Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: tobacco

Lancet Study: Alcohol More Dangerous than Heroin

Front-page news in the Guardian today: A study published Friday in the online edition of the British medical journal Lancet declaring alcohol is the most dangerous drug in the United Kingdom—much more dangerous than heroin and crack, or even tobacco.

The study turns conventional perceptions on their heads by classifying alcohol along with heroin and crack as “Class A” dangerous drugs, with alcohol in the far in the lead. Behind the top three come crystal meth, cocaine, tobacco, amphetamines and cannabis.

The drugs were scored on 16 harm criteria, from drug-specific and drug-related mortality and damage at the top, through dependence, impairment of mental functioning, loss of tangibles and relationships, injury, crime, family adversities, environmental and international damage and economic cost.  Scores ranged from 0 (no harm) to 100 (maximum harm), with each point indicating an equal measure of “harm”—so a drug scoring 50 (roughly, crack) was considered to be 25 percent less harmful than a drug scoring 75 (roughly, booze).

Source: Lancet, 29 October 2010. Drag file to your desktop to view in full resolution.

Amazing. But what we’ve always known, right?

That’s not to say that if crack were legal, it wouldn’t score higher.

One question I had: If, as various sources state, tobacco is causing more than 100,000 deaths in the UK each year (roughly one-quarter to one-fifth of the deaths it causes in the US), why does tobacco rank so low on the list? In 2008, according to the UK Office for National Statistics, alcohol caused 9,000 deaths. They must think alcohol has greater collateral damage than tobacco—I’d like to hear about why they think this is more important.

Another question: Where were the prescription drugs? Methadone and buprenorphine are the only ones appearing on this list. Maybe they’re more tightly regulated in the UK—but in the US, OxyContin and Vicodin would be on this scale somewhere, and I’d like to know where they would rank.

Addiction and Art: changing the way addicts are seen in society

“Addiction and Art,” an exhibition of works about addiction by 44 artists, opens June 19 at the Blue Elephant Art Center in Frederick, Md., near Baltimore.

Margaret Dowell, the exhibit’s curator, is also co-author of the recently released companion book of the same title by Johns Hopkins University Press. Dowell, an artist based in Frederick, put her own work on hold for two years for this addiction-art project, and spent a year reading submissions from 1,000 artists for the book. Not all the artists were addicts—in fact, only 25 percent identified as such, and some were family members or others who had experience with addiction in other ways.

“Overwhelmingly, these artists wanted us to know that the person who’s an addict is a valuable human being,” Dowell said today. “That they’re not of immoral character, weak, criminal, the black sheep.”

The addict doesn’t get a whole lot of sympathy in this culture. It’s complicated—they’ve done bad stuff. They’ve crashed cars, or abandoned children, or stolen money. But even people who have been wronged by addicts—some of these artists are, for example, children of addicts or alcoholics—they still wanted people to know it’s the disease and not the person that’s doing the bad stuff.

A few samples of the works are available at the Hopkins Flickr page.

The Blue Elephant gallery has received so much interest in the show, Dowell says, that they’ve extended its run by a week before even opening.

Dowell organized a similar exhibit in 2008 at Carroll Community College in Westiminster, Md., where she teaches. The submissions and attendance were so overwhelming that it became the most popular in the college’s history.

“The time is really now for this,” she says. “People’s perceptions are changing about addiction. This work has changed my own perceptions.

I understand how huge a problem it is now. I can see the people who come to the hospital with lung cancer, heart disease, diabetes—the reasons they have these things is addiction, and that cause is not being treated.

All my recovering artist friends out there—get working!

Above: “0 Refills Left,” by Derek S. Cumings. Click link to see caption on Hopkins’s Flickr page.

Below: “I’m Dying for a Smoke,” by Marie Balla.

“The one addiction society is numb to is tobacco smoking,” Balla writes. “‘Death sticks,’ ‘cancer sticks,’ ‘tar fix’ are all slang terms I’ve learned from cigaratte smokers. Maybe it’s the very slow, internal, unnoticeable effects of nicotine addiction that seem angelic in comparison to meth or coke addiction?”

Nicotine addiction kills 5 million worldwide per year

Many people don’t think of smoking tobacco as a “real” addiction.

Take a look at these stats from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s World Drug Report executive summary:

[T]he consumption of tobacco, an addictive, psychoactive drug that is sold widely in open, albeit regulated markets, affects as much as 25% of the world adult population. . . . [M]ortality statistics show that illicit drugs take a small fraction of the lives claimed by tobacco (about 200,000 a year for illicit drugs versus about 5 million a year for tobacco).

Amazing. Tobacco kills 5 million people worldwide per year. How can anyone think of it as not a “real” addiction?

I don’t agree with the War On Drugs… But if we’re going to have a war on drugs, why don’t we pick the right drug to fight?

If you smoke, please save your life and quit.

How to tell if your husband is addicted to his “meds”

Came across this piece in a Tennessee outlet, about the rampant rise in prescription opiate addiction. The story contained the stunning suggestion that DEA agents and doctors could learn a lot from interviewing former addicts.

I keep waiting for the stellar journalist who thinks to accomplish this simple task. I swear, it would have made this particular story 200 percent better. Because right after the WVU doctor suggested talking to addicts, the Tennessee doctor lists a bunch of “warning signs if you think someone might be addicted to or abusing prescription drugs” [see my edits]:

• Repetitive filling. Patzer [the Tennessee doctor] said some dependents or addicts could continue to refill their medications even though they might be free of pain symptoms. [Someone ought to warn the DEA.]

• Using it up too fast. A patient becoming dependent or addicted could begin to will always use the prescribed amount faster than directed by the doctor, Patzer said.

• Alcohol pairing. Taking the medication while drinking alcohol or smoking pot or even cigarettes could also be an indicator of abuse or addiction.

• Looking lethargic. If the patient seems over sedated, it could be is a sign of taking too much [when you take an opiate “as prescribed,” you don’t nod off]. Patzer said, though, that some addicts actually seem energized despite taking depressants.

These are clues from the physician’s point of view. What wife can tell whether her husband is “filling repetitively” or “using it up too fast”?

If I were asked to add a few clues, I would give these:

• Does she talk too fast? Opiates in particular, in high doses, speed up the speech and make a normally shy person more gregarious. This is the Superwoman aspect of opiates, well-known among addicts.

• Does he jump up and down through supper? Opiates destroy the appetite. If he can’t sit still and eat, and keeps leaving the table, he’s probably sneaking off to use.

• Does she have strange bruises? Opiates skew a person’s sense of balance and dull pain. I used to bang into furniture all the time without even knowing it until I saw the bruise later.

Does she have secret hiding places? If there are spots in the house where she won’t let you go, then that’s where she probably hides her stuff.

I need also to say that some addicts simply don’t understand they’re addicts. Especially those seeking pain relief. For years I sought treatment for two pain conditions, constantly increasing my dose in search of relief, and trying to “function.” I didn’t understand that my desire to “function” at such a high level was itself a compulsion that was part of my addiction.

Sticks and stones: On the “stigma” of addiction

I wanted this post to be a kind of second beginning, because I’ve been gone from the blog for so long. I started out writing my experience as prescription-drug addict, but you can read that at Opiate Detox Recovery (on my first thread and my second thread). What I really want to talk about is what this blog will be about.

I want this blog to be a place where addicts of all stripes—not just people like me, who became addicted to pain drugs through legitimate pain treatment, but also people who drink their pain away (like my father), people who can’t stop smoking nicotine because they feel like they’ll go nuts (like my mother), people who can’t stop copping heroin or crack or meth, or eating, or gambling, or having sex, because it makes them “feel” some way that they can’t feel otherwise—a place where these people can come to learn and talk about addiction.

I’ve been reading the daily news about addiction and alcoholism for the past few months. Addiction permeates our society. Today’s news (you’ll totally NEVER believe this): junk food is actually addictive!—who knew?? And the media are so much more keyed into this “discovery” than they are about the scores of people who die each year because of drug-addiction. I’m not just talking about heroin addicts under bridges, which is the image everyone thinks about when they hear the word “addict.” I’m talking about the half-million Americans who die EVERY YEAR because of lung cancer caused by smoking. Every two years, we lose a million Americans to nicotine-addiction-induced lung cancer. That doesn’t count the ones who die from emphysema and other lung disease caused by smoking.

Add to that the number of people who die of two common results of food addiction—diabetes (7th leading cause of death in America) and obesity (112,000 Americans per year)—and the idea that addiction permeates our society is easy to understand.

So few people understand addiction. The press about addiction, however well-intentioned, is often rife with errors, usually because journalists don’t talk to addicts who have the experience to speak with authority.

And they don’t talk to addicts because addicts are afraid to come out of the closet. An enormous stigma persists about addiction.

The word “stigma” is a Greek word for a wound or brand inflicted by a pointed instrument. It’s related to the word stick. “Sticks and stone may break my bones…” Every six-year-old knows what bullshit that old saying is. There are some names that can hurt. “Addict” is a name that can get you talked about, divorced, sacked, and generally shunned by society.

The name “Guinevere” is not my real name. It’s the name that I chose as my byline when I started writing on Opiate Detox Recovery 18 months ago. I was newly in detox, wondering if I’d done permanent damage to my body and mind, fearful that the pain that had incapacitated me six years before would come back.

It turned out that the pain didn’t come back, and I didn’t do permanent damage with the drugs. Today I cycle 50 miles per week, take care of an extensive garden, and clean a big house. My 16-year-old marriage has thrived since I got off drugs, and I’m a much better mother to my 12-year-old kid.

I wish I could write about my addiction under my real name. But for now that seems like a bad idea. But my hope is that one day society will see that addiction is an illness like other illnesses that we contract through a combination of genetics and behavior.

My experience is, talking openly about our experiences helps us and other people.

If you could talk openly about your addiction… would you? What would it take for you to be able to do it without fear?

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