RU Texas The Beat

Is the Substance Abuse Gender Gap Narrowing?

[fa icon="calendar'] Mar 2, 2017 2:01:48 PM / by RU Texas posted in Recovery, Treatment, Alcoholism, Gender, Women

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As long as such factors have been clinically evaluated, men have generally been at a higher risk for substance abuse and chemical dependency than women. While women face their own gender-specific issues that can lead to drug and alcohol abuse, the numbers have always been higher among the male population. New data suggests that this established phenomenon might be on the verge of being upended. A recent Australian study endeavored to reevaluate the current epidemiology of alcoholism and found that it may be changing from just a few decades ago, affecting more and more women in the process. At particular risk are women born in the late 1900’s.

Researchers analyzed 68 alcohol-use studies, the oldest of which dated back to the mid-1900s. The studied included male and female participants across three distinct age groups. After thorough analysis, they found a marked decline over time in the sex ratio of all three age groups. The widest gap was among the oldest age group with man being 2.2 times more likely to develop an alcohol addiction than women. By the time they got to the young-adult group, that figure was cut in half. The findings represent a definitive cultural shift in American alcohol consumption. Researchers assert that the findings mandate closer tracking of both and female drinkers as they enter their 30s and 40s.

This is not, however, the first study to mark this change. Data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's Survey on Drug Use and Mental Health illustrates a ten-year narrowing from 2002-2012. One of the things to consider in this collective increase is the relative size of women compared to men and their increased susceptibility to the effects of alcohol by virtue of their mere physiology. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that women who engage in long-term alcohol consumption are more likely than men who drink to develop breast cancer, alcoholic hepatitis and certain heart problems.

While it should come as little surprise that women are increasing their alcohol consumption amid the dissipation of antiquated gender norms, identifying this shifting pattern can be helpful in tailoring treatment to a gender-specific model. The fact is that gender, itself, can play a key role in the means by which a person develops substance abuse. Whether it’s the simple pressure of living up to cultural expectations, the increased likelihood of women over men in experiencing domestic violence or other forms of assault, or a variety of other factors, these issues can be key to the further refinement and customization of treatment programs.

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UT Austin-Led Coalition Seeks Better Pharmaceutical Treatment for Alcoholism

[fa icon="calendar'] Feb 6, 2017 11:16:09 AM / by RU Texas posted in Recovery, Treatment, Alcoholism, University of Texas, Research

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Are there better clinical ways to treat alcohol addiction? The National Institutes of Health seem to think so and they’re giving nearly $30 million to an organization led by the University of Texas at Austin to prove it. The University itself will receive $8.5 million dollars to explore better pharmaceutical treatments of alcohol use disorder (AUD). The rest of the funds will be dispersed through other areas of what has been dubbed the Integrative Neuroscience Initiative on Alcoholism-Neuroimmune consortium. This will be one of the most comprehensive research efforts in recent history regarding the treatment of alcohol abuse and addiction.

The consortium’s mission spans many areas of alcoholism research, not the least significant of which includes mapping the differences in gene expression between alcoholics and non-alcoholics’ brains. In 2014, Adron Harris, a neuroscience professor at UT Austin who also directs the Waggoner Center for Alcoholism and Addiction Research found that, as a person becomes dependent on alcohol, thousands of genes in their brains are turned up or down, like a dimmer switch on a lightbulb, compared with the same genes in a healthy person's brain. He and fellow scientists are now working to find drugs that can essentially reset the alcoholic brain to its original settings and turn it back to a non-alcoholic brain.

The consortium has actually been active since 2001, but moved its administrative core to the University of Texas’ Austin campus. The boost in funding is part of an overall effort from the National Institutes of Health to combat what has become one of the most pervasive addiction threats in the United States. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence estimates that over 17.6 million people suffer from alcohol use disorder. While opioid and marijuana addiction are the two most dominant drug threats, alcohol continues to be the most dominant addiction issue, overall.

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Can Ketamine Be Used to Cure Alcohol Addiction?

[fa icon="calendar'] Jan 30, 2017 8:00:26 PM / by RU Texas posted in Recovery, Addiction Treatment, Alcoholism, Ketamine

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It’s been demonstrably effective in the treatment of depression; but can the tranquilizer ketamine be effective in the treatment alcohol addiction? Researchers at University College London believe so and are moving forward in an effort to prove it. Project leader Ravi Das and fellow researchers are working to determine whether or not ketamine can rewrite memories in order to reduce cravings and diminish the chance of relapse. Ketamine blocks a receptor in the brain that is instrumental in the formation of memories. Das and his colleagues are testing ketamine’s applicability in the treatment alcohol use disorder (AUD) by creating memories and then blocking them.

The point of the exercise is to rewrite memories that are tied to alcohol consumption and then block them. The University College London study will feature about 90 participants who are heavy drinkers. Researchers will trigger an alcohol memory by placing a beer in front of participants and then surprising them in order to interrupt the memory. Participants will then be given either a high dose of ketamine or a placebo, and monitored for a year to see if there are any changes in drinking patterns. Above all, they are hoping this technique can help mitigate relapse for alcoholism, which some studies indicate are as high as 90 percent.

Despite a sound basis for further investigation, Das and company are expecting pushback from detractors of ketamine due to its long-standing reputation as a recreational drug. Although medication-assisted treatment is gaining more and more ground in the recovery communities, ketamine is still a controversial and, for many facilities, a non-starter. Research into memory-based addiction treatment has also made its way across the pond to the University of South Carolina, where researchers are looking into it for tobacco smokers. Clinical uses for ketamine include the treatment chronic pain, anesthesia, sedation in intensive care and memory loss.

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A Family Thing: Talking with Unlikely Songwriter Patricia Bronson

[fa icon="calendar'] Dec 15, 2016 12:47:31 PM / by RU Texas posted in Recovery, Treatment, Alcoholism, Heroin Addiction, Music

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For the entirety of our Artists in Recovery Series, Recovery Unplugged has been focusing on how musicians use music to help cultivate and sustain their recovery. Our latest installment flips the script and discusses how the love of family can be expressed through music to help addicts bounce back and overcome drugs and alcohol. Recovery Unplugged recently had the honor of speaking with one mother who realized just how valuable music can be as a source of healing and empowerment. This is a woman who is determined to take control of her own story, and we were happy to help her tell it.

There are mothers and then there is Patricia Bronson. Patricia is from Pelham, New Hampshire and her daughter is one of thousands of addicts in a state that has been essentially decimated by heroin and prescription opioid abuse. She developed an alcohol problem in college; but like many parents, Patricia didn’t recognize her daughter’s drinking problem until it was too late: “I just kind of wrote it off as a typical teenager going off to college. But it had become more excessive and it came to the point where she was really making bad decisions and hurting herself.” Eventually Patricia guided her daughter into a treatment facility in Florida, where she remained for about nine months.

Unfortunately, however, the story doesn’t end there. After a stint at another rehab in Maine and a subsequent year in a half of sobriety, Patricia’s daughter soon found herself battling heroin addiction: “She called me one Sunday and said ‘I need to check myself into rehab.’ I said ‘You’re drinking again?’ and that’s when she actually told me ‘No, I’m doing heroin.’ We had tried to convince her to go back to Florida, but she didn’t want to go.” It took her daughter three days to find help, a problem that many vulnerable New Hampshire residents face, despite a glaring need for increased treatment resources throughout the state. On the last day, with assistance from her mother, she found a facility in Massachusetts. She completed a day-program and has been sober ever since.

As the mother of an addict, Patricia has done everything she possibly can to make sure her daughter gets the help, love and support she needs, including penning a song for her when she reached an important milestone: “The first one was for her one year of sobriety [from alcohol],” says Bronson. “What we did as a family is we took verses and turned then into a hip-hop song.” After finalizing the lyrics, Patricia collaborated with a production company in Pennsylvania to bring the piece to life. The partnership has continued through three other works. She and the rest of her family presented the song to her daughter at a meeting.

Patricia wrote the first song so that her daughter could have a constant reminder of the support in her life when she felt vulnerable: “It was for her to continuously listen to when the days got tough.” Her writing credits don’t end there. As an active member of the Pelham Community Coalition, an organization dedicated to educating and empowering the Pelham community about substance abuse to prevent overdose, Pat put her frustration with her town’s lack of action toward this crisis to music. “The town, itself, is still in denial that they have a problem. It’s very hard to get people to talk about it because [they think] it’s never going to happen to them.”

For her own part, Patricia has no plans to stop writing songs to chronicle important events in her life: “I could get hit by a bus tomorrow and these songs are always going to be there.”

In a subsequent conversation, Patricia informed me that there have been multiple overdoses in Pelham since the interview, leaving two dead.

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A Victim of Geography: Where Is Texas’ Drug Supply Coming From?

[fa icon="calendar'] Nov 25, 2016 9:21:17 AM / by RU Texas posted in Drug Abuse, Treatment, Alcoholism, Texas, Drug Prevention

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As Texas continues to reel from rampant alcohol and drug addiction, and as more and more residents succumb to overdose and other substance abuse-related causes of death, the state’s elected officials, law enforcement officers and prevention advocates are left with an increasing number of questions. Perhaps the most direct and profound of these questions is: “How is this happening?” State DEA agents seem to have their finger on the pulse of the conditions that create and sustain drug abuse within Texas’ borders; however, the problem is more complex and multilayered than many may realize, including where the drugs are coming from and how they’re getting into the hands of distributors and users.

Texas’ drug supply emanates from a variety of foreign and domestic sources. Its newest, and arguably most pervasive drug of choice (prescription opioids) can be found right in residents’ medicine cabinets and in physicians’ offices. There are, however, many other substances that threaten the health and safety of residents on a daily basis, and they’re coming in from practically every which way. Marijuana and alcohol continue to be the most commonly abused substances in Texas; however, two of the most deadly drug threats are unquestionably heroin and methamphetamine:

Heroin – Although United States heroin deaths have skyrocketed over the past decade, the problem doesn’t start within our borders. Most of the heroin that ends up in the United States comes over the border from Mexico, according to the DEA’s 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary. In 2010, the National Office of Drug Control reported that 80 percent of the United States’ heroin supply came from Afghanistan. This represents a significant shift, and puts the lone star state right in the crossfire of trafficking. Texas’ close proximity to Mexico has made it a primary hub for domestic distribution, and a target of the crime and addiction that accompanies that distinction.

Methamphetamine – A 2015 report from the University of Texas put methamphetamine second on the list of the state’s drug threats. Last year, meth use was at record highs throughout the state. Much like heroin, the problem is being fueled by Mexican and Central American cartels; however, Texas also has its fair share of makeshift labs where the drug is cooked for domestic distribution. Deaths from methamphetamine eclipsed 400 for the first time ever in 2014.

A better and more detailed understanding of where these drugs are coming from and how they are being manufactured can empower all stakeholders to address the problem and develop proactive and realistic measures for success. Education regarding the multi-faceted nature of Texas’ substance abuse problem is a valuable tool in the arsenal of prevention.

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Alcoholism in Texas by the Numbers

[fa icon="calendar'] Nov 23, 2016 9:31:14 AM / by RU Texas posted in Recovery, Alcohol Treatment, Alcoholism, Alcohol Addiction, Drunk-Driving

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There’s no question about it: Texas likes to drink, and they sit right alongside the rest of the country in that preference. Despite increasing shifting media and political attention to opioids in the heroin in the wake of thousands of deaths per year, alcohol continues to be the most dominant addiction threat in the country. Each year, nearly 88,000 Americans dies from alcohol-related causes. In 2014, there were nearly 10,000 alcohol-related driving deaths, accounting for 31 percent of overall motor vehicle fatalities nationwide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 19,388 deaths from alcoholic liver disease and 30,722 deaths from alcohol-related health issues, excluding accidents and homicides, in 2015.

Through its ongoing battle with statewide alcohol abuse, Texas has lost many residents, suffered needless yet crushing financial burden, and has seen the deterioration of families and communities. The following figures alcohol’s impact on the state last year alone:

  • Drunk driving fatalities (.08 BAC or higher): 1323 representing 0.38% of all total traffic deaths, an 8.5% decrease from last year.
  • Alcohol related crash injuries (.01 BAC or higher): 15,687
  • Alcohol related crashes (.01 BAC or higher): 25,479
  • DUI arrests: 64,971
  • DUI convictions: 71,030
  • Taxpayer subsidy of drunk driving fatalities: $6.2 billion

Though the state has many strict laws for DUI offenders, legal enforcement is only half of the formula for successful prevention. Community involvement, ancillary education programs and general awareness can go a long way in curbing the problem in our own personal lives as well as in the broader world around us. The victim-count of alcohol-related deaths includes our friends, family, neighbors and colleagues and goes way beyond one person drinking themselves into sickness. Thus, it is incumbent upon all of us, in Texas and the United States, to combat alcohol abuse whenever we see it threaten our family, relationships or communities.

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Every Which Way: A Conversation with Montana Songwriter Neil “Filo” Beddow

[fa icon="calendar'] Nov 21, 2016 4:20:56 PM / by RU Texas posted in Recovery, Music Therapy, Addiction, Alcoholism, Music

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When we enter a rehab facility, for any reason, we often do so with the singular mission of either admitting ourselves or a loved one to the facility, or asking questions about the quality of the program. In other words, we’re not often concerned with what music is playing through the speakers. After decades in the recovery community himself, Bozeman, Montana-based songwriter Neil “Filo” Beddow is very much concerned with the music to which patients are exposed during treatment. Recovery Unplugged recently caught up with Beddow to discuss his recovery, his music and how the two have affected each other from the start.

Beddow began the conversation by discussing his mission to change the soundtrack of addiction treatment, one facility at a time: “Most places, when you walk in, they have sort of canned music or the radio playing, or whatever, and I thought ‘Well, why not have some music that pertains to what you’re there for?’” A guitar-and-lyric man whose songs are as direct and targeted as they are catchy, Beddow has been trying to develop a recovery-focused songwriting collective and cut a record to distribute to drug and alcohol treatment providers. Though it’s been slow going, he remains hopeful the project will fully materialize and has an arsenal of relevant songs to feed it.

Although music was a big part of his life before, during and after the recovery process, Beddow had only started performing live at the age of 50, showcasing his original material, much of which he credits to his experiences during recovery: “The material I was writing was mostly about recovery and the people I had met. I think it was because I was cleaned up that I was able to put together the music that I have. It’s kept me on the planet.” While Beddow admits to using a wide variety of substances, including marijuana and speed, alcohol has proven to be the enduring menace in his life.

It was ultimately Beddow’s family that urged him to get help: “My wife told me one day that if I couldn’t do something about my drinking, I’d have to find another place to live; I was drunk the next night. My son, who was six at the time, overheard me talking to someone from AA about my drinking. I went to tuck him and he was crying and said ‘Daddy, I don’t want you to die.’ I started crying with him. He went to sleep and [again] I was drunk the next night.” It occurred to Beddow that if he couldn’t stop drinking for the two most important people in his life, that the journey to recovery would be a lot harder than he thought. He described the mental obsession and the moment when he first realized he had more of a problem than he initially realized.

Though he has recently suffered some setbacks with alcohol, Beddow had 20 years of consistent recovery prior to his slip last spring. He is once again aggressively working his recovery program; attending AA meetings, continuing his involvement in the local recovery community and using music more than ever to help him through the process. He is not the first to suffer a setback after an extended period of abstinence, nor will he be the last. “It’s a bitch, man,” says a candid Beddow of drug and alcohol addiction. “It’s cunning, baffling and powerful just like it’s laid out in the [Alcoholics Anonymous] book.”

Beddow’s songs are comprised of hard-hitting and introspective lyrics set primarily to acoustic chord progressions that are sometimes driving and authoritative, and sometimes light, airy and dynamic. He describes his guitar style as West Dakota Stutter. His prose is often tongue-and-cheek, but always manages to clearly convey his intended messages. While recovery is the dominant theme within his canon, he manages to include other message-driven pieces in there as well, including his nod to strong and influential female historical figures called “Benazir Bhutto”. He also covers a variety of artists that are a reflection of his musical tastes, including Ry Cooder, David Bromberg, Lucinda Williams, John Prine & Bob Dylan and a host of others.

After an exhaustive search for collaborators, Beddow has settled on releasing his latest record as a solo effort. He’s working on retooling and polishing up some of his current material, most of which is years old. He maintains an active live calendar and remains a fixture of the vibrant and bustling Bozeman arts community. For a while, he even served on the board of the local arts collective S.L.A.M. (Support Local Artists and Musicians). While he is no longer a board member, he still volunteers and performs at events. He plans on sticking around the Bozeman area to spread his message of recovery, unless other forces direct him elsewhere.

Regarding the impact of music on his recovery process, Beddow had the following to say: “Music has kept me on the planet. For me to come up with a song from beginning to end…I mean…they just fell out of the sky and landed in my lap. It’s amazing what you can come up with and its even more when you’re able to get someone to collaborate with you.” He closes by asserting that he didn’t write the songs, he made them up.

Beddow promised to let RU know when his record was finished.

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US Prisons Using Vivitrol to Curb Post-Release Opioid Addiction among Inmates

[fa icon="calendar'] Nov 14, 2016 9:24:51 PM / by RU Texas posted in Recovery, Vivitrol, Opioid Addiction, Treatment, Alcoholism, Medication-Assisted Treatment

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Addiction and incarceration have been closely linked for decades. One of the primary critics of this country’s current drug laws is that they disproportionately punish non-violent offenders, needlessly crowding the prison system and tearing families apart. Looking at the current incarceration rates in US prisons, it’s hard to disagree with this assessment. It’s also true that prisons, themselves, can be incubators for addiction. Most recently there was a controversy regarding the smuggling and abuse of Suboxone in American prisons, proving once again that even anti-opioid drugs can be diverted and abused. A pilot program that provides Vivitrol injections to addicted inmates may offer medication-assisted treatment with diminished opportunity for diversion.

Vivitrol shots last for four week and are used to block the effects of opioid medication, including pain relief or feelings of well-being that can lead to opioid abuse. Vivitrol is used as part of a treatment program for drug or alcohol dependence. There have been remarkably encouraging signs regarding the medication’s efficacy in relapse prevention, with some studies claiming that it cuts relapse by nearly half. Opponents of the pilot program have many concerns, including its price tag. Vivitrol shots are $1,000 per injection, however proponents say Vivitrol could save money compared with the cost of locking up a drug offender.

Vivitrol’s slow-acting formula and infrequent dosages make it a viable alternative to other, more easily abused drugs like buprenorphine and methadone. The drug won approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2006 for the treatment of alcoholism and in 2010 for relapse prevention in opioid addiction patients. Vivitrol is not meant to replace proven and established elements of treatment like detox or counseling; but rather occur as part of patients’ ongoing post-treatment recovery. Eligibility is determined by patients’ physicians and treatment professionals.

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Population of Addicted Homeless Rises Dramatically in Austin

[fa icon="calendar'] Nov 1, 2016 2:48:28 PM / by RU Texas posted in Recovery, Drug Abuse, Treatment, Alcoholism, Homelessness

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If you live in the Austin area and have noticed a dramatic increase in the region’s homeless population, you’re not imagining things. A recent survey conducted by Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO) revels a 17 percent increase of homelessness in the past year. Part of this influx is attributable to the homeless-friendly climate found in Austin and nearby areas, where the economically disadvantaged can get a hot meal and find agreeable weather much easier than in other areas of the United States. Some shelters are serving lunch to an average of 300 homeless  per day, many of whom are hoping to get a fresh start in Austin and get back on their feet.

Unfortunately, however, there is a prodigious and increasing culture of addiction throughout the city’s steadily rising homeless contingent. The same ECHO report that showed the overall increase also showed that 60 percent of Austin’s homeless have reported a drug or alcohol problem and approximately 80 percent were unemployed. A decidedly progressive town, homeless addicts are liable to find more compassion and treatment options in Austin than many other areas of Texas or the rest of the country. Addiction and homelessness have always been closely linked, with nearly 40 percent of American homeless abusing alcohol while just over a quarter reportedly abuse drugs.

Recovery Unplugged Texas is mindful of the relationship between addiction and economic hardship, and we have established our facility in Austin to help our patients begin the journey of fighting back against addiction and reclaiming their lives. You don’t have to lose everything just because you’ve fallen victim to drug or alcohol dependency. It’s important to realize that help is out there, and it’s closer than you think. If you are looking for quality addiction treatment in the Austin area, we are standing by to offer, effective, music-based care. Don’t let addiction destroy your health and your quality of life.

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A SAFE and Happy Halloween: Alcohol and Halloween’s Burgeoning Relationship

[fa icon="calendar'] Oct 31, 2016 7:58:25 AM / by RU Texas posted in Recovery, Alcoholism, alcohol abuse, Rehab, Halloween

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This year Americans will have spent approximately $8.5 billion on Halloween. Translation: it’s not just a kids’ holiday anymore. While many of us still celebrate the occasion by taking our children or nieces and nephews trick-or-treating, or sitting at home and watching scary movies, Halloween has become an increasingly social (and increasingly adult) affair. As yesterday’s children become today’s adults, many keep the spirit of Halloween alive and well, and take their love of the holiday to new and more mature heights. This past weekend, many of us took part in Halloween celebrations that had little or nothing to do with children. There were parties, club outings and all other manner of grown-up events where the costumes were elaborate…and the alcohol was flowing.

Why do we mention this? Because certain lesser-controlled social situations in which alcohol is present can be problematic for those who are still vulnerable to relapse; and every year, adult Halloween parties fit this description more and more. There are an increasing amount of Halloween-themed cocktails to back up this assertion. We may not think that an occasion as seemingly benign as Halloween can conjure any ghosts beyond the costumed variety; but recovery has taught us that any encounter with alcohol for which we aren’t ready can bring us face to face with the ghosts of our alcoholic pasts, and this can be dangerous no matter what day of the year it is.

Most of us have the strength and durability of our recovery tested every day, and some of us are closer to a setback than others. If at any point this weekend, we felt ourselves to be particularly vulnerable to relapse, we can use this as an opportunity to work the steps of our aftercare plans and get in touch with our therapists and treatment professionals. This rule of thumb applies to every day of the year, including October 31st. In an age where Halloween has come to mean jellybeans and Jell-O shots in equal measure, we can’t be too careful and must always keep our recovery first…even when we think we’ve got it under control. Recovery Unplugged wishes everyone a safe, fun and happy Halloween.

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