Thursday, January 21, 2016

Teen brain development and drug use

Lately, (and just "for fun" :o) I've been watching YouTube videos featuring talks by Dr. Nora Volkow, the Director of the NIH/NIDA, the National Institute of Health and National Institute on Drug Addiction. Dr. Volkow is a psychiatrist and has spent her life studying the human brain and how it is affected by drugs of addiction. I believe she is taking part in some of the most current and forward thinking topics on addiction, teen brain development, teen addiction and the need for vaccines to treat addiction. 

I have written in the past on addiction and mental illness, and posed the question of whether drug addiction is a mental illness (more here). The truth is that the teen brain is delicate and the process of maturing and becoming an adult brain should not be taken lightly. Given that the teen brain goes through a huge period of development and the fact that many teens expose themselves to risk taking behaviors (which may include drug use) means that a brain that might have the predisposed condition towards mental illness will be adversely compromised if exposed to chronic drug use during the early teen years. 

Many teens think the marijuana is "harmless". Please look at the video above, particularly at the 6:45 minute mark where Dr. Volkow answers a teen's question about whether marijuana use is harmful. The answer and explanation Dr. Volkow gives made this entire lecture hall of teens think twice about using marijuana. 

In particular, I am very interested in the 'why?' behind drug use and abuse, and the role dopamine plays in the addict's choice to use, even when he states 'I don't even really enjoy it anymore.' Dr. Volkow's description on how dopamine is tied to the brain's function, and that the brain is conditioned almost more by the actions associated with preparing to use a drug than to the actual affect the brain receives by the actual drug use. Dr. Volkow states the brain of an addict sees drug use as critical to their survival. More on this can be found in this presentation on Addiction: A Disease of Free Will).

Will there be a vaccine for drug addiction? Currently, the issue is at the center of a large debate. Drug companies are not convinced it is "necessary". The bottom line is, of course, profits. But, the driving force is the fact that addiction is still very stigmatized. It is seen as a choice, or an issue of free will. "If they really wanted to stop using, they would." The true question is why would someone risk the loss of absolutely everything in life, including their very OWN life, in order to fuel their addiction? 

It is necessary to embrace addiction as a chronic disease of the brain, where drug use disrupts the circuitry of the brain that enable a person to make healthy decisions for themselves. When the stigmatization of addiction is dropped, and the healthcare system embraces addiction and mental illness as a disease, when the person dealing with a co-morbid disorder of addiction combined with mental illness can get necessary treatment from the medical community without feeling inferior or shamed by society, then things might change. When we can treat these people with empathy from a disease we call addiction, they may finally get the help they need.   


Friday, January 15, 2016

An open letter to yourself

I begin each day with a prayer and a deep message of kindness towards those in my life who struggle with self doubt and addiction. I'd like to share my message today. I hope this might help just one someone.

Dear You,

Today it is time for you to be yourself. 

You are the only one who knows the parts of you that need kindness the most, and for this reason, only you can provide this kind of deep kindness that you so need.

Try to be kind to the weak parts of yourself. Be kind to your addictions and your frailties, your mistakes and all of your human parts. Rather than treating these parts of yourself with hatred and disgust, please just take hands with these parts and say, "I am with you, we will make it through this." 

Even though you have stumbled and fallen SO MANY TIMES, today you can choose to put your arm around the broken parts of you. Today, you can look inward and try to heal the deep wounds and cracks in your heart and soul by treating each hurt with care and love. You can do this. 

Just try,  -- just try. BE KIND to ALL of you. Let YOU know that it's gonna be ok, that you are gonna love YOU no matter what as you work through all of this. 

You are so deeply loved.


*inspired by BGC message 1-14-16