This is your brain on my blog.

Clip this article, get a sharp pin, and attach it to the shin/arm/other appendage of anyone whose life will be better if they understand how drug/alcohol abuse works.

And, as long as you’re going to that much trouble…make a few copies and leave them in every exam room, waiting area and restroom at your medical-care facility. Some of the folks there need to know about the real science behind addiction.

A toast to life.

Booze, the great giver of….well, what?

If you guessed “a red nose and a lot of apologies”  you have not been listening to TV news.

A respected study has shown that moderate drinking in one’s later years leads to a longer life. The University of Texas at Austin study looked at 1,824 people, age 55 to 65, for twenty years. “Moderate” drinking is defined as one to less-than-three drinks per day.

By the time the study had been “reported” through a full 24-hour news cycle, it had boiled down even more. I watched as the statement  “Three drinks a day can help you live longer” crawled repeatedly across the bottom of the TV screen.

Yes, and lying down on the freeway can help you sleep better.

Even with my shockingly limited science background I was able to trudge through the original report, and see that this was misrepresented from start to finish.

It appears that there is indeed evidence that people who take a drink now and then can be longer-lived than abstainers. The bigger issue, for me, is that definition of “moderate” as one to less than three drinks a day. That’s less alarming than the truncated TV-news summary, but I still wonder. That’s 7 or 14 or almost 21 drinks a week. The only time in my life I thought even 7 drinks a week was moderate was when I was losing count.

The writers of the report and other experts have bent over backwards to stress that these findings are not a reason to let ol’ Johnny Walker nestle in there next to the B Vitamins and wheat germ on the shelf.  But, alas, the sound byte is winning.

It reminds me of Animal Farm, when the Seven Commandments observed by the critters (“Whatever goes on four legs or has wings in a friend” and “No animal shall sleep in a bed…wear clothes…drink alcohol…kill another animal” etc.) gets reduced to “Four Legs Good, Two Legs Better!”

We do love to reduce things to the one-liner that justifies our excesses, don’t we?

AA in the news: Powerless, grateful and other useful feelings.

There’s an essay in Wired by Brendan I. Koerner, titled “Secret of AA: After 75 Years, We Don’t Know How it Works.” It is burning up the email channels and New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote about it. As the headline makes clear, the piece is largely about the fact that the success rate of Alcoholics Anonymous can’t be measured. We can clasify addiction as disease, but unlike diabetes, we can’t say how many people get better through treatment…in this case, by working the 12 steps.

I feel safe in predicting that a lot of people will start reading it and quit about a third of the way into the piece. Not because it isn’t well-written enough, but for one of two other reasons:

(1) Squirm factor: They’re alcoholics/addicts and not ready or able to deal with the “cunning, baffling” affliction; or

(2) Gratitude factor: They’re in the program, it works, and they do not care why.

I read the whole piece, but I was skimming it by page 3.

I fall in category 2-A:  It works, I don’t care why. But yeah, okay, tell me why.

For more than 20 years I’ve thought of Alcoholics Anonymous as the equivalent of a concerned relative who took me in, made up a bed on the couch and said: You’re not doing so great. Stay here until you feel up to leaving.

I slept there around-the-clock for awhile. The couch is always made up and ready when I need it.

It’s an odd notion on the face of it, that the only way some alcoholics or addicts survive is by sitting in a room with a lot of other drunks, tweakers, pill-takers, glue-sniffers, junkies. It seems odd right up until it doesn’t. Funny how we humans can move the goalpost of “normal” up and back so many yards.

Yet, I do welcome new findings about the ways in which brain chemistry and environmental factors conspire to make an otherwise rational person ingest poison. I believe that the more mysteries we solve, the better off we’ll be.

In other words, I want the updated brain-operation manual and the couch. When I’m too weary to read the small print, I can lie down and rest.

Cyclist doping as workout.

Reading about doping by elite cyclists is almost as much of a workout as riding one of their damn bikes. There’s always a new round of accusations to get one’s heart rate jacked up:

“EPO!”

“Testosterone!”

“Human growth hormone!”

“We all do it!”

The latest aerobicism comes courtesy of  US rider Floyd Landis. (See the The New York Times piece by Julie Macur and Michael S. Schmidt.) The winner of the 2006 Tour de France until all the lab tests came back, Landis was a tireless protector of his own innocence,  spending four years on the talk-show circuit calling a lot of people liars.

Now comes news that Landis took a break from high-performance denials in order to send out a round of email in which he comes clean. He also accuses biker buds of big doping right alongside him.

Those guys are all crying foul, but something rings true in Landis’ reminiscences  of the good ol’ days when he stored bags of blood in Armstrong’s fridge, alongside similar bags belonging to Armstrong and teammate George Hincapie.  Now there’s an image: a half-asleep guy in his boxers (with impressively rippling muscles)  staring into the fridge and yelling: “Which of you shitheads used up all the milk? There’s nothing but blood in here!”

This ‘fessing up is a pulse-booster for sure. But the real jolt comes from reading that he supposedly spent $90,000 a year at one point on doping. Yes, $90,000.

If local tweakers read the NYTimes, they’d be furious.

Here they are working all hours going through nasty garbage bins looking for ways to make money off identity theft, and this pisher in the silly shorts raises this kind of dough riding a bike through the countryside? Now, that’s enough to get a person really exercised.

This is your ivy-covered brain on drugs.

Reed College in Portland has long enjoyed its reputation as a haven for the brainy, gifted and creative student. In recent years it’s also become a standout for the idiotic public state-of-denial exuded by its president and top brass who allowed a monster drug problem to take root on campus.

A couple of heroin overdoses didn’t rattle the top dogs as much as the feds stepping in with warnings that undercover cops will be milling about during a campus festival that historically has been a haven for drug sales and use. Now, at last, it looks like the college’s leadership might just have to grow some cojones.

From The New York Times:

“…Law enforcement officials raised an unusual theory of liability. Under a federal law intended to close crack houses, anyone who knowingly operates premises where drugs are used may be subject to serious criminal and civil penalties. Education lawyers, however, said they were unaware of that law’s ever being contemplated, let alone used, in the context of higher education.”

You can bet the “education lawyers” associated with Reed are now sweating the possibility of being the first case in which this “knowingly operates” clause is applied within academia.

The students, of course, will find an amusing, telegenic way to thumb their collective nose at the police presence on campus during the fair. They, at least, act in character, questioning authority. Maybe the leadership of their college will buck up and act in character too. Finally.

Meth trash? That goes in the blue bin, right?

We’re always a little behind the curve when it comes to controlling dangerous-stuff-while-driving behavior.

We wait until a lot of cars blow up (Corvair, Pinto) or take off on their own (Toyota) or roll over (early SUVs) before we regulate ‘em. We get all pissy toward people (Ralph Nader in the ’60s) who try to help us stay safe (seat belts).

We’re weak-kneed when it comes to regulating things that any fool can see are dangerous, such as texting and talking on cells while driving. Some states with new laws against the latter are just handing out warnings to folks who work out of their cars, like on-the-road salespeople. Oh, please. Unless you’re a mobile day-trader, there is no job that won’t allow you to pull over for 4 minutes and make a call.

Now, according to Susan Saulny in  The New York Times, there’s a lot of meth cooking going on in back seats. Of moving cars.

What better way to stay under the radar, so to speak? You buy such small amounts of pseudoephedrine that no alarms go off at the store, and you cook it in the car, where nosy neighbors don’t get suspicious and turn you in. As long as you keep within the speed limits, wear your seatbelts and are not on the phone, the stretched-too-thin cops might miss the fact that you and your smurfer buddies are making–and indulging–in product. And then tossing the resulting trash out the window.

That meth-littering is the main point of the NYT story. And my only hope is that here in the Pacific Northwest, at least, people will nip this activity in the bud.  In this part of the world we are on trash like, well, flies on trash.

In Portland especially, we sort it. Boy, do we sort it. Our coffee grounds are composting before we set the mug down; our old tires are sneakers. I bought a sun hat the other day thinking it was straw. Wrong, it was made of recycled phone books. People here are terrified of losing daily newspapers, not because they read ‘em, but because they can be turned into bricks and then sports stadiums. (I made that last thing up, but it’s almost the truth.)

If there’s a new kind of trash in town, we’ll find a way to spin it into something else. And, in a couple of years, we’ll have a law on the books that forbids cooking in the back seat. Of course, by then it will have moved to light-rail cars.

Onward science soldiers!

If you thought the so-called War on Drugs was pretty much lost, take heart. Here’s some news about a guy who might just get us pointed in the right direction.

One of the more arresting quotes has to do with alcohol abuse and defining a problem drinker:

“The measuring stick is known as ’3-14′ — so if someone is having 3 or more drinks a day, or 14 per week, that should raise a red flag, and physicians should be much better equipped to intervene and offer treatment options if there is a problem. Ideally, Dr. McLellan said, that treatment would be available in the medical system itself, not segregated in rehabilitation and detox programs, with their high failure rates.”

What we know still hurts us


The question of when a woman should begin annual mammograms is getting a lot of ink, air-time and, yes, close scrutiny in Congress, not a gang I reflexively list under the heading, “People I trust with my personal health-care decisions.”

(I’m trying not to veer into paranoia here, so I won’t dwell on my impression that such waffling never seems to happen around, say, male health problems.)

Most women I know, hear, or read about are quite peeved (or at least, unsettled) that there is such sharp disagreement in the medical-expert world over this. I share their peevedness, and at the same time, I keep thinking about how reluctant we often are to use good preventative-health info when we DO have it.

Consider:

Thanks to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, we know that that drinking gets rolling early in our lives, immediately boosting the odds for all manner of regrets, from car crashes to quickie marriages at the Vegas Elvis Chapel.

We know that booze is harder on women, and not simply because we tend to be smaller than men. To paraphrase the NIAAA folks, we’ve got less water inside us, so that Strawberry Mojito gets to the brain faster and makes us stupid sooner.

We adult women are more likely to get certain cancers and bone disease from too much alcohol. It takes surprisingly little alcohol to wreck our skin, addle our brains permanently, and cause us to mix up our meds. And although it is rarely written about, over-cocktailing by women is pretty much a direct ticket to picking dangerous/disappointing partners and ensuring a rotten sex life.

Okay, okay, so where does all this blogdignation get me? It isn’t that I don’t appreciate the progress made on many health fronts, including awareness of the risks of alcohol abuse. Nor do I think the folks who set health-screening standards should throw in the towel because we American women often thumb our nose at the solid wellness info we do have. I’m not even lobbying for Congress to get out of my doc’s exam room, exactly. (They’d just sneak back in anyway.)

I guess I’m just wishing that while the experts screw around with the mammogram-timing standards, we use some of the down time to pay attention to the solid life-saving facts that have already smacked us right in the kisser.