Alcohol Dependence

Here is an article I first wrote as a Background Briefing for Drink and Drugs News (DDN), the leading UK magazine focused on drug and alcohol treatment, in February 2005.

‘There has been a considerable scientific effort over the past four decades in to identifying and understanding the core features of alcohol and drug dependence. This work really began in 1976 when the British psychiatrist Griffith Edwards and his American colleague Milton M. Gross collaborated to produce a formulation of what had previously been understood as ‘alcoholism’ – the alcohol dependence syndrome.

The alcohol dependence syndrome was seen as a cluster of seven elements that concur. It was argued that not all elements may be present in every case, but the picture is sufficiently regular and coherent to permit clinical recognition.

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The Drug Experience: Cocaine, Part 1

Exploring the dynamic world of heavy cocaine use as revealed in a provocative, high-quality study by Dan Waldorf and colleagues. This research, conducted in the US in the 1980s, challenged many of the prevailing myths about cocaine. (875 words)


There is a good deal of misinformation about cocaine, which does little to help society tackle the problems that excess use of this drug can produce.

In their book Cocaine Changes: The Experience of Using and Quitting, Dan Waldorf and his colleagues state that they set out to study cocaine users and present their world as they see it, without making moral judgements about the drug-using behaviours.

The research involved interviewing 267 current and former heavy users of cocaine from Northern California. The sample did not include people in treatment programmes or in prison, as is common in other research. Most of the respondents were ‘solidly working- or middle-class, fairly well-educated, and steadily employed.’

Nearly all the respondents first tried cocaine when it was offered by a trusted friend. Many of the sample reported that they did not get high the first time they snorted cocaine. They had to learn both to experience and then to appreciate the subtle euphoric effects of the drug.

The majority of respondents increased their use gradually—there was no uniform progression or pattern. The slow escalation was likely due in part to the general greater availability of the drug. Two other factors were often cited as contributing to escalating use: a slow increase in tolerance for the drug, and the seductive and insidious nature of the drug itself.

The tolerance reported with cocaine appeared to be somewhat different to that observed with opiates. Whilst some users reported increasing their doses of drug, they did not generally report decreased effects of the same dose. Rather than needing more of the drug to get the same effect, they reported wanting the same effect again and again.

Many participants ‘… agreed that cocaine’s euphoric effects offered not only a sense of well-being, but a feeling of mastery or power that was so reinforcing it often led them to use more frequently than they planned or expected.’

The researchers described four relatively discrete patterns of use. Hogs showed a consistent, very heavy daily use. This pattern of use caused more dramatic effects, greater compulsion, as well as marked painful ‘comedowns’ and depression.

Nippers used regularly, often every day, but only in relatively small amounts. These users kept their drug use subordinated to work and family responsibilities, and often avoided the negative effects associated with heavy use.

Bingers used cocaine heavily and then lay off the drug for days or weeks. Use was often constrained by personal finances or by prolonged negative effects. Some bingers found their binges getting longer and longer. Ceremonial or occasional users used the drug on special social occasions.

The researchers reported a considerable movement by individuals from one form of use to another. Although some users followed a downward spiral from experimental use to addiction, as many others nipped and then binged and then nipped again. Others moved from heavy binge use or sustained abuse to ceremonial use.

One striking aspect of the study was the proportion of people who used the drug on a controlled basis—approximately 50%.

Long-term daily use of cocaine or regular heavy binges often led to problems. The most frequently mentioned were nasal irritations, insomnia, paranoia, strained relationships with wife or husband, depleted savings, hangover days at work, and periodic sexual difficulties. The most frequent and severe problems were reported by the heaviest users.

Some of these problems were reported as serious, but many were not. Most of the respondents appeared to find most of the problems manageable most of the time. They seemed to get pleasure from cocaine, and accepted the problems as part of the territory.

Most of the sample agreed that moderate use of cocaine can be an exceedingly enjoyable experience —it produced euphoria, more energy, a certain intellectual focus, enhanced sensations, an increased sociability and social intimacy.

However, daily use or regular binges transformed the experience of the cocaine high. The initial euphoria slowly and subtly became dysphoria, feelings of well-being turned into feelings of being unwell and unhappy. Feeling energetic was replaced with feeling apathetic.

These changes in physical feelings were accompanied by transformations in social experience. The person used the drug in isolation, rather than in social groups as was done initially.

Some heavy users noted psychological transformations. The world that had once been good to live in became a place that was far less hospitable—paranoia increased and depression sometimes developed.

A shift in the balance between positive and negative effects of cocaine occurred. The shift to the negative often resulted in considerable psychological pain, and a questioning of the rationality and desirability of continuing to use the drug.

At this time, those people with conventional stakes in families, homes, jobs, communities and identities tended to find the resources and resolve to abstain or reduce their drug use.

Those with fewer such stakes and social supports were more likely to feel indecisive and helpless to overcome their cocaine use problem.

Recommended reading:

Cocaine Changes: The Experience of Using and Quitting by Dan Waldorf, Craig Reinarman and Sheigla Murphy. Temple University Press, USA.

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> Part 2

 

 

The Drug Experience and Beyond: Amphetamine

The experience of taking amphetamine, including the subjective pleasurable experiences of initial use, amphetamine-induced anxiety and psychosis, and withdrawal symptoms following long-term use. Also includes a brief consideration of the various factors that can influence the amphetamine experience. (964 words)


The ‘drug experience’ produced by a particular psychoactive substance depends on both drug and non-drug factors. Drug factors are the chemical properties or type of drug used, the dose, route of administration, and presence or absence of another drug. Non-drug factors include personal characteristics of the user (e.g. biological make-up, personality, previous experience), and the context or setting in which the drug is taken.

A person will first try a drug because of social or intrapersonal factors, such as curiosity about the effects of a drug, or the fact that their friends are taking it. They will probably have certain expectancies about the effects of the drug from conversations with experienced users and/or because of media exposure.

Once a person has taken a drug, the drug experience creates cognitive expectancies which become another factor that influences subsequent drug-taking. A person may continue to take the drug to increase his psychological comfort or change his level of consciousness.

Low doses of amphetamine produce a number of subjective effects: feelings of euphoria; heightened alertness; increased energy and excitement; increased feelings of well-being, confidence and power; increased ability to concentrate and stay awake; increased sociability and friendliness; a feeling of being less bored or tired; hyperactivity, talkativeness, and a rapid flow of ideas; a suppression of sexual inhibitions; lack of desire for food; nervousness and anxiety.

With higher drug doses, there are other effects. These are much more likely to occur when the drug has been taken repeatedly rather than on a single occasion. The user may experience repetitive (stereotyped) thought patterns and show repetitive behaviours, e.g. continually take apart and re-assemble some object, or pick continually at their skin. They may show restlessness, irritability, and various types of anxiety condition, including panic states.

The person may develop suspiciousness, paranoia (delusions of persecution), and experience visual and auditory hallucinations. This is known as amphetamine psychosis, which resembles paranoid schizophrenia.

Amphetamine psychosis is usually seen with chronic use of drug, but can be seen after an acute administration. The incidence of amphetamine psychosis increases greatly when the user switches to intravenous drug administration.The psychosis is transitory and usually terminates after drug use is terminated. Long-term amphetamine use can sometimes lead to sudden and intense acts of aggression and violence.

The subjective effects of amphetamine and similar-acting substances are not fixed. The amphetamine-like stimulant methylphenidate (Ritalin) is, paradoxically, used to treat hyperactivity in children. Some adults report the drug exerting a calming effect, allowing them to cope better.

In well-controlled laboratory conditions, under conditions where neither subject nor experimenter knew whether drug or placebo was administered, a fixed dose of amphetamine produced either euphoria or anxiety in different subjects.

Once a person has tried amphetamine, they may use the drug on a recreational basis, even over an extended period of time. They may keep a strict adherence to a particular pattern of drug use so that the drug is only used on certain occasions (e.g. weekends). The user retains control over drug use and there may be no medical or social complications—however, there is the possibility of legal sanction. Of course, a person may try amphetamine once and never do so again.

However, the pattern of drug-taking may intensify and a number of changes may occur. For example, a person may switch from oral or intranasal use to intravenous use. Drug effects will intensify when such a change occurs.

In another pattern of use, the person initiates repeated ‘runs’, taking amphetamine for hours and sometimes days. They may snort new lines of drug whenever they feel the drug effects wearing off. This pattern of drug-taking is more evident with cocaine, which is a much shorter–acting drug.

In yet another pattern of use, they may chronically abuse amphetamine in combination with depressant drugs. They may drink large amounts of alcohol whilst under the influence of amphetamine.

Users may use depressant drugs (benzodiazepines, alcohol, opiates) to take ‘the edge off’ the stimulant, and help them feel less anxious. Research suggests that users who abuse stimulants and depressants experience more psychological and physical problems than those who only abuse stimulants.

Tolerance develops to many of the psychological and physical effects of amphetamine, e.g. euphoria, anorexia, hyperthermia and hypertension. This tolerance may develop within hours to days. However, there appears to be little tolerance to the anxiogenic effects of the drug. In fact, repeated use of amphetamine may sensitise individuals to amphetamine psychosis.

The effects of a single dose of amphetamine lasts 2 – 4 hours and generally leaves the user feeling tired after the drug’s primary effects are over. It may take as long as a couple of days to feel normal again. With chronic drug use, feelings of tiredness, lethargy and irritability become stronger and may have a more dramatic onset following the wearing off of drug effects.

The user may want to keep taking drug to avoid these feelings. Tolerance develops with regular use and higher doses will be required. Eventually, ‘what goes up must come down’. The ‘withdrawal’ effects are even stronger when a user has completed repeated ‘runs’ over a period of days. Amphetamine produces a withdrawal syndrome, which not only includes tiredness, but also anhedonia (an inability to feel pleasure), depression, anxiety, dysphoria, sleep disturbances, and a strong craving for drug.

The person may experience terrible mood swings as he oscillates between periods of drug-taking and withdrawal. He may experience periods of paranoia and anxiety when taking the drug, and periods of deep depression when not taking the drug. The impact of this on psychological well-being can be considerable.

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Alcohol Dependence

Looks at the cluster of seven elements that make up the template for which the degree of alcohol dependence is judged. (900 words)

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Stigma and Recoveryism

UnknownBill White has been pushing out the blogs recently and I have missed some. I want to try and help to increase his readership, so it is catch-up time. Here’s the first, from August 28th – it represents some powerful writing. In my humble opinion, Bill at his best!

‘The suggestion that there are multiple and diverse pathways of long-term addiction recovery has evolved from a heretical statement to a central tenet of an international recovery advocacy movement. As tens of thousands of people representing diverse recovery experiences stand in unison in September’s recovery celebration events, it is perhaps time to explore and then put aside past divisions within and between communities of recovery.

In 2006, Tom Horvath, President of SMART Recovery, penned a brief article in which he coined the term recoveryism.  He used the term to depict assertions that a particular approach to addiction recovery was superior to all others – that there really is only ONE effective approach to addiction recovery. 

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The nature of alcohol dependence

P1011087Here’s an article on alcohol dependence you can find in our Articles section:

There has been a considerable scientific effort over the past three decades in to identifying and understanding the core features of alcohol and drug dependence. This work really began in 1976 when the British psychiatrist Griffith Edwards and his American colleague Milton M. Gross collaborated to produce a formulation of what had previously been understood as ‘alcoholism’ – the alcohol dependence syndrome.

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