Although gratitude is nominally central to Thanksgiving, for many folks, the focus is more on food, football and defusing or at least deflecting family feuds. Being truly thankful, however, is strongly linked with both mental and physical health—and cultivating it can help relieve stress, depression, addictions and other afflictions.
Many of us may critique AA from time to time, but the gratitude list, and the emphasis on counting your blessings, is powerful and important medicine.
This Thanksgiving, a group called Moms United to End the War on Drugs hopes to raise awareness by getting families impacted by drugs to take a snapshot of an empty seat at the table. These photos are meant to symbolize any family members missing because of a connection to drugs—whether they are suffering from an addiction, locked up in prison or living on the streets. "My son was born in 1971, the same year that President Nixon declared war on drugs," says Gretchen Burns Bergman, executive director and co-founder of Moms United To End The War on Drugs and A New PATH. "And since that time it's been really devastating, not just to families but to our whole community in terms of loss of life, loss of liberty, we're stigmatizing and criminalizing people who use drugs or have addictive illness like my sons do." Her two sons have both struggled with drugs and subsequent stigmas within the family, and now she hopes this campaign can help improve the situation. “One in four families are dealing with addictive illness and now that means so many more are also dealing with the criminal justice system,” Bergman says. “But because it’s so highly stigmatized, they’re not speaking about it. So we’re inviting them to speak out. Because I think mothers together…are able to change laws and policies for the sake and the health and wellbeing of their families.” The group invites anyone whose families have been impacted by addiction to take their own atypical holiday photo and send it in.
Reader's Question: How did you feel admitting you were an alcoholic to your parents/family? Personally, I find this to be the scariest part of "coming out" in regards to my alcoholism and have yet to do so. There would be so much embarrassment and shame on my part, as well as the difficulty socializing with them when drinking is such a key component during family gatherings.
[Jane is now exclusively answering your questions about addiction, recovery and the like. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Watch out: those late-night Facebook binges and Twitter benders might actually be making you crazy. A new study out of Israel reports that excessive use of social networking sites can lead to psychotic symptoms such as delusions, anxiety and confusion. Dr. Uri Nitzan, of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, presented three in-depth cases involving patients who sought refuge from a lonely situation in intense virtual relationships. The study showed that all of these online relationships led to feelings of hurt, betrayal, and invasion of privacy. Two patients felt vulnerable after sharing private information, while the third patient experienced tactile hallucinations, believing that the person beyond the screen was physically touching her. “All of the patients developed psychotic symptoms related to the situation, including delusions regarding the person behind the screen and their connection through the computer,” says Nitzan. "As internet access becomes increasingly widespread, so do related psychopathologies such as internet addiction and delusions related to the technology and to virtual relationships. Computer communications such as Facebook and chat groups are an important part of this story." According to many psychologists, addiction to social networking sites like Facebook is a growing problem; "Internet addiction disorder" is being considered for inclusion in the 2013 edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
Lindsay Lohan has been forthcoming about her struggles with alcohol and drugs, but she insists her time on acting sets has always remained booze-free. "Elizabeth (Taylor) was drunk on sets," says Lohan, who plays Taylor in the upcoming Lifetime movie Liz and Dick, which premieres on Sunday. "I've never been drunk on set, ever. I did my time I respect the law." The tabloid fixture even says that her time in jail was the inspiration to straighten her life out: "as hard as it was for me to admit it when I was in denial, it was a blessing in disguise." She was initially sentenced to 90 days in jail back in July 2010 for a probation violation in her DUI case, but stayed for under two weeks due to overcrowding. "Marilyn Monroe went to an institution and said, 'I may not belong here like the world thinks I do, but I might as well take what I can get here and use it and help other people,'" says Lohan. "I think that’s what everyone should take from those experiences." The troubled star is once again facing significant jail time after violating the terms of her probation last June, when she lied to cops about being behind the wheel during a traffic accident. The judge in the case is expected to revoke her probation as early as next week and may send her to jail.
A person's social standing during that harrowing era of life known as adolescence may influence future smoking habits. According to new research from Sweden, teens who were less popular or who were "rejected" by their peers are more likely to become smokers in adulthood. Researchers from Stockholm University interviewed 2,329 participants when they were 13-years-old to assess "peer status" and then again, nearly two decades years later, to inquire about their smoking habits at age 32. They found that those who had claimed a "lower status" as a teen were more likely to smoke heavily or regularly in adulthood. As a possible explanation for the pattern, researchers suggest that a teenager may begin to internalize an inferiority complex based on social standing, which could lead to picking up nicotine as a coping mechanism. Another theory is that teens may take up smoking while still in their adolescence in order to gain popularity (a prior study from California suggested teens are still smoking "to be cool"). The researchers believe that more anti-smoking programs in schools can help prevent teens from lighting up; they also claim, somewhat optimistically, that these programs could help integrate teens from various social groups, and help break down popularity hierarchies that are damaging to teens' well-being and health.