Saturday, August 31, 2013

SATURDAY REWIND: Social media can give clues to college drinking

Hundreds of thousands of college students have returned to campuses for the fall semester, many of them first-timers getting accustomed to campus life.  And for some young adults, it is an exposure to binge drinking that keeps their parents on edge miles away.  Having a college student is a chance to cut the cord a little and let them discover a few things.  With the dangers of alcohol being what they are especially for young adults (see related underage drinking research here), concerned parents can still get a glimpse into the sides of the university living in which their sons or daughters voluntarily enroll.  According to this October article from the alcohol research news archive, social media can provide clues if alcohol is more of a priority than books.

Eleven students were hospitalized for alcohol poisoning in Houston over the weekend after an on-campus Halloween party. Organizers said more than 1,000 students attended the dorm party, which has been an annual rite of passage since the 1970s.

No parent of a college-age man or woman sleeps well with such headlines. But they don’t need to go much beyond their son’s or daughter’s social media pages to get a glimpse at what’s happening on campus. A recent study published in the quarterly Spectrum by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that 83 percent of college students’ social media profiles refer to drinking. These profiles could help target problem drinking patterns before they include at trip to the hospital, as the bash at Rice did early Sunday morning.

Colleges and universities already spread college safety prevention information about alcohol misuse on campus, however the NIAAA study indicated that students would rather hear from their peers if their social media pages indicated a lot of drinking. Parents could also intervene, but students are likely to be more responsive when the parents reply to the posts in nonjudgmental and respectful ways.

A separate NIAAA study indicates that only 10 percent of students drink in a safe manner (e.g. pacing themselves), 30 percent engaged in high-risk drinking activities and the remainder engaged in what they claimed were a mix of safe and risky activities. A look at the social profiles online could give a glimpse into activities past and whether a student is likely to be among the 10 percent or the 30 percent.

My own campus experience is decades behind me.  (The drinking age was lower, and nobody had cell phones... there was such a time.)  My children are years away from jetting out of the nest and onto some campus.  The practical takeaway advice in the story is to be respectful.  These are young ADULTS, and are eager to explore life on their terms and even make their own mistakes, but parenting doesn't end with the emptying of the nest.  Regard their boundaries, but keep them safe. It's a fine line.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Booze or the band: Ultimatum to Bon Jovi guitarist points out flaw of coerced treatment

From my Aug. 28 news article...

Guitarist Richie Sambora was booted from the band Bon Jovi for ongoing alcohol problems following a hit-rehab-or-hit-the-road ultimatum, according to reports of a secret intervention on   The website's Aug. 27 exclusive claims Sambora refused and was kicked off the current tour by bandmates.

The apparent failure of the intervention points to the difficulty involved in forcing compliance to an alcohol-free lifestyle.  Faced with losing his position in one of the most successful touring acts and even with reported doctor warnings that Sambora faces possible severe — and life threatening — liver damage, the decision remains the alcoholic's whether he is “ready” to change.  Sambora has been in alcohol rehab facilities for treatment in 2007 and 2011.  The 2011 stint came just days after being discharged from probation for a 2008 drinking and driving arrest.

Treatment professionals remain divided on intervention-style tactics.  Proponents say that while “you can lead a horse to water but can't make him drink, you can make him thirsty,” meaning the intervention can successfully plant the seed that rehab is a good idea.  Opponents argue that no person with the disease of alcoholism will comply with a program until he or she is so “sick and tired of being sick and tired” that they decide on their own to accept help . . . and it is difficult to convince anyone actively drinking that the alcohol is unmanageable.  At issue is the difference between compliance and surrender.

Many alcoholics find themselves at the same crossroad, whether it is through contact with the legal system or a personal crisis such as deteriorating marriage or a vexing professional situation such as Sambora's. 

Psychiatrist Harry Tiebout, prominent in the middle of the last century, often wrote of compliance vs. surrender. Surrender is an acceptance, intellectually and emotionally. “Only when you surrender to the fact that you cannot control alcohol once you become alcoholic,” says Tiebout, “Can you move toward recovery.”  Compliance can get a person closer to long-term recovery, only surrender can keep them there.

The disease is noted for its high rate of relapse.  Louise Bailey Burgess, author of Alcohol and Your Health, says, “Unfortunately, despite desperate determination, the depressing fact remains that not more than 50 percent of those who decide to quit, manage to attain sobriety for the rest of their lives.” Neuroscientist George Koob of the Scripps Research Institute, in Moyers on Addiction: Close to Home, puts the number even higher, with 80 percent of those who have detoxed relapsing within a year.

Detoxing entirely from alcohol takes several months beyond a 28-day treatment program due to tissue changes in the body caused by the chemical.  Even a year later, an alcoholic can feel, “If I keep drinking I’ll die” simultaneously to feeling, “If I don’t have one right now I’ll die” because the body's tissues have been programmed to prefer the alcohol molecule.

As noted in the 2010 book, What the Early Worm Gets, rehab starts when you leave rehab.  A rehab facility is only the start of a really long road that has a speed limit and cannot be sped up to 28 days. If an alcoholic doesn't want to be on the road to begin with, it is unlikely he or she will stay on it. “A person enters therapy insisting he wants to change. Nobody wants to change really. When coerced medically or by family or the courts, what you really want is to remain the same and have therapy make you or your interveners feel better.”

The problem a lot of alcoholics face early in sobriety or while actively drinking is the illusion that they are leaves who don’t think they’re part of a tree. “I’m unique.” Surrender acknowledges that nobody with the disease is so unique and others have surrendered and lived to tell about it.  Every alcoholic stops drinking eventually, some just aren't alive when that day hits.

Sunday, August 25, 2013


Former boxing champ Mike Tyson's admission that he's struggled with grief and forgiveness in part of his ongoing alcohol rehab points to two of the four key stressors Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud notes as potential barriers to long-term sobriety. Of course everyone, Alcoholic or non-Alcoholic, faces these stressors.  Most handle it swimmingly well, others not so well, masking them with alcohol.  When someone with the disease of Alcoholism encounters something so strong it triggers the stress hormone cortisol, relapse is a possibility.
"For those on the outside of the disease, in a way, dealing with a drinking Alcoholic is easier than dealing with a sober one because with a drinking one you know what the problem is. The conversations I had with more than 200 men and women in recovery reveal what the sober Alcoholic’s problems are.
When the Symptoms of Sobriety appear, know they are normal responses to cortisol increase traced to these four things we struggle with in sobriety:
Guilt (Chapter Four)
Shame (Chapter Five)
Forgiveness (Chapter Six)
Grief (Chapter Seven)
When you take away alcohol, you still have problems—problems that non-Alcoholics sometimes use alcohol to relieve, “treat” or cover up. In an Alcoholic, these four cause relapse. They are the cloud to sobriety’s silver lining. They aren’t simply squishy, intangible emotional qualities for Hallmark cards or spiritual books. Science shows they’re states that have a concrete and measurable effect on our biochemistry.
Every Alcoholic has manifestations of these four and needs treatment geared toward these stressors or the treatment fails. No treatment will have lasting success without addressing what causes the Symptoms of Sobriety. To put it another way, it’s well known that high cholesterol levels increase coronary heart disease—heart trouble. Those who have a genetic predisposition for difficulty handling cholesterol frequently can forestall heart trouble with careful eating habits. A person who doesn’t have the problem handling cholesterol doesn’t have the same urgent need to restrict his diet. Eating ice cream or gorging on fries isn’t much of an issue for him but it is for the man who does have the genetic predisposition. And so it goes with Alcoholics who are stuck with a problem handling cortisol. Guilt, shame, forgiveness and grief are a threat to recovery trouble like cholesterol is a threat to heart trouble."