Day two of the Foundations Recovery Network’s Freedom & Recovery conference in San Diego kicked off with a tag-team talk by Dr. Mel Pohl, FASAM, medical director of Las Vegas Recovery Center (LVRC), and Claudia Black, Ph.D., senior clinical and family services advisor for the same rehab. Pohl and Black spoke on the interplay between trauma and chronic pain, both of which feed into one another to create debilitating addictions—not to mention more pain. Trauma sufferers drink or use drugs to relieve emotional and physical pain, which works for a while; but then—due to a quirk of how opioids act on the brain, as well as to the biological need for a functioning pain response—the pain comes back stronger than before, requiring more booze or higher doses of meds to suppress it, kicking off a vicious cycle.
It’s worst for those who have been through a particularly harrowing experience, such as war or sex abuse (especially during childhood): “The greater the trauma experience, the more synergistic the relationship between trauma and pain,” Black said. She added that greater trauma leads to a greater likelihood of addiction. Unfortunately, many medical doctors—influenced by the “pharmaceutical-industrial complex,” as Pohl put it—are too quick to write prescriptions, often for opioids, which can cause more problems than they relieve. As a particularly jarring PowerPoint slide illustrated, from 1999 to 2010, rising painkiller sales have corresponded with remarkably similar, steadily increasing rates of overdose and treatment admission. It’s for this and other reasons that LVRC uses the term “pain recovery.” “I got tired of calling it ‘pain management,’ said Pohl. “And I don’t like using the term ‘painkillers’—we’re not going to ‘kill’ the pain.”
Hand sanitizer apparently tastes like "vodka and bugspray," which hardly seems like an alluring cocktail. But it is the poison-of-choice for a growing number of teens. Most recently, six LA teens drank enough hand sanitizer to land themselves in the hospital, leaving officials worried that the drink is becoming trendy again. Using instructions easily found on the web—there's even a handy e-how!—teens are distilling liquid hand sanitizer with salt and cheese cloths to make cheap, accessible 120-proof hard liquor. "It is kind of scary that they go to that extent to get a shot of essentially hard liquor," says Cyrus Rangan, director of the toxicology bureau for the county public health department. Just a few shots of the concoction can land a person in the emergency room. Worse, some sanitizers are made with isopropyl alcohol, which can be fatal if consumed. The trend causes flashbacks for experts like Helen Arbogast, injury prevention coordinator in the trauma program at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, who has seen teens put away mouthwash, vanilla extract and, most famously, cough syrup (see: purple drank) to get drunk. “Cough syrup had reached a very sexy point where young people were using it... We want to be sure this doesn't take on the same trend,” she says. She advises parents to buy foaming hand sanitizer instead of the gel ones because foam is much harder to distill.
Actor Joe Pantoliano, best known for his roles as Ralph Ciafretto in The Sopranos and Guido the Killer Pimp in Risky Business, is opening up about his addiction-filled past. His new memoir, Asylum: Hollywood Tales From My Great Depression: Mental Dis-Ease, Recovery and Being My Mother's Son, reveals his addictions to alcohol, prescription drugs, food and sex, as well as his "self-medication" behaviors he dubs the "Seven Deadly Symptoms": food, vanity, shopping and shoplifting, success, sex, alcohol and prescription drugs. "I became an alcoholic, an addict, a compulsive shopper, a kleptomaniac. And a maniac!" writes the 60-year-old actor. The memoir also talks about his difficult upbringing in a New Jersey household with gambling addictions, alcoholism and ties to organized crime. "The whole point of this is to use myself as an example in giving other people permission to be open and honest about their past," says Pantoliano. These days, Pantoliano has three children with his third wife and is almost entirely sober, save for taking 10 milligrams of an antidepressant and 10 milligrams of a statin for cholesterol. And while he's unable to live off his time on The Sopranos—"I get a $14 check every few months"—Pantoliano is set to star in a New York play with Mario Cantone, Moolah, about two con men who fall out of favor with the mob.
Sometimes rehab isn't a good thing. The United Nations is urging Thailand to end its program of mandatory drug rehabilitation for addicts, instead encouraging their own participation and community involvement in the recovery process. A recent UN report says that Thailand has forced drug rehabilitation on 65% of the 400,000 addicts in the country, while only 25% have undergone treatment voluntarily and 13% have taken it up. The UN has also condemned similar mandatory rehab programs in other southeast Asian countries like Vietnam, calling them "counterproductive" and claiming they violate the rights of drug users in some cases. A 2011 NGO Human Rights Watch report revealed how residents of some forced treatment centers are required to undertake hazardous and unpaid labor in agricultural production, garment making or construction and receive physical abuse if they do not comply. Earlier this month, 96 addicts escaped a compulsory drug rehab center in Vietnam, nearly half of the total residents being treated there.
British comedian and actor Russel Brand urged politicians to regard addiction as a health issue rather than a criminal matter, while speaking before Members of Parliament in a committee on UK drug policy. A recovering drug addict, 36-year-old Brand said it would be "a brilliant idea" if the money spent "nicking people for possession" could be instead channeled to treatment and recovery programs. Now sober for nine years, he appeared alongside the head of Focus 12, the detox center that helped him through his recovery. In his 2007 autobiography, My Bookie Wook: A Memoir of Sex, Drugs and Stand-Up, Brand related how his own descent into drug and alcohol addiction wreaked havoc on his life. He told the committee he became addicted to drugs because of a mental and psychological condition and a "spiritual malady," adding that it's more effective to address these issues than to criminalize addicts.
Brand thinks decriminalization of drugs could prove "useful," but avoided taking a definitive stance, saying "as a drug addict, the legal status [of a drug] is an irrelevance." Instead, he emphasizes the importance of tackling the "disease" of addiction with an abstinence and recovery-based approach. "Addicts that get clean, one day at a time, through abstinence-based recovery, generally speaking stop committing crimes," he told MPs. "We need to change the laws in this country and have a more compassionate, altruistic, loving attitude to the people with the disease of addiction."
Booze has long been associated with breast cancer—rates are 40 to 50% higher for women who drink three drinks a day—but medical professionals have never been able to explain why. Now, one research team thinks they have the answer. The team, from the Universidad Autonoma del Estado de Morelos in Mexico, tracked a protein called CYP2E1 in breast tissue samples from healthy women. This protein is where most breast cancers originate, and it's found in the "mammary epithelial" breast cells, to which researchers administered ethanol. The results? Cells that expressed low levels of CYP2E1 were almost immune to the ethanol, while cells with high levels of the protein began to produce carcinogenic free radicals. "Ethanol-treated human mammary cells had an increase in free radical production, oxidative stress and the activation of cellular mechanisms that cause cells to increase their proliferation rate," says Maria de Lourdes Rodriguez-Fragoso, professor of pharmacology and toxicology. "So if you are a woman who naturally expresses higher levels of CYP2E1 and you consume alcohol, you would be at a greater risk for developing breast cancer than a woman who expresses lower amounts of CYP2E1." Rodriguez-Fragoso believes that with these results they will be able to develop a better method of diagnosis for breast cancer: "If you know the risk probability of certain behaviors on your likelihood of developing cancer, then you can better understand what preventative measures you should be taking.”