Thursday, January 31, 2008

Does The Desire For Drugs Begin Outside Awareness? NIDA Research Reveals Subconscious Signals Can Trigger Drug Craving Circuits

Using a brain imaging technology called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), scientists have discovered that cocaine-related images trigger the emotional centers of the brains of patients addicted to drugs -- even when the subjects are unaware they've seen anything. The study, published Jan. 30 in the journal PLoS One, was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

A team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, led by Dr. Anna Rose Childress and Dr. Charles O'Brien, showed cocaine patients photos of drug-related cues like crack pipes and chunks of cocaine. The images flashed by in just 33 milliseconds -- so quickly that the patients were not consciously aware of seeing them. Nonetheless, the unseen images stimulated activity in the limbic system, a brain network involved in emotion and reward, which has been implicated in drug-seeking and craving.

"This is the first evidence that cues outside one's awareness can trigger rapid activation of the circuits driving drug-seeking behavior," said NIDA director Dr. Nora Volkow. "Patients often can't pinpoint when or why they start craving drugs. Understanding how the brain initiates that overwhelming desire for drugs is essential to treating addiction."

To verify that the patterns of brain activity triggered by the subconscious cues reflected the patients' feelings about drugs, Childress and her colleagues gave the patients a different test two days later, allowing them to look longer at the drug images. The patients who demonstrated the strongest brain response to unseen cues in the fMRI experiment also felt the strongest positive association with visible drug cues. Childress notes, "It's striking that the way people feel about these drug-related images is accurately predicted by how strongly their brains respond within just 33 milliseconds."

Childress and her colleagues also found that the regions of the brain activated by drug images overlapped substantially with those activated by sexual images. This finding supports the scientific consensus that addictive drugs usurp brain regions that recognize natural rewards needed for survival, like food and sex.

According to Childress, these results could improve drug treatment strategies. "We have a brain hard-wired to appreciate rewards, and cocaine and other drugs of abuse latch onto this system. We are looking at the potential for new medications that reduce the brain's sensitivity to these conditioned drug cues and would give patients a fighting chance to manage their urges."

Click here to view paper...

The National Institute on Drug Abuse is a component of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIDA supports most of the world's research on the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction. The Institute carries out a large variety of programs to inform policy and improve practice. Fact sheets on the health effects of drugs of abuse and information on NIDA research and other activities can be found on the NIDA home page at

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Community partnership tackles drug addiction

It is disappointing to see a residential drug treatment facility such as New Directions close its doors.

Many men (but not women or teens) got the opportunity to break the cycle of drug abuse, thanks to the dedication of people like Jo Adams, who made New Directions and its treatment philosophy work.

While it is the case that a month in New Directions cost $2,500, and it may be less than the cost for a month in prison, it is important to recognize that over recent years, the individual, and not a medical insurance company or tax dollars, paid for residential treatment.

How many persons or families in the Greater Lafayette Community can afford the out-of-pocket expense of $2,500 a month for 10 or 12 months?

A drug abuse problem is a community's problem, not just an individual's problem.

The downtown Lafayette Weed and Seed initiative shows that a few dollars can tackle a stubborn drug problem and make substantial improvements in the lives of individuals addicted to drugs and to the community in which we all live.

Consider the re-entry court, a Weed and Seed program that is focused on people returning to Lafayette.

They served prison time for serious drug dealing offenses. All of the participants and all graduates of the program have proven to this community that affordable and nonresidential programs designed and monitored by a court can prevent drug use, drug abuse and drug dealing.

The re-entry court is a Weed and Seed initiative that partners with law enforcement and community corrections, Wabash Valley Hospital, the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, the Home with Hope, Family Services, LARA, Ivy Tech, Purdue, the Community Health Clinic, Lafayette Urban Ministries and volunteers from the faith-based community to make it "work."

This is Weed and Seed at its best: Identifying the partners who can solve and prevent problems, and then expecting success.

The Lafayette Police Department, when establishing its initial Weed and Seed goals, estimated that it could increase drug investigations by 20 percent.

In the first year, Chief Don Roush and his officers delivered.

Twenty-two percent more drug cases have come into LPD. A police department needs to increase the number of arrests for drug dealing before the scope of the drug problem can be decreased.

The Weed and Seed Program responds to those who are already addicted to drugs, and it is strongly committed to preventing substance abuse among the younger generations.

In February, one of the best drug prevention programs in the country, "Families and Schools Together," will be introduced at Miller Elementary School.

Trinity United Methodist Church is organizing a volunteer army of teachers, counselors and youth leaders to run the program.

Trainers sponsored by Weed and Seed will come to town and show networks of individuals how they can bring this program into their churches and schools.

In the next school year, FAST will be brought into the middle schools.

As one door closes, another opens.

Instead of depending on a single organization to solve and prevent problems, the downtown Lafayette Weed and Seed initiative counts on partnerships and numerous organizations to use their collective resources to reduce our crime problems, respond effectively to drug dealing and drug abuse, stabilize our neighborhoods and prevent the cycle of drug abuse from infecting our children.

Soon, Weed and Seed will ask its partners to go one step further.

How willing are we, as a community, to reduce the homeless population, in particular those who are homeless and addicted, in this thriving and vital city?

source: Journal and Courier Online,

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Liquid Courage, Rebellion, Class

The word alcohol brings to mind a barrage of images for the college student. If thought of as a verb, alcohol is used as a social lubricant, and as a noun, it is what college students consume in either a courageous, rebellious, dangerous or foolish manner. It might be illegal for the first half of college, but it is the number-one abused liquid among college students.

Why does the federal government send 18-year-olds into another country to risk and sacrifice their lives in a war over 6,000 miles away, but forces them to wait until they are 21 years of age to legally consume alcohol? This is a common argument regarding the current minimum drinking age in the United States.

First, here is a quick history lesson. During the 1970s, around the time of the Vietnam War, 29 states lowered their drinking ages in order to mimic the new age for enlistment, as well as the legal voting age. During these years, the increase in alcohol-related accidents and fatalities increased. This worried states so much that in 1983, 16 states raised the drinking age back to 21. On July 1984, President Ronald Reagan passed a law called the “Uniform Drinking Age Act” that had all states revert their laws back to 21 as the legal drinking age.

The fact of the matter is that even though the legal drinking age is 21, there are many people under the age of 21 that consume alcohol on a regular basis. If our nation were to decrease the minimum legal drinking age back to 18, it is likely there would be a decrease in alcohol consumption among this generation of young adults. For example, in Europe, where alcohol consumption among the younger generations is not considered to be so taboo, there are drastically lower rates of alcoholism, alcohol-related car accidents and alcohol abuse. True, immediately after the drinking age has been lowered, there might be a slight increase in rates of alcohol abuse. However, in the long run, it is even more probable that the abuse and over-consumption of alcohol will drastically decrease.

When comparing drinking at the age of 19 to 20 to drinking at 23 to 24, there is a complete shift in the social scene. Drinking at 19 consists of drinking as much beer at one time as you can, otherwise known as binging. After the age of 21, drinking is more elegant in style, such as drinking a cosmopolitan or a blended margarita. This may be a generalization, and therefore not representative of everyone within this age group, but for the most part, it tends to show how the life cycle works.

“I drink to relax, have fun and socialize,” said Laurie Alvandian, a 20-year-old literary journalism major.

What it all comes down to is the fact that at the age of 18 you are considered to be a legal adult, with proper voting rights, army enlistment opportunities and the ability to buy cigarettes and porn. How much of a difference do three years really make? Perhaps it is within those three years that young adults consume the most amount of alcohol. However, will lowering the drinking age force young adults to be more responsible about drinking?

In this day and age, our society has come to accept drinking as a part of the college experience. With movies like “Animal House,” “Van Wilder” and “Old School,” it’s no surprise that students see drinking as a way to express their social independence.

“College is the first time people escape their parents, so no rules—why not have a good time?” said Tommy Scott, a 20-year-old sociology major.

However, academics often take precedence over the party scene, and this reflects a level of maturity of many underage college students.

“If I wasn’t a bio major, I’d drink more,” said Christopher Dagher, a 20-year-old biological sciences major.

However, when students are away from home and their parents, there is a sense of freedom gained, for better or worse, while intoxicated. Those who consume alcohol on a fairly regular basis know that alcohol lowers inhibitions, thus allowing you to do things you might not take part in while sober.

“If you believe it’s ‘courage juice,’ it’s only because you know you are becoming numb and careless,” said Stacy DeVera, a 20-year-old literary journalism student.

“Like oil in an engine, alcohol serves to lubricate social situations, making people more apt to interact. Frequently referred to as the elixir of truth, it allows people to be honest without fear of retaliation,” said medical microbiology graduate student Stuart Souki.

According to many students who were surveyed, the cravings for alcohol consumption after the age of 21 tend to decrease.

“Drinking becomes more sophisticated after you turn 21. It is more of an event,” said Michael Donofrio, an economics and literary journalism double-major.

“I rarely drink these days, and when I do drink, I am more of a connoisseur,” Souki said.

When all is said and done, even with the legal minimum drinking age of 21, alcohol has come to be customary within the college scene. As long as movies keep showing college students partying, drinking and going crazy with alcohol, the drinking scene will persist as the social norm at colleges across the country.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Celebrity meltdowns trigger rehab surge

SYDNEY'S drug and alcohol rehabilitation services have been swamped with calls from troubled addicts in the past few weeks, forcing one centre to close its books.

The spate of celebrities, such as the singer Amy Winehouse and the actress Lindsay Lohan, being admitted to rehabilitation centres, and a greater awareness of alcohol-related problems are behind the surge, experts say.

Odyssey House, which treats drug, alcohol and gambling addictions, was forced to turn away people for a few days last week because staff could not cope with the volume of inquiries.

"It has been extremely busy," said its chief executive, James Pitts. "We have had 42 admissions in the first three weeks of January where normally we would have about 30. We've also made more than 100 phone referrals when usually it would be about 75.

"January is always busier than December, but we have put this surge down to Odyssey House having had quite a bit of media exposure recently, and there has been a lot of attention on celebrities attending rehab centres."

The founder of Family Drug Support, Tony Trimingham, said he had received about 600 more calls than usual this month, with most people complaining of problems with alcohol.

"Ten years ago alcohol was the focus of only about 5 per cent of our calls - now it is at least 15 per cent," he said. "And Monday morning used to be our busiest shift because traditionally people call after a difficult weekend when the house is empty, but now we have many other shifts during the week which are just as busy."

Mr Trimingham, whose son Damien died from a heroin overdose, said there was evidence that more heroin was on the streets than there had been in years, and "stimulants continue to be bubbling away problematically". But most young people were presenting with alcohol addiction, he said.

The chief executive officer of South Pacific Private rehabilitation centre, Lynne Fishwick, said her staff had experienced a 50 per cent increase in inquiries in the past few weeks.

"By mid-January we had as many inquiries as we would usually receive in a full month," she said. "On Monday, January 14, which was the day most people went back to work, we were inundated with calls … and the bulk of the inquiries related to alcohol abuse and people whose lives have become unmanageable."

A spokesman for Alcoholics Anonymous said although statistics were not collected on the number of people attending meetings, the service's website had experienced an "astronomical increase" in the number of hits in the past 12 months.

A counsellor with Drug and Alcohol Research and Training, Paul Dillon, said many people now felt less cautious about seeking help because alcohol addiction were no longer seen as a taboo subject.

"The media has started reporting alcohol issues in the past few years and we have had an incredible 12 months with celebrities from film, television and sport getting help," Mr Dillon said. "Alcohol is now getting a tremendous amount of attention and that's helped a lot of rehab centres get their message out there. We are on the crest of a wave with this and it's a good thing."

source: The Sydney Morning Herald

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Hundreds killed by 'Ledger' pills

THE drugs taken by Hollywood star Heath Ledger in the hours before his death are highly addictive and linked to at least 200 deaths a year in England alone.

The Brokeback Mountain actor was found surrounded by bottles of benzodiazepines – known as benzos or “celebrity sedatives”.

Benzos, which include Valium and Ativan, are used as sleeping pills and many users become “accidental addicts”.

More deaths are linked with benzos than all the abused drugs except heroin and morphine.

A Sunday Express inquiry has found up to a million Britons are hooked on benzos, which are being prescribed for months and even years – way beyond the safe period of two to four weeks.

Rising numbers of users are buying them on the black market.

There is now such concern about this class of drugs that next week questions will be tabled in Parliament.

What exactly killed Ledger will not be known until the toxicology reports are published but one of the drugs he is believed to have taken, Ativan, can suppress breathing.

Lying by the 28-year-Australian’s body in his £12,000 a month Manhattan apartment were also bottles of the benzos Ambien, Xanax, Valium, Restoril, as well as the sedatives Lunesta and Donormyl.

Professor Heather Ashton, a drug specialist at the University of Newcastle said: “If Heath Ledger took these drugs in this combination, he could have suffered respiratory depression enough to kill him.

“Heath Ledger was almost certainly addicted to benzodiazepines.

“These drugs can be useful in the short term but if they are taken for more than four weeks you can get hooked. They are addictive and dangerous and grossly excessive doses are sometimes prescribed. Users become more tolerant and need more and more of the drug to produce the same effect.

“Long-term use can lead to depression and suicide.”

And Barry Haslam, a campaigner against the use of benzos, claims that they so affected his memory that he “lost” 10 years of his life and cannot remember his children growing up.

The Sunday Express can reveal that two medical directors at Wyeth, inventors of Ativan, had grave concerns about the drug’s long-term use.

Dr Thomas Harry, who masterminded clinical trials at the research centre in Taplow, Buckinghamshire, says he was never asked to find out if it was safe to prescribe Ativan for several months or more.

When asked why this was so, he said he believed: “There was nothing to be gained but everything to lose in the sense we could be courting disaster.

“The view of most people in the industry at the time was that there was a high probability that a patient would have difficulties in withdrawing from any drug that acts on the central nervous system.”

Jim Dobbin, Labour MP for Heywood and Middleton, is heading an all-party parliamentary group to look into the dangers of benzos. Next week, he will ask in Parliament why doctors and patients are unaware of the deadly risks.

He said: “We’re getting proper labelling on our food but not these drugs.”

source: Sunday Express

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Heavy drinking in youth tied to heart risks later

People who drink heavily in their youth may have a higher risk of developing a collection of risk factors for heart disease and stroke, new research suggests.

In a study that examined the lifetime drinking habits of more than 2,800 adults, researchers found that those who drank heavily in their teens and young adulthood were more likely to have metabolic syndrome than those who drank more moderately throughout adulthood.

Metabolic syndrome refers to a grouping of risk factors for heart disease, stroke and diabetes - including abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, low levels of 'good' HDL cholesterol, high blood sugar and high triglycerides, a type of blood fat. People who have three or more of these problems are considered to have metabolic syndrome.

While moderate drinking can be heart-healthy - helping to boost HDL levels, for example - excessive drinking is not. The new findings suggest that drinking heavily early in life might contribute to metabolic syndrome later on.

'There are already many reasons for encouraging young people to avoid heavy drinking,' Dr Marcia Russell, one of the researchers on the study, said.

'Long-term health consequences, such as an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, may be another,' added Dr Russell, a researcher at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Berkeley, California.

She and her colleagues report their findings in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

The study included 2,818 adults ages 35 to 80 who were questioned about their lifetime drinking habits and other lifestyle factors, like whether they exercised regularly or smoked.

All of the study participants had consumed alcohol regularly at some point in their lives, but Russell and her colleagues were able to identify two major lifetime 'trajectories' of drinking: in one, people started drinking early in life and tended to drink heavily in their teens and young adulthood, then tapered off by middle-age; in the second, 'stable' trajectory, people generally drank moderately over the years.

Compared with the stable group, the early drinkers were almost one-third more likely to have metabolic syndrome. In addition, their risk of being abdominally obese was 48 per cent higher, while their odds of having low HDL cholesterol were 62 percent higher.

Dr Russell said that to her knowledge, this is the first study to take the 'lifetime approach' to understanding the relationship between alcohol and health, and more research is needed to confirm the findings.

However, it is plausible that early, heavy drinking contributes to metabolic syndrome later on. She noted that excessive drinking causes oxidative stress in the body - a state that damages body cells over time and is thought to contribute to cardiovascular disease and other ills.

She also pointed out that alcohol contains 7 calories per gram, versus only 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate or protein. Those calories, coupled with the appetite-stimulating effect of alcohol, may help explain the link between early drinking and excess weight.

source: Reuters

Friday, January 25, 2008

For the Alcoholic: Preventing Relapses

There are certain red flags you have to watch out for to prevent relapse when you're in recovery from alcoholism.

Some people might have drunk dreams before they take a drink. These kinds of dreams are red flags to watch out for, too. A lot of times a recovering alcoholic will have a drunk dream if they haven't been going to enough AA meetings. A drunk dream is one in which the alcoholic dreams he took a drink or almost takes one. The dreams are very realistic and usually the alcoholic wakes up shaken.

Some main red flags to watch out for which could tell you you're heading for a relapse include cutting back on your AA meetings, isolating, obsessing on drinking, looking at alcohol in stores, romanticizing what it used to be like when you drank, harboring resentments, lashing out at others, not returning phone calls, slacking off at work, neglecting your loved ones, driving recklessly, ending friendships, making excuses, procrastinating, lying, cheating, stealing, rationalizing insane behavior, getting involved with someone who drinks socially or alcoholically, not calling your sponsor, avoiding people, overeating, acting out sexually, gambling, overspending, sabotaging yourself, triangulating people, abusing your self or others, self-medicating, abusing prescription drugs, not getting enough sleep or enough to eat, staying out of your regular routine, avoiding responsibilities, not practicing good hygiene, sleeping a lot, storming off, going into rages, getting tickets, bouncing checks on purpose, being defensive, craving drinks, going to bars, and slipping back into old behaviors, among other things.

Here are some ways to prevent relapse, according to Alcoholics Anonymous:

Attend AA meetings regularly, use a sponsor and re-work the steps, read the textbook of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, the companion book to the first one, call people in the fellowship for support, work with another alcoholic on Step 12, write about what you're feeling, avoid complacency, seek counseling if needed, and talk about what you're going through with someone on the phone or in person.

Prayer is also necessary and meditation is helpful, too.

"Self examination, meditation, and prayers are the maintenance steps for our spirit," says Michael, an AA member. "They must be coupled with action which is inspired by these three things."

The 12th step can be anything from cleaning up after a meeting to working with a new alcoholic, sharing experience, strength, and hope.

This is a helpful prayer as found on page 99 of Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, otherwise known as "The 12 and 12":

The St. Francis of Assisi Prayer

"Lord, make me a channel of thy peace - that where there is hatred, I may bring love - that where there is wrong I may bring the spirit of forgiveness - that where there is discord, I may bring harmony - that where there is error, I may bring truth - that where there is doubt, I may bring faith - that where there is despair, I may bring hope - that where there are shadows, I may bring light - that where there is sadness, I may bring joy. Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted - to understand than to be understood - to love, than to be loved. For it is by self-forgetting that one finds. It is by forgiving that one is forgiven. It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life."

Page 85 of Alcoholics Anonymous, nicknamed "The Big Book" states that: "It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels" and page 89 says, "Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics....Life will take on new meaning."

According to, there is evidence that approximately 90 percent of alcoholics will experience relapse at least once over the four-year period following treatment.

source: Associated Content

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Day in Al-Anon: Love, Light, Laughter

Family and friends suffer when a loved one has a drinking problem. Al-Anon provides support, help and hope for those families and friends. The Al-Anon Fellowship of Lake and Mendocino counties invites the community to join them for a one-day event to provide public information, attend workshops and gather for fellowship and support. This year's free Day in Al-Anon: Love, Light, Laughter! Will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Ukiah Presbyterian Church on the corner of Perkins and Dora Street.

Al-Anon invites anyone trouble by someone's drinking to drop by and find out how Al-Anon can help them, says Willits Al-Anon representative Jane G. For anyone wondering whether they would benefit from attending the daylong event should call Jane G. at 459-4436.

The 20-questions in the Are You Troubled By Someone's Drinking are one way to help people determine whether Al-Anon can help them. Al-Anon is a support group for those dealing with a person with a drinking problem. The meetings are strictly confidential; members never reveal who was at the meeting or what was said. There is no pressure to speak and while it is a spiritual fellowship, it is not a religious one.

"Alcoholics and alcohol abusers attract more public attention, but their families and friends also suffer long-term effects from alcoholism and their recovery may be essential to the alcoholic's recovery," according to Robert J. Ackerman, Ph.D a leading researcher in the field. "Alcoholism is a family disease. While it is important for the family to support the alcoholic's recovery, it is also important for members of the family to get involved in their own recovery. Family recovery decreases the chances that the children of alcoholics will repeat the pattern and engage in unhealthy relationships," says Ackerman.

While anyone can attend any of the weekly Wednesday and Saturday Al-Anon meetings in Willits, most newcomers to Al-Anon speak of fear associated with attending that first meeting. A Day in Al-Anon is a way for the public to get information, speak with volunteers and explore whether they are ready for Al-Anon to help them. A special workshop is planned for those new to Al-Anon.

"It's a program for sanity, clarity and understanding," Jane G. says. "We learn the difference between my business and somebody else's problem. As much as we love them, we can't change anybody but ourselves. We learn to detach ourselves with love.

Failure to resolve the issues of living with, or having lived with, an alcoholic perpetuates the disease," Jane G. explains. "Seventy-five percent of the children of alcoholics will become one or marry one."

And the pattern of alcoholism and enabling continues:

"If it's a man (who's alcoholic) the wife makes excuses at work; picks him up and puts him to bed. Enabling. The more we do that, the longer before he has to face the consequences of his own actions. We need that energy to help ourselves.

Helping yourself through the Al-Anon program is not a cure," Jane G. says, "but a slow recovery with the help of peers, rather than paid counselors or therapists. Sometimes you get more from peers with the same problem than from a professional.

The alternative to recovery," she says, "is becoming martyred and resentful of the alcoholic in your life."

Jane G. invites anyone interested in learning more about Al-Anon to contact her at 459-4436 or drop in on Saturday's Day in Al-Anon and take the first step toward recovery.

source: The Willits News

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Too young to be an alcoholic?

Ducking the gaze of the puffy-faced stranger in the mirror, Jessica reached for the green bottle of mouthwash and tipped it down her throat; then sagged in relief at the alcohol’s comforting burn.

Entire continents separated her dim, bottle-strewn flat from the spacious, loving home of her childhood in rural Cheshire, but the gulf between the two went far further and deeper than mere miles.

Ten years ago, she had been a hopeful university student. Now, stringy-haired, overweight and sinking five bottles of wine a day, the prospect of even leaving her flat left her in paroxysms of anxiety.

Even now, 30-year-old Jessica, who this month celebrates a year since leaving rehab, struggles to put her finger on why she became an alcoholic.

“We had a nice house in rural Cheshire,” she says. “I had a typical mum and dad, money was not an issue, I had a really good education. I went to music lessons, all kinds of dance, ballet, tap, acting classes, and we would go abroad on holiday. Everything you could possibly ask for, really.”

Over the past year, she has spent hours examining her past for any early signposts to her alcoholism. But the unsettling conclusion she has come to is that alcoholism could happen to just about anyone.

“I did ask mum the other day what I was like as a child,” she says. “She said I never wanted to share anything with them, and I was not always terribly motivated, but that could describe countless youngsters. I was quite bookish and loved going to the cinema, but, again, nothing overtly unusual in that.”

In her teens, she says, she started hanging around with older boys and drinking. But she describes herself as “naughty” rather than wild, managed to complete her A-Levels and take up a place at a university down south, studying foreign languages.

“It was the first time I was completely on my own,” she says. “I remember thinking that everyone else must have been given instructions on how to do all this stuff and I had no clue. I was completely out of my comfort zone, and it was then I really turned to alcohol in a big way.

“I’d drink a lot of wine, moving on to vodka and spirits. Basically, I’d drink until my money ran out or I passed out.”

She decided the seat of the anxiety lay in the city she’d chosen and the course, so she embarked on another subject at a more local university. The place changed, but she hadn’t.

“When I went on nights out with friends, I often wouldn’t remember where I’d been or how I got home when I woke up. It was quite dangerous.

“On one occasion, I got so drunk I didn’t know where I was. I made a reverse charges call home and my dad drove a couple of hundred miles through the night to pick me up from a police station. I wasn’t flavour of the month after that.”

She left university again, and landed a job in the entertainment hospitality industry back in Cheshire.

“There’s lots of alcohol around in hospitality, and you do take advantage of it,” she says. “You’re working anti-social hours and it was quite normal to start drinking at 2am when you finished your shift. I’d still be able to function the next day and paste a smile on my face, but I couldn’t understand why, compared to other people my age who were finishing university, my life was such a disaster.”

Her dependency stepped up a gear in her mid-20s.

“I went through stages where I could keep everything ticking over for a few months at a time, but following the break-up of a relationship my drinking started to get completely out of hand.” Her life was spent at work, now in a banking job, or drinking. She was frequently late or off sick.

“I would wake up anxious and not being able to go in was normal. I clearly remember sitting in work, watching the clock, and counting down the time until I could get back to the only thing that never let me down.”

She’d have a few gulps of vodka before work and a steadying swift one at lunch. Eventually, she was found drunk at her desk.

“I even couldn’t stop myself from having a drink on the way to my disciplinary hearing,” she confesses. “It was horrible. I’d kept going thinking nobody realised something was wrong and everything came crashing down, with the guilt and shame and all those things you would expect. But I quickly turned it round and decided to take the opportunity to borrow £10,000 and go off travelling.”

In Australia, she found a job with a not-for-profit company. For a while, it seemed, amid unfailing sunshine and her optimism in that country, she would be able to start over.

“As soon as people started saying ‘Come out for a drink’, it all just started again,” she says. “It’s a big drinking culture there, which wasn’t the best place for me perhaps. I’d go out once or twice a week on massive benders with friends, but I’d continue on my own for the rest of the week.

‘IT WAS the same old story. I would swear off drinking for a few days, weeks, once even a month, but as soon as I started again, and I always did, I would be back to square one in a very short space of time.”

The pattern continued over several years, each time she stopped and started again, bringing her a further circuit down the spiral.

“I hit a point where I couldn’t function any more,” she says. “I was drinking four to five bottles of wine a day, and if I had to go out for any reason I’d have miniatures of vodka first.

“In the morning, if I could get myself out of bed, I would be dry retching, shaking and soaked with sweat and I would promise myself that I wouldn’t do it again today. Ten minutes later, I would be drinking mouthwash because it has a high alcohol content. All I can remember thinking is that I didn’t want to be here any more. Not dead and not alive, just not to ‘be’. I spent my last week in Australia lying in a darkened room, scared if anyone came to the door and unable to get to the shower on my own.”

Concerned friends contacted Jessica’s family. She was taken back to the UK and she agreed to enter full-time treatment, at the Priory in Altrincham. Initially, she planned on staying for a week before heading back to Australia. “Deep down, I did not believe that there was anything on the face of this planet that could stop me drinking,” she admits.

But things she heard at the Priory began to make sense and she stayed on for three weeks, learning how to turn her life around. “For the first time, I began to see what a horrendous mess my life had been and, if I didn’t get help, I was going to die.” Today, she says, her booze-free life is often difficult, but it is challenging and ripe with opportunity.

She is studying to become a counsellor and does voluntary work at a care home. She’s lost a stone and, she says delightedly, her hair has started growing again.

But she can never become complacent, and part of her recovery is avoiding the people and places where she would drink.

“I’m always going to be an alcoholic, and I’d be lying if I said when I see people having fun drinking I didn’t think, ‘That would be nice’,” she says candidly. “The reality is, it would not be like that for me; I wouldn’t be in a sparkly dress with heels on, I would be vomiting in the gutter.

“When I do see girls who have had too much, of course it makes me shudder. It reminds me what I was like and what I have done. It’s horrible to watch what the likes of Amy Winehouse are going through and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But everyone has their own journey before they realise they have to seek help for themselves.”

She wants young women who read her story and identify with it to know they’re not alone and they can get better.

“I thought I was too young to become an alcoholic,” she says. “People need to be aware that it’s always possible for people to become addicted to alcohol, and it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from.”

source: Liverpool Daily News

Monday, January 21, 2008

France fears binge drinking bug has arrived

French doctors have raised fears about the growing problem of alcohol abuse among children, amid claims that the culture of binge drinking is making in-roads from across the Channel.

For generations, France has been held up as an example of "responsible" drinking, where children are gradually introduced to the pleasures of alcohol via a glass of watered-down wine at the family table, and learn how to consume in moderation.

But a series of alcohol-related incidents involving teenagers has raised concerns among doctors and led to national media speculation on whether binge drinking is fast becoming a problem.

"For adolescents it is all about getting smashed. Obviously, we are still far behind Britain, but it is spreading fast and among all sectors of society," said Dr Philippe Batel, an alcohol specialist at Beaujon hospital in Paris.

"Nowadays it is girls, too, who are getting involved. And, contrary to received wisdom, it is children from decently-off families who are most affected by binge drinking."

One of the latest incidents involved two 16-year-old girls who, 10 days ago, were found comatose in their school lavatories at nine o'clock in the morning in the northern town of Abbéville.

They had skipped breakfast to celebrate a birthday with friends at an Irish bar next to the lycée, ordering four cherry-flavoured vodkas, then finishing off a bottle of vodka.

Three days later, an ambulance was called to help two other pupils in a state of inebriation at the same school.

France still lags far behind Britain and other north European countries in the "drink to get drunk" culture.

An independent study of youth drug use found that only three per cent of French 16-year-olds claimed to have been drunk at least three times in the previous month, compared with 23 per cent in Britain.

But some academics blame changes in attitudes to parenting in modern France.

Frédérique Gardien, an educationalist and author of Teenage Alcoholism - Time To Face The Facts, said French teenagers were "no more vulnerable today than they used to be to the dangers of alcoholism".

"What's different is that society has changed," he said. "Parents today are surrounded by all this psychoanalysis. When they want to say no to their child, it all has to be explained and negotiated.

"The child is suddenly expected to be able to understand what is good for him or herself. No one is setting down the limits which they need for a sense of security.

"So they test their own limits by seeing what happens when they do the deed."

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Ex-addicts happy to be clean and sober

At the height of his cocaine use, Gérald was spending up to $300 a day on his habit.

Doing two to three grams a day "at about $100 a gram, you need a lot of money, and sometimes the way to make that money was not totally legit," the 49-year-old former user said Friday.

"I abused alcohol, cocaine and pot. That will keep you stupid for many years."

Fifteen years ago, Gérald attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting with his girlfriend at the time to offer his support for her drinking problem.

"I ended up finding out I had a problem, too," he said.

But thanks to Cocaine Anonymous Quebec, Gérald has been clean and sober for 14 years.

Gérald is attending CA Quebec's 21st annual convention, which began last night and ends Sunday at the Delta Hotel.

As the group's name implies, members shield their identity, so Gérald does not want his last name published.

CA Quebec has been a presence in Montreal since its first meeting, in August 1986, drew 16 people. There now are 45 meetings a week in Greater Montreal, 10 in English and the rest in French.

The convention is normally held in the fall, but CA Quebec decided to schedule its 2007 event event now, right after the holiday period. This is a time when many users have difficulty dealing with the ubiquitous parties and with the New Year's resolutions to give up drugs, which can be difficult to achieve.

The bilingual convention features workshops on the 12-step program and sessions about medications, conjugal violence, spirituality and sexuality.

It's also a party, albeit without mind-altering substances.

"This is an event to rejoice in being clean and an opportunity for everyone to meet," Gérald said.

Organizers expect between 500 and 700 people to attend the three day convention. Tonight's main event is a large banquet with music and dancing.

Attendance at the weekend workshops costs $30 for two days. The banquet costs $70 and is nearly sold out.

"Just like the meetings, our policy is: Those who can pay, do," Gérald said of the workshops.

"We really want to reach out to newcomers. Anyone can come for free."

. The Cocaine Anonymous help line is 514-527-9999. The CA Quebec convention is being held at the Delta Hotel, 475 President Kennedy Ave., through Sunday. Participants can register at the door.

source: The Montreal Gazette

Friday, January 18, 2008

150 things to do instead of drinking.

1. Read a book
2. Take a walk
3. Play a musical instrument
4. Knit
5. Clean your closets
6. Research your genealogy
7. Cook a gourmet dinner
8. Write an article for your local newspaper
9. Go take some pictures
10. Clean the mildew in your bathroom
11. Start writing that book you've been planning
12. Plan a garden
13. Plant a garden
14. Play with a pet
15. Read to a child
16. Visit someone in an old folks' home
17. Watch a news special on TV
18. Set up a family budget
19. Make a web site
20. Take up archery
21. Exercise
22. Go to an online recovery meeting
23. Surf the internet
24. Call your mom
25. Learn a foreign language
26. Write a poem
27. Play golf
28. Take a bubble bath
29. Draw
30. Teach a parakeet to whistle
31. Take a nap
32. Listen to music
33. Paint
34. Clean your desk
35. Start a stamp collection
36. Go window shopping
37. Browse in a book store
38. Go to an art gallery
39. Go for a drive
40. Paint a room
41. Watch the clouds go by
42. Play darts
43. Do target shooting
44. Do home repairs
45. Clean your garage
46. Sort your photographs
47. Make a scrapbook
48. Climb a tree
49. Plant a tree
50. Make marmalade
51. Make a list of things to do
52. Write a letter to the editor
53. Volunteer somewhere
54. Take a hike
55. Take a college class
56. Try yoga
57. Meditate
58. Get a massage
59. Make fruit smoothies
60. Bake cookies
61. Do a crossword puzzle
62. Go to the gym
63. Plant a color bowl
64. Sharpen your pruning tools
65. Change your engine oil
66. Sew
67. Groom your dog
68. Go see a play
69. Write a sonnet
70. Sort your recipes
71. Play solitaire
72. Go bird watching
73. Write a letter to a friend
74. Read a poetry book
75. Repot your houseplants
76. Go to a movie
77. Mow your lawn
78. Put up (or take down) your Christmas lights
79. Make pickles
80. Go jogging
81. Watch sitcoms
82. Plan menus for a diet
83. Do a jigsaw puzzle
84. Play chess
85. Write a country-western song
86. Watch a video
87. Go for a bike ride
88. Plant an herb garden
89. Start an online journal
90. Dye your hair
91. Go to a restaurant
92. Lift weights
93. Bake some bread
94. Learn a martial art
95. Polish the furniture
96. Make a flower arrangement
97. Read the newspaper
98. Start some seeds
99. Sort your magazines
100. Do some laundry.
111. Take a nature walk
112. Play with your kids
113. Volunteer at a homeless shelter
114. Volunteer at a school
115. Pick up garbage in a park
116. Tickle your kids
117. Play basketball
118. Volunteer at an animal shelter
119. Read to a child or pet
120. Sign up for obedience training with your dog
121. Take a walk and pick up litter you see on the way
122. Spend time at the library
123. Sort all your digital photos and make an album to print for holiday gifts to family.
124. Help your kid organize his closet.
125. Figure out the melody and chords to your current favorite tune on the piano.
126. Practice your holiday cookie recipes
127. Make crackers from scratch (that one didn't go so well).
128. Make tortillas from scratch (better).
129. Reread a book you haven't read for years.
130. Tango
131. Learn about someone else’s religion.
132. Reread one of your college textbooks.
133. Key out a wildflower.
134. Do your nails.
135. Do word puzzles.
136. Play a board game.
137. Burn CD’s of some of your favorite music for a friend.
138. Plant a bonsai.
139. Play Mad Libs.
140. Speak only in heroic couplets for an hour.
141. Read poetry online.
142. Ride a stationary bicycle.
143. Set up a domino topple.
144. Play backgammon.
145. Build a house of cards
146. Make an entry in Wikipedia.
147. Read a world almanac.
148. Publish a family newsletter.
149. Throw cards at a hat.
150. Go to bed.
source: Don S.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Walk Away or Stay Connected: It’s Not Crystal Clear

Having lived through the 80s in San Francisco, and been here during the most horrible years of the AIDS epidemic, I’ve witnessed some really tough challenges to our gay community, challenges that for the most part we have met, and which have changed our community and our city.

In recent years, widespread crystal meth use and addiction have created a new challenge. And whereas taking care of our friends with AIDS and confronting a complacent government brought our community together, the issues of crystal have created deep divisions. People who use are condemned and vilified—they should know better, use will power, get their lives together. Those who don’t use get to be self-righteous and judgmental and cut off friends using meth “for their own good.”

Although I did my share of experimenting with pot and LSD in college, the handful of club drugs like crystal, K, and GHB have never really appealed to me. I needed to take care of myself, and weekend binges was not part of that. So I thought I didn’t have to worry about the “meth drama,” and how it was ruining so many lives, at least in my own life. So I thought. Boy, was I wrong.

A little over four years ago, my partner of 20 years and I were in couple’s counseling, and it was revealed to me that he was using meth, and using it regularly. I felt totally blindsided. I came to understand that he was self-medicating for his depression. But the crash that followed made the depression hole even worse. Our difficult emotional life had been further damaged by crystal, and my most ardent attempts at caretaking and holding the relationship together were useless while meth was a part of our lives. I moved out of the apartment in which I had lived for 20 years so I could get off the roller coaster and take better care of myself.

The usual advice when dealing with an addicted person is to practice “tough love.” If you don’t, you’re “enabling” or you’re “co-dependent.” But when you turn your back on your friend, who will he turn to? Probably his drugging buddies. Or no one.

But I didn’t want to sever this relationship. It had been 20 years, for God sakes. We continued with counseling. Six months later, he flew to Minnesota for rehab. The good news is that today, four years later, he is clean from meth, and our relationship is greatly changed but strong.

Right after I found out he was using was the toughest time for me. I knew nothing about meth and why it was so addictive. I didn’t know how to respond to his needs. I felt guilty and in part blamed myself for this mess. Why couldn’t I love him or take care of him in the right way to make this stop? He is smart, educated, informed—how could he have gotten us into this mess? I made excuses for his behavior, pulled back from friends, and found myself feeling really isolated. Because I felt such shame, I didn’t have anyone to talk to except my therapist.

There are a number of resources for meth users—New Leaf, Stone-wall Project, Walden House—but I could find no resources or support for “friends and family” of gay users. And that surprised me. There has been so much support created for people with AIDS and their families, but not for gay men battling their loved ones’ meth use.

I discovered that like most things in public health, it’s all about the funding. Just like in HIV prevention, where the CDC has decided that “Prevention with Positives” is to be the focus of services, there is (thank God) funding to treat meth addiction, but not to help the families understand or cope.

My education and healing over these years has involved doing what I can as a community member to advocate for “friends and family.” I organized a town forum sponsored by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Community Initiative (SFGMCI), where many gay men gathered and talked for the first time about the struggles of their lives. Their stories touched me very deeply and I heard similarities to what I had experienced—isolation, making excuses, protecting the partner, massive confusion and guilt. But I could also see that I was very fortunate that I did not have to deal with physical abuse, financial ruin, or compromised health like some of my brothers in that circle.

Several months ago, I got a wonderfully enthusiastic response from the San Francisco STD Prevention Services, who responded to a proposal I had written and is now supporting our “Buddies” program, an afternoon workshop/safe space where friends, buddies and partners of meth users can talk about our lives and find a way to make changes.

I know there are many of us in this city who are worried sick, watching a friend go down on meth. We are separate, isolated, and don’t know how to create support. We feel afraid, angry, and hopeless. And we don’t know if it’s best to slam the door and walk away, or try to stay connected while our friend goes through the hell of meth addiction. Every person’s situation is different; everyone has to make his own decision.

“Community” often seems big and amorphous. But community and family can be strengthened—or diminished—one relationship at a time. I believe that my steadfast connection with my friend and ex-partner was crucial to his recovery. I’m very proud of him, and I know he is grateful to me.
If you have concerns about a friend, buddy or partner who is using meth, or know someone who is struggling with these issues, I invite you to join us in the Buddies program. Visit our website at, or leave a message for me at 415-355-2003.

author: Buzz Bense is the founder and former co-owner of Eros. He has been an active member in SFGMCI for the past several years, and enjoys participating in community theater with Pegasus Theater in Monte Rio, CA. Buzz can be reached at

San Francisco Bay Times

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

D.J.'s Recovery Story

'I Am Not an Alcoholic!'

There is a saying around the rooms of recovery that some alcoholics never find help "in this lifetime." In other words, they never get to the point of reaching out for help and they continue drinking all the way to the grave, all the while denying they have a problem.

For friends and family members, watching someone drink themselves to death is a lonely, frustrating and devastating experience, as D.J. describes below in this painful tale of his mother's final days.

D.J.'s Recovery Story
On the night before Christmas there was great sorrow in my home. My mother passed away at the age of 60. She didn't have cancer. No heart attack. She didn't get in a bad car accident nor was she shot. There were no heroics that put her in harm's way nor was there someone else's wrong-doing that brought her to her demise.

In her eyes, her life became of less value as she grew older.

Her children moved away and she didn't see her grandchildren as much as she had liked. She did have a loving husband, but it wasn't enough to give her a sense of worth. She became very depressed.

A Friend Who Lied to Her
She made a friend that would help her through these times. This friend took advantage of her and lied to her. He made her believe that he was the only thing that mattered. He made her believe that her life was worthless without him. He told her that I was a bad son and told her to cut me out of her life. He told her to cut her only sister out of her life and the majority of her friends. He told her to lie to her husband in order to continue their relationship. He made her desperate for him.

This so-called friend was alcohol.

20 Days Comatose
On Thanksgiving night, my mother ate her final meal and drank vodka at a constant pace until December 4 when the people who loved her most found her to be in a grave state and called 911.

She spent 20 days in the hospital. She spent most of those days comatose. When she was awake she would ask people to bring her just a little vodka to take the edge off. I saw her on December 15 which was her 60th birthday. Instead of cake and presents she got a feeding tube from the doctor and some flowers from a son who she wasn't speaking to her because he asked her to stop drinking.

Instead of running to the store to buy her a last minute gift, on December 23, my father, my sister and I were faced with the decision to give her death with some morphine to help ease the pain. We were not offered anything for our pain. Instead, while visions of sugar plums danced in many heads around the world, we juggled broken hearts, planned services, and tried to stay strong for our children.

Alcoholism Can Destroy a Family
My mother was an amazing person at one time. She taught me that anything worth doing is worth doing to the best of your ability. She taught me how to play cribbage and she taught me how to make a great spaghetti sauce.

She also taught me how alcoholism can destroy a family.

Addiction Will Lie to Them
My mom is survived by her husband of 33 years, a son, a daughter, three step-daughters, and eight grandchildren that have a 40 percent chance of becoming alcoholics as well.

If you have someone that you love in your life that is struggling with some kind of addiction or depression, urge them to get help before it's too late. In the long run, they can only help themselves, but if we don't show them where their life is heading, their addictions will lie to them and tell them they are fine.

One of my mother's final words were. "I am not an alcoholic."

-- D.J.

Support for Families
Sometimes family members cannot do anything to help the alcoholic in their lives, but they can get help and support for themselves. Living with an alcoholic can deeply affect others in the family in ways they may not even recognize. Learning as much as possible about alcoholism and how it can affect the entire family can help.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sobering look at life

Alcoholic seeks treatment after friend dies in blaze

They never played T-ball together, they didn't chase after girls in high school, they weren't born in the same city but on a summer day in August Malcolm Birbeck and Rick Gagnon would cross paths at an Ottawa rooming house.

During the next few months, they'd become friends until one died in a fire while the other got another chance at life at a time when all hope seemed to have been at the bottom of a bottle or the end of a crack pipe.

This is a story of how the loss of one friend's life motivated the other to reclaim his.

It was around 2 a.m. on Dec. 1 when tenants at 219 Daly Ave. were awakened by the smell of smoke that was billowing out of Gagnon's room.

Nobody knows what exactly started the fire but it's believed he fell asleep smoking a cigarette.

What is known is that the 42-year-old's screams could be heard throughout the old two-storey brick home that years ago had been transformed into a 16-unit rooming house.


"Save me! save me! I'm on fire!" he screamed from his room where he had barricaded himself in to escape the flames.

Tenants, led by Birbeck, tried to rescue him but they were pushed back by smoke.

He stood in the freezing cold watching firefighters remove Gagnon's blackened and lifeless body.

Hours later, Birbeck, 53, would explain what happened to the Sun. He said he was from Guelph and only came to Ottawa to get clean but hadn't and now lost a friend.

The day after the fire, Birbeck went to a newspaper box and grabbed the Sunday Sun.

He flipped through until he saw a story about how he tried to save Gagnon. The story ended with Birbeck saying he would never go back to the rooming house.

He said: "It's time to get sober."

For more than a month now he has kept that promise.

"I went straight to detox after reading that story," he said.

Enough was enough and he was tired of living as a drunk with a life that was turning him into a crack addict.

He tried to get sober in the past and it worked a couple of times, but something always triggered him to fall.

"But I always made the choice to take the first drink," he said, not wanting to pass blame onto those he's hurt -- and there have been many, including his 14-year-old daughter whom he loves and carries pictures of in his wallet.

The pain he has caused his daughter haunts him as he continues on his road of recovery.

Around Christmas 2006, after a night of alcohol and drugs, Birbeck said he blacked out and physically harmed his daughter.

He had just done crack cocaine for the first time and his daughter, who was sleeping over, confronted Birbeck in the morning because she was tired of seeing him drunk and out of control.

He said a few days earlier she asked him to get help but the verbal spat led to Birbeck being taken from his home in handcuffs. He was charged with assaulting his daughter and ended up serving four months in jail.

The assault was the darkest day of his life and his daughter has since broken off all contact with him.


Birbeck got out of prison on March 21. By May 25 he had sold his house and gave his daughter's mother nearly all the proceeds to set up a trust and college fund.

He kept about $10,000 and started blowing it on booze and parties until a week later his doctor recommended that he seek help away from Guelph.

The doctor said he should go to the Ottawa Mission and get into Lifehouse, a five-month treatment program for drunks and addicts.

"I came here an alcoholic looking to share his last drink and met crack addicts looking to kill for their next hit," he said about his first few days in Ottawa last June.

For two weeks, Birbeck blew the rest of his money and saw the darkest the city has to offer.

"I wanted to die. I told everyone I had thousands of dollars in my pockets. I wanted someone to kill me," he said.

Birbeck almost had his wish granted when he was staying at various Vanier hotels. There he met crack addicts wanting every dollar he had and when he would stop giving it to them they'd take it.

He was robbed in person and had his hotel broken into.

"They knew I had money and would kill to get it," he said.

At one point, he was tied up and tortured by a group of thugs until he gave them more money.

"Look at these marks on my legs," he said rolling up his jeans. The bottom of his left leg above his ankle has the scars from the attack and he's thankful he's not dead.

When all he had left was a quarter in his pocket, Birbeck went to detox for three days and then to Lifehouse, two weeks late.

He left four months later and moved into the Daly Ave. rooming house, where he met Gagnon at the end of August.

Going there was the worst idea, some told him, especially those trying to help him.

"We sort of lost him when he went to the rooming house," said Simon Brazier, manager of client services that overseas Hostel to Homes, an Ottawa Mission pilot project that is following 45 men, including Birbeck, over 18 months and tracking their progress as they try to get sober.

When he got to the house, he started to drink hard and used crack.

"That house was full of crack. It's everywhere here," he said. "I'd only tried it once before I came to Ottawa."

During the next few months, Birbeck and Gagnon became friends.

Birbeck even helped to carry out eight cans of garbage from Gagnon's room one day.

Gagnon never had it easy in life. He was born into a family with two older brothers when their mother was divorcing their alcoholic father.

When Gagnon was five years old, his mother moved the boys to Ottawa from Montreal.

Soon after, she was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and his older brother Hugh said the illness tore the family apart.

It was especially hard on his little brother who adored his mother.

"She would go to the Royal Ottawa Hospital and stay for a couple of weeks then return just to relapse again. Rick was very young and had to endure his mother screaming at the top of her lungs out the back door of our subsidized home at Rochester Heights that the Russians were coming or that Jesus was going to condemn us all to a painful death," said Hugh.

Hugh said when he was about 12, the Children's Aid Society gave the brothers a choice to either go to foster homes or return home to their mother.

"Rick and Christian, being all too young not knowing what worse could be in store for them with a strange family, decided to stay with mother," said Hugh.

Christian said it was hard on both him and Rick to endure their mother's relapses.

He'd move out when they were older but Rick stayed and fell heavily into drugs and alcohol.


In 2001, their mother committed suicide by jumping off the 14th floor apartment balcony.

Gagnon blamed himself for her death because he felt he drove her to it with his addictions and problems.

"I talked him down from more than one suicide attempt," said Christian.

Eventually, Gagnon moved into 219 Daly Ave. where he lived for the last few years of his life.

Only four people showed up at his funeral last month.

"I wanted to yell out the doors of (the funeral home) that my brother was dead in here," Hugh said. "Surely, he touched more lives than that."

He touched Birbeck's and his brother Christian, who he said was the closet person to him besides maybe his mother.

"I didn't imagine he'd die like this but I've certainly lived in fear of his death ever since mom died," said Christian. "His whole life was awful."

Hugh said this spring his brother's ashes will be buried with their mother's, who was laid to rest in a Quebec cemetery across from Fitzroy Harbour.

Birbeck couldn't go to Gagnon's funeral because after he went to detox on Dec. 2 he got into the Ottawa Mission's 30-day stabilization program for addicts.

Then, at around Christmas, he got into a recovery home for men battling alcoholism.

He's now attending daily group therapy at the Royal Ottawa Hospital and at the end of the month he finds out if he qualifies for Meadow Creek, an extensive local counselling and treatment centre.

Birbeck first started drinking at 14 and it became a problem by the time he was 18.

He then spent most of his adult life in the Canadian and U.S. armed forces. He doesn't talk about it much because he said around the time his daughter was born something happened while he was with the Canadian forces and he suffered a nervous breakdown. He said that triggered him to drink again after being dry for years.


For the 1 1/2 years he drank and then his wife threatened to leave him. He stayed sober for the next 6 1/2 years until his wife did leave him and he went back to drinking.

"I thought I was going to lose my daughter forever," he said.

Birbeck said he's trying to get his life back so that his daughter might one day be able to forgive him. He also hopes he can forgive himself.

"I am so ashamed," he said.

Birbeck has turned to God for support and guidance.

He said after the fire that he wished God had sent him to Ottawa to save Gagnon.

Now Birbeck knows that in Gagnon's death he might be able to save himself.

His only hope is to stay sober.

source: The Ottawa Sun

Monday, January 14, 2008

Would the jazz greats have been so great without drugs?

"I think that trumpets and drugs have always gone hand in hand," Mark Ronson speaking on Never Mind the Buzzcocks, December 07.

Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, John Coltrane - the list of jazz greats who battled drug and alcohol addiction goes on and on. Contemporary stars like Amy Winehouse seem to be following the same pattern. Now in a review of the psychological and biographical literature, Gerald Tolson and Michael Cuyjet have rejected the romantic notion that musical genius needs the succour of drugs in order to thrive.

A survey conducted in 1957 by Nat Hentoff of 409 New York City jazz musicians confirmed the extent of the problem: More than half had tried heroin, with 16 per cent being regular users. Over half used marijuana.

Tolson and Cuyjet said the jazz greats turned to drugs to release their creativity, to enhance the natural high of performing, and to cope with the strain of a disapproving society. The musicians of the 40's and 60's spent much of lives in nightclubs where drug use was rife. They further had to contend with racism, often being required to arrive through the service entrance of clubs and were often forbidden from mingling with the patrons, many of whom were white.

As psychologist Charles Winick wrote in the 60's "The substances they imbibed may have been instrumental in liberating these artists mentally from preoccupation with their life circumstances and subsequently, may have provided the opportunity for these artists to tap into their utmost level of creativity."

Yet tragically, for many of the jazz stars, their addictions invited trouble with the law, and led ultimately to poor health and early death. Saxophonist Charlie Parker, for example, died age 34 and Billie Holiday age 44. "The untapped potential that was languished on drugs and alcohol by these artists shall never be fully revealed," Tolson and Cuyjet wrote.

Indeed, book critic Jonathan Yardley, said reading Jazz Anecdotes led him to feel that "alcohol has been in jazz an instrument of distraction and debilitation masquerading as inspiration."

In truth, the link between drug use and creativity has yet to be fully empirically tested, Tolson and Cuyjet concluded, but they said that whatever the creative benefits may have been, "the reality is that for most jazz artists, particularly during the creative period from 1940-1960, substance abuse did more harm than good, and rather than being the road to creative genius, it was the pathway to premature death."

source: Tolson, G.H. & Cuyjet, M.J. (2007). Jazz and substance abuse: Road to creative genius or pathway to premature death. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 30, 530-538.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Less craic and more crackdown as Ireland takes a sober look at drinking

“One drink is too many for me and a thousand not enough,” the Irish writer Brendan Behan once quipped, encapsulating in a phrase his countrymen’s love affair with alcohol.

The pub is intrinsic to Ireland’s self-image: it is a source of pride that the harp that adorns its passport is displayed equally prominently on a pint of its most famous brand, Guinness.

Yet while alcohol and the Irish may seem to have been good for one another the Government has just suggested that it thinks otherwise, beginning an urgent investigation into a growing binge-drinking culture. Alcohol consumption has risen 17 per cent in the past decade.

“We have a problem with binge drinking in this country and it is clear that this problem is adding to public disorder,” Brian Lenihan, the Justice Minister, said. He is setting up an advisory group to review laws governing the sale of beer, wine and spirits. Mr Lenihan plans new legislation by Easter and has suggested that he will raise the legal age for buying alcohol from 18 to 21 and introduce on-the-spot fines for drink-related offences.

Ironically, the same Fianna Fáil-led Government that began liberalising Ireland’s licensing laws in 2000 is racing to tighten them up. The decline of the rural pub, it is now accepted, predates the smoking ban of March 2004 but a crackdown on after-hours drinking — one of the accepted pillars of social life in the West — probably encouraged the move towards home entertainment. Demographics, tougher drink-driving laws and higher mortgage repayments are all contributing to the steady disappearance of a more familiar drinking culture of traditional fiddle music around homely peat fires, which tourism chiefs still promote.

The number of off-licences has trebled from 600 to 1,800 in the past seven years and they are never busier than on St Patrick’s Day, March 17. The Irish Times described this recently as “the most depressing and dangerous day of the year”, when the binge-drinking regiments command the streets of the capital and big towns and cities. More than 700 people were arrested for public order offences on St Patrick’s Day last year, more than double the previous year.

The A&E department at Cork University Hospital estimates that, nationwide, a quarter of emergency department admissions arise from alcohol-related illnesses, abuse or attacks.

Irish 15 and 16-year-olds are at the top of the international league for drinking alcohol and Irish girls of this age are at the very top of the league for binge drinking, according to Rolande Anderson, an alcohol counsellor with the Irish College of General Practitioners. “There are strong links between alcohol use, unintentional and unprotected sex and sexual assaults. During the last decade sexually transmitted infections have gone up by 165 per cent,” he said.

A Eurobarometer survey last year found that Irish households spend three times more on alcohol than other European countries and more than ten times as much as Greece.

The definition of binge drinking, however, is as much as source of anger as it is a concern in many Dublin pubs. Seánaí, a 23-year-old television researcher drinking in Doyles bar in central Dublin, said: “According to how they work this out, once you hit four pints you’re on a binge and for women it’s even less, but that’s just got the night started.” Tim, another Doyles regular, said that he found it difficult to sit with continental Europeans nursing a glass for hours. “We need to knock back the pints in a way they don’t. I’m positive that we have inherited this from previous generations.”

A recent attempt by Michael McDowell, the former Justice Minister, to chaperone drinkers towards a café-bar culture was allegedly scuppered by Ireland’s rich and powerful drinks lobby.

In a country where it is claimed that 40 per cent of the members of the Irish Parliament are publicans the vested interests seem to run deep.

Source: Times Online

Friday, January 11, 2008

New Study Reveals More Than 3 Million People Have Used Non-Prescription Cough And Cold Medicines To Get High At Least Once In Their Lifetimes

About 3.1 million people in the United States aged 12 to 25 (5.3 percent of this age group) have used over-the-counter (non-prescription) cough and cold medicines to get high at least once in their lifetimes, according to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Newly analyzed data from the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) show the number is comparable to those who say they have used LSD (3.1 million), and is significantly greater than the number who reported having tried methamphetamines (2.4 million).

Overdosing on many cough and cold medications may result in serious life-threatening adverse reactions. Adverse reactions include blurred vision, loss of physical coordination, intense abdominal pain, vomiting, uncontrolled violent muscle spasms, irregular heartbeat, delirium and death.

The NSDUH survey also found that the number of 12- to-25-year-olds who reported misuse of non-prescription cough and cold medicines in the past year (1 million) exceeded the number claiming to have used methamphetamines (740,000) and LSD (485,000) in the past year. The number was somewhat lower than the number of young people reporting that they had used the drug Ecstasy (1.5 million) in the past year.

The survey, conducted by SAMHSA, is the largest of its kind and involves interviewing nearly 67,000 people from around the nation, including almost 45,000 persons aged 12 to 25.

Patterns of misuse of non-prescription drugs varied among demographic groups. Females aged 12 to 17 were more likely than their male counterparts to have misused these drugs within the past year (2.3 percent vs. 1.5 percent). But among those aged 18 to 25, more males had misused these drugs in the past year than females (1.8 percent vs. 1.3 percent). Among all persons aged 12 to 25, the rate of past year misuse among whites (2.1 percent) was three times higher than among blacks (0.6 percent) and significantly higher than among Hispanics (1.4 percent).

"While increasing attention has been paid to the public health risk of prescription drug abuse, we also need to be aware of the growing dangers of misuse of over-the-counter cough and cold medications, especially among young people," said SAMHSA Administrator Terry Cline, Ph.D. "The scope and danger posed by these medications requires a broad scale public health campaign - a campaign involving everyone, including the medical community, industry, parents and young people."

Although non-prescription cough and cold medications are generally safe when taken for medicinal purposes and as directed on their labeling, they can induce severe dissociative, "out-of-body" experiences when they are consumed in amounts far in excess of their recommended dosages. These reactions are similar to the effects of the well-known hallucinogens phencyclidine (PCP) and ketamine ("Special K").

SAMHSA is a public health agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. The agency is responsible for improving the accountability, capacity and effectiveness of the nation's substance abuse prevention, addictions treatment, and mental health services delivery system.

source: SAMHSA

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Alcoholism Definition Becoming Fuzzier

The definition of alcoholism isn't as cut-and-dried as it's been. New studies are prompting experts to reassess exactly what does and doesn't constitute being an alcoholic.

On The Early Show Wednesday, Ph.D., Co-founder and Clinical Director for the Center for Motivation and Change, Carrie Wilkens, told co-anchor Julie Chen, "What's really changed is whether or not people need to sign on for the label of 'alcoholic' in order to get help with their alcohol problems."

Wilkens, who's with the Center for Motivation and Change in Manhattan, explained that, "Alcohol problems fall in a wide spectrum. Some people are drinking relatively low amounts, but incurring consequences that will really add up over the course of time to really harm their lives, all the way to people who are drinking quite a lot and suffering very serious consequences that need to be addressed more directly."

According to The Wall Street Journal, "More than 30 percent of Americans engage in risky drinking at some point in their lives, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. But there's no consensus on exactly what an 'alcoholic' is."

The Journal says some experts want "the authoritative American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" in an edition being compiled "to combine abuse and dependence into a single 'alcohol-use disorder' that ranges in severity, taking into account harmful drinking patterns and other symptoms. The aim is for simmering problems to be spotted sooner."

The Journal adds, "NIAAA officials say that, in recognizing a drinking problem, the label 'alcoholic' is less important than harmful patterns of drinking, which they describe as drinking too much, too fast or too much, too often."

"If you're worried that you may be drinking too much, you've already met a key criterion on some screening tests," the Journal points out.

Wilkens says much of it comes down to the consequences of drinking. For instance, "You don't like it when you're wife is upset, you don't like the groggy way you feel, those ten extra pounds because of drinking. Some people will be incurring lots of consequences, even though they hate the way they feel. And they end up doing same thing again, at greater risk."

Wilkens noted to Chen that it generally takes less for women "to start to have problems with alcohol. She will require fewer drinks in order to get there. ... (It's recommended that) women don't drink any more than seven drinks per week and no more than three drinks in a sitting. Whereas, men can drink up to 14 drinks a week without suffering physical consequences associated with their alcohol use, because (women's) bodies just process alcohol differently. We become intoxicated more quickly."

But simply exceeding those guidelines "doesn't necessarily mean you are an alcoholic," Wilkens observed. "It might mean that it's worth slowing down a little bit and assessing, 'Am I having some consequences associated with my alcohol use that are really upsetting me, and maybe I need to slow down a little bit and reset my limits. Maybe I need to get a little extra help with it. Maybe I need to re-evaluate my relationship (with alcohol).' It doesn't mean you are necessarily an alcoholic."

A well-known quickie quiz is called The Cage Test.

"C": Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
"A": Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
"G": Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
"E": Eye-opener: Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?

"Answering 'yes' to even one of these questions," concluded Wilkens, "suggests you should look at your alcohol use and just question whether or not you need to do something about it."

source: CBS News

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Doctors Underestimate the Power of Screening for Problem Drinking

A 10-minute screening and talk with a doctor about problem drinking delivers almost as much bang for the buck to the health system as childhood immunization and advice about taking aspirin to prevent stroke and heart attack, according to a new systematic review — but just 8.7 percent of problem drinkers report receiving such information.

The review, which appears in the February issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, included data from 10 randomized controlled trials of alcohol problem screening and advice by primary care doctors.

“Reviewing this data and stepping back, it really struck me how truly important this finding is,” said lead author Leif Solberg, M.D., associate medical director for care improvement research at Health Partners in Minneapolis. “It’s a service most physicians don’t offer.” Solberg added that most doctors now recognize the importance of offering advice on quitting smoking, but with drinking, physicians are not onboard.

“I think most of my fellow physicians would think that their impact on alcohol use is close to zero,” he says.

“Alcohol screening and brief therapy are very cost-effective compared to other recommended medical services, yet they are employed least often of any of them,” said Alex DeLuca, M.D., former chief and medical director of the Smithers Addiction Treatment and Research Center in New York, who was not involved with the systematic review.

Brief intervention for alcohol is in the top-five most cost-effective preventive services, according to the research — coming in equal to or higher than many common screening services like Pap smears and bowel cancer screening.

DeLuca said of the review, “The analysis of cost-effectiveness was sophisticated and appropriate, and the calculations for alcohol services were comparable to the other services, supporting the relevance of the overall model and methodology used. The article supports prioritizing alcohol screening and counseling.”

The review found that screening and brief counseling reduced problem drinking by 17.4 percent over a period that varied from six months to two years among studies. This means that more than one in six problem drinkers who received these brief interventions no longer fit that definition six months to two years later.

Although that might seem like a small reduction, with one-fourth of people aged 18 to 54 engaging in problem drinking, cutting the numbers by that amount results in a large effect on the population as a whole.

Review studies relied on different definitions of problem drinking, but the task force viewed it as drinking more than seven drinks per week for women or more than 14 for men — or drinking more than three drinks on one occasion for women or four drinks per occasion for men. It includes risky behaviors such as drinking and driving, and binge drinking, which are not severe enough to meet the criteria for alcoholism or alcohol dependence.

Some reasons physicians tend not to screen for alcohol problems in general practice are a sense that a short talk with a doctor will not help alcoholics quit and a perception that those who are not alcoholics do not need advice on cutting back or stopping drinking.

However, Solberg said, “The value of this service comes without the difficulty of treating dependence — this is problem drinking.” Study co-author, Michael Maciosek, Ph.D., research investigator at Health Partners, added, “The effectiveness does not depend on stopping drinking — it’s reducing the quantity or the number of times there is binge drinking.”

DeLuca said that many physicians are afraid of getting involved in “lengthy, uncomfortable encounters” with patients who could be defensive about drinking too much and they are generally pessimistic about the outcomes of treatment for alcohol problems, despite the strong research support for both brief interventions for problem drinkers and other therapies for alcoholics.

In terms of costs, the review found that each screening and counseling session cost about $10 per patient and saved the health care system about the same amount over five years in terms of reduced costs due to accidents, injuries and other alcohol-related health problems. It did not include savings due to possible health benefits of moderate drinking.

“Physicians do not screen for substance use disorders enough or provide brief counseling – even though if they did, many, many people would be spared much misery and illness and cost. So, patients, if the docs won’t bring it up, you should,” DeLuca advised.

source: Health Behavior News Service

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Are You an Alcoholic?

The holidays are over. Resolutions are wearing thin. It's a time of year when many people wonder if they have a drinking problem.

More than 30% of Americans engage in risky drinking at some point in their lives, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. But there's no consensus on exactly what an "alcoholic" is. Even Alcoholics Anonymous relies on alcoholics to diagnose themselves.

Researchers have made up dozens of screening tests over the years. According to one developed for Johns Hopkins University Hospital years ago that still pops up on the Web, I'm "definitely an alcoholic" because I answered yes to at least three of 20 questions: I "crave a drink at a definite time of day" (evenings, mostly) and drink alone (sometimes) and drink to "escape from worries or troubles" (doesn't everyone who drinks?).

But Alcohol screening says I'm "below the range usually associated with harmful drinking or alcoholism" since I have only a glass or two of wine when I drink.

The authoritative American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-IV, separates alcohol abuse from alcohol dependence, based partly on the problems the drinking causes. You qualify for a diagnosis of "abuse" if you've done any one of these in the past year: drunk alcohol in hazardous situations, like driving; kept drinking despite social or interpersonal problems; had legal problems related to alcohol or failed to fulfill major obligations at work, school or home because of drinking.

You've moved on to "dependence" if you've done any three of these seven: drunk more or longer than you intended; been unable to cut down or stop; needed more alcohol to get the same affect; had withdrawal symptoms without it; spent more time drinking or recovering; neglected other activities or continued to drink despite psychological or physical problems.

Experts long believed that abuse progressed to dependence, which almost inevitably became chronic and relapsing -- but that was based on observing severely addicted people in treatment programs. Several large new surveys have shown that drinking patterns in the general population are much more varied, with milder forms of dependence. Some 43% of daily heavy drinkers don't fit into either DSM-IV category, according to one big national sample, even though they are setting themselves up for serious health and addiction problems.

Abuse vs. Dependence

"Some people will abuse alcohol -- driving drunk, for example -- but they only drink heavily once a month. They can remain stable for a long time and not progress to dependence," says Mark L. Willenbring, director of the division of treatment and recovery research at the NIAAA. "And people can be dependent and not have abuse problems at all. They're successful students. They're good parents, good workers. They watch their weight. They go the gym. Then they go home and have four martinis or two bottles of wine. Are they alcoholics? You bet. And the goal is to get treatment for these folks, earlier, that is acceptable and attractive and effective."

To that end, some experts want the DSM-V -- the new edition now being compiled -- to combine abuse and dependence into a single "alcohol-use disorder" that ranges in severity, taking into account harmful drinking patterns and other symptoms. The aim is for simmering problems to be spotted sooner.

As one former treatment counselor says, "The conventional wisdom held that alcoholics had to hit bottom before they could get better. We'd like to raise that bottom so that people don't have to fall as far before they get help."

Many heavy drinkers are very high-functioning -- until they can't function anymore. "Alcoholics can be high achievers in the short run, because they're driven and compulsive," says Charlie, a New York attorney who, like all AA members, wants to remain anonymous. Charlie was drinking about a fifth of Johnnie Walker most nights when it began to show. "I'd tell my secretary I was in a meeting with a client, but I'd be home and only starting to feel human by about noon. Then I'd try to do eight hours of work in four hours," he says. This went on for seven years, until he finally went into rehab. He's been sober now for 26 years.

Charlie says many heavy drinkers, especially those who grew up around alcoholics, set a private benchmark in their denial. "They say to themselves, 'As long as I'm not making a fool of myself in a bar, or drinking in the morning, or as long as I'm still showing up for work, then I'm not an alcoholic.'"

You know you've hit bottom, he adds, "when your behavior spirals downward faster than you can lower your standards."

Thinking You're Immune

Ruth, a nursing supervisor in Las Vegas, hid her quart-a-day whiskey habit from work for about five years -- "until my husband and my employer both invited me out of those positions at the same time," she says. "That got my attention."

Both of Ruth's parents died of alcohol-related illnesses, but she thought her medical training would protect her from getting seriously addicted. Doctors and clergy who drink heavily often have the notion that they are somehow immune to the problems they see in others, she observes, and affluent people can pay others to take care of them. "People with less money and less education often get the message faster," she says, now that she's been sober for 37 years.

NIAAA officials say that in recognizing a drinking problem, the label "alcoholic" is less important than harmful patterns of drinking, which they describe as drinking too much, too fast or too much, too often.

Too much, too fast means consuming more than four drinks in two hours for men, and more than three in two hours for women. That's a level that, on average, makes people legally drunk and impairs brain function. (A standard U.S. drink, by the way, is 12 oz. of beer, 5 oz. of wine or a 1.5 oz. shot of 80 proof spirits, according to government agencies.)

Even if you stay within those limits each day, you can be drinking too much, too often, if you have more than 14 drinks a week for men, and more than 7 for women. That's the kind of chronic use that raises the risks of a long list of health problems, including liver and cardiovascular disease, pancreatitis, dementia, depression and numerous cancers.

How those weekly drinks are distributed is also important. "If you drink seven drinks in two days, that's hazardous -- you're drunk two days a week," says Ting-Kai Li, the NIAAA's director. "If you drink two a day for seven days, that's not harmful. In fact, it may even be beneficial for some people, lowering their cardiovascular risk."

Individual responses to alcohol vary, of course, based on genetics, brain chemistry, metabolism and other factors. Your risk is already elevated if you have a family history of alcohol abuse, have health problems such as depression, take certain medications or you started drinking at an early age. "If you have a family history or other co-morbidity, then the general advice is, don't drink at all," says Dr. Li.

If you're worried that you may be drinking too much, you've already met a key criterion on some screening tests. (Like the old saying about mice in your house, if you think you have a problem, you probably do.)

Counting drinks very carefully to stay within the limit can be a sign of trouble too, says Ruth. "The glass keeps getting bigger and bigger or you forget to add the mixer." She suggests trying to go 30 or 60 days without drinking. "If it doesn't bother you, you're OK. But if you're desperate for that 30 days to end, or you can't make it, then get help." She suggests trying one of AA's public information meetings. "If you're not an alcoholic, you can't catch it from them," she says.

Your family doctor is another place to start. The NIAAA recently issued a guide for primary-care physicians to enlist their help in spotting alcohol problems. It starts with a single screening question: How many times in the last year have you had more than five drinks (four for women) in a day? If the answer is even once, doctors are advised to discuss the risks of harmful drinking with their patients, along with steps patients can take to cut back, including new medications that can help curb alcohol cravings.

In Remission

The encouraging news from the NIAAA's recent research is that many people do cut down or quit on their own. "That's the real mind blower," says Dr. Willenbring. "Only about 15% of the people who develop alcohol dependence in their lifetime have the severe, relapsing form. Most people -- 72% -- have a single episode [of addiction] lasting on average three or four years and then they go into remission and stay there. A lot of them are abstaining." For many people, that spate of heavy drinking happens in college -- the peak years are 18 to 24, says Dr. Willenbring. "Then they mature out of it and get on with their lives."

For those who don't, alcoholism, however it's defined, is still a profound problem, and the third leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., after smoking and obesity. But being aware of your risks and cutting down now if you need to may prevent you from becoming one of those statistics.

source: Wall Street Journal