Addiction Management Blog

Posts Tagged ‘media’

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:



Whose Will: A new book about addiction, courage, and hope

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

I had the recent pleasure of speaking with Willie Harris, the author of Whose Will: Ordinary Person, Extraordinary Life, a riveting account of his personal struggle with addiction and path back to a spiritual and connected life.

Like most, the roots of Willie’s problems with alcohol and drugs began early in life, in a family awash in addiction, violence and trauma. His alcoholic father abused his mother, nearly killing her twice, and perpetuated his own traumas on Willie by passing down  the unfinished business of the previous generation. But even amidst the hell of family life, Willie told me, I personally had a spiritual connection that I cannot explain.  At ten years old, he would lay on the top bunk of his bed and talk to God. His mother thought something was wrong with him, and would often ask, who are you talking to?

But the connection did not insulate him from experiencing an early life of pain, misery and self-destruction. By 18, his world was spiraling out of control. The inability to appropriately process emotions, including rage, hurt and fear, set the stage for the perfect storm. Drinking, drugs and partying eventually landed him on the streets, where the brutal reality of his life eventually became the source of his awakening.

Although treatment played a role in turning Willie’s life around, it was the 12-step program that allowed him to take an honesty inventory of his life and begin to take responsibility for the role he played in his own undoing. The program also helped him understand the answer to the question  – why do I do these things to myself? He had a mental obsession with substances that was different than other people. He said, it overrides normal thinking. Once he understood he could not put substances into his body without serious repercussions, the path out of hell became much clearer.

He credits the 4th step of AA – Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves – as being a significant turning point in his life. By looking at me, I was able to forgive other people. I was able to go back and make amends, and every time I did I got better.

Today, Willie leads a simple, but spiritually grounded life. He is a successful businessman, happily married with two wonderful children, dedicated to his church, and to spreading the word that it is more than possible to overcome addiction. I was most impressed with his motivation and efforts to develop programs for teens, that can be taught in schools, to proactively help challenged kids better process and cope with painful emotions. I could not agree more that it is a tremendous need. It was an honor to speak with Willie and learn more about his story. I very much encourage you to get his book ( and be inspired.

Confessions of a (Tiger) sex addict?…helping out CNN and the rest of the media

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

The media love stories like Tiger Woods and his lady friends. Sex sells, it always has. Unfortunately, the media rarely care whether they are portraying an issue accurately, it is more about soundbites and sales. I know, because I used to get interviewed quite often for addiction-related stories when I worked for a large university teaching hospital. My 20 minute interviews would get slashed to 10 second clips on the nightly news. I have come to realize that it is not their fault, it is the way of news in our soundbite culture. But topics like addiction and what has happened with Tiger deserve more than soundbites. Addiction is an incredibly complex problem with no simple answers. It seems that despite this fact, the media have attempted to reduce Tiger’s problems to a diagnosis of sex addiction. In the clip below they interview a sex addict who provides evidence that sex clearly is an addiction, and that his experiences are similar to Tigers, check it out (and then keep reading):

Here is my own commentary about sex addiction and Tiger’s problems:

  • Far too much time is spent debating whether specific behaviors should be called addiction. The reporters above point out that many do not consider sex addiction a real psychiatric disorder because it does not exist in the current verision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). But the DSM is a socially-constructed diagnostic guide that is in the process of completely revamping the section dedicated to the diagnosis of addiction. Turns out we got it wrong for the past couple of decades! In my opinion, debates about whether people can be “addicted” to be specific objects (porn, food, internet, cell phone use) get us nowhere. For years therapists have treated patients with significant problems related to all these things, which usually come in packages of behavior. Our focus should be on understanding addiction as a relationship problem, not an object-specific problem.
  • How should we understand Tiger’s behavior? If addiction is about relationships, then we see that his pursuit of women  has been about something other than just sex. Any therapist in the country who has spent time dedicated to the topic of sex addiction (Patrick Carnes, Jennifer Schneider, Robert Weiss) will say that sex addiction is not about sex. It is about intimacy and emotional connection, or the lack thereof. As humans we are wired for relationships, but adverse childhood events (and trauma throughout life) lead to the avoidance of emotional experiences necessary for healthy emotional development. The result is a person like Tiger becomes an adult doing his best to negotiate the complexities of adult relationships with the emotional/relationship/intimacy skills of a child. No wonder he looks like a deer caught in headlights at news conferences.
  • As a person neglects their internal emotional world, very often the emotional energy (which has to go somewhere) gets displaced into academic mental activities or sports. It is not coincidental that many who suffer from addiction and untreated trauma are professional athletes or have professional careers requiring brain power and academic credentials.  A number of news commentators have pointed out that when Tiger came on the pro scene at age 19 his life never was the same. I would add that prior to the age of 19 his life was very different from other kids, how else was he able to go pro at 19? I am not an expert on Tiger Woods and have no knowledge of the events in Tiger’s early life that influenced his present behavior. And in truth, I don’t care, they are not my business. Each person’s past is their own.
  • We need to realize that we (even those who work in the media and are taking shots at him) are not so different from Tiger. On some level, we all struggle with past traumas, maintaining intimate relationships, sex, and developmental constrictions. And at times we all have engaged in excessive behaviors that help us disconnect from the world and our emotional pain (like even watching a bit too much professional sports). Sure, we may not have millions in the bank, be the world’s greatest golfer, or have the ability to act out in the ways he has, but just like Tiger, we all have our own life challenges. The real question is whether we are deepening our awareness of our shadow side, and doing the work necessary to own it, integrate it, and evolve our own mental/emotional health.

One final thing. Understanding why Tiger did what he did is very different then letting him off the hook. Let me be clear, I am not attempting to justify his behavior or say his acting out was not his fault. He needs to take responsibility for what he has done, and realize how his actions have hurt a lot of people. But we in society are so quick to judge others, and in a sick way relish watching those on top take big plunges. Instead of buying into the soundbite entertainment value of Tiger’s pain, we could benefit a lot more by exploring how his fall is a mirror for aspects of our own life.