliefs… only because they didn’t drink the same KoolAid as the Greeks.
A weird bit of irony, the story of the leveraged buyout of RJR/Nabisco (a major tobacco stakeholder) is entitled Barbarians at the Gate. The real moment the barbarians arrived on the tobacco doorstep was the 1964 Surgeon General’s Report. The 2016 report is a barbarians-at-the-gate moment for the alcohol industry. The Surgeon General fired the starting gun for practitioners who have not already incorporated prevention into their practice to do so today and be at the forefront of change the way the American Legacy Foundation – today known as the Truth Initiative – is at the forefront of smoking education and prevention.
In 1967, 72 percent of adult men smoked. Today, 72 percent don’t. Those who challenged at the gates of the establishment won the public dialogue with facts. The same ones we all have at our disposal. Remember, Greece fell because the Romans outGreeked the Greeks. The ‘barbarians’ made the thing better than being Greek was being a non-Greek. As we figure new dimensions in treating alcoholism, we need to establish that the only thing better than being a drinker, is being a non-drinker.

Addicted Minds’ Editor-in-Chief, Scott Stevens, is the author of four alcohol books including the December 2016 release, I Can’t See The Forest With All These Damn Trees In The Way: The Health Consequences of Alcohol. Get the new BookLocker title now on Amazon (,, and everywhere you buy books.  Click Alcopocalypse for the author’s 2017 Alcohol Awareness Month whitepaper. Image by Kevin Carden, used with permission.

Photo by Remy Musser, used with permission.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Resurrected: Five addiction recovery tips from the original millennial

addiction, recovery, help, dependence, health
It isn’t out of reach to consider recovery from addiction as a sort of ‘rebirth’ or ‘resurrection’ of life within the man or woman challenged by substance abuse. No, we didn’t die. Some of us came gruesomely close – a lot closer than most acknowledge – as a result of dependence on chemicals human tissues don’t favor much.
Each Spring, Christians around the world commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth around 33 A.D. The man was executed in the Roman tradition of the time: Crucifixion. Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead three days later when the tomb was found empty. He then ascended into heaven 40 days after being put to death. By all historical accounts, he (He) really lived and really was put to a gruesome death.
Whether you fancy yourself to be a non-believer or just choose to believe something else, the Biblical story of Jesus’s resurrection carries a few lessons about the metaphoric resurrection addicts in recovery experience.

Don’t be afraid to come back

Jesus was slain. Martyred. The man’s body was nailed to a cross and pierced. The Romans at the time were a brutal cast of characters and this was their method of public infliction of pain for those who dared cross Rome, and creating stigma by terrorizing and shaming those who would ever think to run afoul of Caesar. Those crucified are nailed or roped to an elevated cross beam and left for dead. In reality, they died agonizing deaths from bleeding out, exhaustion, suffocation, exposure, or any combination of the four. The Romans did this for centuries. They got it from the Greeks: Alexander the Great humiliated his conquests with public crucifixions 300 years before Jesus lived.
When the Romans did it in Jerusalem it was because the Romans had the city within their empire. They lived there. Jesus came back to the same land where people KILLED him.
When we come back from our addictions, home awaits. Regardless of what transpired or who we hurt. Go back. You have a new life. Live it where you want.

Be humble

Look, nobody is going to build a shrine to any of us just because we got sober or got off the pipe. Recovery doesn’t work that way.
Jesus wasn’t revered and shrines weren’t built in his honor because he came back from the dead either. He embodied humility. Most martyrs throughout history are known for decent, humble lives of service, not for miracles. The lesson of Jesus life was simple: Although revered as the Son of God, he washed the feet of peasants and common folk. He helped others out of a willingness to do so, not for reward. Jesus saw a need and filled it without consideration of money or notoriety.

Be prepared to prove yourself

One great Biblical account of Jesus and his rising from the dead in the Christian New Testament is his encounter with one of his followers. His friend Thomas was notably absent when the resurrected Jesus first appeared to other followers. Thomas – throughout history known as Doubting Thomas – would not believe Jesus was for real unless he got to probe the crucifixion wounds. He needed proof.
There are people who will require proof from you of your sobriety or abstinence. Some people will require years of it. Some people will never be satisfied with your recovery no matter what evidence you present. Nobody says you have to prove them wrong. It’s not their lives you’re living, it is your new one. However, the worst possible scenario for your new life, is to prove the doubters right.
Even if you relapse, you’ve proven only that you have a chronic, relapsing, progressive, fatal disease. Go back to bullet point one. Face them another day.

Be visible

The main reason Jesus’s followers believed in the resurrection is that they saw Him alive after He was dead. Jesus hung around for 40 days after his come back. He presented Himself alive on a number of different occasions to His followers. This firsthand evidence is a powerful argument for the believers in Christ. It’s going to be a part of people believing in you once again once you’re done with your drug of choice.
Take your time in recovery. There isn’t a need to rush back out to every social event. However, the hard work of rebuilding your life means nothing if you don’t leave your living room.
In my third book, I wrote about becoming a PANonymous alcoholic: One who doesn’t hide the disease and is visible in recovery. It helps others to see that recovery is possible. And it helps reduce the ridiculous public stigma attached to addiction that all in its grip are forever hopeless degenerates.

Know when to leave

Jesus was visible for more than a month after dying. So isn’t it conceivable that He could’ve just gone back to what he was doing? Or stayed and lived a resurrected life indefinitely? Theologians will argue that because there is a huge worldwide following and an addiction recovery article mentioning him two millennia later, Jesus in fact lives today. Converting you to that mindset isn’t the point. The point is that Jesus knew when to leave.
You don’t need to show up for every event to which you’re invited. You never have to stay. Nobody has to participate in every argument brought to your doorstep. In fact, the greatest gift we learn from our walking away from a drug that once controlled us is that we can walk away. From anything.
Scott Stevens is the author of four alcohol books including the December 2016 release, I Can’t See The Forest With All These Damn Trees In The Way: The Health Consequences of Alcohol. Get the new BookLocker title now on Amazon (,, and everywhere you buy books.  Click Alcopocalypse for the author’s 2017 Alcohol Awareness Month whitepaper. Image by Kevin Carden, used with permission.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Addiction recovery’s low, low admission price: Own your $#1+!

(originally posted to Addicted Minds)
Admission. Great noun. It means two related things when it comes to addiction recovery:  A) The right to enter, and B) a voluntary acknowledgment/concession of a fact or truth. There is no A) without B) in our family.
Caveat: Most normies – so called ‘normal’ people – have no clue how great we have it so they don’t bother with admission. Either definition.
Drug of choice doesn’t matter. Pills, weed, alcohol, meth, fill-in-the-blank. While active with a drug of choice addicts concede very few facts about their own condition. The reason, the drug alters the function of the same organ responsible for the voluntary acknowledgment of fact. The result, as expected, is the continued use of the same drug of choice until death. Sometimes it is the drug actually causing the death. Other times it just hastens the journey. Addiction is that way when it comes to choices. Addiction means lack of choices and you have exactly two: Admission. Or shorter life expectancy.
Owning your addiction begins to slam the door on the less desirable of the two choices.

Slam the door

You begin to admit other things on the path back to society once you’ve crossed addiction’s Rubicon by admitting your problem is your problem. “I did really crummy things when I drank. I’m sorry.” “I stole from you to get more because I am addicted to more. Let me make it right.”
Sounds quite 12-steppish (ninth, to be precise), so how about a history lesson. Stepping back to admit so you can move forward is much older. There’s a Latin phrase, ‘mea culpa.’ The literal translation from the Latin is ‘through my own fault.’ Yes, the Roman Catholics use it in their Mass, but don’t get your shorts in a knot over the AA connotation or the religious affiliation: Geoffrey Chaucer used it in Troilus and Criseydea poem, in 1374.  Six-hundred-plus years later, we just say, ‘My bad.’
In doing so an addict isn’t saying he or she is a bad person. Just flawed. (Guess what? Normies are flawed, too.) It’s a liberating moment. No longer does an addict blame his buddies or a crummy childhood or her despotic husband. He or she takes responsibility for his addiction being nobody else’s. We own our $#1+. We move on from that point. We become people in (or aspiring to) long-term recovery.
Own your $#1+. Admit it. Your admission gains admission to the prestigious and graciously welcoming recovery family. It beats the other choice. And you have only two.

Addicted Minds’ Editor-in-Chief, Scott Stevens, is the author of four alcohol books including the December 2016 release, I Can’t See The Forest With All These Damn Trees In The Way: The Health Consequences of Alcohol. Get the new BookLocker title now on Amazon (,, and everywhere you buy books. Image by Ivan Zamurovic, used with permission.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Alcohol: America’s elephant in the room

alcohol, health, medicine, alcohol policy, drug policy
(Originally posted on

America's myopic view on alcohol, its unanimous drug of choice, unravels all efforts to make healthcare affordable. The view creates drug crises, like the opioid one the country is mired in. It shortens life expectancy, smothers productivity, and snuffs out lives.

The very problem originates with the last effort to rid the nation of alcohol harms: The failed American experiment of Prohibition. Once the country was back on the sauce and legit merchants replaced mobsters as the distributors, we gained a taxable commodity. Drunk on alcohol tax revenue and woozy from the Prohibition drama, no politician would throw his neck into the drug policy noose ever again when it comes to this drug. Laissez-faire defines our drug policy when it comes to alcohol.

The closest we came to reframing the view on the toxin was in the Lyndon Johnson administration. President Johnson declared the drug 'America's leading health and economic problem.' Then he went about talking to the paintings in the White House and was voted out. We didn't talk about this elephant in the room again until the U.S. Surgeon General's 2016 Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health. This was the first time the office ever addressed the $250 billion in annual economic harm caused by alcohol. Not a hard thing to do when your party is getting voted out, but still a landmark moment in U.S. drug policy.

Changing the alcohol dialogue
Where society fears to tread is moving the dialogue beyond car wrecks and the disease of alcoholism. We know these are 'bad,' but generally, the alcohol business and our own experimentation tell us the drug is otherwise safe and it's capitol-F FUN. Reality – in the form of evidence-based science – has a funny way of changing that perspective.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) convinced America that alcohol-related car wrecks were going to be our legacy if we continued to pave our roads with the bodies of young motorists and pedestrians. And they were right. Their laudable movement recently reached its maximum potential, reducing alcohol-related road fatalities to 30 percent of all road fatalities. Eliminating the last 30 percent is possible with technology, but politically unacceptable. America loves alcohol. So we're stuck at around 10-11,000 alcohol-related traffic fatalities year in, year out.

There are 89,000 alcohol-related deaths every year. That's the elephant. Drinking and driving carves away on one in eight of those fatalities. Alcoholics die of cirrhosis, right? About 4,000 do. Yep, that's it. So we eliminate the alcoholics and the drunks behind the wheel and there are still more than 70,000 alcohol-related deaths every year because alcohol is 'safe in moderation.'

The numbers game

The numbers say otherwise. Twenty-to-forty percent of general-use hospital beds go to treating alcohol-related complications. Wounds heal more slowly under the influence. Blood pressure increases. Stroke risk doubles. Prediabetes throws blood levels out of whack. Alcohol causes heart disease. Alcohol causes cancer. Eight types to be precise. Drownings. Suicides. Household accidents. All of these consequences stem from even moderate use of the drug.

It's a toxin. Destructive to the point of altering DNA. And you're not alone for not hearing about that: Presently the alcohol industry directs the alcohol dialogue. They can get behind MADD because the product they make just got in the hands of all the wrong people. They can't very well go out and advertise that they are making a toxic drug with no health benefit. Nobody would ask the mom-in-law to come in and help resolve a marital dispute. So don't expect the industry creating the problem to highlight it.

Remember smoking? So glamorous. Some MadMen-era clown even professed smoking was healthy. Smoking used to be a numbers game. In 1964, 72 percent of adult men smoked. Profits tumbled in by the bale. The Surgeon General came out with a report on the health impact of tobacco smoke. Today, 72 percent of adult men don't smoke. What happened in between is that the big numbers of smoking related costs and deaths became more of a priority than tobacco profits. Tobacco companies even tried to dismiss their own data on the health hazards. 

They ran into a tide of education that turned Americans from dumb smoking sheep into informed consumers.

The takeaway here is that tobacco is still profitable today. And fewer people are killing themselves over its drug nicotine, but they still can choose to do so.

Starting from the start
The status quo with this drug has reached unsustainability. The $250 billion is half of U.S. military spending. It's the equivalent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the 40th largest economy on the globe. The 89,000 deaths rank it third in preventable causes of death. The toxin, even in moderation, is clinically linked to more than 60 diseases. No alcoholic – and there are 20 million of them in the U.S. – ever became alcoholic without first taking a drink.

Reinventing the the alcohol dialogue begins before use. Would anyone take a swig of perfume or down a bottle of cologne? No. Not even the worst parent would model that for their kid. No TV commercial would tell them it's safe. No primary grade teacher would profess it to be ok so long as you didn't get behind the wheel on perfume or get hammered on it.

What's perfume got to do with it? The body breaks down alcohol by metabolizing first into acetaldehyde: A colorless flammable liquid used to manufacture... perfume. Acetaldehyde is too volatile to use straight-up in perfume or cologne so it is mixed with other ingredients in everything from cheap stinks like Hai Karate to whatever high-buck Euroscents the Kardashian clan pimps. Your body turns alcohol into the same rapid-evaporating fragrance carrier the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) lists as a group one carcinogen.

Get the picture? Your body can't not make acetaldehyde from alcohol. Alcohol intoxication just makes you do stupid stuff by lowering inhibitions, intelligence, and rational thought. Acetaldehyde. Damages. Tissue. It permanently alters DNA. You don't see that in a wine commercial, or many classrooms or doctor offices for that matter. When educating about alcohol, we need to get back to the basics on what it is we're drinking and point that out early and often.

Changing alcohol education solves several problems

Whether the approach to alcohol is laissez-faire, or just plain lazy, the vast and unwavering worship of the mind-altering, mood-altering elixir has become the proving ground for what we have in our treatment facilities today. Alcohol is a gateway drug, meaning people get their appetites for other drugs by experimenting with with this drug first. If, culture-wide, we're embracing a gateway drug as socially acceptable and 'safe,' we cannot realistically expect to keep any kid off drugs, especially other depressants like our current crisis-du-jour, opioids.

If we change the dialogue on this drug, do we cease creating more addicts or alcoholics-in-training faster than we create alcoholics-in-recovery? Nothing will stop a person who wants to use a drug from using that drug. Period. So we keep it legal, like tobacco… tax the hell out of it… and educate (or re-educate) America that what causes problems, is one.

Scott Stevens, is the author of four alcohol books including the December 2016 release, I Can’t See The Forest With All These Damn Trees In The Way: The Health Consequences of Alcohol. Buy the new BookLocker title now on Amazon (,, and everywhere books are sold. Stevens also heads up BlogTender LLC, a content marketing firm headquartered in Lake Geneva, Wis. Image by Luis Chumpitaz, used with permission.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Barney, participation trophies, and Nintendo: We didn’t see an opioid crisis coming?

addiction, opiate, opioid, crisis, epidemic, health, millennials
(Originally posted on

Overdose deaths involving opiates and opioids have quadrupled since 1999, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Using information from death certificates compiled for the CDC’s Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research (WONDER) database, almost half of the 13,000 heroin overdose deaths in 2015 (5,941) were to people born between 1981 and 2000. Prescription opioid drug overdose deaths match the same age bubble.
Clearly, a single generation or demographic isn’t involved in the crisis. If half of the deaths occur to one age band, half don’t. However one half is a statistically significant batch of dope deaths.
There are those who would direct the anger about this at pharmaceutical companies. They made stronger opioids and aggressively marketed them by the truckload to every doc with a prescription pad. There would be no supply, however, without demand. Economics. So what spiked the demand? A purple dinosaur, a medal for everyone, and constant entertainment with a reset button. They could be as much to blame as overzealous Rx writers and an uninterrupted flow of street smack.

An entire generation programmed for susceptibility

Barney, the purple dinosaur, became a phenom with the Pack-n-Play set in 1992. It was geared toward kids aged 1 to 8 years with sometimes educational value. Barney had kids singing, “I love you, you love me” etc. until the runaway hit was canned in 2009. It lives on today in syndication.
One specific rub on Barney is that the show didn’t help kids learn how to deal with negative feelings and emotions. As one commentatorput it, the real danger from Barney was, “denial: the refusal to recognize the existence of unpleasant realities. For along with his steady diet of giggles and unconditional love, Barney offers our children a one-dimensional world. Everyone must be happy. Everything must be resolved right away.'” Ouch.
On the topic of not dealing with unpleasant realities is that there is, in the real world, a concept of winning and losing. They are not two separate and unrelated concepts: You cannot have all winners and no non-winners. We used to call them ‘losers,’ a la racer Dale Earnhardt once proclaiming ‘second place is the first place loser.’
It’s hard to peg an exact year when the everyone-gets-a-trophy movement began but a 2015 episode of the HBO Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel documentary points to the late 1980’s or early 90’s as well. It was initially a California phenomenon. It was to boost the self-esteem of inner city youth. “We thought, especially for kids in struggling communities, if we just told them they were great they would believe it. Then they’ll achieve more because they were certain they were great,” researcher Ashley Merryman told HBO.
The first gaming system to reach mega-saturation in American households was the 8-bit Nintendo. It launched in October 1985 and Mario Bros. could be spotted babysitting millions of kids by the next fall. In fact, the entire gaming industry was $100 million in 1985: In 1986 it was $430 million, $310 million of it was Nintendo’s share.

Not blaming the opioid victim

Sociologists are big on generational cohorts like GenX or Millennials or Baby Boomers and enjoy painting with a broad brush the ills or successes of each cohort. The ones turning to the relief they find in opiates and opioids are not the ones to find fault with. Who gave them Barney, participation trophies, and gaming systems?
The Recession stymied economic growth, halted job creation, kept older Americans in the workforce longer, and encouraged younger American couples to have two wage earners. That Recession was 1982, NOT the most recent one of 2008. The opioid tragedy of those born 1981-2000 was written before many of them had even learned to read. GenX and Baby Boomer parents and grandparents who authentically loved and cared for kids, hobbled the same kids. How? By setting up an unrealistic world of expectations that all things are resolved in an hour, everyone gets an award and we must all be entertained all the time.
The grave consequences of an opioid crisis for this generation were entirely foreseeable – in hindsight. It’s like when the world first heard that Queen’s Freddie Mercury was gay. When we went back and watched the old videos we collectively said, ‘Well, that makes sense.”

Addicted Minds’ Editor-in-Chief, Scott Stevens, is the author of four alcohol books including the December 2016 release, I Can’t See The Forest With All These Damn Trees In The Way: The Health Consequences of Alcohol. Buy the new BookLocker title now on Amazon (,, and everywhere books are sold. Stevens also heads up BlogTender LLC, a content marketing firm headquartered in Lake Geneva, Wis.

state of recovery, addiction, alcohol, health

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Dope 101: Opioids, opiates… six of one isn’t a half-dozen of the other

(Originally posted on

The terms opioids and opiates are frequently – and mistakenly – used as interchangeable words for the same drug when they really mean two related drug classes. The media doesn’t get that. Nor do they have to when they ring the ‘epidemic’ bell to get more viewers. For the record, we have a drug crisis, not just an opioid or opiate crisis.
An opiate is a natural narcotic analgesic (e.g. painkiller) derived from the opium poppy. Think opium, morphine, and heroin.
An opioid is a synthetic narcotic analgesic created in a lab to mimic or intensify or attempt to remove undesired inconsistencies of the natural product. Think Oxies.
Physicians used to prescribe the former. They now prescribe the latter when other pain meds like ibuprofen or acetaminophen aren’t strong enough. Street dope used to be only the former. Now street dope can be purely the former, impurely the former, or even mixed with the latter with usually disastrous outcomes.
From a dependency treatment standpoint, both classes are essentially equal in their abilities alter neurochemical processes in the body and change how the brain and body work over time. With the opioids, the carnage is often quicker. To explain the reason for that, I’m tossing out two words that will slay your opponent is Scrabble: Dolorimetry and pharmacopeia.

Big words, bigger problems

It all starts with pain. Dolorimetry (dolor is Latin for pain) is the measurement of pain in animals and, notably, humans are animals. If humans can measure it, they next want to fix it. There’s a long human history of not tolerating pain and seeking a remedy for it. And from that we get the ancient Greek word pharmacopeia, the science or study of drugs, their preparation, properties, uses, and effects.
For thousands of years, opium was used to treat the pain. In the 1500’s, laudanum (opium dissolved in alcohol) became the next generation. In the early 1800’s, the most active part of opium, morphine, was extracted. A less active part – codeine, about two percent of opium – was also extracted. Merck went commercial with morephine in 1827. Tens of thousands of Civil War soldiers became addicts. In 1874, heroin was first made by boiling down morphine in an attempt to find something twice as strong but less addictive. They got it half right… and by most accounts a century and a half later: ALL wrong.

Opioids speeding the way to ruin

Opium was banned in the U.S. in 1905 and set in the opioid lab race, which really took off later that decade when Bayer (yes, THAT Bayer) stopped mass production of heroin because of its dangers. Oxycodone was born in the lab in 1916. It was hoped that oxycodone would retain the analgesic effects of morphine and heroin with less dependence. Nope. But it still lives on today as OxyContin and Percocet. Hydrocodone was first synthesized in 1920, approved in the U.S. in 1943 and became Vicodin in 1984. Hydromorphone (Dilaudid) was first synthesized in 1924. Methadone was created in a lab in 1937 to find something, again, less addictive than morphine and heroin in surgery. Epic fail. Janssen Pharmaceuticals gave us fentanyl in 1959.
Which leads us to the latest trend is mixing into cheap street heroin even cheaper, illegal modifications of fentanyl (like carfentanyl) thousands of times more powerful than morphine or heroin.
By the way, that old opiate, morphine, is still among the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines because of its relative safety in comparison to the misbegotten offspring. However, we can’t put the pharmacopeia toothpaste back in the tube and we have a drug crisis today.

Addicted Minds’ Editor-in-Chief, Scott Stevens, is the author of four alcohol books including the December 2016 release, I Can’t See The Forest With All These Damn Trees In The Way: The Health Consequences of Alcohol. Buy the new BookLocker title now on Amazon (,, and everywhere books are sold. Stevens also heads up BlogTender LLC, a content marketing firm headquartered in Lake Geneva, Wis.