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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Parents And Teens Take Note: Long Term Marijuana Use Linked To Lower IQ

Mary Cassatt Sleepy Baby 1910
Mary Cassatt Sleepy Baby 1910 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As long as the baby is healthy...

There is no doubt that when you're expecting a baby the baby's health is your first concern. Ask an expectant parent what they hope for and invariably the response will be: "As long as the baby is healthy!" Once the baby is born healthy parents move through infant stage, the "terrible twos," childhood and then they brace for the adolescent years.

Safety becomes "job one"...

Through it all parents try to stay abreast of safety for their children. They read news reports about health alerts, they peruse recall notices for all items that may affect their children, they purchase bike helmets, they make sure their children ride in car seats, they encourage their children to be always "learning"; they offer books, music, baby Einstein DVDs, all the while trying to assist in increasing or at least not decreasing the child's intelligent quotient (IQ). After all, the brain is the center of the human nervous system and a person's brain continues to develop well into their mid-20s.  So it makes perfect sense that parents continue to "protect" their child from any danger that can impair the development of the brain and the child's ability to learn and develop their innate IQ, certainly avoiding anything that has the potential to stunt or reverse the development of the child's IQ.

Life happens...

After all is said and done, the truth is life happens. That is, things beyond a parent's control can impact their child's overall physical development (including IQ). No one plans for their child to be struck by car and suffer traumatic brain injury, no one plans for a child to be bitten by a mosquito and be diagnosed with encephalitis, no one plans that their child will eat an E. coli infected food item, no one plans that their child will find his/her way to an unsupervised pool or bathtub and ultimately be oxygen starved long enough to cause brain damage. The list of potentially life altering events goes on. Parents never really stop worrying or imagining "the worst", they just try to offer good counsel for their children from childhood through adulthood. That's what parents do!

Why counsel your adolescent about marijuana use...

For as much as parents never stop worrying or imagining "the worst", many will find themselves rationalizing the eventuality that all adolescents will try alcohol and experiment with pot. Sometimes parents give-up trying to find just the right words to strongly discourage such experimentation.

This week the results of a new study "Persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline from childhood to midlife" may provide just the right words for parents when talking to their children about using and abusing marijuana. Here is The Proceeding of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America (PNAS) Early Edition Abstract of this study:

"Recent reports show that fewer adolescents believe that regular cannabis use is harmful to health. Concomitantly, adolescents are initiating cannabis use at younger ages, and more adolescents are using cannabis on a daily basis. The purpose of the present study was to test the association between persistent cannabis use and neuropsychological decline and determine whether decline is concentrated among adolescent-onset cannabis users. Participants were members of the Dunedin Study, a prospective study of a birth cohort of 1,037 individuals followed from birth (1972/1973) to age 38 y. Cannabis use was ascertained in interviews at ages 18, 21, 26, 32, and 38 y. Neuropsychological testing was conducted at age 13 y, before initiation of cannabis use, and again at age 38 y, after a pattern of persistent cannabis use had developed. Persistent cannabis use was associated with neuropsychological decline broadly across domains of functioning, even after controlling for years of education. Informants also reported noticing more cognitive problems for persistent cannabis users. Impairment was concentrated among adolescent-onset cannabis users, with more persistent use associated with greater decline. Further, cessation of cannabis use did not fully restore neuropsychological functioning among adolescent-onset cannabis users. Findings are suggestive of a neurotoxic effect of cannabis on the adolescent brain and highlight the importance of prevention and policy efforts targeting adolescents."

While this is admittedly a scientific abstract, we invite you to read the Related Articles offered below to more easily understand the results of this 25 yearlong study and to find everyday language to discuss this study with your children. For example, according to the NBC News Report: "Those who smoked marijuana at least four times a week and used marijuana throughout their life saw their IQ drop an average of 8 points, the equivalent of going from an A to a B student. The drop was not explained by other drug use, years of education, schizophrenia or using marijuana in the day before the test."

A BBC News video interview with Professor Terrie Moffitt

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Monday, August 27, 2012

Easing Addictive Cravings With Exercise

Deutsch: Lord Byron, britischer Poet
 Lord Byron, British Poet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
"The great object in life is Sensation—to feel that we exist, even though in pain; it is this 'craving void' which drives us to gaming, to battle, to travel, to intemperate but keenly felt pursuits of every description whose principal attraction is the agitation inseparable from their accomplishment." ...George Gordon Noel Byron

Interesting quote, don't you think? The poet Lord Byron died 1824, but even today people still strive to fill the "craving void."  The basic definition of craving is to long for; want greatly, to desire eagerly.

If you suffer from any kind of addiction or habit, then you know how hard it is to "quit." This is particularly true if your habit impacts your daily life physically, socially, legally, financially, emotionally, and psychologically.

One could argue that addiction to drugs or alcohol is a much more difficult habit to quit and the cravings can seem insurmountable, because the disease of addiction really can eventually destroy your ability to earn a living, to stay out of legal difficulties, to maintain healthy relationships with your family and friends, and to continue to live a healthy life. However, the truth is any habit, from nail-biting to over-eating to caffeine drinking to smoking to shopping (the list goes on), involves the need to fill the "craving void" and interestingly people who are trying to quit one addiction will often fill the "craving void" with another habit. Hopefully the other habit is a healthy habit.

This weekend the result of a new study was reported on by Reuters and covered in the Chicago Tribune. The study article The Acute Effects of Physical Activity on Cigarette Cravings: Systemic Review and Meta-Analysis with Individual Participant Data is available online in Addiction. The conclusion: There is strong evidence that physical activity acutely reduces cigarette craving.

Over the past few years we have often written about exercise and cravings. Additionally, exercise is an important feature of our addiction treatment programs: "Our treatment program integrates a well-rounded balance of individual and group therapy sessions, 12-step meetings, social activities, exercise, a healthy diet, and rest periods. Learning these habits in everyday life is essential for people who are determined to succeed in lasting recovery after the drug and alcohol treatment is complete."

While the current study led by Adrian Taylor, a professor of exercise and health psychology at the University of Exeter in Great Britain, focuses specifically on the efficacy of exercise helping to reduce nicotine cravings, it is important to remember that nicotine dependency is a deadly addiction and according to the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC): "Each year, an estimated 443,000 people [Americans] die prematurely from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, and another 8.6 million live with a serious illness caused by smoking."

Let's remember that promoting exercise does not mean that every smoker or person addicted to drugs and/or alcohol needs to run out and join a gym. It doesn't mean one needs to buy any type of exercise equipment. It doesn't mean you have to join an exercise class. It simply means you need to get up and move regularly.
  • Take daily or twice daily walks in your neighborhood or where you work. 
  • Get up from your desk and walk through the building. 
  • If you work in retail, briskly walk around the store during your break(s). 
  • If you work at a school, walk around the campus and invite your co-workers to walk with you. 
  • If you have a bicycle, then dust it off and take a ride on a daily basis. 
  • If your home or apartment complex has a swimming pool, get in the pool everyday and swim laps or do some routine water aerobics. 
  • If you are student, ask your classmates to join you in walking, dancing, playing a sport on a daily basis.
As Reuters reports, Adrian Taylor indicates that one reason exercise helps with cravings is that it "may serve as a distraction, while being active might also boost people's mood, so that they don't feel as great a need to feel better by smoking."

Again, it is important to recognize that exercise does not need to be expensive, it just means making a time commitment to do it.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Good Samaritan Laws Prevent Overdose Deaths

English: Drug overdose
 Drug overdose (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Do you know the definition of the phrase Good Samaritan? It's a phrase we sometimes throw around in a cavalier manner, but it is basically defined as:

"A person who gratuitously gives help or sympathy to those in distress."

The Gospel according to Luke 10:30-37 is often referenced that tells the parable about a Samaritan who stops to help an injured man, without regard of their different backgrounds, the Samaritan helps simply because the man was his neighbor.  Perhaps the operative word in the definition of a Good Samaritan is "gratuitously" which means "given, done, bestowed, or obtained without charge or payment; free; voluntary."

Aiding someone in medical or physical distress is a natural reaction. If you witness an automobile accident, you stop to help or dial 911 to report the incident. If you see a person slip and fall, you naturally offer aid. If you see a lost child, you instinctively try to offer assistance. It is what we do, because we are human and we are all part of a community - we are neighbors.

So what would you do if you came upon a person who appeared to be in medical distress and you knew the distress might be caused by an overdose of drugs (either illegal or prescription drugs)? You'd seek help, right? But what if you were also an addict and perhaps were afraid of being arrested as a result of calling for help? According to the Drug Policy Alliance: "Risk of criminal prosecution or civil litigation can deter medical professionals, drug users and bystanders from aiding overdose victims. Well-crafted legislation can provide simple protections to alleviate these fears, improve emergency overdose responses, and save lives."

Hopefully if you happened upon someone who was overdosing from drugs you would be a Good Samaritan and seek help for that person. Hopefully you would do this automatically and without worrying if by doing so you might face arrest and/or prosecution. Fortunately many states have now passed what is called "911 Good Samaritan" legislation.  These states include New Mexico, Washington, Colorado, New York, Illinois, Florida, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Other states which are considering 911 Good Samaritan legislation are California, Hawaii, Nebraska, and Minnesota.

On August 20, 2012, the senate of the State of New Jersey approved the Good Samaritan Emergency Response Act. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, this act would offer "limited immunity to a drug user who seeks medical help in the case of a companion's overdose." The article goes on to say "drug overdoses is now the leading cause of accidental death in New Jersey, outpacing auto accidents, studies show. About 800 New Jerseyans and 1,700 Pennsylvanians die each year from overdoses." The bill is now moving to the Governor's desk. It awaits Governor Christie's signature or veto.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) gathers, studies and presents statistics regarding drug overdose death rates. In 2008 36,000+ deaths in the United States were the result of drug overdoses, which is 100 deaths per day! The CDC also reviews state Good Samaritan Laws.

Here is a 911 Good Samaritan Law training video used by the Seattle Police Department (the State of Washington's 911 Good Samaritan Law went into effect in June 2010):

Get involved: Remember the life saved from a 911 Good Samaritan Law could be your own, it could be the life of your spouse, your child, your friend or neighbor. It will be worth it and maybe the person saved will find hope and recovery by getting treatment for their disease of addiction.
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Monday, August 20, 2012

Baby Boomers Abuse Of Illicit Drugs Doubled From 2002 to 2010

NIH logo
NIH logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
America's baby boomers are often in the news. World War II ended in 1945. The troops returned home after very long deployments. Many married and most had babies. In fact, it was not unusual for couples to have a number of children over a very few years. If you try to determine how many baby boomers make up our population the reported numbers vary. Some estimate that 75 million people were born in the Baby Boom years between 1946 and 1964. Pew Research states that "the 79-million-member Baby Boomer generation accounts for 26% of the total U.S. population." If the current US population is around 330,000,000, then using Pew Research's numbers there are 85 million baby boomers (it is important to remember that not all of the current baby boomer population were born in the United States).

Over 10 million baby boomers reached college age in the mid to late 60s. Many were drafted or volunteered for the military and served in Vietnam, others entered college and found a new freedom, many experimented with drugs, the birth control pill offered a different type of freedom. It was not unusual for baby boomers to act in a cavalier manner and almost invincible.

Now it is 2012. Baby boomers are being cautioned to HIV and HEP C tests to their annual physicals. And many baby boomers are once again struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction. According to a report issued on June 6, 2012, by the National Institutes of Health:

"Data from national surveys reveal a disturbing trend for 50- to 59-year-olds: the number of those reporting past-month abuse of illicit drugs — including the nonmedical use of prescription drugs — more than doubled from 2002 to 2010, going from 907,000 to 2,375,000, or from 2.7 to 5.8 percent in this population. Among those 65 and older, 414,000 used illicit drugs in 2010."

The baby boomers are aging, many are now enrolled in Medicare. Many are drawing their Social Security benefits. But also many are going through divorces, or losing their jobs, facing the death of a spouse and they are aging. They metabolize drugs differently than when they were in their 20s and 30s, so returning to hard drugs can be dangerous and deadly.
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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Bipolar II Manic Depression Trending Topics In The News

Did you ever notice that news topics trend when well known people are suspected of or diagnosed with a disease?  Often the average person wonders why the topic only takes on importance when a famous or infamous person is part of the story. The easy answer to this question is that it is a simple fact that "headlines" grab readers. If a headline talks about news regarding bipolar disease and manic depression, then how likely is it that the average reader will click on this story if the headline doesn't include the name of a famous person? Probably not likely, because first and foremost, we are human and it is the humanity of the story that makes us want to read the story. It is a natural rule of engagement. We want to learn from other people's experiences both positive and negative. The story of a real person helps us relate to the story and in the end vicariously we learn from the real person's experience.

Previously we have written about depression focusing on addiction, alcoholism and post traumatic stress disorder. Many of these articles have dealt with well known people, celebrities, political figures, as well as our fellow citizens. Each of these articles hopefully initiate a conversation among family members and those who are suffering from depression, bipolar, manic depression singularly or as co-occurring (dual diagnosis) with alcoholism and drug addiction.

Of late, if you read newspapers, on-line newspapers, blogs, twitter feeds and Facebook updates, then you know that Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. has recently been formally diagnosed as suffering from bipolar II and is being treated for manic depression. It is no doubt that Congressman Jackson's name in the headlines starts the engagement, but it is the discussion that follows that assists the average person engaging with their friends and family to seek treatment for suspected bipolar disease. And that is the good news.

To assist you in better understanding bipolar/manic depression, the differences between bipolar I and bipolar II, causes and treatments, we are bringing you a video news report from NECN.com (New England Cable News). Here you can learn more about this subject from Dr. Mallika Marshall.

If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it here.

Take a few minutes, view the video and read the related articles. It might help you or a loved one become in engaged in recovery
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Monday, August 13, 2012

Alcohol Effects Human Brain Differently For Men and Women

Cingulum. Association fiber around corpus call...
Cingulum. Association fiber around corpus callosum in brain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Researchers and authors often look for differences between men and women. It is natural to wonder about how little boys and girls, adolescent boys and girls, young men and women and senior citizens react to events, education, upbringing, environment, food, etc. Twenty years ago John Gray published his book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.  At the time, seven million copies of the book were sold. If you are old enough to remember this phenomenon, then you will remember that John Gray was often on talk shows, news shows, and often both men and women would use the book's title to quickly put an end to a heated discussion. One of Gray's major points was/is that men and women react differently to stress.

But today's post really isn't about Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, but about the fact that scientists and researchers continue to study how men and women's bodies, and specifically certain organs, respond to outside influences. This past week the results of a new study's findings were released which demonstrates that alcoholism affects men and women's brains differently. Here are some details about the study:
  • This research was conducted by scientists from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System.
  • The lead researchers were Susan Mosher Ruiz, Ph.D. and Marlene Oscar Berman, Ph.D.
  • The researchers used structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study the gender specific effects of drinking on brain white matter (white matter is what forms the connections between neurons, which in turn allows for communication between the different parts or sections of the brain).
  • The researchers compared the MRIs of 42 abstinent alcoholic men and women (who had a history of heavy drinking in excess of five years) to 42 nonalcoholic men and women. 
According to PsychCentral, the study reports:
  1.  A greater number of years of alcohol abuse was associated with smaller white matter volumes in the alcoholic men and women.
  2. In the men, the decrease was observed in the corpus callosum, while in women this effect was observed in cortical white matter regions.
  3. The number of daily drinks had a strong impact on alcoholic women, with the volume loss 1.5 to 2 percent for each additional drink.
  4. In men, white matter brain volume in the corpus callosum recovered at a rate of 1 percent per year for each year of abstinence. For people who abstained less than a year, the researchers found evidence of increased white matter volume and decreased ventricular volume in women, but not in men. However, for people in recovery for more than a year, those signs of recovery disappeared in women and became apparent in men.
This research will undoubtedly lead to more research. The more we can understand the effects of alcohol and alcoholism on the brain and other organs, the better treatment will be for those seeking treatment and recovery.
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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Is Gaming An Addiction?

English: Arcade Video Game
English: Arcade Video Game (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
How would you define the word "gaming"? Would it surprise you to know that the first (primary) definition of the word "gaming" is "gambling"?  Gaming is not a new word; in fact the Merriam-Webster dictionary says the first known use of the word "gaming" was in 1501!

Today's post is not really about gambling, but about what is now referred to by some health experts as "gaming addiction." Gaming addiction is defined as an extreme use of computer and video games that interferes with daily life; however, in the United States we do not have a formal diagnosis of gaming addiction and it is currently not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

A definition and diagnosis in the United States aside, South Korea has the distinction of leading the world in identifying and treating gaming and internet addiction. The South Korean government conducted a study in 2010 and determined that about 8% of their country's population between the ages of 9 and 39 suffer from internet and gaming addiction. 

CNN has produced a series called "Gaming Reality" and as part of their in-depth study they interviewed Dr. Han Doug-hyun who listed the top five warning signs of internet or gaming addiction:
  1. Disrupted regular life pattern. If a person plays games all night long and sleeps in the daytime, that can be a warning he or she should seek professional help.
  2. If the potential gaming or Internet addict loses his or her job, or stops going to school in order to be online or to play a digital game.
  3. Need for a bigger fix. Does the gamer have to play for longer and longer periods in order to get the same level of enjoyment from the game?
  4. Withdrawal. Some Internet and gaming addicts become irritable or anxious when they disconnect, or when they are forced to do so.
  5. Cravings. Some Internet and gaming addicts experience cravings, or the need to play the game or be online when they are away from the digital world.
Here is a CNN video that discusses in detail gaming addiction:

If you are having trouble viewing the video, then you can see it here.

Your thoughts? Do you know people who exhibit signs of gaming addiction?
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Monday, August 6, 2012

Texas Rolls Out Online Prescription Monitoring Database

English: Seal of Texas
English: Seal of Texas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Individual states are working diligently to create a system to track and monitor prescriptions in order to reduce the number of deaths and accidental overdoses from prescription drug abuse. Additionally, states are trying to crackdown on individuals who not only "doctor shop" to obtain the prescriptions, but also illegally sell the pills to addicts.

The State of Texas is in the process of continuing the launch of their monitoring program which is called Prescription Access in Texas (PAT).  In August 2011 Texas introduced a pilot version of PAT. And in June 2012, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) officially launched PAT and made it available to select group of practitioners, pharmacists and law enforcement professionals. Now this past week DPS extended the program access to additional physicians, more law enforcement personnel, mid-level practitioners, medical board and nursing board investigators.

The NBC affiliate KETK quotes the DPS Director Steven McCraw:
“Prescription drug abuse is a serious problem, and the new online prescription drug monitoring program will help the state of Texas combat this issue. It is essential that doctors and pharmacists have quick access to the information they need to identify potential prescription drug abusers and traffickers before they fraudulently receive the drugs. Law enforcement access to this information is also crucial to investigating those individuals or organizations engaged in the trafficking of prescription drugs. This new tool will allow a proactive approach to prevention, assist with criminal investigations, provide historical reporting and identify trends.”

The Texas legislature has been proactive in monitoring prescription drug abuse.  In 1982 Texas introduced a manual paper process to investigate and prevent abuse. It was called the Texas Prescription Program. With the design and roll out of PAT the secure system is now online, available 24/7 and offers instant information.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Alcohol In The Womb Linked To Mental Abnormalities

English: Baby with the FAS-syndrome. Deutsch: ...
Baby with the FAS-syndrome.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Fetal alcohol syndrome is diagnosed when three distinct abnormalities are identified:
  • Abnormal facial features
  • Abnormal physical growth 
  • Central nervous system indicators that affect learning, behavior, language or mental function
A new mother may easily be able to recognize abnormal facial features and low weight and short stature in their infant, even through toddler years; however, it can take a couple of years to zero in on language problems (learning to talk), learning disabilities, or behavior abnormalities. And this assumes that both the mother and child are regularly being seen by a family practitioner or pediatrician.

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is preventable. Don't drink when you're pregnant! Warning labels are found on all alcoholic drinks, restaurants post warning signs, and retailer/wholesalers also post warning signs about the dangers of consuming alcoholic beverages if you are pregnant.

This past week a new study was posted online and it will appear in the October 2012 issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. The study's corresponding author is Dr. Devon Kuehn, a postdoctoral fellow at the U.S. National Institute for Child Health and Human Development. 

Dr. Kuehn and her colleagues studied children born to 101 Chilean women who drank at least four alcoholic drinks each day of their pregnancy. These children were followed for 8 years post birth. Near 80% of these children presented with one or more abnormality associated with alcohol exposure. The most common being those abnormalities associated with the central nervous system: mental function, learning, and behavior issues. When a child does not have all three abnormalities: facial features, growth issues and central nervous system issues, then they are diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

HealthDay reports that in a news release Dr. Edward Riley, a professor at the College of Sciences at San Diego State University stated: "It is critical to note that while physical characteristics associated with [fetal alcohol syndrome] were not all that common, over 40 percent of the exposed children had evidence of functional abnormalities."

Also, important is that this study found an association between heavy drinking by mother and a child's development; however, it did not prove a cause and effect relationship.
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