Alprazolam Use Disorder
Helll-ooo people! I hope everyone had a great holiday weekend, maybe bit the head off a big bunny- a chocolate one of course. We’ve been talking about alprazolam, trade name Xanax. Last week I warned you about the dangers of buying it off of the street. If you’ve forgotten why it’s dangerous, it’s because it’s nearly always counterfeit crap made in some moron’s basement with fentanyl and heaven knows what else, and you don’t want that. If you think I have a pretty clear opinion on fake Xanax, or any fake pharmaceutical for that matter, Captain Obvious says you’d be right.
If you read the first blog in this series a couple of weeks ago, you already know that Xanax, generic name alprazolam, is a member of the class of anxiolytic drugs called benzodiazepines, and very commonly prescribed for anxiety and panic disorders- mainly because it’s very effective and works quickly. But it also has serious addiction potential and is a common drug of abuse, and this is something that patients and their families must be aware of up front. With that in mind, this week’s blog will focus on the signs and symptoms of Xanax abuse, and how that progresses to the diagnosis of sedative use disorder, or more specifically Xanax use disorder.
Some people who are prescribed Xanax for anxiety or panic disorders can take their prescribed dose twice a day for years and never experience an issue, unless or until they stop taking it. They become dependent upon it, but only in that their body becomes used to having the drug in their system- it’s not a pathological dependence. Upon stopping it, they’ll still experience withdrawal symptoms, but they don’t develop Xanax use disorder, because their use is quite literally not disordered. Incidentally, I’ll be focusing on withdrawal from Xanax next week. In contrast, far too many people develop a pathological dependence upon Xanax. Even if they have a genuine anxiety disorder and start out taking it only as prescribed, they begin to abuse it by taking too much and/ or too often, and they develop a use disorder, which progresses to what we colloquially call an addiction.
This is a process that generally starts because they begin to develop a tolerance to the drug and require more of it to achieve the desired effect, whether that is to quell their symptoms of anxiety, or to get high. Tolerance is a phenomenon that occurs with many drugs, but it is especially dangerous in a drug like Xanax, as it’s a closed circuit- the more you need, the more you take, and the more you take, the more you need. Ideally, a patient informs their prescribing physician if they feel that their current dose is no longer adequate. But that doesn’t always happen, and patients may choose to increase the dose on their own; and at that point, they’re abusing the drug.
Some of the most common physical signs and symptoms of Xanax abuse include slurred speech, poor motor coordination, confusion, blurred vision, drowsiness, dizziness, difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness, and an inability to reduce intake without symptoms of withdrawal. Beyond the physical symptoms, when a person begins to abuse Xanax, there will likely be noticeable changes in their behavior as well. Some of the most common behavioral signs of Xanax abuse include the following:
-Taking risks in order to buy Xanax: some people may do things they wouldn’t have previously considered in order to obtain it. For instance, they may steal, often from loved ones, in order to pay for Xanax.
-Losing interest in normal activities: as Xanax abuse takes a firmer hold in a person’s life, they commonly lose interest in activities they formerly enjoyed.
-Risk-taking behaviors: as Xanax abuse continues, the person may become more comfortable taking big risks, such as driving while on Xanax.
-Maintaining stashes of Xanax: to ensure that they will not have to go without Xanax, they will attempt to stockpile it.
-Relationship problems: Xanax abuse invariably leads to interpersonal problems and social issues, but this often isn’t enough to motivate the person to stop.
-Obsessive thoughts and actions: the person will spend an inordinate amount of time and energy obtaining and using Xanax. This may include activities like doctor shopping or looking for alternate sources of it, or asking friends, family, and/ or colleagues for it.
-Legal issues: this can be related to illegally obtaining Xanax, being arrested/ incarcerated for drugged driving, or for other disturbances as a consequence of use.
-Solitude and secrecy: when abusing Xanax, it’s very common for people to withdraw from friends and family to protect their use.
-Financial difficulties: to pay for Xanax, a person may drain their financial resources and/ or those of family and friends.
-Denial: this includes setting aside valid concerns about Xanax abuse to protect ongoing use of the drug. For example, minimizing or refusing to recognize the dangers of buying it on the street.
As Xanax abuse progresses, it reaches what most people would term an addiction. But the actual diagnosis recognized in the psych nerd’s bible, the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition) is termed use disorder. If the person is using Xanax, we call it sedative use disorder or Xanax use disorder, but there is opioid use disorder as well- essentially anything that is abused can fill in the blank. In order for a person to be diagnosed with a sedative use disorder, they must exhibit a certain number of signs and symptoms within a one year period. The more symptoms that are present, the higher the grading the sedative use disorder will receive, and this places the severity of the disorder on a continuum, be it mild, moderate, or severe.
Paraphrased versions of the assessed symptoms of Xanax use disorder are as follows:
-Repeated problems in meeting obligations in the areas of family, work, or school because of Xanax use.
-Spending a significant amount of time acquiring Xanax, using it, or recovering from side effects of use.
-Continued Xanax use despite hazardous circumstances.
-Continued Xanax use despite the complications it causes with social interactions and interpersonal relationships.
-Continued Xanax use despite experiencing one or more negative personal outcomes.
-Using more Xanax or using it for longer than recommended or intended.
-An inability to stop using Xanax despite an ongoing desire to do so.
-Obsessive craving for Xanax.
-Ceasing or reducing participation in work, social, or family affairs due to Xanax use.
-Building tolerance over time, necessitating the use of increasing amounts of Xanax to achieve desired effect.
-Experiencing withdrawal symptoms upon decreasing the dose of Xanax.
These last two signs- building tolerance that requires continual dosage increases, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when dosage is decreased- are indicative of physical dependence and ultimately addiction. These are natural body processes that occur when the brain and body habituate to drug use over time. Once the body becomes accustomed to having the drug, a sort of new normal is established in its presence. Thereafter, when the drug use stops, the body will issue its demand for more of the drug in the form of withdrawal symptoms. And that’s exactly where we’ll pick up next week.
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Thank you and be well people!
Opioid Addiction and Detox: Buprenorphine vs Methadone
Last week, I went over the history of opioids, and it really highlighted the trend of addiction that has always been linked with them. According to the World Health Organization, more than 15 million people are suffering from opioid dependence today. It’s clear that the opioid epidemic isn’t a new phenomenon; for as long as the opium poppy has been in existence, so has addiction. Historically speaking, what is relatively new is that physicians and pharma companies are recognizing the need for more effective ways to combat this epidemic, whether through prevention or treatment. As a result, we have some novel compounds that present different options for people who are addicted to these drugs; these include non-narcotic options for pain relief to prevent addiction, as well as medications to help addicted people on their road to recovery from opioid dependence. In a future blog, I’ll talk about a non-narcotic compound currently in patient trials that is showing a great deal of promise in the chronic pain arena. If you’re interested now, I posted a video on it on my YouTube channel, so check it out. But for today, I’m going to talk about the latter: two drugs, one relatively new and one not so much, that are being used to detox opioid addicts and give them a shot at a clean life. These two drugs are buprenorphine and methadone, and one of these is definitely not like the other. I’m going to compare and contrast them: the good, bad, and the ugly. By the end, you’ll not only know my opinion on the matter, but why I’m passionate about it.
What is Buprenorphine?
On the market for nearly twenty years, buprenorphine is a Schedule III drug used to help treat the physical ramifications of opioid withdrawal. Given as a simple medicine that dissolves under the tongue, buprenorphine satiates the opioid receptors that cause dependent people to crave opioids. It can be prescribed in its solo form, or as a branded compound product with naloxone, which is the familiar ‘resurrection’ drug Narcan. It is the most strictly regulated drug by DEA, and available only from physicians that have been specially certified in its use, a fact that has been the nexus of some controversy. Why? Some physicians and policy makers feel that the hoops that physicians must jump through in order to receive the ‘X Waiver’ required to prescribe it present a barrier to its use; that if certification requirements were relaxed or eliminated, more opioid-dependent people would have access to this option for detox. The objective of someone taking buprenorphine is to help them remain safe and comfortable as they go through detox from opioids so that they can focus on treatment and recovery. While some data claims that buprenorphine may create some feelings of well-being when a person takes it, it does not cause a euphoric high. It’s also worth noting that while it can be used safely long term, the duration of use of buprenorphine tends to be more short-term, which clearly verifies the absence of a high and it’s low potential for addiction. Buprenorphine’s binding action to opioid receptors in the brain blocks the narcotic effects of traditional opioids, so if a drug-dependent person takes buprenorphine and an opioid together, there’s still no “high,” thus eliminating the reason for taking said opioid. And, buprenorphine also has a ceiling effect, meaning that beyond a specific dose, its effects remain unchanged. This essentially does away with the “if one is good, four are better” phenomenon, so overdose is very rare.
What is Methadone?
Methadone is a drug that some physicians believe can be used to “help” opioid-dependent people as they try to stop using drugs. But that’s about where the similarities end. Old as the hills, methadone is a Schedule II opioid medication that’s been used for detox for 60 years. Methadone has a similar chemical structure to morphine; as such, methadone can, and does, make someone feel high. In theory, methadone doesn’t make people “as high” as some other opioids, and it can take longer for that high to occur, which proponents say translates into less potential for abuse. I say this is total bullshit. Why? Because we’re talking about drug-dependent people here, people! We’re dealing with people that, despite any good intentions they may have, their brains and bodies tell them they must get high. Remember that “if one is good, four are better” phenomenon I mentioned? Yeah. Bottom line is that methadone is a very strong opiate, so when a dependent person takes it, their addicted brain gets a taste of that high, and it’s like a tease…it tends to make them want more. Helllooo! There’s almost nothing that will stop a drug addicted brain from getting what it wants. There’s no blocking action and no ceiling with methadone, so overdoses are not unusual. Regardless, for over sixty years, methadone has been given as a “short-term” treatment to help people stop using opioids. That’s bad enough, but what’s worse is that it’s even more often used as a long-term maintenance drug for the “management” of opioid addiction. In reality, it’s replacing one bad drug with an even worse one. In fact, methadone is also known as “liquid handcuffs” by the people who have managed to successfully get off of their methadone “management” programs.
While the general objectives of buprenorphine and methadone use may be similar to one another, there are clearly many significant differences.
Methadone is almost exclusively dispensed by clinics on a per diem basis, meaning that people have to head to the clinic every day and line up to get their “medicine.” In contrast, a physician with an X waiver can write for a 30-day supply of buprenorphine. It is less problematic than methadone, largely because it’s less dangerous and less addictive than methadone, thanks to the ceiling effect precluding overdose, and the fact that it doesn’t cause a high. That said, people must keep in mind that buprenorphine is a powerful drug, and not one to be taken (or prescribed) lightly. Saying that it’s less dangerous than methadone, while absolutely true, is sort of like saying that rattlesnake bites are less dangerous than cobra bites. Me personally, I’d just rather not be bitten…but if I have to be bitten, bring on the freaking rattlesnake.
Buprenorphine vs. Methadone
It’s Science, People!
Both humans and animals have opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord. Biologically speaking, these receptors facilitate the binding and effect of naturally produced pain-relieving chemicals. Externally sourced opioids like methadone belong to the opioid agonist class of drugs. They work by binding to these specific receptors in the brain and mimicking the effects of those naturally produced pain-relieving chemicals. As a result, the perception of pain is blocked, producing feelings of well-being and euphoria, but also side effects such as nausea, confusion, and drowsiness. While opioid drugs are often very effective in treating pain, people can eventually develop a tolerance, so they require higher doses to achieve the same effects. It’s a vicious cycle, so people become dependent, and will experience symptoms of withdrawal if they decrease or stop opioid dosing. That means that when it comes time to taper off of methadone, it’s intrinsically difficult, and withdrawal is unavoidable. Symptoms of opioid withdrawal can include anxiety, muscle aches, irritability, insomnia, runny nose, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramping. It’s seriously un-fun at best.
Buprenorphine belongs to the opioid agonist-antagonist class of drugs, and it is a partial opioid agonist. As such, it activates only a portion of an opioid receptor, so it only causes a portion of the effects of an opioid, specifically eliminating the euphoric effects of opioids like methadone. It has lower potential for causing respiratory depression than methadone, and that translates to little potential for overdose death. And it also effectively blocks the effects of other opioids, including heroin and prescription pain medications like fentanyl and oxycodone, so it’s much more likely to discourage relapse in recovering patients. Buprenorphine prescriptions can be filled and taken home, eliminating the need to go line up at a nasty clinic every single day. And because it’s much longer acting than methadone, buprenorphine doesn’t need to be taken every single day anyway, so patients aren’t tied to it; they have the freedom to spend more time doing activities that are more positive for their recovery. When it comes down to tapering off of buprenorphine, it’s far easier than methadone, with essentially zero physical withdrawal symptoms. All of these factors make a big difference, people.
Buprenorphine Pros vs Methadone
Newer, safer, more effective
Long acting, easy taper
Safe for use during pregnancy
Low overdose potential
Prevents opioid usage- blocks euphoria
Covered by most insurance carriers
Typically excluded from employment drug screening
Buprenorphine Cons vs Methadone
Can be more expensive out of pocket
Unpleasant taste sometimes reported
Requires specialized physician
In my practice, I treat a fair number of opioid addicted people, and I do not and will not ever use methadone to treat them…it makes zero sense, when there’s an alternative that is more effective, safer, and easier to use. Methadone doesn’t solve a problem, it creates a bigger one. If I have a new patient that is on methadone, I switch them to buprenorphine as a matter of course. It’s not easy on them, but I use every weapon available in my arsenal.
Methadone to Buprenorphine
In order to start taking buprenorphine, a patient must be in withdrawal, another un-fun fact. This is because buprenorphine is a bully. When you take it, it preferentially binds to those opioid receptors we talked about before. That means it kicks the true opioid off the receptor and replaces it. Doesn’t sound so horrible in theory, but it’s a very different thing in practice. The opioid addicted brain without its favorite thing- opioids- leads to a brain in withdrawal, which leads to a body in physical withdrawal…shakes, sweats, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle aches, and joint pain, just to name a few of the symptoms to be expected.
The patient must be in a state of withdrawal for a proscribed amount of time before you can dose them with buprenorphine, because it can be dangerous to give it sooner. The longer they can tolerate that withdrawal prior to dosing buprenorphine, the better the buprenorphine will work and the easier the process will be. The length of the ideal withdrawal time is based on the half-life of the opioid the patient is addicted to. The half-life of a drug is roughly the amount of time it takes for half of the drug to be metabolized by the body, ie that 50% of it is left. For most opioids, 24 to 36 hours is the ideal withdrawal time. But methadone’s half-life is crazy long; in some people, it can be between 88 and 59 hours. But wait…it gets worse. That’s just for half of the drug to be metabolized. It generally takes six or seven half-lives to fully metabolize out a drug so it is no longer biologically active, so in methadone you need to have ten days off before you can safely introduce buprenorphine. Again, this is because that buprenorphine is a bully, and if you introduce it too soon, when methadone is still parked on the opioid receptors, it’s going to kick that buprenorphine off and throw the person into instant, severe withdrawal, which is not only dangerous, but intolerable to patients. Coming off of methadone requires high doses of buprenorphine for the first 24 to 48 hours, even after waiting for it to metabolize out. Otherwise, you can precipitate major withdrawal where that person starts kicking their legs uncontrollably, sweating, flinging sheets off the bed, and having terrible muscle spasms and cramping- it’s a horror to watch, let alone experience. I had a new patient that had become addicted to strong opioids secondary to chronic, severe pelvic pain and a series of several consecutive pelvic surgeries for ovarian tumors. The whole thing lasted for years and culminated in a hysterectomy. Immediately upon release from the hospital after the hysterectomy, she checked herself in to rehab to detox, and they put her on buprenorphine way too soon. Her withdrawals were very severe, to the point where she vomited so hard that she tore 19 of her abdominal sutures open and had to be taken back to the operating room emergently. Needless to say, she wasn’t too keen on the possibility of that ever happening again.
So what’s a guy like me to do when a methadone-addicted patient comes in? If they’re committed, there are a couple of ways to handle it. Neither is fun nor risk free. One, you can step down from methadone to another opioid substitute like oxycodone in an incremental ratio for three days or so, stop the substitute for 24 hours, and then start buprenorphine. Or two, stop the methadone, wait as long as you can, which is usually two days, three max, of total misery, while using ancillary drugs like clonidine, benzodiazepines (like Klonopin, Ativan, and Xanax), muscle relaxants like Robaxin, and Mirtazapine to sleep. Basically using every drug possible to make the patient more comfortable, hold off on the methadone for as long as possible, and let the methadone metabolize out. Then put them on high dose buprenorphine for 48 hours, then drop to moderate dose for whatever time period is required.
In addition, there are some dietary type changes that are helpful. Taking high-dose vitamin C acidifies the urine, enhancing the secretion of methadone out of the system. Taking 1000 mg of vitamin C twice a day, drinking slightly less water if possible, and eating a lot of protein will help further acidify the body and constipate the system, which sounds like hell, but is actually a good thing for withdrawal.
The best way to deal with the situation is not to, meaning avoid becoming addicted in the first place. But, if you do find yourself addicted, do not choose a methadone detox, and definitely do not choose a methadone maintenance program. There’s just zero reason to do that when we have buprenorphine fairly readily available.
The clear consensus is that buprenorphine is the gold standard treatment for patients suffering from opioid addiction. As a provider, I’ve had the privilege of seeing patients reclaim their lives with the help of a buprenorphine detox regimen; it allows them to focus on their jobs, their families, and their own well-being, instead of physically, mentally, and emotionally battling their addiction every minute of every day, to the exclusion of all happiness.
So boys and girls, the moral of the story is…
Coming off methadone is not fun, and I have had patients who are still depressed, anxious, and unable to sleep- six months, eight months, even a year- after transitioning from methadone to buprenorphine, to the point where they still require medications to deal with it. Xanax and methadone are my two least favorite pharmaceuticals in the entire world, each for their own specific reasons. Clearly, for patients looking to switch from methadone to buprenorphine, it’s a tough row to hoe; the symptoms can be excruciating, especially if mismanaged, but don’t let that stop you from making the switch. My first and best advice is to avoid becoming an addict, but if you do become one, never go on methadone, for any length of time, ever. It’s a trap, pure and simple.
I hope you enjoyed this blog and found it educational. Please feel free to share it with family and friends. Be sure to check out my YouTube channel with all of my videos, and I’d appreciate it if you would like, subscribe, leave comments, and share those vids! As always, my book Tales from the Couch has more educational topics and patient stories, and is available in office and on Amazon.
Thank you and be well people!
How Alcohol Kills
Too much of anything, no matter how pleasurable it may be in the beginning, can lead to harmful effects. Anything that you might enjoy- eating chocolate, shopping, playing cards, even exercising- may cause harm if it is overindulged in. The negative effects or the consequences of overindulgence are well known- obesity, bankruptcy, harm to the body, etc. The same can certainly be said about alcohol. Ethyl alcohol is a highly toxic substance that can cause serious damage, both physically to the body and psychologically to the mind. An occasional drink is not the issue. But if drinking takes on a substantial role in one’s life, the effects can ultimately be devastating. You drive recklessly, you have poor coordination so you fall on your head, your inhibitions are down, so you get mouthy in a bar and get yourself stabbed or shot.
Let’s talk numbers. Excessive drinking remains a leading cause of premature mortality nationwide. Alcoholism is a widespread problem in the US, with nearly 90,000 deaths attributed to alcohol each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. They have established guidelines to help determine what constitutes excessive drinking.
First: A “drink” is defined as a 12-ounce beer, 8 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces or wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor. Remember that some cocktails contain multiple types of liquor, so they may have more than
1½ ounces each.
Excessive drinking is considered 8 or more drinks in a week for women, and 15 or more drinks in a week for men.
Binge drinking is considered 4 or more drinks in a single occasion for women, and 5 or more drinks in a single occasion for men.
Binge drinking is the most common form of excessive alcohol consumption, and is responsible for more than 50% of the deaths from excessive drinking. Binge drinking is a major cause of alcohol poisoning, and is a pattern of heavy drinking: in males, binge drinking is the rapid consumption of five or more alcoholic drinks within two hours; in females, binge drinking is the rapid consumption of four or more alcoholic drinks within two hours. These numbers may be lower, depending on a person’s weight and body composition. An alcohol binge can occur over a period of hours or last up to several days.
Binge drinking can cause alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning is a very serious- and sometimes deadly- consequence of drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. Drinking too much too quickly can affect your breathing, heart rate, body temperature, and gag reflex, and potentially lead to coma and death.
Most people can easily consume a fatal dose of alcohol before passing out. Even after losing consciousness, or after stopping drinking for the night, alcohol continues to be released from your stomach and intestines into your bloodstream, and the level of alcohol in your body continues to rise. Unlike food, which can take hours to digest, alcohol is absorbed quickly by your body- long before nutrients are. Most alcohol is processed or metabolized by your liver, and that’s why the liver is so damaged by alcohol.
Captain Obvious says that the more you drink, especially in a short period of time, the greater your risk of alcohol poisoning. There are several ways thatbinge drinking and alcohol poisoning kill you:
Choking: Alcohol may cause vomiting. And because it depresses your gag reflex, the risk of choking on vomit if you’ve passed out is very high. If you don’t die from that directly, you can also die from aspiration pneumonia. Aspiration pneumonia often results when you breathe in vomit, and you are not able to cough up this aspirated material, so bacteria grow in your lungs and cause an infection. Yucky! And deadly!
Stopping breathing: Accidentally inhaling vomit into your lungs can also lead to a dangerous, fatal interruption of breathing, called asphyxiation.
Severe dehydration: Vomiting can result in severe dehydration, leading to dangerously low blood pressure and fast heart rate.
Seizures: Heavy alcohol consumption can lead to seizure in multiple ways, including trauma to the head from falling or auto accident, a sudden drop in blood sugar, and even upon withdrawl from heavy drinking.
Hypothermia: Your body temperature may drop so low that you become hypothermic, leading to cardiac arrest.
Irregular heartbeat: Alcohol poisoning can cause the heart to beat irregularly, called arrhythmia, or even stop, called cardiac arrest.
Brain damage: Heavy drinking may cause irreversible brain damage. This can happen intrinsically or as a result of head trauma from falling or car accident, etc.
Death: Any of the issues above can lead to death.
If right now you’re thinking you’re safe because you don’t binge drink, think again. If you have “just a few” drinks every night, that is considered excessive consumption, so those few drinks each night are killing you, make no mistake.
When you think about the ways alcohol kills, some obvious ways spring to mind: trauma from car accidents, trauma from falls from being drunk, and general stupidity from being drunk, such as things that happen when alcohol lowers inhibitions to the point that you pick a fight you can’t hope to win (and you don’t) or you get lost and walk drunkenly into a bad neighborhood and get yourself killed. For the lucky people that avoid a trauma-related death from alcohol, the negative effects of excessive alcohol consumption may not be apparent for some time, but at some point there will be obvious signs that alcohol is killing them.
Ways Alcohol is Kills
It is mind boggling just how destructive alcohol is to the brain and body. The signs alcohol is killing you may creep up slowly, with a symptom here or there, or hit you all at once with a liver that has stopped functioning, as happens in late stage alcoholism.
Signs and ways alcohol kills:
Cardiac issues: Long-term heavy drinking takes a heavy toll on the heart. Signs of serious cardiac issues that could result in death include atrial fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia, two signs of heart arrhythmia, ie abnormal heart beat. Alcohol can also lead to a heart condition called alcoholic cardiomyopathy, which is when the heart muscle weakens and cannot pump enough blood to the organs. This can result in organ damage or heart failure.
Cognitive dysfunction: Alcohol use can lead to brain damage, which shows up first as a reduction in cognitive functioning and problems with memory. Alcohol use often leads to Thiamine (B1) deficiency, which leads to significant brain damage. Alcohol also destroys the hippocampus, the part of your brain involving memory and reasoning. You get confusion, memory loss, and muscle coordination problems. You also interfere with the body’s ability to repair and build new nerve cells, called neurogenesis; it is much less effective. So without a sober brain, without a clear memory, and without thinking clearly, you will put yourself in very dangerous situations that may end with you dying. Or maybe you have so much confusion and memory loss that you take the wrong dose of medication or the wrong medication completely? Or you have such impairment that you drive and cause an accident or drive and get lost. It happens every day. I had a long time patient named Rona. She was a severe alcoholic; I don’t even remember how many times she went to detox and/ or treatment. She tried to quit drinking so hard and so many times. Back then, my office was in West Palm. One day she had an appointment with me, and I could tell she had been drinking, but she didn’t seem wasted. I told her for the eighteenth million time that she had to quit drinking, and Rona dutifully replied that she knew. I made sure that she hadn’t driven to the office and she said she would be taking the bus home, so I let her go. The next day I got a visit from two sheriff’s detectives, and they told me that Rona was dead, and did I think that she had been suicidal. I told them she had not been suicidal and explained my assessment and protocol for suicidal patients asked how she had died. They said that she was downtown and walked out into the street and right in front of a car. Her whole left side and head were destroyed by the hood of the car, and she was Trauma Hawk’d to the trauma center. Unfortunately, she had massive internal injuries and severe head trauma and she died about 3 hours later. Rona’s story is an example of the kind of trauma that happens when people drink. I had another patient, a 36 year old man named Jennings, that had very poor coordination from drinking, but he didn’t think so. Jennings had this false illusion that he was as capable as everyone else, if not more so, and when he drank he thought he was invincible. His wife had divorced him about a year earlier so he lived alone. He either did really well for himself or had family money. I always suspected a combination of the two. One Saturday afternoon, he was sitting on his porch, drinking of course, looking at his boat at the end of the dock. While continuing to drink, he apparently got the bright idea that he wanted to take the boat out. He went and got it down from the lift and into the water, and then stepped from the dock into the boat to crank the engine. Then he got out and walked inside to get a cooler together, and he stepped again from the dock to the boat to load it in. He then evidently got out of the boat to get something else, and once he got it, he was stepping from the dock into the boat for the third time. But then his run of luck ran out. That third time, he didn’t quite make that step from the dock into the boat, and he slipped, hit his head on the side of the boat, and slipped unconscious into the water, where he drowned. It was a sad end to his life.
Gastrointestinal problems: Alcoholism can cause acid reflux and excess acid in the stomach, which can lead to gastritis. It also causes irritation and inflammation of the stomach lining, which can cause painful ulcers and internal bleeding. Alcohol hampers blood clotting, so the loss of blood from these can be extreme, leading to anemia and causing extreme fatigue, or worse. Excessive drinking can also lead to stomach pain that may indicate chronic cholecystitis, a very serious gallbladder condition.
Liver disease: Alcohol is incredibly toxic to the liver. The problem with liver disease is that the signs of it may not be detected until later stages, such as when cirrhosis occurs. At that point, the eyes will appear yellow, along with other signs of jaundice. Also, one loses their appetite so there will be sudden weight loss, as well as intense itching, weakness, and fatigue, and easy bruising. Cirrhosis of the liver, which often begins as fatty liver disease, is ultimately fatal, unless a liver transplant is successful. But before you die of cirrhosis, you are prone to die of fun things like esophogeal varices. These varices are abnormally dilated veins that develop beneath the lining of the esophagus as a result of the pressure from cirrhosis. The more severe the liver disease, the more likely esophageal varices are to bleed, and alcohol further thins the lining of the esophagus, which contributes to variceal growth, but also makes the varices more likely to bleed. And to top it off, alcohol thins the blood by wrecking clotting factors. So what does that mean? Ruptured varices. Which means all of a sudden, with no warning, blood gushes deep in the throat from all directions, choking you as you breathe it in and cough it up and eventually, you die. It is a painful, bloody, and terrible death, I promise. I have had many patients with very sick livers over the years succumb to esophageal varices.
Pancreatitis: Alcohol causes severe pancreas issues and pancreatitis. The pancreas controls blood sugar by producing natural insulin. Alcohol interrupts this process, so the pancreas doesn’t secrete the insulin. Without the pancreas secreting insulin, your blood sugar sky rockets and you get diabetic ketoacidosis. This means that you have sugar in your blood, but you cannot get it into your cells without the insulin, and that leads to a host of metabolic issues and could easily end in you dead.
Cancer: Excessive alcohol causes inflammation of the tissues, and this inflammation predisposes you to cancer. Types of cancer associated with heavy alcohol consumption include oral, throat, esophageal and voice box cancers, colon cancer, rectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, liver cancer, and breast cancer. The symptoms that may indicate cancer vary depending on the type of cancer, but symptoms generally begin with weight loss, fatigue, and pain in some area in the body.
Absorbtion Syndromes: Alcohol also causes absorption syndromes. A big one is B12. Alcohol prevents you from absorbing B12 in your small intestines, and that leads to all sorts of muscular, brain, and central nervous system issues, causing confusion, memory problems, and eventually death. Alcohol also prevents you from absorbing folate. Folate is a neuroprotectant, so lacking folate causes memory issues. There are also anemias associated with lacking folate.
Poor/ Lacking Sleep: Alcohol causes sleep disturbances. It causes snoring and sleep apnea, so you don’t sleep well and have inadequate sleep. And guess what? People who do not sleep have a shortened life span and a much higher incidence of accidental death. I had a patient named Richard. I don’t know if I would label him as an alcoholic, but he did drink at night and was a heavier weekend drinker. He had a really good job driving heavy machinery on construction sites. One day, there was an accident on the site. Richard had actually fallen asleep and he somehow hit a guy working on site. The injured guy was actually a friend of Richard’s. He was injured with a compound tibial fracture and was going to be fine after surgery, but Richard was sick about it. As a matter of course, the company tested Richard and found no drugs or alcohol in his system. After he told me about it, he admitted that he had fallen asleep on the job and that’s how the accident had happened. I asked him how he slept and he said he thought okay, but je was always tired during the day. I explained how drinking can interrupt sleep and the consequences of that and that I had the cure. He was excited until I told him the cure was to quit drinking. I told him that this time, he’d “only” hurt a friend and co-worker, that next time it might be worse. He said he’d think about it and left. Three days later, he was back, asking me to detox him. Hallelujah! That was almost three years ago, and Richard is doing well. He managed to keep his job and his friendship, and he’s a much happier guy, proud to look in the mirror again. So not sleeping can kill you, or maime you…or someone you care about.
Infections: Alcohol suppresses your immune system, which predisposes you to infections. These may be viral or bacterial infections. Both can kill you, especially if you’re in a physically weakened state from excessive alcohol consumption.
In addition to physical effects and consequences of alcoholism, life-altering impairment can be caused in many other ways as well. There are psychosocial issues, and these include legal problems due to DUIs, loss of a job, divorce, custody battles, and financial problems. There are so many signs…physical, mental, and psychosocial…that alcohol is devastating a person’s life. Make no mistake- the most devastating way alcohol affects lives is to end lives. If you drink, be aware and beware…it happens in far more ways than you could ever imagine.
For more information and stories about alcohol use and abuse, please check out my book, Tales from the Couch, available on Amazon.com.Learn More
How Cocaine Kills
Cocaine is a potent, illegal stimulant that affects the body’s central nervous system. It is extracted from the green leaves of the coca plant, and people in South and Central America have chewed these leaves and used them in teas medicinally and as a mild stimulant for thousands of years. But somewhere along the line, these people learned that this humble leaf could be processed in a way that extracted and concentrated its active components to create a substance called cocaine, a white powder stimulant that is anything but mild.
Cocaine goes by a lot of different slang terms and street names, mostly based on its appearance, effects, or drug culture: C, blow, coke, base, flake, nose candy, and snow are some examples. At the peak of its use here in the 1970’s and 1980’s, cocaine began to influence many aspects of American culture. Glamorized in songs, movies, and throughout the disco music culture, cocaine became a very popular recreational drug. It seemed everyone was using it, from celebrities to college students to suburban moms looking to turn up at the disco on Saturday night. It was so popular in the disco scene that people openly snorted it on the dance floor at Studio 54. But powder cocaine would soon take a back seat to its trashy cousin from the wrong side of the tracks: crack cocaine, or crack. Crack is an off-white crystalline rock made by cooking down powder cocaine with God knows what else for bulk, and the crack rock is then smoked in a pipe. This form of cocaine created a scourge of epidemic proportions and ruled the streets throughout the 1980’s and early 1990’s. Crack is whack and crack was king then, and it’s still around today. It’s actually named for the cracking sound the crack rock makes when it’s smoked. While it’s the same drug as powder cocaine and has the same effects, smoking crack gives a more immediate high than snorting powder cocaine. But it doesn’t last long, so to stay high, crack users have to “hit” the pipe over and over, constantly, 24/7, for hours and ultimately days on end. Crack also has street names: rock, gravel, sleet, and nuggets to name a few. And combined drugs also have street terms, like speedballs, which are a mixture of cocaine with heroin or other opiate. Every illegal drug and drug combination you can imagine has a list of street names…Cocoa Puffs, Bolivian Marching Powder, Devil’s Dandruff…Every time I think I’ve heard them all, a patient uses one that’s new to me.
So, what’s the attraction? What does cocaine do for you? Captain Obvious says… it gets you high. Cocaine creates a strong sense of exhilaration. You feel invincible, carefree, alert, and euphoric, and have seemingly endless energy. It makes you more sensitive to light, sound, and touch. It makes you feel confident, competent, and increases performance and output. For intense Type A individuals, cocaine is a requirement, on par with oxygen. These individuals want maximum performance, maximum fun, maximum sales…maximum everything. Period. And cocaine delivers. It works by increasing the feel good neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine by blocking their reuptake. No reuptake equals more feel good neurotransmitters equals more feeling good. To be candid, when just starting to use, and in small amounts, people can actually do fairly well using cocaine. They feel great and are more productive, and that’s how smart people get involved with it. At first, it seems there’s no down side, it’s up up up….on top of the world. But as they say, what goes up must come down. Whether you snort, smoke, shoot, or suck on it, using cocaine is a very sharp double-edged sword. I’ve seen people go six, eight months, using every day, and for a short time, for all appearances it works for them; they feel great, they’re focused, performing well. But then without warning, they’re not. They crash, their performance sinks into the abyss. They go into an impaired state, a mental fog, and their neurotransmitters betray them. They become paranoid, confused, disorganized, hopeless, and lost.
Using cocaine even once can lead to addiction. As with many drugs, the more you use it, the more your body gets used to it, and that creates the need for a larger dose and/or using the drug more often in order to get the same effect. Cocaine is a potent chemical, and both the short-term and long-term effects of using are dangerous to physical and mental health. Riddle me this: how many old crack addicts are out there? I can tell you, not too many. Why? Because they’re all dead of heart attack, stroke, arrhythmia, respiratory failure, seizures, and sudden death. Whether you use cocaine once, use on occasion, or you’re a habitual user, the risk of seizure, stroke, cardiac arrest, respiratory failure, and even sudden death, is equal. Equal. No matter how little you use or how rarely you use. And the first time you use can also be your last chance.
So exactly how can you kill yourself with cocaine? Let us count the ways….cocaine’s potency and molecular makeup causes serious physiological consequences. No matter what form you use it in, it increases your blood pressure, increases your heart rate (aka your pulse), and it constricts the arteries that supply blood to your heart, all at the same time. So now, you’re asking the heart to pump faster and harder (because it has to pump against your increased blood pressure), and without as much blood flow (and therefore not as much oxygen and energy) as it was getting before the cocaine was in your system, and tah-dah! What can you get? Arrhythmias. Simply put, that’s when your heart can’t keep good time, it beats erratically and sporadically. Without conversion, you have a heart attack. Your heart basically stops beating and you die. And just remember, as you get older, your body is not as resilient. You may or may not have a lethal heart attack at 20, but you sure will at 50. How else can you kill yourself with cocaine? Using can cause you to go into a state where you’re unable to control your temperature, so it gets very high, you get restless, have tremors, dilated pupils, nausea, vomiting, complete disorientation, and mental confusion. If the fever gets too high, you can have seizures, which can lead to death. It happens every day. You also have to take into account potential accidents resulting just from being high, without your normal faculties, and being unable to take care of yourself. Freak accidents while high can be deadly. Remember too that cocaine is cut with crazy stuff- ground glass can cause internal bleeding, and diuretics and laxatives can cause electrolyte imbalance, both of which can kill you. And these days, cocaine is often cut with fentanyl- an opiate 50 times more powerful than pure heroin- which causes hundreds of overdose deaths each day. If you freebase cocaine or smoke crack, the chemicals used to cut it can cause sudden acute respiratory failure where you stop breathing and die, or they can damage the lungs over time and cause respiratory failure and the same result- death. If you use IV (intravenous needle injection) and share needles, you expose yourself to all sorts of potentially lethal infections, including Hepatitis, HIV and AIDS. If you choose to suck on crack, the chemicals used to cut it may be caustic and potentially damage the throat and/ or stomach and cause bleeding, or they may cause intestinal death and decay; these can potentially lead to death.
So in the beginning of your cocaine career, you’ll feel great- super powerful, confident and competent. High. But shortly into your cocaine career, you’ll find that the magic is gone. The genie is out of the bottle. The high just isn’t the same, no matter how much you use or how you use it. So you chase that high…and you’ll chase it for the rest of your life, but to no avail. The high is replaced with the craving for the high. I’ve never seen a drug with cravings as powerful as cocaine. They’re just unbearable cravings, and they can last indefinitely. I’ve seen many, many cases where they last for years. I see patients now who have had these horrendous cravings for years, and I expect they’ll have them for the rest of their lives. They were lured in by the shiny bauble that is cocaine, and cocaine showed them a great time. Then cocaine turned on them, closed the door and threw the bolt, leaving them to want/need/crave what they had, likely forever. It’s just not worth it. I treat addictions of all kinds: heroin, alcohol, marijuana, benzodiazepines, you name it. For the most part, people with these addictions comply with treatment and come to their follow-up appointments. But cocaine addicts are a different story. They’ll come to my office once, all committed to stopping the cocaine, but you never see them again. They vanish…poof! They don’t do well in treatment, because the cravings are so strong that they can’t resist, so they take off and use again. The cocaine cravings are bar none the strongest I’ve ever seen. Now, the withdrawal from cocaine isn’t bad at all. It’s not like an alcohol withdrawal or withdrawing from Xanax or heroin. Those are gnarly, even potentially dangerous. With cocaine withdrawal, you can get depressed, you sleep a lot, you get vivid dreams, you want to eat a lot, you can’t think super clearly for let’s say three to seven days, but there is no real treatment needed for it, just comfort measures- keep the person cool, keep them hydrated, keep them fed, and allow them to rest- and they’ll bounce back. Now, one thing that sure does come up is that, because the cravings for cocaine are so intense, as soon as they’ve slept and ate and they’re back on their feet, it’s sayonara sucka! They bolt. They’re out again, they’re using, they’re smoking, they’re shooting, they’re shoving it up their nose, they’re putting it in their mouth, wherever and however they can use it. If they had a decent time period of not using, they may get that first super awesome high; but then they’ll inevitably spend the rest of the binge chasing that high, but they won’t find it.
Now, you might ask how intelligent, successful, type A people get involved with cocaine when they know it will lead to their eventual mental and physical collapse and possible death? Because these people know that in the short term it will increase their work performance, their ability to think, their social acumen, and their confidence. I always ask my patients what price they’re willing to pay for this temporary condition. Most don’t have an answer. I think that’s because they think nothing bad will come of their using, but I know different because I’ve seen different.
A true story from when I worked in the emergency department at Roosevelt Hospital: there was some sort of summer festival in Central Park, and evidently a guy locked himself in a portajohn so he could smoke crack. It’s summer, there’s no ventilation in the portajohn, and crack causes an increase in body temperature, so this guy had to be hot. But he was also high, so he was confused as to where he was and how to get out. People reported hearing him freaking out in the portajohn, kicking the walls and pounding on the door, but they couldn’t get past the locked door and he couldn’t follow their instructions to unlock the door and open it. So he was all worked up on top of being overheated, so his muscles heated his body up even more. Eventually, NYFD came and got him out of the portajohn, and he was brought to the ER, where I saw him. He was very hot and very dehydrated and very high. I started cool IV fluids and ordered an alcohol bath, but the damage was done. In short order, he developed something called rhabdomyolysis, where the muscles begin wasting away and all the muscle fibers enter the blood stream and shut the kidneys down. Despite our best efforts, he died. The family was very upset. They knew he was smoking crack, but couldn’t stop them. Every attempt to put him in treatment ended with him running away to use. And he was no slouch, no crack bum; he was a regional manager for Ace Hardware, in charge of like 20 stores. And he wound up basically killing himself in a portajohn. What a waste.
When I think about the stereotypical Type A individual doing cocaine to excel in the workplace, I think of a Wall Street broker. I had a patient, a broker who worked on the Exchange floor. This guy was 40 when he first came to me, said he was on the fast track, that he wasn’t going to make $700,000K a year for much longer. He said he had to be sharp, had to be quick at all times and at all hours, no complacency, so he’d been using cocaine. I warned him about the potential dangers of piling cocaine on top of such a high stress job, but no matter what I said, he wouldn’t give it up. His motto was “Damn the torpedoes- full speed ahead!” He was getting away with using. Six months, seven, gaining on eight, he worked constantly, but he was the man, top trader, taking home fat 6-figure bonuses. After just over eight months on the cocaine, the piper insisted on his payment. He had a heart attack at 41, and when the ER doctor took his history, he readily admitted to using cocaine for eight months. With further questioning, he also reported having periods of confusion over the previous six months. His solution was to use more cocaine in an attempt to regain the sharpness it had once brought him in the beginning, but it didn’t work. What the cocaine did do was really keep him up at night. His solution for this was to drink four martinis every night in order to come down and get some sleep. He was doing this every day of the week for about seven months: cocaine throughout the day and martinis in the night. The cardiologist ordered a whole bunch of tests and it soon became clear that the heart attack that sent him to the ER was not his first. And unfortunately it wouldn’t be his last. His heart muscle was quite damaged from the ups and downs of the cocaine and alcohol fueled roller coaster he had boarded months before. I suspect that he never totally got off that ride, despite having another three heart attacks. Each one was progressively worse and made more obvious his mental and physical decline. At the age of 43, a massive fourth heart attack punctuated his life with a period. The man that burned the candle at both ends had burned himself out.
No tales of caution would be complete without mentioning the models and the housewives. They like cocaine because it helps them lose weight and stay thin. And because the cocaine stimulates them, they like to take Xanax and drink alcohol at night to come down. I can spot the cocaine/alcohol/Xanax Barbies at 50 yards, because they actually turn gray. I’m serious- their skin turns gray and they get too thin. The whole program makes them look like victims of concentration camps. And they wind up forgetting normal daily activities- forgetting to pick the kids up, forgetting when dinnertime is, forgetting how to do the homework with the kids, forgetting how to accomplish simple banking transactions- everything gets screwed up. In my career, I have lost count how many husbands have sincerely asked me if I think that their cocaine/alcohol/Xanax Barbie wives are: A. Going crazy, B. Exhibiting symptoms of early onset Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, or C. Showing signs of having a brain tumor.
I’ll tell you this one last quick story about a patient I saw a few days ago. Her name is Julia, and she is a 33-year-old out, loud and proud lesbian. She’s very intelligent, a paralegal, and lives with her girlfriend of several years, Paola. She was introduced to cocaine after coming out and getting involved in the lesbian scene at age 21. She used cocaine daily- and in increasing amounts- for ten years, because she said it stimulated her libido and helped her reach orgasm. She stopped using cocaine when she had a heart attack at age 31. Unfortunately, the heart muscle was significantly damaged, and now she is unable to tolerate even mild exertion, such as that which happens during sex. So…the cocaine she used for ten years to increase her libido and help her reach orgasm has caused her current inability to have passionate sex with her girlfriend. How’s that for cruel irony?
Cocaine is relentless and seductive…initially it can feel amazing, a ladder that lets you climb to the top of the world. Then cocaine is vicious, it sinks its hooks into you, which very few people manage to completely free themselves from. The perceived benefits aren’t worth the cost, which, as with some of my former patients, can be your life. It’s simply not worth it. I hope you get the take home message of all the many ways that cocaine can kill you, and that you understand how smart people find themselves tangled up in using cocaine, but also how even smarter people manage to stop using cocaine.
For more details and stories about addictive drugs like cocaine, check out my book, Tales from the Couch, available in my office and on Amazon.com.Learn More
Ivan’s Addictions: Alcohol Detox
I want to discuss what people can expect when detoxing off of alcohol, inspired by my patient Ivan. He was a long-time patient, though I hadn’t seen him in a while. He was big time addicted to opioids years ago, and he had dragged his sorry butt into my office, barely coherent, begging for help. That’s how we met. I managed to get him clean off of the oxy’s he so dearly loved, but I would learn that Ivan had a very addictive personality…this guy could get addicted to oxygen. Anyway, that’s where it started with Ivan, and over the subsequent years I saw him in the office here and there. Now fast forward twenty years and in walks Ivan. It looked like the years had not exactly been kind to him. He looked like an alcoholic. Red swollen nose, check. Ruddy grey skin, check. Blood shot eyes, check. Balance just slightly off kilter, check. Gaunt frame with distended belly, check. I could go on, but suffice it to say that after so many years of doing what I do, I can spot an alcoholic from 50 yards. He said he was still clean, off opiates, but admitted to drinking in excess for many years. I burst his bubble with a sharp prick of cold harsh truth: he was an alcoholic. When I said it, he might’ve flinched, but he didn’t argue.
I asked him what he was doing for work. He said he was rehabing properties. He had inherited some money, bought a bunch of properties, fixed them up and rented them out. He collected the rent paychecks every month from his “magic money mailbox.” That sounded great, but the down side of this equation was that he wasn’t expected to be anywhere at any given time. And that left a lot of time for drinking. When I asked how much he was drinking, he admitted to drinking at least ten of those 2 ounce airline mini bottles a day. He had found some place where they only cost a buck a bottle. I was floored. That is an incredible deal. But I digress. I told him that we would have to do a medical detox, and he was on board. What follows are all of the things I told him.
To start, I explained that he needed to hydrate. Even though alcohol is liquid, it is very dehydrating, so there must be copious amounts of water during detox. As I told Ivan, drink water until you think you’ll burst. Next, start eating healthy foods. This is critical, getting food in your system, because alcohol causes irritation of the walls of the stomach and intestines. Also, you have to kick start the digestive tract, because alcoholics don’t eat well, if they eat at all. Next, start taking an over the counter stomach proton pump inhibitor like Prilosec or Prevacid. This will help to decrease the acid in the stomach as well as heal the stomach wall and the esophagus. Next, start taking B complex vitamin and multivitamin to replenish the system. He said he understood as he dutifully wrote all of this down.
Next, I explained the important warnings about detox, the reasons why it’s important to medically detox. We have to use a type of drug called a benzodiazepine to prevent severe alcohol withdrawal. Without it, you will start shaking, you can become delirious and confused and have grand mal, full body seizures. There is a possibility of death: up to 25% of people actually die from severe alcohol withdrawl when they don’t use the benzodiazepines. I use medications liberally to prevent the withdrawl and safely detox. My goal is to keep patients comfortable with meds, but never nodding out. I wrote a scrip for 2mg alprazolam and told him to take one 2 or 3 times a day. I also gave him one to take immediately in the office because it had been 16 hours since his last drink and he was really starting to feel it. He had all of his instructions, so I told him I’d call him at 8pm that night as well as every six hours thereafter, and that he could call my cell phone anytime with questions or problems. With that, he left.
That night when I called, he said he was feeling not so great, but that he had eaten, was drinking lots of water, and taking the vitamins. When I called him the next morning, he said he woke up feeling very uneasy, very tense, and with some slight tremor. I told him to take the alprazolam right then and to take another in the afternoon around 2 or sooner if he felt tremulous. He repeated the alprazolam schedule on day 2 and also took it that night. When day 3 came, I explained that this is the most dangerous time. While seizures and delirium can happen at any time, they are most likely to happen on day 3. It’s also the worst day. It was really tough for Ivan. He was sweating. He had tremors. He was a little confused. His girlfriend came over and made him chicken soup, served with some TLC, and checking to be sure he was hydrating and taking the vitamins. He took the alprazolam three times that day, but didn’t sleep much. I gave him a drug called mirtazapine for sleep, and this helped. The fourth day dawned and Ivan saw the light at the end of the tunnel. Day 4 was better than day 3, but he was still feeling tremor, still sweating, and still needed 2 alprazolam that day. On day 5, he had no tremor. The sweating had lessened, but he still felt restless. He took just 1 alprazolam that day. As of the 6th day, he didn’t need the alprazolam at all. The detox was done. I told him to continue the vitamins and the Prilosec stomach meds for 2 months, keep up the improved diet, and keep hydrating.
Ivan followed all of my instructions and he came out the other side and did pretty darn well. He got in great shape by walking his dog Malcom for a minimum of 3 hours a day, and he felt better every day. In fact, Ivan had dodged some serious bullets in that he had no major organ damage from the alcohol. There are several very common things that go bad with alcoholism. Most didn’t happen to Ivan, but let me caution you what can happen with alcohol abuse. Pancreatic issues are common. The pancreas is the most important organ for blood glucose regulation and digestion. You become a diabetic if your pancreas shuts down. Gastritis quickly becomes a potentially lethal problem. Gastritis is extremely dangerous, it is irritation or bleeding of the stomach, leading to bleeding ulcers. Aspiration pneumonia is a concern: where you are so drunk that you throw up or cough up stomach contents and you breathe the stomach contents into your lungs, causing a serious and life threatening infection. A very common issue with alcoholics is that they get drunk, fall, and break a bone or hit their head, causing subdural hematomas of their brain. And you can’t forget liver disease. One of the key features of chronic alcohol abuse is liver failure and liver cirrhosis. The liver shuts down and so the body diverts the blood flow around the liver because the liver is so scarred and gnarly that it no longer accepts blood. As a result, you get big vessels forming in the esophagus and rectum, and they explode, causing hemorrhage and death. Ivan was lucky… he didn’t have any of those things. But he didn’t get off scott free. The most common thing I see with alcohol- that no one escapes- is cognitive damage. The brain slows down. It is permanently damaged. As a result, you cannot think straight. You are not as coordinated as you were. You become less active so there can be muscle wasting. These had happened to Ivan. As I said, no one escapes this. So Ivan was little bit slower, a little less coordinated, legs a little weaker. But he’s not drinking, and that’s a major accomplishment. I’ll continue to follow him in his clean and sober life. If you are abusing alcohol, Ivan would advise you to medically detox, as would I. If you would like to read more about alcohol withdrawl, medical detox or more patient stories, check out my book, Tales from the Couch, available on Amazon.com.Learn More
Dr. Mark Agresti discusses the benefits of stopping drug use.
Dr. Mark Agresti, West Palm Beach Drug & Alcohol Detox Specialist, Psychiatrist
Call (561) 842-9550 or email: email@example.com Dr. Agresti today to get psychiatric help today.Learn More
- Wanted to get high.
- Just wanted to.
- To get a mini vacation.
- Just wanted to checkout.
- Needed a reward.
- Out of anger.
- Out of frustration.
- Works hard and deserves it.
- Thought I could have just one.
- Everyone else was doing it. (more…)
It’s the Holy Grail in the world of addiction to find drugs that will block the craving for alcohol. There are three medications on the market that have been studied and show some benefits.
Pros and Cons of Drug Used for Alcohol Dependency or to Block Craving
Campral, also known as Acamprosate, is used to block craving. Studies have found a reduced incidence of relapse with veterans in Philadelphia who took this drug.
The daily dosage is two 333mg tablets, three times a day, and in my practice dealing with addiction and alcoholism, that has a limited benefit.
Topamax, or Toprimamate, an anti-seizure drug used to prevent migraines, is sometimes used to treat alcohol dependency and prevent alcohol cravings, but I’ve have had minimal success with it, and have found it to produce complications. It may cause mental slowing, cognitive slowing, and may effect the kidneys. (more…)Learn More
Initially the attraction is euphoria taking a mini vacation. Someone once told me getting high is like God putting a warm blanket around you and rubbing your temples telling you everything will be alright. This is a powerful draw. The mini vacation to escape life’s hardships becomes more frequent and all encompassing. Physically the body comes addicted. Psychologically the individual needs the drug to maintain emotional stability and to cope with life’s stress. Individuals with addicted family members are at an unfair disadvantage. Once they get a taste of euphoria from a drug, their bodies crave more drugs. Something is different with this group, they are genetically built to use excessively. Their bodies experience powerful cravings to use addicting drugs and keep using them. Their favorite word is more. Genetic predisposition is one unlucky factor. Another unlucky factor in making someone drug dependent, is being raised and living around drug dependent people. So, there are two forces at work, one is a genetic predisposition to use, another is a learned behavior.
That’s just the start. Once the psyche experiences the high, the escape, and a free ride from life’s problems; new forces take over. The individual goes undercover and must now conceal their activities. They have to make some time to get drugs and to do the drugs. They have to start explaining to others lost blocks of time, money, energy, and different thoughts and behaviors surface. By thoughts I mean all the using and getting drugs takes a lot of planning, manipulating and lying. They need to form a group of people who each contribute something to getting drugs, a place to use them and help with the cover story to disguise what’s really going on. (more…)Learn More
Let’s look at the opiates first. An opiate is a narcotic pain killer like Roxycodone, Oxycodone, Loratabs, Loracet, Methadone, Vicodin, Actiq, and Stadol. The action of these drugs may last varying amounts of time and has varying doses. For example, some people can be on 100mg a day of oxycontin while others may take 1000mg a day of oxycontin.
When a person goes through the detox process, problems begin soon after the initial part of the detox at and around five days. Mood problems are the most common with depression and anxiety. Occurring frequently people become lethargic, sad, anhedonia (unable to enjoy anything), unable to concentrate, feeling hopeless, helpless, worthless, despair, negative thinking, worrying, having tension, unable to relax, fearful.
Another thing that happens in recovering opiate addict is they can’t wait for anything. Everything needs to be immediate. They don’t like plans, tend to be impulsive and they just like to do it now. It’s called instant gratification. Problems with sleep last for months if not years. People may develop cravings for sugar and increased sexual drive may occur. Difficulty thinking develops; they may have apathy towards everything which is a lack of interest in all activities. They don’t want to do leisure activities or work. They have difficulty setting goals, finding motivation and have difficulty following through on tasks. They become preoccupied with using opiates. (more…)Learn More
The first question most people ask when visiting a doctor is “What’s wrong with me?” As a psychiatrist I usually beat them to the punch by asking them, “Why are you here?” That question itself is diagnostic in nature. It speaks volumes of an individual’s perception and self assessment of their problem. If the patient is presenting with an addiction issue, invariably there are several assumptions they have already made. Most of the time they assume that they have a disease. That it is chronic. That it is incurable. And that after a period of detoxification their disease will be managed by daily doses of 12-step activity. This in spite of overwhelming statistic that traditional 28 day treatment programs have about a 16% success rate.
This has always been a great curiosity to me. If one in six patients who attend these conventional treatment programs remain abstinent for one year post discharge, why would anybody waste the time, money and psychic investment required by these programs. I would not buy a car that started one out of six times. More importantly, I would not buy a car that stopped one out of six times I applied the brakes.
What if we were treating a disease that does not exist? In my profession that is called a misdiagnosis. What if we spent our time, energy and money trying to stop “addiction” rather than trying to understand addiction? An entire industry has developed around causation rather than cessation. If you had a choice of either understanding why you drink or stopping your drinking the decision would be obvious. Even if you are a comprehension junky for whom the process trumps the product, at some point all growth starts with stopping. (more…)Learn More
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Dr. Mark Agresti, West Palm Beach Drug & Alcohol Detox Specialist – Psychiatrist, discusses why people it is beneficial and best to work with a psychiatrist when detoxing from drugs. Many times drug abuse and drug use come to help with mental illness. If you don’t work on the symptoms of what causes the use of addictive drugs (i.e. depression), you’ll find it difficult to detox completely from addictive drugs.
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http://22.214.171.124 ~ (561) 842-9550
Dr. Mark Agresti, West Palm Beach Drug & Alcohol Detox Specialist – Psychiatrist, explains how to tell if a family member or friend is suffering from alcohol or drug addiction. He explains the signs, symptoms of behavioral, social and physical changes of someone with Drug & Alcohol Addictions. Alcohol & Drug Addiction should be treated with help. Learn how to approach your loved ones with drug and alcohol addictions.
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http://126.96.36.199 ~ (561) 842-9550
Dr. Agresti, West Palm Beach Mental Health Specialist – Psychiatrist, talks about drug addiction rehab options. If you or a loved one has a problem with drug or alcohol addictions, you should know the options for addiction detox rehab. Not all drug addictions require in-patient treatment. Many drug addictions can be treated in outpatient care. Dr. Agresti, in this video, shares the time periods to expect for drug addiction rehab.
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