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Effects of alcohol

11/09/12 10:52am

Why Alcoholic Men Lack Empathy—and Irony

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Get it?
Ironic via Shutterstock

If you’re looking for empathy from an alcoholic man, don’t count on getting much. New research shows male chronic heavy drinkers lack empathy, and also have trouble grasping irony. This may indicate that excessive alcohol use damages parts of the brain responsible for processing humor and emotions. European researchers studied 22 men in their third week of an alcohol detox program, and compared them to 22 non-alcohol-dependent men. The 44 volunteers were required to read stories that ended with either an ironic sentence or a straightforward sentence; they were then asked to complete a questionnaire about the emotional states of the characters. The study—published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research—found that alcoholic men were not only worse at detecting emotions, but also at detecting irony: the alcoholics identified the ironic sentences correctly just 63% of the time, compared to 90% of the non-alcoholics. The results may shed light on why problem drinkers get into bar fights. “Chronic alcohol abuse seems to have effects on the perception and decoding of emotional expressions,” says Simona Amenta, a post-doctoral researcher at Italy’s University of Milano-Bicocca. “It has been associated with…deficits in emotion recognition and verbalization, leading to difficulties in distinguishing and comprehending people’s emotional states.” Past studies have also shown that alcoholics can misidentify the emotions of those around them—mistaking sadness for anger, or happiness for a negative emotion. 

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By Valerie Tejeda

headlines

11/09/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: November 9, 2012

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A wasted Aussie goes down under.
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By The Fix staff

celebrity rehab

11/08/12 5:13pm

Sober Steve-O is Still Fearless

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Steve-O performing stand-up. Photo via

Steve-O, the daredevil who rose to fame with his fearless on-screen stunts in MTV's Jackass, says his sobriety has helped him with his latest adventure: a stand-up comedy tour. "I’m just more present and observant," he says. "I’ve really blossomed and found my voice. I’m just generally sharper and funnier than I was before." The thrill-seeker was an active addict during the filming of his TV show and the first two Jackass movies, and filmed the third in 2010, shortly after getting sober. During an exclusive interview with The Fix in June 2011, he said doing stunts without the influence of drugs or booze scared him at first, but he bounced back. Now with over four years of clean time, he says sobriety hasn't put a damper on his adventurous nature. "I think that drugs and alcohol were never really a reason or benefit to the process," he explains. "I’ve always done this kind of thing because I’m an attention whore, and becoming clean and sober doesn’t change the fact I’m an attention whore." More dangerous than stunts is the temptation to use, which he says is triggered by watching on-screen footage of himself from before he got clean. "You would imagine that [watching] it would have totally deterred me from doing drugs, but I came away from it really craving drugs," he says. So he sticks to moving forward, instead of looking back: "I just couldn’t fuck with that shit, man."

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By May Wilkerson

drug laws

11/08/12 4:31pm

California Votes to Reform "Three Strikes"

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69% voted in favor of Prop 36 Photo via

Yesterday California voted overwhelmingly to soften the “Three Strikes” law, which imposed 25-to-life sentences for minor drug law violations and other nonviolent crimes if they were third “strikes” after two “serious or violent” offenses. The reform measure, Proposition 36, will ensure that life sentences can now only be inflicted when the third felony is also “serious or violent.” The original law has frequently been challenged as a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. “Locking up people for life whose only recent offense was a minor violation of the state’s drug laws never made sense in terms of public safety, finance or morality," says Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "California at last is rejoining the civilized world.”

For incarcerated third-strikers and their families, the reform measure is "a dream come true," Geri Silva, executive director of Families to Amend California's Three Strikes (FACTS) tells The Fix. “A lot of people stand a chance to get out, some who have been in prison since 1994, when the original law passed." The process of petitioning courts to re-examine old sentences, which may take as long as two years, could benefit roughly 3,000 prisoners—about a third of the people incarcerated under Three strikes. But Silva cautions that the battle is far from over: “There is the other side, people who won’t qualify to get out [those whose third offenses, such as residential burglary, still count as “serious”]...They won’t be eligible for resentencing, which is heartbreaking." Silva also expresses concern that “there will be sensitivity to welcome these people coming home,” especially since the law disproportionately affects people of color, the mentally ill, and the poor. “Many [addicts] go to prison because not everyone is a famous actor and gets to go to a really good rehab program to help them,” says Silva. “We need to make sure we centralize substance abuse resources so these people are not coming home to nothing.”

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By Sarah Beller

internet addiction

11/08/12 3:27pm

Internet "Addiction" Debate Rages On

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Brett Walker speaks to Dr. Nancy Snyderman
about his online obsession. Photo via

In an interview airing tonight at 10 pm EST on NBC's Rock Center with Brian Williams, recovering Internet addict Brett Walker talks about how his compulsion to play games like World of Warcraft nearly ruined his life. The 28-year-old Texan eventually sought treatment at reSTART, the first residential treatment program in the US dedicated to helping people with Internet addiction. Treatment involves a minimum of 45 days with no access to digital technology, which—according to the program's co-founder, Dr. Hilarie Cash—is about how long it takes for the often “brutal” withdrawal process to occur. The program also encourages graduates to use its after-care program, in which recovering addicts are paired up in a digital technology-free apartment for six months or longer.

Cash co-founded reStart in 2009 to help the growing population of Internet addicts she’d noticed in her own practice. She tells The Fix that clients are often in a terrible state when they arrive: “Because they are neglecting the real word,” she says, “things fall apart. It’s like a heroin addict who goes on a heroin binge, and just wants to be in that cave. They completely forget about the world. If they are married and have kids, they’re not taking care of them. If they are students, they’re not taking care of academics. They are generally neglecting physical health, not eating right, and not exercising.” This year, the American Psychiatric Association will add “Internet Use Disorder” to the appendix of the DSM-V, deeming it a condition "recommended for further study."

But some still question whether technology obsession is a “real” addiction. Dr. Allen Frances, a psychiatrist who chaired the DSM-IV and is currently a professor emeritus at Duke University, has been fighting efforts to add the diagnosis to the new manual. “I’m not arguing against the fact that there’s a small group of people who suffer horribly from this,” he says. “But when you introduce a diagnosis into the system, it’s very likely to take off in directions you never imagined, and become a fad. Where do you draw the line? Why not include…golf addiction, model-railroading addiction?”

In response to such critics, Cash tells us: “Internet addiction is being recognized as a very real phenomenon. It’s just a matter of time, there’s a ton of research that shows the brain lights up in the same pattern as drug and alcohol.” Brett Walker certainly seems to agree: “Whenever I went online, it really was like getting high on a drug,” he says in his interview. Cash says that programs like reStart can help, but cautions that rehab isn't a magic bullet. She says that it's “really common to struggle and relapse when a person first leaves an inpatient setting and has to face digital temptations at every turn. But especially if they stay connected with us through our after-care program, it is possible for them to learn how to successfully manage a healthy relationship with digital technology.”

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By Sarah Beller

Addiction Treatment

11/08/12 2:24pm

The Fix Reviews Five New Rehabs

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Sure Haven's LEED-certified "Green House."
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Today The Fix adds five new insider reviews of addiction treatment facilities to its Rehab Review—the only resource of its kind for unbiased, independent information about the best place for you or a loved one to get sober. New rehabs covered are Michael's House, a Foundations Recovery Network facility in Palm Springs, Calif.; Sure Haven, a women-only rehab in Costa Mesa, Calif.; Recovery Road, a men-only center in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.; The Retreat, an affordable rehab just west of Minneapolis; and New Method Wellness, a gender-segregated facility in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

Reports from former residents at each of these rehabs are for the most part positive; all five of the facilities received either three or four stars overall. Really, though, what it comes down to is which place is best suited for you. The Retreat—befitting its name—is on the site of a former Catholic retreat, and places an emphasis on volunteer-driven recovery. If you want to get plugged into a vibrant sober community from day one, The Retreat is a good option. Then there's a pair of female- and male-only rehabs—Sure Haven and Recovery Road, respectively—if you're of the mind that getting sober in a same-sex environment would be beneficial. Michael's House, meanwhile, is big on parent company Foundations Recovery Network's "Integrated Treatment Model" approach, which has been shown to generate higher success rates for dual-diagnosis clients. And finally, while New Method Wellness is a 12-step-based program, those who are opposed to AA can opt to do SMART Recovery instead.

If you'd like to contribute to our Rehab Review, you can fill out a quick survey about your treatment experience here. Or, if you want to suggest a facility that The Fix should add to its coverage, feel free to send us an email.

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By Hunter R. Slaton

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