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The College on Problems of Drug Dependence 2013 – my update

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

For the past half-dozen years, I have been attending The College on Problems of Drug Dependence, better known as CPDD. The conference has been in existence since 1929 and this year is celebrating 75 years! It is the longest running conference on drug addiction problems in the US and is attended by the brightest minds in the field from all over the world (it even has its own blog). This year it was held in San Diego and included poster sessions, oral presentations, and plenty of networking. Usually I go it alone, but this year decided to drag my family along to make up for the year I brought them to the same conference in Reno where, ironically, gambling, drinking and smoking permeated the hotel and conference (yuck!).

There was a lot of great stuff this year as usual, so I thought I would highlight just a few things that really caught my attention.

  • traumafiveAdverse childhood experiences predict later substance abuse and addiction. We have known for a long time that 80-90 percent of those who go down the path of addiction start their journey early in life – during teenage-age years – most often as an adaptive response to coping with one or more adverse childhood experiences. I have written about the ACE study on this site, but what is new are studies that continue to evolve these findings in more detail, and help us really understand just how complex, pervasive, and critical it is to evaluate and treat underlying traumas in those who struggle with addiction. Current stats on abuse and neglect are frightening, and sadly addiction is not the only outcome of these cases. The British Journal of Psychiatry recently published a paper linking childhood adversity to all classes of mental health disorders. At the conference Cathy Spatz Widom presented some of her work that has involved following 1,575 kids from childhood through adulthood. This amazing study included 908 substantiated cases of childhood abuse and neglect processed by the courts from 1967 through 1971, and then matched this group with a control group of 667 children with no official record of abuse/neglect. The results from interviews over multiple decades provides strong evidence that early life experiences make a difference in the trajectories of our lives. Bottom line for those who struggle with addiction: intervention must involve addressing unresolved issues from the past that perpetuate addictive behavior.
  • Legalization of marijuana. I have not written about this topic on this site before, largely because I continue to struggle with exactly how I feel about it. While it is now legal in two states (Colorado and Washington) many other states are moving to legalize recreational use as well. On many fronts I agree that legalization makes sense, as the drug war has been a miserable failure. At the same time, Nora Volkow, the Director of NIDA, in cannabisher keynote address pointed out that marijuana use among teens is at an all-time high, while research findings are absolutely clear about the dangers of THC in young developing brains. This year the public policy forum was dedicated to this topic, and two great speakers from the RAND Drug Policy Research Center – Beau Kilmer and Rosalie Pacula – provided a lot of food for thought. Beau reviewed his seven P’s and Rosalie addressed the four primary public health goals: 1) prevent youth access, 2) prevent drugged driving, 3) regulate product content and form (potency), and 4) minimize concurrent use with alcohol. The “how” of accomplishing these goals is beyond this post, but if you dig into the RAND site you will find a recent publication that provides all the details.
  • Abuse of prescription drugs. If the 80′s were about cocaine, the 90′s about meth, we are now deeply entrenched in a time where “the” object of addiction are prescription drugs. In the past decade there has been a five-fold increase in treatment admissions for abuse of opioids, and overdose deaths related to pills have tripled in the past two decades. In some states more people die of pill overdoses than motor vehicle accidents. It is a problem that has gained national attention by many government agencies (and non-government groups), and was a hot topic this year at CPDD. Much of the focus was on abuse-deterrent formulations, which studies have shown have reduced abuse and diversion. This is a good thing, but at the same time such formulations are not necessarily reducing the number of people who struggle with abuse/addiction – they are just pushing them in another direction to other more easily abusable products or illicit drugs (what we call the “balloon effect”). The key point goes back to my first bullet point. We need to invest far more resources into prevention and early intervention since this is really the origin of the problem for most who struggle.
  • psilocybinPsilocybin and quantum change. Of all the cool things I learned this year, the one that surprised me the most was a workshop focused on the treatment benefits of psilocybin, a hallucinogenic compound from mushrooms that operates mostly on 5-HT-2a/c serotonin receptors. The session, led by Roland Griffiths and Herb Kleber, reviewed studies where psilocybin produced some remarkable mystical experiences for participants that rated among the most important events in their life! Here is a video clip describing one of the studies. The hope for those who struggle with addiction is that psilocybin may be an accelerated way to induce spiritual experiences that result in profound and lasting behavioral changes. The compound, when used appropriately in controlled conditions, appears to be non-physically toxic and virtually non-addictive. While the early findings are intriguing, I am not so sure we will see it on the list of evidence-based practices any time soon.

If you want to read more about the conference, check out the CPDD Blog.

Lastly, I know many of you won’t believe this, but CPDD has workshops that go from 8pm until 10pm at night, even Sunday – on Father’s Day! My wife never believed me until she saw it for herself. This is a dedicated group of people! So, after one of these very long evenings, I ventured out into the evening and did a little picture taking. Here are two of my favorites:

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Hitting Rock Bottom: New docu-drama about addiction needs your help!

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

I don’t think I have ever done this before on a post, but here goes. I need your help.

Not long ago I was contacted by some folks who have been working hard on a show called Hitting Rock Bottom. It tells the real stories of people who have struggled with addiction, hit rock bottom, and found a way out. Unlike reality television that often turns tragic stories about addiction into entertainment, this show has a far more noble and broader reaching aim. The creater and Director, Corey Snyder, who has been in recovery for the past five years and also happens to be a very talented film maker, wants to instill hope (and action) in those who still struggle. He portrays challenges with addiction through docu-drama storytelling that utilizes actors to dramatize real stories. He and his team have already completed the first four episodes of season one which you can watch right now for free on the Hitting Rock Bottom homepage. Each episode is a few minutes, so watching them all will not take you that long.

HRBThe first season tells the story of Daryl Brown, a very likable young man who sets out in life with no idea of what is ahead for him. The show is more than engaging, and realistically captures the underlying risk factors that contribute to going down a path of addiction. It is real, scary, and unfortunately a story that plays out far too often.

Fortunately, the story of Daryl has a positive ending, but that is where I need your help!

The show is need of funding to finish filming the first season and complete the story of how Daryl overcomes addiction. It’s the best part of the story and has the potential to motivate many struggling souls to seek help. To complete the season, the crew are presently running a fund-raising campaign on Indiegogo. The goal is $57,500 which will cover all costs to finalize filming the remaining episodes. Even with these funds, many involved in this project are giving their time and energy to see this project to its successful completion. By contributing whatever you can, be assured that your donation will go towards a project that has the potential to transform how we understand, treat, and address addiction in this country. Also, there are only 13 days left in the campaign, so please contribute now. And be sure to check out some of the cool perks at various donation levels.

Thank you.

New book out today! Craving: Why we can’t seem to get enough

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

cravingI am excited to announce that a new book is out today from my colleague, Dr. Omar Manejwala. He is the former Medical Director of Hazelden (one of the oldest and most respected treatment organizations in the world), and current Chief Medical Officer of Catasys, an innovative health management company focused on treating substance abuse problems. I was fortunate to receive an advanced copy of his new book, Craving: Why we can’t seem to get enough, so I have had the past month to review it thoroughly. If you struggle with addiction, or care about someone who does, then I strongly encourage you to get this book!  Why?

First, craving is a universal experience we all share and it also happens to be at the heart of addiction. In healthy doses, it is part of what makes us human. But when cravings become so intense that they lead to out-of-control behaviors, then they are not such a good thing. In fact, they cause significant pain and suffering. For those who have never experienced addiction, imagine holding your breath and then starting to think about air. How long before your desire to breath becomes an intense craving for air? How long until the craving for air becomes almost unbearable? You may think this example has little to do with addiction, but the regions of the brain that control your breathing, heartrate and other survival functions happen to be the same areas of the brain that get hijacked by addiction. By reading Dr. Manejwala’s new book, you will be treated to a very lucid and beneficial explanation of the science of craving. If you are afraid of brain science, have no fear, he makes it very accessible!

2013_0409_omar_manejwala_600x300Second, once you understand cravings more clearly, you will be in a far better position to do something about them. Perhaps what I like most about this book is that he provides an approach to deal with cravings that links back to the science of what we know about them. For example, part of the experience of craving is biological. Cravings are not just obsessive thoughts in your head, but are deeply rooted in physical and chemical changes that take place in the brain and body. Think back to our example about holding your breath. Is your need for air all in your head? Of course not. While we don’t require alcohol or drugs to survive like air, cravings have a similar intensity and feel because of what takes place physically in the body. So interventions focused on addressing the physical aspects of craving are critical. And at the same time, part of what makes cravings so painful is that once they start, they feel like they will never end until acted upon.

The best news of this book is that cravings can be overcome! Dr. Manejwala outlines a wonderful tool box of interventions that address both the physical aspects of craving, but also the painful obsessions that precede addictive behavior. You will learn about the benefits of self-help meetings, meditation, exercise, and being accountable to others. There are also some tools that you likely have not heard about, which is a testament to the comprehensive and holistic approach taken throughout the book.

Third, I really appreciate his view that “Courage is, in fact, the most essential quality of recovery, because without courage, none of the other needed practices are possible.” I couldn’t agree more! Dealing with addiction and all its complicating and co-occurring problems is not for the faint of heart. Those who engage in the process of overcoming addiction and are willing to face their most intense cravings, are among the best examples in our society of courage.

While I have a lot more to say about this book, Dr. Manejwala and I plan to discuss it over a video chat in the next week or so. Stay tuned for the broadcast and in the meantime, checkout the latest on the book on facebook and order your copy today.

Addiction & Homelessness, Part II

Monday, April 29th, 2013

books-stackIt was early summer and I was deep into my counseling internship at the behavioral health clinic. I was lucky enough to have a giant corner office with many windows overlooking downtown Portland – room enough to conduct both my individual sessions and run groups. It was so big that I decided to bring in two of my own bookcases to fill out the space. Lucky for me, a relative who happened to be a retired psychologist, had a ton of books to donate to my cause. I figured my clients would walk into the room and see all those counseling-related books and be less concerned that I was an intern. I just hoped they didn’t ask me whether I had read them all because then I would have to fess up.

I chose a late night to get the books into my office. The clinic had a hand-truck to make life easier, but it was still a lot of boxes to move. As I was unloading books from my car, a young man in his early thirties came strolling up and casually asked me for $25. While I have been asked for money many times, never has someone on the street asked me for $25! I was taken aback, but even more, just really curious. I told him I would consider his request if he explained to me exactly why he needed the money. Without knowing at all what I did for a living, he said, “I have been in drug treatment for the past month…a couple of days ago, was kicked out and have nowhere to go… I’m homeless and need the money to buy a bus ticket to San Francisco where my parents live.”

Made sense to me. “Why did you get kicked out of drug treatment?” I asked.

The question made him squirm. He looked down at the pavement and said nothing. I could sense he felt shame. Then in a soft voice he said flatly, “I was caught on my bed with another man.”

I replied non-judgmentally that it seemed like a dumb reason to get kicked out of treatment, and that I would help him. I gave him my business card from the clinic and said to come see me the next morning when I could access funds to help him. Because he had nowhere to sleep I pointed him in the direction of a nearby shelter. The next morning when I stumbled tiredly into the clinic, he was sitting in the lobby waiting for me. It was a busy day. I had two evaluations back-to-back and the first client was also in the waiting room. I had him come back to my office where we chatted briefly about the money. I said I would make some calls, fill out some paperwork, and we could reconvene in my office around 11am to finalize things. He thanked me for my efforts and said he would be back then.

But he never returned.

preventing-heroin-overdose

Around 3pm that afternoon I got a call from the county coroner. He had a body and the only item found on it was my business card. The man had overdosed just blocks from my office. My heart sank and my mind raced. What had gone wrong? How could this have happened? What had I missed?

I will never fully know the answers to these questions, but I suspect that he overestimated the amount of drug his body could handle after being clean for a number of weeks while in treatment. I don’t think he was suicidal, but perhaps I missed something. To this day I regret not taking more time to assess his risks for relapse and overdose, but I didn’t know then what I know now.

For me, homelessness will always have a face.

 

A couple more videos…

Monday, October 10th, 2011

A few months ago, I ventured into the world of video, posting some clips from a presentation I did about addiction and treatment. The initial clips were focused on understanding addiction, and since then, I have been meaning to get back to the lecture and do the same for treatment. Recently, I did go back and review the lecture and realized that I can speak much more clearly about the nature of addiction than I can about how to deal with it as a problem. I think this is because there is not one way to help someone with addiction. We have multiple treatments, methods, medicines, and programs that can all contribute to good outcomes. At the same time, I believe the number of choices also can become paralyzing and unhelpful when all that someone really wants is to be given clear direction on what to do. Sometimes 12 steps, 7 habits, and even 5 actions can be overwhelming. Enough said. I did find a couple of clips that pertain to treatment, but they don’t discuss the overarching 5 Actions framework that I am now evolving as a way to think about intervention. But soon. Check these out and let me know your thoughts.

Race to Nowhere

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Last week I watched the independent film Race to Nowhere that has won numerous awards for its strong messages about our broken educational system. Through interviews with students, parents, teachers, and others, the movie illustrates the dark side of being a kid in school. The race to nowhere for students is paved with an over-scheduling of activities, too much homework, too little sleep, and increased stress that is resulting in health problems, drug abuse, eating disorders, and suicide. What is even more troubling, is that for all the effort kids are putting into their school work and extracurricular activities, many are being churned out of our educational system lacking some of the most important qualities of a good education, including:  the ability to reflect deeply on topics, handle difficult emotions in the face of stress, and successfully engage in a wide range of healthy relationships. The film points the finger at numerous perpetrators, but in the end, fails to hit home that no one individual person or group is to blame, but rather it is the entire educational system that we must examine more carefully if we are to find the truth behind the worrisome outcomes.

When I think about the fact that over 80 percent of those who end up struggling with addiction begin their behaviors prior to the age of 15, this film frightens me even more. When did school become so competitive and stressful? Much of the over-scheduling of extra-curricular activities and hours of homework is in response to the demands, both perceived and real, associated with getting accepting into a college or university. What is sad is that the stress and pressure begin long before high school. My wife and I spent a couple of years tearing our hair out (the little I have left) trying to identify and enroll our son in the best possible elementary school. I put more time and effort into researching options, attending open houses, completing enrollment packets that included writing lengthy essays, than I ever did applying to graduate school! The process was absolutely crazy, and I know we were not alone. And now I know it was just the beginning.

Race to Nowhere illustrates painfully many of the current antecedents to addiction, and why we absolutely must reexamine our understanding of what education means and how we are going about educating our children. Failure to do so will only lead to a new generation of addicts.

 

Be the change you want to see…and hang in there, it’s not easy!

Monday, December 21st, 2009

Change is tough. Really tough. Whether dealing with an addiction or making a change in an organization to improve treatment, we are wired to keep doing the things we have always done and resist the new. My last post provided an academic framework for how we should get evidence-based practices commonplace in real-world treatment and educational settings, but doing so often means going against the grain – big time! It means being a change agent in an organization that often does not want to change. It means knowing you have science on your side, and continuing to work at breaking down the walls of ignorance – even when all your peers seem to be against you. Why? Because those who struggle with addiction deserve the absolute best when it comes to treatment and getting help. And when they seek out help from those who are not aligned with science, the outcomes simply are not as good. 

A collegue of mine a few years into her work as an addiction’s counselor emailed me recently about her efforts to enact change within her organization:

“With regard to my attempts to enlighten others on topics such as housing first initiatives and pharmacological treatment for alcohol dependence, I am finding that scientific findings are no match for anecdotal evidence based upon meaningful personal experience.  My colleagues/superiors are either entirely skeptical or they simply minimize the validity of addiction interventions that are non-traditional or abstinence based.  The resistance seems to derive from defensive beliefs that the research methods are somehow flawed, the purpose and designs are somehow biased, and the results are somehow over-inflated, over-reported, or just misinterpreted. It is so disheartening. Beyond that, there is the very real challenge in finding funding for medications and housing. I was also told I have to terminate a client who continues to relapse though I adamantly oppose.  My attempts to advocate for this client with, I believe, sound rationale are ignored and viewed as my unwillingness to accept supervision, etc.  All of this leaves me quite shaken.  Yet I love working with the folks I work with.  For now anyways.”

It’s no wonder that the turnover rate for addiction counselor’s is higher than in the fast food industry! Not only is it challenging helping patients, but the job is made even more difficult when working in organizations that resist change, resist embracing findings from research, and fail to acknowledge the limitations of personal experience.

changecover1So what to do? We need to be smart about how we go about making changes, in our life, and in organizations. We need to be aware that change is a process, often with many underlying factors that can influence outcomes. And we need to recognize what science tells us about change. This includes understanding the limitations of the widely adopted Stages of Change Model (see #11).

If you are contemplating a personal change, you might benefit from reading The First 30 Days by Ariane De Bonvoison. A very readible approach that focus on optimism and eliminating fear. If your challenge is implementing change within treatment organizations, a great place to start is The Change Book – A Blueprint for Technology Transfer and the Change Book Workbook.  There are other great resources specific to personal and organizational change, but the key message is that it is a lot harder than people think. It takes perseverance, commitment, and discipline. I applaud my colleague for continuing to push what is right her treatment organization.  

  

 

Implementation science: Filling the gap between research & practice

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Each year our government spends approximately 95 billion dollars on research to develop new treatments (medical, behavioral, psychiatric, addiction) and about 1.3 trillion dollars a year on actual services to patients. Yet sadly, less than 1 billion dollars a year is spent on understanding how to take what we learn from science and research – the new interventions - and implement them in practice. The result is that many opportunities are lost to help people who struggle with a host of problems, including addiction.

Fortunately, there is increased momentum to study implementation science and learn how to get the latest treatment discoveries to the front lines – to the clinicians who can make a difference in people’s lives. The movement has been led by Dr. Dean Fixsen who heads The National Implementation Research Network. There is a goldmine of information on this site, including a synthesis of implementation research that can be downloaded for free. What I find most interesting from this work is:

  • We know from a lot of research what does not work. For example, training alone, no matter how well it is done, does not result in successful implementation of new innovations. Sadly, this finding has significant implications in the academic arena, where teacher lectures account for a large percentage of class time.
  • Having a toolbox of evidence-based practices for addiction, as we do today, is one thing, but getting clinicians to use the various evidence-based tools is an entirely different thing. My dissertation research on use of addiction medications provides evidence for this fact. 
    coreimplementn
  • Implementing a new practice or innovation requires a number of specific drivers, diagrammed above from a presentation on the NIRN website. Notice that implementation is a process, not a specific point in time, and it involves individuals at all levels of an organization, dedicated to learning and refining new actions.

This topic also has a lot of relevance for individual treatment. Learning to manage chronic behaviors, resolve underlying core issues, and engage ones creativity requires implementation of specific actions. This is why therapy is also a process – a collaboration between patient and therapist who work together over time to learn how best to incorporate new  behaviors into the patient’s life, and stop or limit unhealthy behaviors.

Writing about implementation science reminds me of an earlier post I wrote about making addiction education stick. To increase the chances that new ideas take hold, whether in an organizational context or in individual therapy, we must make our interventions sticky. To do this we must tell stories, boil down complex issues to their essence, be unexpected in our delivery, and make things concrete so understanding is enhanced.

In the end, there are no short cuts to implementation. Remember Wexelblatt’s scheduling algorithm. When implementing an innovation you can pick any two out of a possible three choices: cheap, fast, good (i.e., it can be done cheap and fast, but not good; fast and good, but not cheap; or cheap and good, but not fast). Take your pick.

Three critical lessons from neuropsychology

Monday, November 9th, 2009

Years ago I worked as an assistant for two neuropsychologists, essentially doing all the face-to-face testing. Usually, this meant 4 to 6 hours crammed into a small stuffy office conducting various cognitive, memory, and intelligence assessments. Although watching patients attempt to stick square objects in round holes had its moments, the lessons I learned about brain functioning have been very influential in my work with those who struggle with addiction. Here are three of the most important lessons I have learned:

  • It’s not intelligence that matters so much as the level of emotional development. I will never forget a couple who were in the process of divorce and both required by the court to submit to neuropsychological evaluations -something to do with custody issues of their children. The husband went first and scored so high I believe he was in the range of genius -it was the highest IQ score I had ever seen in my two years of doing testing. The next day his wife came in and I was unprepared for her IQ score being half of his! In fact, it was clear she had some learning and developmental disabilities. I eq-vs-iq1immediately began to wonder how these two people with drastically different levels of intellect could remain married for over a dozen years. Upon further reflection, I realized that intellect is not the glue that attracts or holds people together, it’s their level of emotional development. I have wrote about this in other blog posts, but continue to bring it up because it points to the absolute necessity of helping those who struggle with addiction developmentally catch-up from the emotional age at which they are stuck. There are some really smart people that get caught up in addiction, and often they can be among the hardest to treat because they believe they can think their way out of the problem. But you cannot “think” your way to a higher level of emotional functioning.
  •  The brain needs time following detoxification to heal before it can absorb, process, and benefit from information discussed in treatment. Advances in neuroimaging have helped establish addiction as a brain disease. The slide on the right shows that 10 days post cocaine use, an abuser’s brain is still very far off from normal baseline functioning (top). Even more illuminating is the cocaine-brain1degree to which brain functioning is still imparied 100 days post last use! We see similar profiles for other drugs of abuse including alcohol, and behavioral addictions. Because neuropsych testing can provide a window into brain functioning, we can use such testing to help us understand how long it takes for the brain to heal to a point at which it is capable of learning, processing, and remembering new information – information such as how to manage addiction over time. Researchers are now doing a battery of neuropsych tests on patients following detox to determine optimal times to begin treatment. What is clear, is that our current system is set-up to have a person who has completed detoxification immediately enter a residential program. About 1-2 months later – about the time they are being discharged from treatment – is really the time when their brain is ready to benefit from treatment. I find it sad that significant sums of money are invested in residential programs when science is helping us understand that for treatment to be beneficial a person must not only detox, but also wait a month or two (or even longer, depending on the drug and time used) before engaging in any significant treatment. This of course brings us the messy question of what should a person do between detox and treatment?  I welcome your suggestions…
  • Neuropsychological assessments can be critical for understanding how to proceed with addiction treatment. While working as a counselor at a community-based addiction treatment program, I encountered a number of patients who suffered from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Usually, the TBI would come up in the evaluation, or it would become apparent when I did a mini-mental status exam. Today, over 5 million people live with a disability caused from a brain injury, and approximately 70 percent of those in rehabilitation have a current or past diagnosis of substance abuse. When I first began encountering addicted TBI patients as an intern, I treated them similar to other patients. I did individual therapy, put them in groups, and proceeded to educate them about ways to deal with their addiction. But over traumatic-brain1time I realized my outcomes were very poor. Many dropped out of treatment,  others continued but were incapable of remembering what they had learned or how to apply it to their life. Relapse rates were significant. Then I discovered our medical psychology department at the hospital and began refering addicted TBI patients for neuropsychological exams. The reports I got back were invaluable in helping me completely restructure treatment. Like children, the trick was understanding what they could comprehend and how best to teach them what they needed to learn. I got a blackboard for my office and begin drawing pictures to represent ideas I wanted to get across. I went slow, paid attention to patients different learning styles, and adapted my treatment approach to the diverse ways in which their brain processed information. And as you might suspect, my outcomes improved. Utilizing the knowledge from neuropsych assessments, I believe, can make all the difference in the world when working with patients with TBI.

Addiction in society? Let me count the ways…

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

I know it has been far too long since my last post, but I honestly have an excuse – I have had no time recently to blog. Well, this is not really true, because how we spend our time is based on how we prioritize what must get done. So the more correct answer is - I could have blogged, but other things in my life took precedence.

In the recently published book Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, Winifred Gallagher makes a case that life ultimately adds up to what you choose to pay attention to. This got me thinking about how addiction has evolved (and adapted) to our changing world, and the ways in which we are all more vulnerable to excessive (addictive) behaviors – or at least exposed to far more triggers or precursors of excessive behavior:

  • Food: Not long ago I had the pleasure to hear Dr. Kelly Brownell, Director, Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, speak about the link between food and addiction. In brief, his talk was shocking, sad, and made me really mad. He provided a very empirically-based overview of how the food industry, food marketers (guerrilla, viral, stealth), and chemistry explain a great deal of our current epidemic of obesity. Check out slide 71, where pop manufacturers used baby bottles to package soda – absolutely disgusting!
  • Drugs: If the 60′s/70′s were about heroin/LSD/etc., the 80′s were about cocaine, the 90′s about methamphetamine, the drug-object of addiction for our current times is prescription drugs. Why? They are readily available, many believe the myth that they are safer than illicit drugs because they are prescribed by a health care professional, anyone can learn about them online, and we currently live in a culture that seeks quick fix solutions to problems.
  • Sex: Advancements in multimedia technologies have been led by the porn industry. Today, anyone can act-out their fantasies in cyberspace through avatars in second life, or find their sexual cup of tea online. Sex also sells products today more than ever, and marketeers continue to up the ante in ads of all kinds. And a day does not go by that some celebrity ends up in the news for infidelity (David Letterman, Jude Law, Ethan Hawke, John Edwards, Hugh Grant, Bill Clinton – need I say more?) Is it all bad? The flip side of the coin argues that what we need in our every day lives is sexual intelligence.   
  • Reality Television: The evolution of reality television has resulted in many people spending inordinate amounts of time living in illusory worlds. When people lack the development capacities to initiate, form, and maintain healthy relationships, then relationships depicted in reality shows provide an easy out. We can get caught up in the lives of those we find interesting or are attracted too – their relationships, struggles, and triumphs – and then cheat ourselves of real relationships living only vicariously through those on television.
  • Social Networking Websites: Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and other social networking sites have fueled a new generation of social interactions, but research into the depth of social networks today reveals a very sad conclusion: We are becoming more and more isolated in our everyday lives. In a well-designed general social survey comparing social networks in 1985 to those in 2004, the number of people saying there is no one with whom they discuss important life matters nearly tripled! Seems like isolation may be a trigger for wanting an escape…
  • Trauma: I continue to be amazed at the degree to which news makers will go to grab the attention of an audience. Traumatic, horrific, terrifying events happen every day, but now they are brought right into our living room in graphic detail via YouTube, Internet news sites, and other multimedia channels. Sure 9/11 changed a lot, but stories about children being brutally attacked, tortured, locked away, thrown over bridges and left for dead, or kidnapped, raped and held captive for years – and that is just the tip of the iceberg – how are we to take-in these violent images and stories? How are we to process them? Make sense of them? Or have we just desensitized ourselves to such stories? And how does exposure to this type of media motivate our desire to escape into fantasy?
  • Time: I began this post apologizing for not blogging because of a lack of time. Despite all the new time-saving gadgets I utilize, I still don’t seem able to keep up with the pace of our fast moving society. Fast food, twitter, blazing high-speed Internet, sound bite news, packed calendars, energy drinks, and did I mentioned residential treatment for addictions in under five days? In the book In Praise of Slowness, Carl Honore challenges our way of life in the age of speed. I like both the book and his TED talk because they help us understand how the pace of our society promotes our need for quick fixes, quick releases, and quick highs. Perhaps one solution to addiction is just to slow down life.

William James said “My experience is what I agree to attend to”,  but it seems that we are increasingly living in a world where the choice of what to attend to is being made for us.