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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Serious Mental Illness In America

mental illness
The importance of treating mental illness cannot be stressed enough. Untreated mental health disorders make people's lives unmanageable, affecting entire families. Yet, despite ways to screen for and treat mental health problems, like depression and bipolar disorder, too many Americans are not getting the help they need. Which, more times than not, leads to destructive behavior.

In the field of addiction medicine, we know first-hand that people with untreated mental health disorders often resort to drugs and alcohol. A slippery slope to dependence and addiction—to be sure. Those who use mind-altering substances to mitigate their symptoms of mental illness are actually making their original problem worse. Their symptoms are exacerbated by drugs and alcohol. Self-medicating mental illness not only leads to addiction, it can cause suicidal ideations. Every year, thousands of Americans with undiagnosed or untreated mental illness make attempts on their own lives. In many cases, they succeed.

To better understand the scope and scale of both mental illness in America, and how often people get help for it, scientific research is needed. But just knowing that people are being helped is only the first step to encouraging people to seek help. When they do ask for assistance, we need to make sure that adequate treatments are available.


Adults Living With Mental Illness

A new government report found that almost 10 million Americans are living with a serious mental health disorder, HealthDay reports. There are 9.8 million people reporting having had serious thoughts about taking their own life in the past year. What’s more, over a third of such people do not receive any help, which researcher Dr. Beth Han believes results from a lack of health insurance, not knowing where to get help and the stigma associated with serious mental illness. The findings were published in the Behavioral Health Barometer.

"They are afraid that other people may find out," Han said. 

The report covered a broad spectrum of mental health problems, including addiction. The findings showed that 15.7 million people abuse alcohol and 7.7 million abuse illicit drugs in this country, according to the article. An estimated 12.5 million people have misused prescription painkillers. Which makes sense, considering the opioid addiction epidemic we face today.


Treatment Is The Answer

To be sure, lack of resources and health insurance can certainly impact one’s ability to get the help they desperately need. However, if people are scared to seek help for fear of social stigma, the consequences can be even more dire. When people feel like they either must continue to suffer from symptoms or be ostracized by their community, the former can seem like the better option. As one’s symptoms continue to go untreated, they get worse. If they are using drugs or alcohol to calm such symptoms, addiction often takes root. Now, they have a co-occurring mental health disorder to contend with.

It is vital they every American does their part to show compassion for those living with mental illness. We will all be better for it. There are effective methods of treatment that are being severely underutilized, because of social stigma.  When people have no other options, they will resort to methods that make them even more sick.

It is vital that co-occurring disorders are treated simultaneously. If you or a loved one is abusing drugs and alcohol to treat symptoms of mental illness, please contact Hope by The Sea today. We can help.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Marijuana Legalization Affects College Students

Last week we wrote about using marijuana taxes from legal sales to pay for addiction treatment. Both novel, and welcomed to be sure. While paying for addiction treatment with marijuana money is great, states who have legalized the drug need to ensure that the right messages about marijuana are being disseminated. Smoking “pot” can be a slippery slope to other addictive, far more damaging substances.

Young people, typically, try alcohol and tobacco before they move on to marijuana. Not always, but most of the time. That being said, people who drink alcohol are far more likely to smoke marijuana, as well. It is well known that marijuana and alcohol, when used together, are synergistic—meaning that one amplifies the effects of the other. Teenagers and young adults who use both substances, are not only at risk of addiction, they also risk harming their brain.

In states across the country which have legalized marijuana for people over the age of 21 should be bound to explain the science of drug use to young people. As this is a demographic that commonly has delusions of invincibility. Using marijuana before the brain is fully development can have a life-long impact.


Researching Marijuana Use

Recreational use was first legalized in Washington and Colorado, then followed by Oregon and Alaska. Last November, more states came on-board with legalization, including California. Since legal “weed” is still a new thing, there is little research about the impact that it has had on young people. A team of researchers sought to find if legalization resulted in more use among college students.

"Americans are conducting a big experiment with marijuana," says David Kerr, an associate professor in the School of Psychological Science in OSU's College of Liberal Arts. "We need science to tell us what the results of it are." 

The study, published in the journal Addiction, showed that at one college in Oregon marijuana use has increased, according to an Oregon State University press release. Perhaps even more concerning is that the rise in use was mostly among college students who reported recent heavy alcohol use. Specifically binge drinking, that is when men consume 5 or more drinks or women consume 4 or more drinks during a 2-hour period. Oregon State University students who engage in binge drinking were found to be 73 percent more likely to also report marijuana use.

"We think this tells us more about the people who binge drink than about the effects of alcohol itself," said Kerr. "Those who binge drink may be more open to marijuana use if it is easy to access, whereas those who avoid alcohol for cultural or lifestyle reasons might avoid marijuana regardless of its legal status."


Cannabis Use Disorder

Legalization, without any doubt, is far better than the alternative. Criminalizing drug use is not the solution, and only leads to mass incarceration. That being said, young people need to be educated that legal does not mean safe. And that heavy use can result in a cannabis use disorder, which could require treatment. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health has found that since the drug has been legalized more people have been voluntarily seeking treatment for marijuana addiction.

If you are struggling with cannabis use disorder, please contact Hope by The Sea Today.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Binge Drinking to Type 2 Diabetes

binge drinking
It should go without saying that the sooner someone with an alcohol use disorder gets help—the better. As is the case with any form of substance use disorder. Yet, more often than not, people living with the disease of addiction resist recovery, even when they know how desperately they are in need. It is one of the paradoxes of mental illness. Our mind tells us that what we are doing is, in fact, killing us. But, try as we might, mustering up the strength and courage to seek assistance flies in the face of a disease that is constantly telling you that you are OK.

Couple such conflicting feelings with the stigma that lingers around people with any form of mental illness, and the obstacles to getting treatment become fiercer. In many cases the reason people seek treatment is the desire to put the pieces of one’s life back together. That is, get family and friends back, or be in a position to form new relationships. Others will say they were tired of being homeless, or having to constantly find new jobs every time a boss got wise to their condition. The list of reasons could probably go on ad infinitum, but perhaps the most important reason to seek treatment is to stop or even reverse the physical/mental damage that drugs and alcohol do to the mind and body.

Once again, it seems like the list of conditions that can arise from long-term alcohol and substance abuse grows with each passing year. Some of which can be deadly. While most people are aware that an unhealthy relationship with alcohol can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatic cancer, et al., there are a number of other potentially fatal health problems that can spring from heavy alcohol use. Therefore, it is so vital that brakes be applied to the wheel of addiction, sooner rather than later.


Alcohol Abuse Driven Diabetes

Men and women, without any doubt, consume alcohol in different ways and in different quantities. Most of the time. What’s more, how people drink and the problems that behaviors like "binge drinking" (typically happens when men consume 5 or more drinks or women consume 4 or more drinks in about 2 hours) can lead to down the road, are different depending on gender. This is important to keep in mind. While men binge drink more often than women, women who engage in the practice may be at risk of health problems that have not been associated with male binge drinkers.

A study published in the open access journal BMC Public Health indicates that women who engage in binge drinking are at a heightened risk of type 2 diabetes, later in life, ScienceDaily reports. The association held true even after adjusting for BMI, hypertension and smoking. The researchers did not find the same correlation among male binge drinkers over a 27-year period. Lead author, Dr Karina Nygren of Umea University, Sweden, said:
“Our findings show that high alcohol consumption from ages 16 to 43 is associated with higher blood glucose levels in women but not in men. Because higher blood glucose is a risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes, our data suggest that informing people about the risk of high alcohol consumption at a young age could have positive health impacts further down the line."


Treatment Will Save Life

If you are female binge drinker, it doesn’t mean that you have an alcohol use disorder—necessarily. However, those who binge drink over the course of many years are more likely to be dependent on alcohol, or at the very least an unhealthy relationship with the substance. If your life is unmanageable, and you make promises to yourself about drinking that you are unable to fulfill, you would be wise to consult professionals. The longer one puts it off, the worse it gets—trust us on this one.

For others, you may already know that you are living with an alcohol use disorder. If that is the case please contact Hope By The Sea immediately. We can introduce you to the lifesaving mission of addiction recovery, providing you with skills and tools to help keep your addiction at bay so that you can live a healthy, fulfilling life.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Opioid Addiction Funding Via Marijuana

opioid use disorder
All of us in California are now aware that we are in store for a whole new era of marijuana across the state. With the passing of Proposition 64, recreational use of cannabis is now legal for people over the age of 21. For many Californians, legalizing the hotly contested drug is a breath of fresh air, especially for those who know the true costs of the “war on drugs.” This campaign was launched under the auspices of protecting the American people, but actually resulted in the disenfranchisement of millions of Americans.

It is not a secret that the majority of people serving time in prison for nonviolent drug offenses are minorities. Once in the system, getting out of it is arguably next to impossible to achieve. Recidivism rates are staggering in the United States. And the states which have opted to go against the Federal government on “pot” seem to be acutely aware of the insanity of locking people up for possessing marijuana.

Critics of both medical marijuana and legalization fear that it encourages marijuana use, giving teenagers and young adults false perceptions about the dangers of use. Before we move any further, it must be stressed that while cannabis is certainly benign compared to let’s say heroin—it’s far from safe. Particularly for young people. People’s fears are, without a doubt warranted, but legalization is likely the lesser of two evils when you consider the alternative.

What’s more, there is a chance that the millions and billions of dollars in taxes that will be collected on the sales of cannabis products could actually be used for some good when comes to treating addiction in America. Yes, that’s right, marijuana is being taxed in legal states much like alcohol, which means that there are ample resources available for combating more serious drug related issues in America, such as the opioid addiction epidemic.


Taxing Marijuana to Pay for Another

The state of Colorado, along with Washington, paved the way for legalization in the U.S. Both programs have had some success and failure, but overall there is little evidence to suggest that marijuana use has risen dramatically as a result. Both programs are still relatively new, so we will get a clearer picture about the pros and cons as time moves forward. In the meantime, however, marijuana sales may actually help offset the staggering costs of the opioid epidemic; which would certainly be a silver lining to whatever downsides come with recreational cannabis.

In fact, Colorado's 2016-2017 fiscal year collected $105 million from taxing marijuana sales, Money reports. A portion of that money will be used to cover some of the costs of tackling substance use disorder (SUD) throughout the state, especially regrding opioids. The funds will also be used to help the homeless and people struggling with mental health issues.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed SB-17-074, allotting $500,000 annually for sending more trained medical professionals to two rural counties (Pueblo and Routt) hit especially hard by the epidemic, but only have four doctors in these two counties to treat opioid use disorder.


Going Forward

Using marijuana proceeds to help stem the tide of the opioid epidemic is both novel and smart. States affected by this crisis have been spread thin financially and personnel-wise. In California, which will likely rake in far more money than Colorado in the long run, could allocate resources in the same way to address the opioid use disorder and overdose rates throughout the Golden State.

If you or a loved one had been caught in the stranglehold of opioid addiction, please contact Hope by The Sea today. We can assist you in breaking the cycle of addiction and help get you started on the lifesaving journey of recovery.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Early Recovery, Coffee and Movie Theaters

If you have been attending 12-Step recovery meetings for even a short time, then you are probably aware by now that coffee is a staple beverage to many people working a program. Making the caffeinated beverage for meetings is a commitment for some members and drinking it at meetings is a must for many more. After meetings end, meeting-goers will often gather at local coffee houses to drink more coffee and chat about various things—program related or not. Some will head to such establishments to do step work with their sponsor.

The point is, coffee is in many ways a constant in recovery. One could easily argue that no other drink has been a part of so many lives changing for the better than coffee. And a major reason that people in recovery ask newcomers to join them for a cup of joe at a coffee house is that, unlike restaurants, cafes typically do not serve alcohol. Which makes such establishments a perfect environment for those who have yet to strengthen their recovery legs.

It seems like most Americans turn to Starbucks for their coffee. This makes sense because no other coffee purveyor is as ubiquitous as the Seattle-based franchise. Which is why it came as a disheartening shock to many working a program when Starbucks announced in 2012 that they would begin offering beer, wine and spirits at locations across the country. In 2015, the company launched their "Evenings" program, which offered a tapas food menu, along with beer and wine.


Alcohol Didn’t Make Sense, After All

For many young adults, alcohol at Starbucks was probably quite welcome. For a number of people working a program of recovery whose Starbucks became one of the more than 400 select locations selling alcohol, it was time to find a new coffee shop. However, it seems that the coffee powerhouse had second thoughts about moving forward with the Evening's program and began pivoting away from alcohol, towards healthy lunch options in January 2017, Time: Money reported. Which means, there will be over 400 more newcomer friendly coffee houses in the near future.

It is always worth pointing out that people in recovery do not, and should not need to totally eschew every establishment that sells alcohol. The substance is so pervasive, it is almost impossible to avoid being around it in certain situations. Yet, for those who are still new to the Steps, and the pitfalls of early recovery, any time you can steer clear of alcohol—the better. You never know what might trigger you to crave alcohol. But, if you follow direction and practice the principles of recovery in all your affairs, there will hardly be a situation that involves alcohol that you can’t navigate through.

Although, it requires that one be vigilant about being honest with yourself and with others in the program, if you are to get to a place where that is possible. This is vital because it seems that more and more activities that were once safe havens for people in the program are now catering to people with a taste for alcohol


Silver Screens and Alcohol

In many states across the country, movie theaters are now offering alcohol at the concession stand. Along with buttery popcorn and Sno-Caps, moviegoers can now buy beer and wine. Going to a movie after a meeting is a common occurrence among many young people in the program. It is an activity that has historically been early recovery friendly. Not so much anymore.

That is not to say that newcomers can’t go see a motion picture anymore. Rather, if you are going to a theater that caters to drinkers, you probably should go with another member in the program. Going it alone is not worth the risk. The stakes are far too high.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Spreading Dangerous Lies About Opioids

In 1980, almost forty years ago now, a letter was written to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) by a graduate student. The letter, was more of a paragraph long observation about nearly 40,000 hospital patients at a hospital in Boston. The letter stated that of the 40,000 patients, almost 12,000 received a narcotic, and of the patients who had no history of addiction, there were only four (4) documented cases of substance use disorder. The letter was written by Dr. Hershel Jick, a drug specialist at Boston University Medical Center.

At this point you may be wondering what a letter to the editor of the NEJM has to do with opioid addiction in America, today. Simply put, Dr. Jick’s words would be used by the pharmaceutical industry to convince doctors who were wary about prescribing take-home opioids. You see, in the 1980’s, physicians used far more discretion when it came to prescribing opioids than in the following decades. When Dr. Jick wrote that letter, he never intended or could have foreseen the opioid epidemic it would precipitate.

"I'm essentially mortified that that letter to the editor was used as an excuse to do what these drug companies did," Jick told The Associated Press in an interview on Wednesday. "They used this letter to spread the word that these drugs were not very addictive."


Spreading Lies About Opioids

The New England Journal of Medicine recently added an editor's note about Jick’s letter and published a study about the letter’s impact. A group of researchers in Canada found that the 1980 letter has been cited more than 600 times over the years, CBS News reports. The analysis showed that Jick’s words were used to disseminate the idea that opioid addiction was rare, those citing the 1980 findings failed to point out that the narcotics were used only in a hospital setting, rather than chronic pain outpatient cases.

Nevertheless, over the years, doctor’s began to drink the drug companies Kool-Aid, which was fairly easy to swallow given the incentives for prescribing a particular drug. However, the fact that medical community found a way to justify rampant over prescribing, even in the face of ever-increasing addiction and overdose rates, is in many ways mind boggling, but the problem wasn’t just the physicians. The American Medical Association, et al., taking the letter at face value, encouraged doctors to more adequately address patient pain—by any means necessary it would seem. The recent NEJM editor's note attached to the letter, states:

"For reasons of public health, readers should be aware that this letter has been 'heavily and uncritically cited' as evidence that addiction is rare with opioid therapy."


What Now?

With around a hundred people overdosing every day due to opioid narcotics, and doctors still relying heavily on such drugs to treat chronic pain—solutions are desperately needed. Look no further than the New England Journal of Medicine. The Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Nora D. Volkow, M.D., and Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., published an article in the NEJM stating that NIDA and the NIH will partner with the pharmaceutical industry to launch an initiative in three scientific areas:
  • Developing better overdose-reversal and prevention interventions to reduce mortality, saving lives for future treatment and recovery.
  • Finding new, innovative medications and technologies to treat opioid addiction.
  • Finding safe, effective, nonaddictive interventions to manage chronic pain.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Accidental Advocate for Mental Health

mental health
It has been nearly three (3) years since the former star of the 70’s hit show Mork & Mindy (1978–82), Robin Williams, took his own life on August 11, 2014. The news of the beloved stand-up comedian and actor's suicide came as a shock to most people who were, at the time, unaware of William’s battle with mental illness. Specifically, addiction to cocaine and alcohol, which he sought help for over the years. Just prior to his passing, Robin had sought treatment for alcoholism in mid-2014 and his publicist Mara Buxbaum told CNN that Williams was struggling with severe depression leading up to the suicide.

While William’s suicide was a sad day for not just Americans, but comedy lovers around the globe, it did have the unintended effect of getting people to talk about the deadly nature of mental health disorders. People who struggle with any form of mental illness, such as addiction, anxiety and depression, actually have a serious impact on those who are close to the individual. There is a significant amount of fallout that cannot help but scar the friends and family of the afflicted. When mental illness leads to tragedy, those left behind cannot help but wonder, "Could I have done more?”

Such questions, while understandable, do little good. What’s done, is done. No amount of regret or guilt can bring back lost loved ones. On the other hand, those left trying to make sense of it all, can use the pain they are feeling to help prevent other families from experiencing the kind of tragedy. In death, William’s story can potentially save lives.


Advocating for Mental Health

Zelda Williams (27) is the daughter of the late comedian. As you can imagine, her father's passing was a traumatic experience. But, in the wake of the tragedy she has decided to use her loss to help others, people struggling with untreated mental health disorders. Zelda says she’s become an “accidental advocate” for mental health. In Los Angeles last week, Ms. Williams hosted a luncheon for the Hope and Grace Initiative, sponsored by beauty company Philosophy and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Women’s Health reports. The object of the event was to raise both funding and awareness for mental health.

"Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not ruining someone’s life," she tells the magazine. She adds, "There’s a realization that everyone is fighting a different battle and you can’t fight it for someone else but you can try to understand." 

Zelda understands how important it is for people to understand what it means to live with mental illness, according to the article. And the value of everyone opening their ears and showing compassion to those struggling with such conditions. Ms. Williams hopes to find ways to offer affordable treatment for people with any form of mental illness—especially young adults.

"I’m a huge supporter of therapy, particularly for people in my age group of 25 to 30 when a lot of people think they would have had sorted through life and figured it out," says Zelda. "But therapy is still a privilege because it is so expensive for a lot of people and I wish it was more available."


Seeking Help for Mental Illness

Like Robin Williams, a significant number of people living with depression or anxiety use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. For a time, mind-altering substances may mitigate the severity of one’s symptoms; but, in the end they only make the problem worse and often result in the development of addiction. It is vital that both the addiction and the co-occurring mental health disorders be treated at the same time.

If you or a loved one has been self-medicating the symptoms of mental illness, please contact Hope by The Sea.
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