Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Don't become an ugly Christmas sweater: Dodge the holiday minefields

It'll come to you...
Relapse traps sneakily pop up on any page of the calendar, but the 63 days between Halloween and New Year's Day can be the trickiest gauntlet to run. Sequestering in a bunker? Not an option. Here are nine tips for not sweating the season of celebrations:

1) Stay out of your medicine chest. Cough and cold season is here. It's especially easy to overdo the cough meds. In typical addict fashion, the think the dosage on the label is only a suggestion and if a small amount works, the whole bottle will really kick the symptoms to the curb. Not so. And the little buzz from an OD of the over-the-counter drug can lead back to the drug of choice.

2) Stay out of your medicine chest: Part II. Another relapse trap in the medicine chest is sleep aids. With the time change and extra holiday-season stress, sleep is a casualty of the calendar. Alcohol is a depressant. Sleep aids are depressants. The brain doesn't make such an exact distinction between the two and, historically, drinkers have used alcohol as a sleep aid – or excused their drinking by saying it helps them sleep. It isn't just the prescription sleep aid like Abilify. It's also the OTC one, and especially concoctions like Motrin PM or Tylenol PM.

3) Find sober celebrations. Not as rare as you might think. If you're timid, take someone along with you who might be even newer to sobriety. If there aren't celebrations, it could be time for a diversion like a museum or pick a dry theater and watch The Last Jedi. All the older kids are doing it.

4) Bail out. There is nothing wrong with the word 'no.' We were all pretty creative with excuses for our drinking. If you are even slightly apprehensive about an event, put the same creativity to use for why you can't go. And if you're busted telling a little white one… isn't it better than possibly challenging your sobriety? Real friends understand.

5) If you can't bail, bring candy. Seriously. Satisfying an oral fixation can make a difference. The taste on your palate will make alcohol flavorings less inviting, too. If you've ever had a beer on top of a candy cane, you know.

6) Never stay late if you do go. Our reputations as the last soldiers standing – gone. Be the first leaving. Everyone has seen a dreaded morning after, or the photos of the night before, and uttered the words, 'I shoulda left way earlier.' The more tired you get, the weaker your defenses become. My grandmother's rule was that nothing good ever happens after 10 p.m. anyway.

7) Go help another alcoholic who might be struggling. The twelve-steppers founded their fellowship on this simple act. Even if you're not a twelve-stepper or vow to never become one, give this a try. It works. There's a flawed thinking that the holidays are an inappropriate time to challenge someone who's challenged by drugs including alcohol. It may be the best gift you ever give the person with the disease of addiction – and the family around him or her. Inside every sick person sick with this disease is a trembling, sorry, sad person dying to feel well again. Invite him or her out onto the path to recovery. In the case of the disease of alcoholism, there's no worse time than waiting for tomorrow or the New Year. You wouldn't imagine postponing treatment for a chronic, fatal, progressive disease like cancer. Why postpone it for a chronic, fatal, progressive disease like alcoholism? If the worry is that it wouldn't be the holiday without that person near, what have the past few holidays told you about that… and what if there isn't a next holiday?

8) Breathe. The holidays are loaded with financial stress, family stress, traffic stress, cold-and-flu stress, and end-of-the-year work stress in addition to the normal, everyday stress of life. Alcoholics and non-alcoholics alike drink to relieve stress. There isn't a single stressor that is cured by drinking: There isn't one that got worse because you chose to just breathe rather than drinking it off the calendar.

9) Be brutally honest with yourself. The biggest charge in the holiday minefield is in the eight-inch gap between your left ear and your right. Nearly every relapse comes in the collision between reality and the five words, 'It won't happen to me.' Here's the very alcoholic reason why I still have Ibuprofen PM in my own nightstand: Because it won't happen to me, the second warning above is only for those other guys, right? Right.

By the way, these nine aren't just for the end of the year and the start of the new one. They work anytime.

– Scott Stevens is the author of four, award-winning alcohol and health books, The A-Files: Alcohol A-Z DVD series,, and the Alcohology app for Android. He is a founding influencer of the world's largest medical portal HealthTap, and serves as Editor In Chief for AddictedMinds & Associates, the only professionally-vetted treatment center directory. Stevens originally published this article in Keys to Recovery. Image by Marina Gloria Gallud Carbonell used with permission.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Wisconsin proposes creating the next generation of damaged adults because profit trumps health

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R - Burlington), became the voice of reason by not throwing in with special interests' Nov. 8 attempt to lower Wisconsin's drinking age, effectively killing the proposal's future. (JournalSentinel article.) Alcohol is a toxin and known carcinogen. Instead of encouraging more people to drink by lowering the drinking age to 19, Wisconsin might want to focus on educating more kids about this drug.

The suggestions by the bill's sponsors that lowering the age to legally use this drug will save money is nearly as absurd as the concept that drinking a toxin 'in moderation' somehow has health benefits. At legal age 21, alcohol use – all alcohol use, not just drinking and driving or the disease of alcoholism – costs the economy $250 billion a year, mostly in lost productivity. That's enough to buy every man, woman, and child in the U.S. a 55-inch, HDTV for Christmas… every year. Increasing the number of legal drinkers is going to reduce the cost? A fine piece of fiction.

Of greater importance is the health impact. Increasing the drinking age was never about highway money or reducing drinking and driving, although they are lovely benefits. There are health consequences for developing brains. Cognitive damage in a developing brain lasts well past the hangover. Drinking in any amount reduces brain myelin, impairs cognitive and behavior control, and physically alter brain structure. This. Toxin. Changes. DNA. Lowering the drinking age will ultimately lead to impairments in brain function in adulthood. Since the brain's frontal lobes develop into the mid-20's, if we want to reduce social costs associated with drinking, raising the age of legal use would be more practical.

Brain damage is so significant it overshadows the cancer risk of a known carcinogen. The concern is especially acute for women drinkers of the only dietary link to an increased risk of breast cancer. The younger a woman starts, the higher the risk. Breast tissue is developing at age 21... again a case for increasing the drinking age rather than lowering it.

The public and political appetite (FYI: Beverage alcohol is among the top-spenders in elections) for raising the drinking age isn't there. And it isn't practical. What's practical is beginning alcohol education at earlier grades in the same fashion we start tobacco education. At it's simplest, it starts will calling alcohol a drug.

With that in mind, shame on the sponsors for suggesting the fictional cost savings from lowering the drinking age would be used for drug treatment. Treatment of the same drug you're peddling? Or were you only suggesting that to ride the coattails of the public interest in the opioid topic when you're fully aware that the accountability for actually spending the money for treatment doesn't exist?

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  Peter Lecko, used with permission.

Image by Andrew Jalbert, used with permission.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Michelob targets teens on Instagram: Self-regulation's epic fail

michelob, ad, alcohol
In the process of running an ad on social media platforms, a business is able to target ads by any combination of  'interests' or location or age or gender. This ad above was delivered to a high school senior, Sunday, Oct. 8, in his Instagram feed. His user profile indicates he is seventeen. The browser history shows ZERO visits to alcohol profiles or pages.

Anheuser-Busch Companies, maker of Michelob Ultra, is one of several alcohol manufacturers capitalizing on the perfect storm of the untamed Wild West of social media combined with an industry permitted to police itself.

Although alcohol is a legal substance for adults age 21 or older, it is the leading drug used by underage American youth. The drug is one of the three leading risk factors for global disease burden according to study appearing in Lancet in 2012.  In adolescents in particular, alcohol use increases the likelihood of injury, addiction and death, and of course the risky behaviors teens are known to find tempting... but it also damages a brain that isn't fully developed until their 20's.  

Exposure to alcohol marketing has been identified as one factor that may lead to underage alcohol consumption. While nobody really needs a 'longitudinal study' to come to that conclusion, one was done and the hard numbers appeared in Addiction in Oct. 2016. A previous article noted that the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University (CAMY) has found that youth in the United States were 96 times more likely per capita to see an ad promoting alcohol than an industry ad discouraging underage drinking.

No clear rules, no independent review of content

Industry watchdog, California-based AlcoholJustice, keeps tabs on the sketchy practices engaged by the alcohol makers and the ad agencies pimping them. "Alcohol ads are ubiquitous on public transit, billboards, sports stadiums, and digital media. Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter offer inexpensive, virtually unregulated promotional platforms to alcohol producers and marketers, who encourage youth to build relationships with their brands."

Alcohol ads are shown to a somewhat gullible, very impressionable, and ultimately naive audience that isn't even old enough to purchase, possess. or consume the drug because there's a 'bro code' in the alcohol industry: Their ad policies are voluntary and self-regulated. As a result, teens are going to get served the ads because the fox is supervising the chicken coop. 

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has guidelines defining everything from blogs and social networks to video sharing sites and micro blogging services as 'advertising.' As such, "any use of social media by industry members is subject to the same limitations, requirements and restrictions as any other form of advertising previously has been, among other guidelines...

... ads must be limited to an audience where at least 70 percent are of drinking age. 

It's a guideline, remember. And it's self-policed. 

Where does the 70 percent figure come from? The overall census of the U.S. says 70 percent of us are 21 or older. The census of social media platforms doesn't mate up well with the overall population however. Pew Research (click on their link to the complete .pdf report) shows 72 percent of its users are under age 18. 

Of the 500,000 advertisers on Instagram, you wouldn't count on seeing a business that has a self-imposed rule of not advertising to minors

By the way, Instagram only appeals to four percent of adults over 65 years of age. As for American teenagers, in a Piper Jaffray semi-annual Taking Stock With Teens survey, 32 percent described Instagram as their most important social network, second only to Snapchat. Statista shows the share of teenagers in the United States who were Instagram users as of March 2015, sorted by gender and age group. During that period of time, 64 percent of female U.S. teens aged 15 to 17 years used the social networking app. 

Advertising a label or a company to establish brand identity is what companies do. In the uber-competitive beverage industry, brand loyalty is everything. It would appear the alcohol makers are attempting to establish their brand with would-be users of their beverage when they're old enough. Which all seems odd when we're talking about a toxic, carcinogenic drug rather than Kool-Aid.

We do more to curtail junk-food advertising aimed at young people than we do to prevent them from soaking in alcohol ads. “There’s very strong evidence that underage drinkers are not only exposed to the advertising, but they also assimilate the messages,” says James D. Sargent, MD. “That process moves them forward in their drinking behavior.” Sargent is the study author of a Jan. 2016 report in JAMA linking the ads kids see and what they do with the information. He’s professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine. And he’s summarized the same message a dozen other reports have stated since 1996.
"Underage drinking harms teens, their families and their communities,” adds Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Tom Frieden. "Exposing teens to alcohol advertising undermines what parents and other concerned adults are doing to raise healthy kids.”

If OxyContin was advertised to teens on social media, the FTC, mainstream media, and the Attorneys General of 50 states would be on drug maker Purdue Pharma like a hobo on a ham sandwich. A deadlier teen drug is promoted on teens' favorite app and everyone takes a nap.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has overall oversight of advertising and has been conducting a study for more than a year on alcohol-beverage companies’ use of online advertising, with the results yet to be released. FTC will focus on age verification – a subject the TTB guidelines on social media do not address.

Like the Michelob Ultra sponsored post shown above, kids are being delivered ads where they live: Instagram and other popular platforms that are saturated with adolescent users. They'll get Ultra right alongside the selfies, Selena Gomez posts, and the snap of the pizza slice a friend is about to down. Self-regulation.  It works until it doesn't. Just ask the financial services industry.

Don't just fix the shocks, fill the potholes.

Even the addiction recovery professional and paraprofessionals nap on such front-end, front-line issues. Things like this advertising issue on Instagram are barely on the radar of recovery advocates, be they treatment centers or interventionists. They're overburdened as it is with treating the ill and have little time or disposable assets to address prevention. Aside from the massive economic and public health concern America's insatiable appetite for alcohol creates (see related video), no alcoholic ever became alcoholic without taking the first drink. Period.

Certainly not everyone who drinks becomes alcoholic, but a report from the National Institutes for Health definitively links teen use with higher alcoholism risk later in life. In a nerdy analysis, it would seem a recovery advocate would be sacrificing job security by supporting prevention efforts. Not true. There will always be drug users and those genetically predisposed to the disease of addiction. Recovery advocacy is crucial... prevention is essential. It's like being part mechanic, part street crew: You put new shocks on cars that have run through potholes  and sooner rather than later you just fix the stupid potholes. Instagram's Michelob ad...that's a pothole.

For more reading on alcohol advertising, see 

Alcohol advertising in sports blasted for 'grooming child drinkers,' bans becoming popular internationally

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  Peter Lecko, used with permission.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Revealing alcohol's role begins to unravel the ribbon

breast cancer, alcohol, awareness month

Ladies... and men who care... listen up: There is one and only one unchallenged dietary link to an increased risk of breast cancer. That link is alcohol consumption.

To date, the only dietary link to an increased risk of breast cancer is alcohol use. One in eight women will have an encounter with breast cancer in her lifetime. It takes relatively little alcohol to boost the cancer risk. As little as one drink a day can provide a double digit increase in the chance of getting the disease. Three or more servings of alcohol per day gives you the same risk as a daily pack of cigarettes.

Think about that for a minute: With all the news regarding the link between smoking and cancer, the alcohol link is as strong and well documented, but far less publicized. For now. 
The whitepaper, Alcopocalypse, predicts the next 10 years for the alcohol business will look like the last 20 have for tobacco. 

Alcohol's causal relationship with breast cancer isn't new. More than 100 studies 1920-2017 have conclusively linked alcohol consumption to increased breast cancer risk. New research continues every year, delving deeper into the link, especially how alcohol disrupts hormones and even genes. 

Alcohol increases production of estrogen. Estrogen increases are behind 80 percent of breast cancers. Toxic alcohol also creates another toxin – acetaldehyde. That second toxin has been shown to alter DNA and breast tissue in younger drinkers, leading to increased cancer risk later in life. A Journal of the National Cancer Institute report showed a double-digit increase in breast cancer risk for women who drank as little as one drink daily between the first menstruation and the first pregnancy. The results were independent of drinking after first pregnancy. That study also discovered an increase in benign breast disease, a non-cancerous condition which accounts for 80 percent of breast lumps. These benign lumps do increase the risk of breast cancer by 500 percent. The more alcohol consumed between the onset of the first menstrual period and the first pregnancy, the greater the risk for both benign breast disease and breast cancer.

In another recent study, a University of Houston researcher and his team have discovered an important link between alcohol and breast cancer by identifying a cancer-causing gene triggered by alcohol. The 2015 Houston research shows alcohol enhances the actions of estrogen in driving the growth of breast cancer cells and diminishes the effects of the cancer drug Tamoxifen on blocking estrogen by increasing the levels of a cancer-causing gene. 

A consensus panel formed by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) a decade ago concluded: "The evidence on cancer justifies a recommendation not to drink alcoholic drinks" ... a recommendation still maintained by the organization.

Only one in 10 adults knows alcohol is a carcinogen. 'Why haven't consumers been advised of the increased risk?' is a simple question to answer. Where do most people get information about alcohol? From the alcohol makers or from studies funded by themTheir information has been manipulated to protect the profitability of the drug they make, according to a new study by London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Sweden's Karolinska Institute. The study claims alcohol giants are not exactly striving to educate consumers and marketers are misleading customers by hidieng facts from the public about cancer links to alcohol. Published in the Sept. 2017 journal Drug and Alcohol Review, the study found in 2016, that 30 companies misled the public about alcohol's connection to breast cancer risk. See Hey Alcohol Biz: The 90's called and wants their liars back.

Bottom line: Alcohol is a drug that's toxic and carcinogenic. Drinking it and expecting healthy results is like peeing in a Mr. Coffee and expecting Starbucks.

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  Peter Lecko, used with permission.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Busting the flashy car for 75 mph to let the 250 mph Peterbilt pass

drug epidemic, opioid crisis

The public relations approach to hiding an alcohol pandemic

In opioid news this week, state attorneys general across the country are stepping up their game against the opioid crisis. Awhile back, the AGs sent letters to insurers, asking them to do more to curb the opioid epidemic. Now, they say they're expanding an ongoing investigation into pharmaceutical companies make or distributing opioids. That's according to MedPage Today. The publication also reports the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offered up an additional $144 million in grants for preventing and treating opioid addiction … a crisis costing the economy $78.5 billion a year.

That's correct. Opioid use and addiction costs the U.S. $78.5 billion.  
Alcohol use and addiction costs the U.S. $250 billion a year, using the same measurements of health care costs, lost productivity, and legal system expenses.
We focus on an epidemic, so we don't have to focus on a pandemic. The 75 mph 'vette gets the ticket. The 250 mph Peterbilt gets a pass. Classic PR.
The public relations tactician works it something like this: 

Pick a drug – One that is sold only by prescription, generating profit for a few, wealthy souls vs. a drug sold nearly everywhere in the U.S., generating profit (and tax revenue… but not as much as you think) for every restaurant, bar, retailer, grocer, hotel, gas station, henhouse, outhouse, and doghouse where it's sold. Villify alcohol? Not on your life.

Draft in support – According to, Big Pharma contributed $163 million to local, state, and federal candidates in 2016… alcohol interests (manufacturers, distributors, retailers) donated $219 million. Don't bite the hand.

Choose an opponent you can outspend – put beverage alcohol spending at $421 million in a single calendar quarter. Every one of those ads tells Americans we can drink a toxin and known carcinogen 'responsibly.' You're not going to run with these big dogs. Stay on the porch.

Capitalize on ignorance – Fewer than 1 in 10 Americans know that alcohol kills three times as many people as opioids (89,000/yr. vs. 30,000/yr). Less than 1 in 4 know that alcohol's a carcinogen and a third of the 22,000 annual alcohol-related U.S. cancer deaths occurred in people who had downed one and a half drinks a day or less. Alcohol is legal. Legal equals 'safe' in our society. Except for those nasty drunk drivers, binge-drinking college kids and hard-core, red-nosed alcoholics, this isn't a drug: It's responsible and fun in moderation. Opiates and opioids are controlled substances, illegal without a prescription, and have a high risk of addiction and/or overdose. Nevermind the medicinal relief in chronic pain situations: Opioids are definitely the baddie.

Don't make them think, either – There is a short line between opioid use and overdose death. Drinking alcohol is more like stepping out onto the highway and waiting for the Peterbuilt to hit you: It could take years or decades. Too many dots to connect – and other causes to which to pin the death while you're waiting. Brevity is better in our 'always-on' planet. A recent Pew Internet study in the US suggests that people benefit from instant access to a wealth of information from numerous sources, but their attention span and desire for in-depth analysis is consequently diminished. That's how we got the term bounce rate. “If you start a message and I can't see the end from the beginning, I will find it elsewhere… and bounce.” Opioid tragedies tell what time it is… alcohol deaths tell how to build a watch.

Sell the sizzle, not the steak – There are 91 deaths a day from opioid overdose. Opiates and opioids take lives in a single-dose for some people. And sadly, the lives are often kids and young adults that society wouldn't have picked out as a drug user. The old newsroom saying was, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Crass and cynical? Yes. Accurate? Pretty close. Stories of an honor student dying are tragedies with great images on par with hurricanes, school shootings, and blazes… compared to someone dying a death from alcohol-related illness like heart attack, stroke or cancer.

Wag the dog – We have a genuine health crisis. The opioid problem is real and tragic and a worthwhile fight. Now, if we turn a genuine health crisis and spin it up to an epidemic… maybe we don't have to talk about a pandemic or other health crises like fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) which are now more prevalent than autism. It's the sleight of hand performed by politicians, PR wags, confidence men, and magicians for millennia: Watch what I do with this hand, while the other takes your wallet. Or your health. 

And, most importantly of all, don't make enemies – According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 86.4 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime; 70.1 percent reported that they drank in the past year; 56.0 percent reported that they drank in the past month. Even if you went with the lowest figure, 56 percent of adults used alcohol in the last thirty days. That's 137 million adults. By American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) stats, 2.5 million adults have substance use disorder involving prescription pain relievers or heroin. You've got a good shot at convincing me something is bad if you're not doing it. You're even more effective telling me something is bad if I'm not doing it.

It's not the back bumper of the Peterbilt that hits you

What we've got here, is failure to communicate: There's a drug acceptance problem in the U.S. There's not just an opioid overdose crisis. There isn't only an alcohol pandemic. There isn't a weed legalization debate. The problem is cultural in the way we normalize drug use, stigmatize those who've become ill from them, and throw too little money, too late, at treatment instead of prevention. Did any alcoholic become alcoholic without taking the first drink? Is any case of alcohol-related injury or illness possible without a first drink? Giving a 'gateway drug' a free pass negates prevention efforts on other drugs we find less 'responsible.'

No amount of PR is going to paper over it for long before it becomes fiscally unsustainable.

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  Peter Lecko, used with permission.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Gambling with FASD and the unborn: What. If. They're. Wrong.

FASD, alcohol myths

A widely reported Sept. 8, 2017 analysis, based on data published in the online journal BMJ Open, indicates the possible harmful effects of light or occasional alcohol consumption during pregnancy is “surprisingly limited.” While the point of the study was that there is damage to the unborn no matter the quantity of alcohol...the article was spun up by the alcohol industry (and media in a rush to appease alcohol advertisers -- which Facebook actually did with this post to kowtow to alcohol advertisers) as "there isn't much to worry about so drinking a little is ok while expecting."

That's relieving news to an expectant mom, right? What if the seemingly unchallenged and widely reported news is wrong?

The analysis is contrary to common sense, and does not mesh with pediatricians' recommendations. The American Academy of Pediatrics reiterated in a 2015 report that no amount of alcohol in any trimester is safe. Authors said in the report: First trimester drinking (vs. no drinking) produces 12 times the odds of giving birth to a child with FASD, first and second trimester drinking increases FASD odds 61 times, and drinking in all trimesters increases FASD odds 65 times. (For more on FASD, see the video below, or follow the transcript)

This new report doesn't pass the smell test and its broad distribution comes courtesy of the clout of the alcohol industry, known for distorting and denying the health consequences of the drug they manufacture. That, and a cultural willingness to believe in unicorns and other wishful thinking (see related story).  The new report was based on observational studies. Observational studies do not take into account all the other lifestyle factors of a mom-to-be. Or misinformation. Face it: When questioned by a physician – facing possible stigmatizing comments or fearing being 'reported' somewhere – what new mother is going to admit to the amount or frequency of alcohol use during pregnancy?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) are now more common than autism and a child is born with one in the range of FASDs every 4.5 minutes. There is nothing in any evidence suggesting drinking this 'safe' amount of alcohol during pregnancy will lower that statistic.

The unborn use the same blood and therefore have the same blood alcohol concentration (BAC) as the mother. The fetus lacks the ability to process the alcohol the way an adult does, so the BAC remains high for a long time, causing a number of physical, cognitive, social and neurological problems that are permanent and irreversible. And sometimes fatal. 

As many as 40,000 babies are born with an FASD annually, costing the U.S. up to $6 billion annually in institutional and medical costs. Costs of FAS alone are estimated at between 1 and 5 million dollars per child.

And what of a child exposed to alcohol in-utero who doesn't develop FASD? A 2016 study conducted by the Center for Development and Behavioral Neuroscience even suggests the child exposed to alcohol in the womb, with or without an FASD, is more prone to alcohol use disorders the rest of his or her life. Something you wouldn't wish upon your worst enemy.

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  Peter Lecko, used with permission.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Hey, Alcohol biz: The 90's called. They want their liars back.

Sept. 2017 research by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden has revealed the extent to which the alcohol industry is denying alcohol's causal role in cancer. In other words, the alcohol industry has torn a page from the tobacco playbook of two decades ago to take a 3-D approach to marking a known carcinogen: Deny. Distort. Distract.

In an infamous Congressional hearing in 1994, the leaders of the tobacco industry (pictured above) swore under oath that nicotine was not addictive and that smoking did not cause cancer. Notable among them was Andrew Tisch, then CEO of the Lorriland brands of smokes. The executives denied conclusions of a consensus of independent scientists and health experts that their product caused cancer. It was later revealed that the companies knew the cancer link decades before their Congressional 'come-to-Jesus' meeting and the Tobacco Settlement three years later.

Here we are again.

Over the past two decades, numerous studies have shown a strong link between even moderate drinking and cancer. (See related A-Files segments on the cancer connection: Episode B: Breast Cancer video transcript, Episode C: Cancer video  transcript and Episode Z: Zero Health Benefit video transcript, as well as the book I Can't See the Forest With All These Damn Treesin the Way: Health Consequences of Alcohol.) Bottom line: Scientists estimate that alcohol is responsible for at least four percent of new cancer diagnoses annually. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists it as a known carcinogen. You wouldn't know it by listening to the alcohol industry. But would you really expect your mother-in-law to be a fair arbiter of your marital dispute?

The study authors looked at 30 websites from alcohol trade groups in the U.K., Europe, the U.S., Canada and Australia. One – The Wine Information Council – even claimed that wine actually protects against several forms of cancer including breast, lung and kidney. Another – U.S.-based International Alliance for Responsible Drinking – said that light to moderate drinking was 'not ‘significantly' associated with an increased risk of tumors.

The authors said the tactics used by the alcohol industry were very similar to those used by tobacco firms for 50 years to play down the risk of lung cancer and were particularly misleading about the link between breast cancer. Alcohol use is the only dietary link to an increase risk of breast cancer.

Professor Mark Petticrew, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, concluded: "The weight of scientific evidence is clear that drinking alcohol increases the risk of some of the most common forms of cancer. Our analysis suggests that the major global alcohol producers may attempt to mitigate this by disseminating misleading information about cancer through their 'responsible drinking' bodies.

"This has obvious parallels with the global tobacco industry's decades-long campaign to mislead the public about the risk of cancer, which also used front organizations and corporate social activities.”

The alcohol industry response is that the research was 'misleading' and said they were already advising consumers to drink responsibly. As if it were possible to consume a toxin and carcinogen 'responsibly.' Henry Ashworth, president of the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking, said: ”We do not agree with the conclusions reached in this paper. We stand by the information that we publish on drinking and health.” That sounds an awful lot like Tisch's statement that, “Smoking does not cause cancer.”

Public awareness of alcohol/cancer connection is low. It has been argued that greater public awareness, particularly of the risk of breast cancer, poses a significant threat to the alcohol industry. So we trudge back to the 90's and dig up some lies that only flew within the board rooms and marketing departments of companies profiting from the unobstructed flow of the drug, alcohol.

Deny. Distract. Distort.

The alcohol industry has the normal duty of any manufacturer to ensure that it does not market a defective product and that its products are as safe as possible. Alcohol – a toxin and known carcinogen – is not safe in any amount, for either gender, at any age.

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.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Drugging, drinking, and grasping at straw

drug use, drug, addiction

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.
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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.