Tag Archive: Substance abuse


A new theory for why Buddhist meditation makes us feel good

Meditation

Booze. Cigarettes. Gambling. The human brain is vulnerable to all sorts of addictions. And thinking might be one of them. That’s right – in many Buddhist texts, the endless stream of rumination that runs through the mind of the average person isn’t merely a distracting habit, but a genuine addiction that befuddles the intellect and inhibits spiritual development. In a new article, a leading neuropsychologist makes the same claim – that we’re all addicted to daydreaming, and that the neurology of our addictions is the same as that of addiction to drugs. What’s more, certain forms of Buddhist meditation may release the brain’s chemical hold on itself, releasing us from our addictive daydreams.

The article, published this fall in Religion, Brain & Behavior, outlines a novel model for how meditation works. As such, it doesn’t present any new empirical research, and only reviews prior studies. But its author, Bowling Green State University psychologist Patricia Sharp, is deeply read in the neurophysiology of reward, addiction, and meditation, and her synthesis of material across related disciplines is both rich and compelling.

Sharp’s argument hinges on the claim that, as Buddhist scriptures teach, life’s rewards tend to lose their sweetness over time. For example, people who get rich tend to enjoy a quick spike in happiness – but that spike doesn’t last very long. Pretty soon, their happiness levels tend to return back to where they were. Their new riches don’t make them any happier than they were before. Thus, the pleasures of the world are inherently, well…disappointing.

What’s innovative is Sharp’s claim that thought itself – particularly the ruminative, daydreaming style of thought that consumes nearly half our waking hours – fits this same pattern. Each individual daydream might offer a little internal reward, such as when we fantasize about accepting a trophy or scoring a date with the office bombshell. But over time, the constant barrage of imagined experiences begins to lose its luster, to become unrewarding – and maybe even to inhibit our ability to feel pleasure in general.

Sharp doesn’t mention the First Noble Truth of Buddhism in her paper, but she’s referring to something pretty close to what it calls dukkha, or suffering – the fundamental unsatisfactoriness of life. Dukkha means that all the things we crave and become attached to can’t actually deliver on their glorious promises. Whether it’s rich food, sex, alcohol, wealth, or mere fantasies, the objects of our cravings always leave us feeling dissatisfied after we attain them.

Offering a neurobiological description of this basic unsatisfactoriness, Sharp points out that the nucleus accumbens – a part of the brain that plays a central role in reward and motivation – receives dopamine inputs from other regions such as the ventral tegmental area and the medial substantia nigra. Together, these regions form a circuit that enables reward-based learning, or conditioned responses. Think Pavlov: train a dog to understand that the sound of a bell is always followed by dinner, and pretty soon the dog learns to salivate when he hears the ringing. Inside his brain, dopamine projections into the nucleus accumbens (yes, dogs have them too) have learned to fire in in response to the predicted reward. The dog literally gets a little burst of happy chemicals when he hears the bell, because the conditioned responses have worn grooves into his reward circuitry.

The problem? “Overlearning.” If you fire the same circuits often enough, their reward value starts to decline. The job of the nucleus accumbens, in this model, is to reinforce adaptive associations between stimuli and behavior. Dopamine in the nucleus accumbens may serve as a “biochemical stamp” that marks connections between stimuli and behavioral responses. Once the right pattern has been established, the brain doesn’t necessarily need that dopamine signal anymore – the pathway is already there. So the reward signals fade away, suppressed by inhibitor cells that project from the nucleus accumbens back into the midbrain, where they down-regulate dopamine release. The reward pathway is still there, entrenched in the brain through a network of strong, habit-worn connections. But the reward itself – dopamine – is gone. This process may explain the “hedonic treadmill” effect so unpleasantly familiar to us all, in which initially pleasurable or exciting stimuli lose their appeal over time.

One particularly nasty result of this hedonic treadmill effect can be compulsive, addictive behavior. Think about a rat obsessively pulling a lever to deliver cocaine – or a glassy-eyed casino-goer stuffing quarters into a slot machine. These compulsive behaviors arise from long-established reward pathways, now devoid of dopamine but still connective and active. Sharp argues that both chemical addiction and simple habituation to everyday rewards result from this gradual down-regulation of dopamine projections to the nucleus accumbens.

What’s more, our habitual fantasies and daydreams may follow the same pattern. Each time our minds wander, we start to fantasize, plan, and construct imaginative scenarios. Many of these imaginative scenarios come with their own little pulses of reward, as the hippocampus and other limbic regions carry excitable signals into the accumbens. Over time, our brains crystallize patterns of thought that repeat the same types of thoughts and daydreams over and over. Initially, these crystallizations were motivated by dopamine flushes in the reward system. But eventually, the dopamine rewards taper off – even though the thought patterns are still there. We’re left with a compulsive, clinging re-running of the same old thoughts, a repeating of the same mental scenarios obsessively. Worse, the holistic effect may be a general drop-off in happiness, because we’re indulging in lots of mental activity that offers no rewards. Our daydreams may be literally inhibiting pleasure. In Sharp’s words,

our constant engagement in compulsive, repetitive thought patterns tends to cause an ongoing, powerfully conditioned decrease in dopamine release, so that dopamine is chronically below what would be expected in the absence of these ongoing mental patterns.

The solution? Meditation! In particular, Buddhist samatha, or shamatta, meditation entails intense mental absorption and the cessation of thoughts. Sharp suggests that such meditative states, while difficult to achieve, may serve to break up established patterns of connectivity within the brain. These patterns, or “attractor networks,” are sort of like long-established wrinkles in your favorite shirt. You might put the shirt through the wash, but if you leave the shirt draped carelessly over a chair…well, the same crease shows back up again. Likewise, our habitual patterns of neural connectivity – in which the same clusters of neurons are activated synchronously – are always waiting to reappear.

In contrast, previous research has shown that intense meditative states synchronize activity across networks in the brain. These whole-brain patterns of synchronization are structurally similar to certain epileptic seizure states, in which normal, localized patterns of connectivity are suppressed and global synchrony takes over instead. These epileptic states, Sharp suggests, flood the brain with acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that can boost signal connections between cells from widely separated regions in the brain. In an acetylcholine-soaked brain, established knots of habit-bound connectivity may be temporarily relaxed, replaced with more general, dynamic connectivity across the entire cortex.

The overall effect of samatha meditation, then, may be what Sharp calls a “general loosening of the existent attractor networks in the brain.” Importantly, this loosening may be exactly what we need in order to experience bliss. Attractor networks in the brain are tight knots of connections. When the nucleus accumbens is activated by a long-established circuit, it sends signals back to the midbrain to inhibit dopamine production. Thus, when long-established knots of connection are suppressed, these inhibitory signals go silent. The dopamine can start pumping again. And we start to feel good. This, Sharp suggests, is how meditation works its magic: by releasing our brains’ constrictive holds on our reward systems, and allowing the normal flow of dopamine to start up once more.

Sharp’s model is speculative and theoretical. It appears in print alongside with a half-dozen response commentaries from experts, many of which are critical. It doesn’t offer any new empirical data. But it’s fascinating. And it suggests exciting new possibilities for research, and for thinking about how the brain works. Nowhere else has the time-honored Buddhist claim that our daily obsessive thoughts and mind-wandering are actual addictions been so forcefully presented in modern biological terms. Sometimes, speculative science is the most interesting – and the most groundbreaking.

Now for a confession: recently, I’ve nursed curmudgeonly concerns about our growing American enthusiasm for Buddhism and “mindfulness” training. I’m nervous that claiming Buddhist identity has become a marker of upper-middle class bourgeois sensibility, set against the hopelessly uncool Christianity or Judaism of the establishment. (Bizarrely, the bourgeoisie in the United States suffers from the chronic, and dangerous, delusion that it is somehow not the establishment – as evidenced by how canny companies sell their goods by showing off how countercultural and rebellious they are.) And I’m wary of the assumption that all mind-wandering is necessarily bad. We don’t all need to be “mindful” all the time. In fact, as recent research has shown, lack of daydreaming can even hurt us.

So Buddhism may be a little trendy these days, and our conversations about mindfulness could use more depth. But just because something is trendy doesn’t mean it’s bad. Buddhism has produced some of the most powerful psychology the world has ever seen, and its practices and insights are, frankly, invaluable. Sharp’s fascinating model gives us another useful insight into why.

 
Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/scienceonreligion/2014/12/a-new-theory-for-why-buddhist-meditation-makes-us-feel-good/#ixzz3LF18zTu4

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National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

This is alert from SAMHSA (The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)

More than half of all adults with serious thoughts of suicide do not receive mental health services

Slightly more than half (51.8 percent) of the 8.6 million American adults who had serious thoughts of suicide in the past year did not receive mental health services according to a new report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

SAMHSA’s report shows that among those who had serious thoughts of suicide and did not receive treatment, nearly three out of four did not perceive the need for treatment.

Each year more than 35,000 reported deaths are attributed to suicide and studies have indicated that those who have serious thoughts of suicide are at increased risk of suicide attempts and eventual death by suicide.

“Suicide is among one of our nation’s most preventable causes of death and it devastates the lives of countless families and friends left behind,” said Paolo del Vecchio, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services. “The earlier we can reach out to people in crisis with needed mental health services, the more lives we can save, and the more people we can help return to happy, productive lives.”

The SAMHSA-sponsored toll free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline –1-800-273-TALK (8255)– provides 24/7, year round immediate confidential counseling for people in crisis or for people who are concerned that someone they know may be in crisis. The Lifeline can also be accessed online at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

The report, Half of Adults with Serious Thoughts of Suicide Do Not Receive Mental Health Services, is available at:

http://www.samhsa.gov/data/spotlight/spot136-suicide-services-2014.pdf

It is drawn from data from SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an annual survey of 67,000 Americans from across the country.

Additional info on SAMHSA’s suicide prevention programs and other resources is available at http://www.samhsa.gov/prevention/suicide.aspx.
For further information SAMHSA programs please go to: http://www.samhsa.gov/
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The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA’s mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.

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A Poem About Recovery

 

Here is an insightful poem from Kati Morton’s Mental Health Social Network:

A Poem About Recovery

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Today I do not want to recover,
Today I want to curl up in my bed of addiction and sleep in.
Tomorrow I may put the razor away, and eat my lunch..
But today,
today want to I fall down.
Today I want to become a quitter.
Today I want to tuck my resolve into a corner of my dresser,
And dust away the remnant’s of my confidence
from the picture frame of friends who left me.
Today I am willing to crumple my origami heart just for a bit of relief.

Today I learn the meaning of strength,
Today I define struggle.

Recovery isn’t what I keep telling myself it is.
Recovery is waiting in a rainstorm because you have faith that a rainbow will appear.
Recovery is walking through a haunted house of my demons, and believing that I’ll find an exit.
Recovery is taking off the blindfold, and being blinded by the light.
Recovery is your eyes adjusting to the light.
Recovery is moving on.
Recovery is learning.
Recovery needs tears to water it before it blossoms.
Recovery is the caterpillar in it’s cocoon, waiting to become the butterfly it was promised.
Recovery isn’t an accident, a coincident, it isn’t luck.
Recovery is faith.
Recovery is work.
Recovery is slow steady healing.
Not an eclipse of the heart,
But a changing of the seasons,
And I’m still waiting for spring.
Recovery is being vulnerable.
Recovery is forgiving.
Recovery is acceptance.

Recovery is a lot of poems.
Recovery is a lot of crying.
Recovery is a lot of nostalgic songs.
Recovery is a lot of late nights on tumblr, or on the phone.

Recovery isn’t a dream,
Recovery isn’t made up
Recovery is giving me my future back.

Recovery is my high school diploma.
Recovery is learning what love really is.
Recovery is 5 years clean.
Recovery is my wedding day.
Recovery is holding my first child.
Recovery is growing old with a man I love.
Recovery is a future.

Today I do not want to recover,
But I’ll try anyways
That is Recovery.

About The Author

          Just me trying my very best to recover
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Explaining medication usage to the patient

Explaining medication usage to the patient (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Getting the Best Care You Can

Choosing a good psychiatrist can be a tricky job, especially when you are in the midst of a crisis. But it is important to find a doctor that you are comfortable with and that you can work with, otherwise you may not get the care you deserve.

Do you suffer from depression, bipolar disorder or other mental disorders? If so you are not alone. Many people suffer along with you. But how do you know if you need professional help? Feeling overwhelmed and unable to function in your daily life is a good sign that you may need help. Reducing stress and getting counseling may help, but if your symptoms are severe then you may want to see a psychiatrist.

Note: If you are in crisis, such as feeling suicidal get help from a psychiatrist right away. You may need to check yourself into a hospital to get the proper care.

How to Know if You Have a Good Doctor

Unfortunately not all doctors are created equal. Here are the characteristics of a true professional:

A good doctor will listen to you. If he rushes you or spends more time filling out your prescription slips than talking with you, you need to find someone else.

He should be willing to discuss options and address your concerns about medications. If you are worried about side-effects or the potential for addiction, then you should feel comfortable about bringing these issues up.

The doctor-patient relationship should be one of partnership. He may be an expert in his field, but you are the expert on yourself. If your symptoms don’t match his treatment plan then you may have to find someone else (it helps if you do some research on your own to find out what the proper treatment is for your condition).

If a particular medication is not helping you, you should be able to talk to your doctor about making changes. (Bear in mind though that some medications, such as antidepressants, can take up to several weeks to be effective).

Note: There are a lot of GP ‘s who are willing to dispense psychiatric drugs. My personal feeling is that this is unwise. Only a professional psychiatrist is qualified to diagnose and to treat mental disorders. Also not everyone who is mildly depressed needs medication.

Getting the Most out of Your Visit

Bring a list of all your current medications and dosages, including non-psychiatric drugs. Include past medications, and if you have had any allergic reactions or side-effects with them.Also bring a list of past medical history, including hospitalizations.

Tell your doctor about all of your symptoms even if you think that they are not important or you think you can handle them on your own. Many people are misdiagnosed because the doctor is not given the proper information.

Ask questions such as “What is my diagnosis? What are the side-effects of my medications? Are they addictive?”

Note: There are some medications that can cause withdrawal symptoms, such as certain antidepressants. However the clinical definition of addiction means having to take more and more to get the same effect, in other words abusing your medications. There is no abuse potential with antidepressants, even though you may experience withdrawal symptoms when you go off of it. However tranquilizers and sleeping pills can be abused so it is a good idea to be cautious with them.

If you are uncomfortable with taking a particular medication, ask for alternatives. For instance if you are concerned about addiction to sleeping pills or tranquilizers, there are non-addictive medications available that have the side effect of sedation.

Note: If you are in a crisis you may not be able to apply all these steps. If this is so, it would be a good idea to bring in a trusted friend or family member to advocate for you.

After Your Visit

Educate yourself about your medications and side-effects. The doctor may not have time to discuss every side-effect that could happen. Read the information sheets that comes with your prescriptions. You may also want to talk with your pharmacist, who may be more familiar with side-effects than your doctor.

Learn more about your illness. Again your doctor may not have time to explain it in detail. Remember that educating yourself about your illness makes it easier to to get the proper care. You can make a note of your symptoms and take that information to your doctor.

Remember that the quality of health care that you receive is up to you. Following these suggestions can help you get the best care possible.

If you are interested in some of my personal experiences with Psychiatrists then click on these three links: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Mental Health Awareness Ribbon

Mental Health Awareness Ribbon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since this is Mental Health Awareness Month I”ve decided to gather some information and resources. First off, I am doing a shameless promotion for the organization that I used to work for, Mental Health America. In my neck of the woods they have a homeless assistance program, psychiatric care, therapy groups and a program for teens and young adults. They also have a peer-run mental health center, which is where I used to work. Not all locations have this, but those that don’t often have support groups in the community. You can find a location in your area here.

Here is a list of resources, taken from their website:

Need more Info?

There is more information on resources and what they are doing for Mental Health Awareness Month here.

Next up is NAMI, or the National Alliance on Mental Illness.  This organization’s main focus is to provide support for the family and friends of someone who is diagnosed with a mental illness. However in my area they have started support groups for mental health consumers as well. They are also an advocacy organization and they lobby the government for better mental health care. Here is a list of their services from their website:

nami_alex2

nami_alex2 (Photo credit: amcmillensliqua)

NAMI HelpLine
The Information HelpLine is an information and referral service which can be reached by calling 1 (800) 950-NAMI (6264), Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.- 6 p.m., EST or by email at info@nami.org
Education, Training and Peer Support Center
NAMI State Organizations and local NAMI Affiliates offer an array of free education and support programs for individuals, family members, providers and the general public. These include Family-to-Family, Peer-to-Peer, NAMI Support Group, In Our Own Voice and more.
State and Local NAMIs
NAMI is the foundation for hundreds of NAMI State Organizations, NAMI Affiliates and volunteer leaders who work in local communities across the country to raise awareness and provide essential and free education, advocacy and support group programs.
Discussion Groups
Browse through hundreds of NAMI’s interactive group forums. With topics ranging from illness management, to job-hunting, to relationships, it’s never been easier to connect with others who’ve shared your lived experience.
Social Networks
Connect with NAMI through Social Media Channels on Facebook and Twitter or NAMI’s network for young adults, Strength of Us.
NAMI on Campus
NAMI on Campus provides information and resources to support students living with mental health conditions and to empower them to take action on their campuses.
Veterans & Military Resource Center
NAMI is proud to provide the following resources for veterans and active duty military members, as well as their families, friends, and advocates.
Multicultural Action Center
The Multicultural Action Center focuses on eliminating disparities in mental health care for diverse communities and offers help and hope to individuals of diverse backgrounds.
NAMI FaithNet
NAMI FaithNet is a network of NAMI members and friends dedicated to promoting caring faith communities and promoting the role of faith in recovery for individuals and families affected by mental illness.
Missing Persons Support
Resources and support for locating missing persons with mental illness.
NAMI Legal Support
The NAMI Legal Center provides lawyer referrals as a service to our members and the general public.
 
 
These are just a couple of organizations that can help. I am planning on making this a series because I would be writing a very long post if I want to include every organization!
 
Before you go I want to remind anyone who hasn’t seen my first post in this series to take a look.

 

United States Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - A Life in the Community for Everyone: Behavioral Health is Essential to Health, Prevention Works, Treatment is Effective, People Recover
Presidential Proclamation—May 2013 is National Mental Health Awareness Month

President Obama calls upon citizens, government agencies, organizations, health care providers, and research institutions to raise mental health awareness and continue helping Americans live longer, healthier lives. For many of the tens of millions of Americans who are living with a mental health issue, getting help starts with a conversation; talking about it with someone they trust and consulting with a health care provider.

Prejudice and discrimination often create a barrier to people seeking help. The President highlights that we as a nation need to make sure people know that “asking for help is not a sign of weakness—it is a sign of strength.” Additionally, with the Affordable Care Act, insurers may not deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions and will expand behavioral health issue benefits for 62 million Americans. The Administration has made unprecedented commitments to improve mental health care in America, and resources are available to those who need them.

You can find nearby treatment through SAMHSA‘s Treatment Referral line at 1-800-662-4357 (HELP). This toll-free service provides round-the-clock information confidentially on where to go for help on prevention, treatment, and recovery issues related to mental illness or substance use disorders (assistance available in English and Spanish). Similarly, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) provides free, confidential, immediate round-the-clock assistance to people in crisis. Both lines are open to all Americans—including service members, veterans, and their families—365 days a year.

Heed the President’s call and use the month of May to raise mental health awareness.

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SAMHSA is a public health agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Its mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.

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PH-F-O-0025

PH-F-O-0025 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Bipolar Disorder Does Not Increase Risk of Violent Crime, Swedish Study Suggests

Sep. 8, 2010 — A new study from Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet suggests that bipolar disorder — or manic-depressive disorder — does not increase the risk of committing violent crime. Instead, the over-representation of individuals with bipolar disorder in violent crime statistics is almost entirely attributable to concurrent substance abuse.

The public debate on violent crime usually assumes that violence in the mentally ill is a direct result of the perpetrator’s illness. Previous research has also suggested that patients with bipolar disorder — also known as manic-depressive disorder — are more likely to behave violently. However, it has been unclear if the violence is due to the bipolar disorder per se, or caused by other aspects of the individual’s personality or lifestyle.

The new study, carried out by researchers at Karolinska Institutet and Oxford University, is presented in the scientific journal Archives of General Psychiatry. Researchers compared the rate of violent crime in over 3,700 patients with bipolar disorder cared for in Swedish hospitals between 1973 and 2004 with that of 37,000 control individuals from the general public.

21% of patients with bipolar disorder and a concurrent diagnosis of severe substance abuse (alcohol or illegal drugs) were convicted of violent crimes, compared to 5% of those with bipolar disorder but without substance abuse, and 3% among general public control individuals. The differences remained when accounting for age, gender, immigrant background, socio-economic status, and whether the most recent presentation of the bipolar disorder was manic or depressed.

“Interestingly, this concurs with our group’s previous findings in schizophrenia, another serious psychiatric disorder, which found that individuals with schizophrenia are not more violent than members of the general public, provided there is no substance abuse,” says professor Niklas Långström, head of the Centre for Violence Prevention at Karolinska Institutet, and one of the researchers behind the study.

According to the researchers, the findings support the need for initiatives to prevent, identify and treat substance abuse when fighting violent crime. Additionally, Långström hopes that the results will help challenge overly simplistic explanations of the causes of violent crime.

“Unwarranted fear and stigmatisation of mental illness increases the alienation of people with psychiatric disorder and makes them less inclined to seek the care they need,” Långström comments.

Karolinska Institutet (2010, September 8). Bipolar disorder does not increase risk of violent crime, Swedish study suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 6, 2013, from

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100907103613.htm

 

Do Something About Bullying

The Front of the SAMHSA building at 1 Choke Ch...

The Front of the SAMHSA building at 1 Choke Cherry Road in Rockville, Maryland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

October is Bullying Prevention Month. Learn more at The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration – Homepage. This is a fantastic site for free mental health information.