Friday, December 28, 2007

Gene That Influences Alcohol Consumption Identified

ScienceDaily (Dec. 6, 2007) — A variant of a gene involved in communication among brain cells has a direct influence on alcohol consumption in mice, according to a new study. Scientists do not know yet whether a similar gene variant, with a similar effect on alcohol consumption, exists in humans.

Known as Grm7, the gene encodes a receptor subtype that inhibits the release of glutamate and other neurotransmitter molecules that brain cells use to communicate with one another. Researchers identified a gene variant, or polymorphism, that reduces the abundance of Grm7 messenger RNA (mRNA) in brain tissue. mRNA is the molecular intermediate between a gene and its protein product. Mice that possess this gene variant drink more alcohol than do mice with higher brain levels of Grm7 mRNA. A report of the study appears as an online Article in Press in Genomics.

"This is a noteworthy contribution, particularly since identifying genes that predispose to alcohol-related behaviors is such an arduous task," says NIAAA Director Ting-Kai Li, M.D.

Scientists have long known that genes account for a significant proportion of the risk for alcoholism. However, the fact that there are multiple such genes that interact with each other and with multiple environmental factors to influence drinking behavior has hampered studies aimed at isolating individual genes.

"Controlling for this background noise -- the various gene-gene and gene-environment interactions -- presents considerable methodological challenges," notes first author Csaba Vadasz, Ph.D., professor of psychiatric research in the department of psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine, and Director of the NeuroBehavioral Genetic Research Program at the Nathan Kline Institute in Orangeburg, N.Y.

To overcome these difficulties, Dr. Vadasz and colleagues applied a variety of genetic and analytic techniques to animals having nearly identical genetic background, but differing in their preference for alcohol, to identify a chromosomal region, and ultimately the Grm7 gene, associated with alcohol preference.

"Our findings support emerging evidence of the critical role that the brain's glutamate pathways play in addiction," says Dr. Vadasz. "While dopamine has traditionally been cast as a central actor in the neurochemistry of substance use and abuse, recent studies indicate that glutamate systems play an important role in reinforcement and addiction."

If further studies show that a similar gene variant is relevant to alcohol problems in humans, the finding by Dr. Vadasz and colleagues may lead to new opportunities for developing drugs to treat alcohol dependence. Dr. Vadasz speculates that such drugs might be designed to control the level of the Grm7 gene product or modulate the activity of the gene product itself.

This study was supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the U.S. Army.

Adapted from materials provided by NIH/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Help with Drinking?

This is a difficult time of year for many and for many with addiction issues it can be very stressful. If still using your fighting your own inner turmoil and feel no one understands if sober maybe you need a little extra support.

The Sober Sources Network invites all our readers to join us on the many forums if you need to talk, need a little support or simply could use a friend or someone who will listen. You don't have to be miserable and alone so join us and see recovery happens!

The Sober Village
Sober Musicians
Sober Teens

Happy holidays to you and yours and thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Toad Licking to Toad Smoking

Scattered reports of people licking an exotic Mexican toad to get high have circulated for years, but now police say that some are smoking the venom of the Sonoran Desert toad for its hallucinogenic effect.

The Associated Press reported Dec. 5 that Kansas City officials report that a local man was arrested for possession of the toad -- which secretes a toxin containing the hallucinogen bufotenine when angry or frightened -- with intent to dry and smoke the venom.

"It's sort of a New Age way to get high. You convince yourself it is OK because it is something you get naturally from our environment," said Clay County Prosecutor Daniel White. "There are a lot of things that are created naturally but they are still not legal."

White said instructions on how to extract and smoke the venom can be found online.

In an even more exotic caveat, Kansas City officials also cited reports of use of "jenkem" -- an inhalant made from fermented human feces and urine.*

* Clarification on "Jenkem" (Dec. 12, 2007). In its brevity, our summary may have inadvertently suggested that Kansas City officials are reporting use of so-called Jenken. In fact, the official quoted in the original AP story referred to unverified e-mail and Internet warnings about supposed "jenkem" use in U.S. schools. The official expressed concern that local youth might be tempted to try the drug after reading this unsubstantiated information on the Internet. More info: AP Story |

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Mothers Drinking After Childbirth Dangerous

by Cara Harshman
Monday, October 22, 2007

The results of a new medical study may make Wisconsin mothers think twice before they pick up another drink.

The study “Correlates of Postpartum Alcohol Use,” reveals 12 percent of postpartum women reported “at risk” binge-drinking habits. According to the study, binge drinking is considered consuming an average of seven drinks per week or having four or more drinks at one time.

The study warns women against postpartum drinking as it could have detrimental effects on the life of a woman’s next child, if she chooses to have one. If a woman drinks alcohol during pregnancy, her baby could be at risk of fetal alcohol syndrome.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, FAS is characterized by abnormal facial features and growth in addition to problems with the central nervous system.

University of Wisconsin medical professors Michael Fleming and Tanya Jagodzinski conducted a survey involving about 8,700 recent mothers throughout Wisconsin, questioning their alcohol consumption, tobacco use and other habits before, during and after pregnancy.

Fleming and Jagodzinski’s study links postpartum alcohol use to a greater chance of a woman’s subsequent child having FAS, but the syndrome is still rare among children in Wisconsin.

“In Wisconsin, one in a thousand children has a problem with fetal alcohol syndrome,” Fleming said. “It can be manifested in learning disabilities and ADHD.”

The purpose of the study, Fleming added, was to experiment and raise awareness about an important public health issue.

“If a couple is trying to get pregnant, having sex without condoms, but the woman does not know if she is pregnant or not, she probably shouldn’t drink that much or not drink at all,” Fleming said.

While Fleming said, “Drinking is part of our culture,” he called for women to take greater responsibility for their actions if they decide to have children.

“Seventy percent of the population drinks, but the stuff on State Street, with the free drinks and two-for one-drink specials — they definitely promote alcohol,” Fleming said. “I think some of those things are inappropriate, especially for women of childbearing age.”

UW human development and family studies professor Lauren Papp, who teaches courses focusing on family stress and coping, said postpartum women might drink to cope with the stress of having a child.

“Among couples, having a child really changes the structure of the family,” Papp said. “There is a lot of stress and reorganization, especially for the first child.”

Constant attentiveness is necessary when caring for an infant, Papp said, and a mother’s drinking will compromise her ability to care for and raise the child.

“The child could feel not responded to, and over time this could lead to a bad mother-child relationship,” Papp said. “If she is using alcohol to cope regularly, she might not be as emotionally aware or sensitive to the needs of the child.”

Fleming said he hopes the study’s results will be publicized over the radio or public service campaigns so everyone is informed about the dangers of postpartum alcohol use.

“[If] you want to give your baby the best chance to be normal, don’t drink,” Fleming said.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Alcohol Withdrawal

What is alcohol withdrawal syndrome?
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a set of symptoms that people have when they suddenly stop drinking after using alcohol for a long period of time. Some people have mild shakiness and sweats. The worst form of withdrawal is called "DTs" (delirium tremens). People with DTs may experience confusion, anxiety and even hallucinations (seeing, hearing or feeling things that aren't really there). DTs can be very serious if not treated by a doctor.

Withdrawal symptoms rarely occur in people who only drink once in a while. Symptoms usually occur in people who have been drinking heavily for weeks or months and then suddenly stop drinking. People who have gone through withdrawal before are more likely to have withdrawal symptoms each time they quit drinking.

Do people going through withdrawal need to see a doctor?
Yes. Your doctor needs to know you're going through withdrawal so he or she can make sure it doesn't lead to more serious health problems. If you go through withdrawal a number of times without getting the right treatment, your symptoms may get worse each time. So even if your withdrawal symptoms don't seem that bad, it's important to see your doctor. This is especially true for people who have had a bad withdrawal before and people who have other health problems, such as infections, heart disease, lung disease or a history of seizures.

People who quit using other drugs (such as tobacco, injected drugs or cocaine) at the same time they stop drinking alcohol might have severe withdrawal problems. They should see a doctor before they quit.

What can a doctor do to help people in withdrawal?
A doctor can keep track of withdrawal symptoms so that more serious health problems don't develop. He or she can also give emotional support.

Medicines can control the shakiness, anxiety and confusion that come with alcohol withdrawal. Only a doctor can prescribe these medicines. If you take the medicines at an early stage of the withdrawal, they may keep your symptoms from getting worse.

What can family and friends do to help people going through withdrawal?
The urge to drink again during withdrawal can be very strong. Some people may put themselves into dangerous situations. After withdrawal symptoms go away, it's important for the person to join a treatment or sobriety program, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (see contact information under "Other Organizations"). Support from family and friends can help a person find success in one of these programs.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Drunk Monkey's

An interesting video that shows the parallels between human drinking behavior and monkey drinking behavior.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Depression and Drinking

Depression and stopping drinking
There is evidence that, although many heavy drinkers feel depressed when they are drinking, most will feel better within a few weeks of stopping. So, it is usually best to tackle the alcohol first, and then consider dealing with the depression if it has not lifted after a few weeks.

After a few alcohol-free weeks, you will probably feel fitter and less depressed. Friends and family may find you easier to get on with. If your feelings of depression lift, this strongly suggests that they were caused by the drinking.

If the depression is still with you after four weeks of not drinking, talk to your GP or about further help. It may be useful to talk about your feelings, particularly if your depression seems linked to relationship problems, unemployment, divorce, bereavement or some other loss. Counselling may be helpful.

If the depression does not lift and is particularly severe, your general practitioner may recommend a talking treatment called 'cognitive psychotherapy' or suggest anti-depressant medication. In either case, you will need to stay away from alcohol and go on with the treatment for several months. There are some medications used to reduce the craving for alcohol, but these are usually only prescribed by a specialist.

Treatment for both alcohol problems and depression can be very successful. It helps to regularly see someone you can trust, either your own doctor, counsellor or a specialist psychiatrist. Changing our habits and style of life is always a challenge and takes time to achieve.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Substance Abuse and Women

Women Have Different Patterns Of Alcohol Abuse
Women drink less alcohol than men any way you look at. Women are more likely to be non-drinkers, start drinking at an older age, consume smaller quanties when they do drink, drink less frequently, and binge less than their male counterparts. But, she is more likely to drink alone. Nevertheless, many women have alcohol abuse or alcoholism problems. About 4% of women have a current problem and 8% ever have had a problem with alcohol. Women are at risk for alcoholism with 1 to 1 1/2 drinks per day vs 4 for men.

Women's alcoholism and their relationships with a husband or signficant other is complex. Most people know that alcoholic men keep their wives while alcoholic women are divorced by their husbands. But this may actually be a good thing. Many women alcoholics stop once divorced of separated. Women who live alone are more likely to develop alcoholism. But this is not because they are unhappy being alone (married women are much likely to be depressed). It is because because men and women alike feel more comfortable commenting on and re-directing a woman's behavior. They will intervene much sooner. There is greater social pressures on women to confrom, so their drinking either must be hidden from others. Since this is difficult to do with a housemate not doing it is often the result.

There does not seem to be any differences in the genetic tendency towards alochol abuse. A typical woman who comes for treatment is about the same age as a man. But while he has had years of gradual escalation, her problem evolved rather quickly. Her drinking was likely triggered by specific events and she came to treatment because of health or relationship (not job or legal problems like men) affects of the drinking. Women suffer more damage to the liver and other health problems with comparable amounts (standardized by weight) than similar men, so there are more health problems sooner.

Women and Other Substance Abuse
Women are more likely to be addicted to prescription drugs than illegal. They combine them with alcohol. Stimulants (cocaine, methaphetamine, even Phen-Fen) are used at about the same rate as men. But women's motivation is often weight loss or to temporarily counter depression that is more common in women.

Women are more likely to start and continue smoking for weight control.

Substance Abuse -- The Consequences For Women
Alcohol use is associated with higher rates of breast cancer and osteoporosis. They are more prone to liver disease. Menstrual disorders and impaired childbearing potential are associated with both alcohol and drugs. Specifically, heavy, irregular, paninful periods and PMS are implicated. Women smokers go through menopause earlier. While unplanned pregnancy is a consequence of addiction, it is also one of women's strongest motivators to quit.

Female drug users have a much higher rate sexually transmitted disease, including AIDS. This is due to having unprotected sex with high risk partners while stoned. Male to female transmission is always higher. Also, drug addicted women trade sex for drugs.

Substance Abuse Treatment For Women
While many women prefer all-female treatment groups, there is no clear cut evidence that they have better outcomes than their co-ed counterparts. The practice of "an intervention" or other confrontational initiation of therapy by others is one that often backfires when used on women. Many women are already overly concerned with what others think of them and how their behavior impacts their loved ones. They are not in denial, unaware, or unconcerned about the impact, as this practice is intended to correct. Rather they are hiding their behavior to avoid the social stigma and shame to which they are more sensitive. Women are more likely to perceive an Intervention as an attack and cut off contact the social support network that iniated it, because she feels like she has let them down and/or they don't care about her. This loss can prevent her from getting the treatment she needs rather than facilitate it.

Women are more likely to start treatment in a non-substance abuse setting, such as a therapist, and emergency room, or a primary care doctor. This may be linked to the fact that women have more low self-esteem and psychological problems that coincide with substance abuse. Women abusers have more anxiety and depression. Sometimes, these problems are addressed by their doctors, but the substance abuse is overlooked. Sexual abuse, violence or trauma, eating disorders, and dissociative disorders are also common in female substance abuse. Again, the substance abuse issue may be lost in these.

Women's treatment may include addressing some of her underlying coping skills and life situations that tend to lead women abuse substances. Assertiveness training, family or marital or parenting counseling, recovery for sexual or physical abuse, and practical help to achieve economic self-sufficiency can be included.


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Road Is Long

"The road is long, with many a winding turn........."

Never have truer words been spoken - especially when it comes to substance addiction recovery.

When we first decide to crawl out of the darkness and take our tentative steps in the light of sobriety, it's an amazing experience. We begin to feel stronger and our reasoning abilities become a lot clearer.

......then the emotional crash, the "honeymoon" period is over.

Perhaps you have experienced this and know what I mean. The "high" of making the decision to clean up and detoxing has gone. You are now back in the community and facing it on it's terms, learning to cope.

You may be alone, isolated in your pain that "normal" people can never understand. You grieve for your lost "friend", even though that friend was actually your worst enemy. You become irritable, uninterested, depressed -perhaps even suicidal. This can lead to a "bust", a bust you may never recover from -remember, that if we are addicted we cannot control our substance intake. The "just one more time" may seal your fate. And as we all know, there are worse things in life than death -the insanity of addiction. You may not be lucky enough to die the next time.

Many of us have experienced this phase, the "emotional roller coaster". For me, it was as though all the colours of the world were washed away. There was no point to anything, my mind constantly went back to the dark days. I was guilt ridden, self-pitying and unmotivated. I was very hard to be around. While others who knew me congratulated me on my efforts, I saw only failure as I didn't feel "right". I felt the same way I did at the age of 13 when my hell really began.

There is a reason for this - in a lot of ways, I was still 13. When I began abusing substances, a great deal of my emotional growth stopped, the substance was my coping mechanism. At the age of 24, it began again. There was a steep learning curve ahead.

But don't worry, this phase does not last forever. For me it was one year. For you it may be a few weeks. It depends greatly on your network of support and more so, yourself.

-If you are experiencing this, it is imperative that you build a network of people around you that understand what you are feeling. These people are the recovered addicts. They will know when to hug you and tell you that everything will be OK, and they also know when to kick your butt and tell you to "get over it"....tough love, but necessary.

-If the environment you are in threatens your sobriety, leave it. I am serious...whatever it takes, get the hell out of there! You may be saying to yourself "I can't leave, I can't afford to" or "People are relying on me to be around". It doesn't matter - remember where you have just come from. If you finish up back there again, you may never re-emerge.

-You may have friends who are still practising addicts/alcoholics. Stay away from them if they do not respect what you are doing to improve yourself. It is in the nature of people who have the disease of addiction and are still practising to influence you in subtle ways. In a great deal of cases, it is not on purpose, but more a subconscious thing.

-Start putting routine into your day. I'm not suggesting too much, too soon but keeping busy is a great way of keeping your mind off things. As you become more productive, your self-esteem increases.

-Re-establish a sleeping pattern. Your body has been through hell and back. It needs rest, and your brain needs to sort things out on many levels. Be prepared for nightmares involving the past and use of the substance. Even though you may have no apparent cravings, your subconscious yearns for another hit and expresses this in your dreams. The nightmares are alarming at first. There were many times that I woke up in a pool of sweat. Even seven years down the track I still have them, but I accept them for what they are.

-Eat regular meals. I am a fine example of a toxic waste dump when it comes to things of a dietary nature, but I learnt early in my recovery that cravings could be lessened through eating something. The advice given to cigarette smokers about eating healthily when quitting is sound and good, but it is my experience that when withdrawing from other substances it is wiser to satisfy your food cravings with what it wants, including fatty and sugary foods. Alcoholics will probably find that they will develop a sweet tooth because their bodies are used to high amounts of sugar. So, if you wake up at 3 in the morning and eat a quart of double chocolate chip ice cream smothered in fudge, don't feel guilty! It's better that than what you were using before!

-If you find yourself feeling angry a great deal, this is also normal. It is important to examine the anger and not just lash out using whatever situation you are in as a scapegoat. Whatever is going on, it will pass. Breathe deeply and think.

Some of the points above may seem fairly drastic and harsh, but this is a life and death situation. And unlike some other terminal illnesses, addiction destroys everything in it's path as it destroys you - your family, your friends and anyone you come into prolonged contact with.

The advice above is not mine; it was given to me and I now pass it on to you. The easy way to remember the points is the HALT statement

The 4 Don'ts:


Good luck to you in your recovery, there are people out there who care about you, even if you don't know them....

"You alone can do it, but you cannot do it alone"

Michael Bloch

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Grand Illusion

Each one of us lives an illusion of life. Deep inside us dwells a person that is real and alive, but far removed. We may sense that person, but few others truly see the person we are deep within.

After you peel away the layers of personality cover-ups; the layers of walls and shields we all project; you may find a quivering, frightened human being, desperately trying to feel needed, and seeking his or her place in the greater reality.

Who are we really? I mean, really? deep inside? Peel away the layers of religion and beliefs; peel away the delusions we operate under; peel away the face we show to the world, and for many--if not most--what we have left is the pain of who we really are; the pain of not knowing the true reality; the pain of dreams unfulfilled; a feeling, perhaps, of no belonging.

We try so desperately to fit in; so desperately to show a face of confidence in our surroundings and ourselves. But could it be that each one of us is really just a frightened child? What happened to our dreams? our hopes for the future? What happened to our innocence? to what we wanted to become? Somehow, when we were born as adults, we died as children. No longer do we fantasize about our hopes and dreams for the future; of what we were going to be and do. The concept of "what could be," passed away. Indeed, for some, perhaps there was no true childhood at all.

Somehow, we got sucked into this giant swirling vortex that robs us of our most precious possession--our humanity; our humanity--with all the wonderful plans; all the wonderful innocence; the pure and noble. Most of us live deep within a self-imposed illusion of life; growing up and adapting to what is socially and culturally acceptable in society. And in so doing, we quickly enmesh ourselves in the enslaving constraints of life, job/career, and financial obligations. Moreover, these are like a ball and chain that we drag around for decades (or life), never realizing all we could be.

All that we had once hoped and dreamed is now discounted as childhood fantasy. Instead, we live the life of illusion. Humanity has lost itself.

But why? Who decided that we should live lives of quiet desperation? We did. Society did. Humanity did.

But there is one hope; one glorious sparkle of redemption: As adults and human beings, we have the magnificent gift of Free Will; the choice to accept personal responsibility for where we are at right now and where we are going next…or not accept it; the choice to change and grow within, which in turn changes our life, which in turn, changes our world. (For more on personal responsibility, see the article, "Wisdom in the Mirror" at

If you are just beginning to make your way into the world as a young adult, then choose your future wisely—now, before you find yourself unwittingly encumbered by circumstances that you did not actively design and intend.

On the other hand, what if you find yourself in a life-situation or circumstance that is holding you back from realizing your dreams? First, answer the "Why?" question: What decisions, mindsets, or behaviors got you to this place in life? Educate yourself on these, and then correct them. Next, explore all possible solutions that will result in forward momentum.

Of course, you must act responsibly in your endeavors, not casting aside moral commitments, such as family obligations. To be certain, any noble work results in a win-win outcome, even if it is painful to accept. Apart from this, do what you must to realize your potential!

When we begin to make forward movement toward our dreams, our long-held and closely guarded Grand Illusion of Life then evaporates, revealing the Grand Reality of Life--our life! Then we find meaning, belonging, and fulfillment--not in an illusion--but in the limitless possibilities of "what could be."

So, how about it? What's your choice? Remember: It is never too late to find yourself and be all that you wanted!


Monday, December 3, 2007

Separating the Theraputic Benefits of Marijuana

ScienceDaily (Nov. 30, 2007) — Scientists from Queen Mary, University of London, have discovered a new way to separate the therapeutic benefits of cannabis from its mood-altering side-effects.

Cannabis contains a chemical called THC, which binds to, and activates, proteins in the brain known as ‘CB1 cannabinoid receptors’. Activating these receptors can relieve pain and prevent epileptic seizures; but it also causes the mood-altering effect experienced by people who use cannabis as a recreational drug.

Now, Professor Maurice Elphick and Dr Michaela Egertová from Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences may have found a way of separating out the effects of cannabis – a discovery which could lead to the development of new medicines to treat conditions such as epilepsy, obesity and chronic pain. The research is described in the December issue of the journal Molecular Pharmacology.

Working in collaboration with scientists based in the USA*, they have identified a protein that binds to the CB1 receptors in the brain. But unlike THC, this ‘Cannabinoid Receptor Interacting Protein’ or CRIP1a, suppresses the activity of CB1 receptors.

Professor Elphick explains: “Because CRIP1a inhibits the activity of the brain’s cannabinoid receptors, it may be possible to develop drugs that block this interaction, and in turn enhance CB1 activity. This may give patients the pain relief associated with CB1 activity, without the ‘high’ that cannabis users experience.”

Leslie Iversen FRS, Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Oxford and author of The Science of Marijuana, commented on the new findings: “This interesting discovery provides a completely new insight into the regulation of the cannabinoid system in the brain - and could offer a new approach to the discovery of cannabis-based medicines in the future.”

“CB1 Cannabinoid Receptor Activity Is Modulated by the Cannabinoid Receptor Interacting Protein CRIP1a” is published online in the December issue of Molecular Pharmacology.

The Elphick laboratory in the School of Biological & Chemical Sciences at Queen Mary is supported by grants from UK research councils (BBSRC, MRC) and the Wellcome Trust.

Adapted from materials provided by Queen Mary, University of London.
Queen Mary, University of London (2007, November 30). Separating The Therapeutic Benefits Of Cannabis From Its Mood-altering

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Heroin addiction

A man retrieved a package of white powder from his back pocket, removed a small quantity of it with the edge of his pocket knife, placed it on a pocket mirror, and began sniffing it. He had done this many times before in the restroom at his workplace, so he was focused calmly on the drug as it surged through him, bringing him instant relief from pain and anxiety. Moments later, however, he blacked out and tumbled to the bathroom floor.

The overdose didn’t kill him; in fact, it probably saved his life. It forced him to enter into a treatment program for drug addiction. He got clean, got addicted again, got clean, got addicted again, got clean. This man did not grow up in a poor neighborhood where junkies shoot up on the streets and drug dealers kill each other in turf wars. This man came from the suburbs. He went to several of the best colleges in the country, got a high paying job working with computers, got married, had kids. He also joined an ever-expanding list of people who get addicted to heroin.

The great jazz musician Charlie Parker was a heroin addict. So was the blues singer Billie Holiday. Rock stars Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain were both heroin junkies. Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Iggy Pop—all at one time were heroin addicts. In 1996, Jonathan Melvoin of the rock band Smashing Pumpkins died from an overdose of heroin. The list of famous junkies is not limited to rock stars; the actor Robert Downey Jr. is currently serving a prison sentence on heroin-related charges, and William Cope Moyers—the son of renowned journalist Bill Moyers—is a recovering heroin addict.

Statistics show that heroin use since 1992 is on the rise in the United States, and many new users between the ages of twelve and seventeen come from the suburbs. In the period between 1980 and 1995, first-time heroin use for this age group increased fourfold. According to Join Together— a drug education organization—the over-all estimated number of heroin users increased from 68,000 in 1993 to 325,000 in 1997. Heroin use by twelfth graders increased by more than 100 percent from 1990 to 1997. The number of heroin-related cases in hospital emergency rooms throughout the nation increased by 64 percent between 1988 and 1994.

There are many theories to explain the rise in heroin use. Some attribute the drastic rise to new forms of heroin consumption: Heroin now comes in forms that can be sniffed or smoked, alternatives to injection that appeal to young people who see them as healthier and safer than injection. However, users who frequently consume the drug using these methods eventually use injection because as they develop a tolerance for the drug, injection gives them a bigger “rush” for their money. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has another explanation for the increase in heroin use. The DEA claims that “international drug traffickers have made a strategic marketing decision to push heroin as an alternative to cocaine” once cocaine use went down as a result of public information campaigns about its dangers. Richard Lowry, a political reporter for National Review, argues that heroin’s rising popularity is due to the development of “grunge” culture. Since heroin is a drug of “isolation and oblivion,” it appeals to young people eager to rebel against the broken—and increasingly middleclass— families from which they come. Karen Schoemer, reporting for Newsweek, observes that heroin has become high fashion. From musicians to fashion models, the stars that many young people look up to are using the drug. Says model Zoe Fleischauer, “There are a lot of junkies in the [fashion] industry. It’s very hush-hush. . . . They wanted models that looked like junkies. The more skinny . . . you look, the more everybody thinks you’re fabulous.”

Even though current fashion may seem to raise the reputation and alter the method of consumption of heroin, the nature of the drug has not changed over time. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin is a highly addictive drug. It is both the most abused and the most rapidly acting of the opiates, a class of drugs that also includes morphine and codeine. Heroin is processed from morphine—the legal drug doctors prescribe to patients in extreme pain—which is derived from the seed pod of certain varieties of poppy plants. It is usually sold as a white or brownish powder or as the black sticky substance known on the streets as “black tar heroin.” (Other street names for heroin are “smack,” “horse,” and “junk.”) Heroin was originally developed in an effort to find drugs that could help people overcome addiction to opiates, but it was quickly discovered that heroin was more addictive than morphine, and the drug was made illegal.

Despite the fact that heroin use has been illegal for decades, the drug today is more fashionable, purer in form, easier to obtain and easier to use than the drug of earlier days. Heroin today still exacts the same high price on the user, however: addiction and its personal and social costs. Even though heroin sold on the streets today is purer than in the past, it can still be cut with poisons such as strychnine that can put users in extreme risk. Overdose presents a persistent danger, and many overdoses result in death. Other health risks associated with heroin use are the contraction of AIDS and Hepatitis B due to the use of unsterilized needles, malnutrition, collapsed veins, bacterial infections, abscesses, infection of the heart lining and valves, arthritis, and rheumatological problems.

Not all of the consequences of heroin abuse are physical in nature. Heroin addiction also exacts a high price on the addict’s family. Parents may feel shocked and betrayed when they discover that a child is addicted to heroin, and many blame themselves. Families can also feel the financial strain of addictive behavior as the addict spends an ever-increasing portion of household money on heroin. Individuals battling heroin addiction can lose their jobs as well, and some turn to crime in order to get money to buy the drug.

In spite of the many individual costs associated with its use, people continue to use heroin for the way it makes them feel. Heroin causes people to feel warm and content, and it relieves stress. The Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace reports that heroin gives the user a short-lived state of euphoria, followed by drowsiness. It slows the heart rate, breathing, and brain activity, and depresses appetite, thirst, reflexes, and sexual desire. It also increases tolerance for pain.

Users must use higher and higher doses of the drug, however, in order to attain the same effect. Eventually, addicts inject the drug not to obain pleasure but to relieve the pain that sets in as the drug wears off. These withdrawal symptoms usually occur four to eight hours after the last dose and include chills, sweating, runny nose, irritability, insomnia, tremors, and body pain.

Treatment for heroin addiction takes many forms, but always requires stopping the use of heroin entirely. Since withdrawal from heroin “cold turkey” entails extreme pain, other treatments have been developed. The latest treatment for heroin addiction—Rapid Opiate Detoxification—allows a physician to anesthetize the addict so that he or she is unconscious during the most painful period of withdrawal. A more traditional approach to the treatment of heroin addiction is to replace the use of heroin with the use of methadone, another opiate, but one which does not have the same dangerous side effects as heroin and allows the user to live a relatively normal life. Most heroin treatment programs treat addiction as a health problem, not a criminal or moral problem; some even call heroin addiction a disease, but that contention is contested by others who see such labels as relieving the addict of responsibility for his or her addiction. Heroin addiction also adds to the tremendous social burden imposed by illicit drug problems in general. Public Health Policy, a public health organization, estimates that in 1989, there were 10,710 deaths directly resulting from drug consumption in the United States. The total costs of illicit drug abuse were estimated to be $66.9 billion in 1991. Some of this cost is incurred due to medical treatment for addiction and physical illness as a result of drug abuse, and to drug education. A larger portion of the expense, however, is borne by law enforcement efforts which include interdiction, policing, judicial proceedings, and finally, incarceration. Public Health Policy claims that there are over 1.6 million people in prison on drug-related charges—many of those incarcerated are heroin addicts—and that the number keeps growing.

Anyone who snorts heroin at work knows firsthand the costs of drug addiction. He or she could face the possibility of prison, loss of family, job, and health; overdose followed by death is a constant threat. Maybe he or she could switch to methadone or get clean—in prison, in a treatment program imposed as an alternative to prison, or possibly without help—and begin living a productive, healthy life. The health and prosperity not just of rock musicians, models, and actors, but of ordinary people depends upon the quality of the discussion about heroin and the drug policies that arise from it.