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Avoid Getting A DUI, Plan Ahead!

According to a study recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol can be attributed to about 88,000 deaths per year in the U.S. This includes accidents from driving under the influence, alcohol poisoning, liver disease and fetal alcohol syndrome. This news highlights the ongoing health issue we have here in the U.S. from excessive drinking in a culture that seems to endlessly promote its use. From stylish ads in magazines to the endless banter on local radio stations selling listeners on going out to bars and parties to celebrate the coming of the weekend, it’s all around us. Every year at this time state police are especially primed and on the lookout for intoxicated drivers coming from St. Patrick’s Day festivities and an increased number of checkpoints were set up all across the country. Preliminary reports show that this last weekend 120 people were arrested for DUI in Maryland, more than 200 in Arizona, 36 in Oregon, and 64 in Orange County, California alone!

So why do people in this day and age with all the negative health news and organizations like MADD getting the word out, still drink and drive? The first issue is that many of us have to travel far distances to actually go to a party or visit with friends. This means we need to get into an automobile, we can’t just walk down the street. Furthermore, alcohol can make you feel energized and more sociable at first; so many people don’t “feel” like they are drunk when they actually are. However, as the night wears on, the alcohol actually acts like a depressant, slowing down the central nervous system, delaying reaction times, and wreaking havoc on coordination, all of which add up to a disaster on the road. Alcohol also makes you feel more relaxed and less stressed so it impairs decision-making skills. Many people who have been drinking aren’t thinking or worried about their abilities and think if they pay extra attention, everything will be fine. Lastly, in some cases people are too embarrassed to ask someone to drive them home or don’t want to bother anyone to pick them up.

Aside from the possibility of injuring or killing yourself or someone else due to drunk driving, there are a number of other consequences that make it just not worth it. The time it takes to handle the entire situation is a huge burden. Not only will you spend time in jail, but will have to appear in court for sentencing and any follow-up that needs to get in front of the judge. You will also most likely have to spend at least an hour a week attending alcohol awareness classes for months and months. This means hours away from work and your family. Furthermore, the financial setback is huge. There are fines in every state, attorneys fees and the cost of alcohol evaluations and state mandated classes. Don’t forget that your license will be revoked for a period of time so you will have to deal with the costs and hassle of public transportation or relying on someone else to get you around. Lastly, a DUI on your record could hurt your chances for current or future employment. It makes you look unreliable and irresponsible.

So, instead of the dealing with the stress of ending up at a DUI checkpoint after a couple of drinks, plan ahead. Pick a designated driver and provide them with their favorite non-alcoholic drinks all night long. Take a taxi. Plan on spending the night at the home where the party is taking place or call a friend, parent or spouse to come pick you up. Things can change in an instant and it can be seriously difficult to live the rest of your life with the results of the bad decisions you’ve made after a night of drinking.

More Drug Education and Good Samaritan Law Can Help Save Lives

With the recent drug overdose death of Philip Seymour Hoffman in the news, the discussion about drug abuse has once again been thrust into the forefront. According to the CDC, drug-poisoning deaths (both legal and illegally obtained) have tripled in the U.S. over the past 30 years. In fact in 2010, during the most recent year for which data is available, drug fatalities increased by 3%. In many states, including California, drug overdose fatalities have surpassed motor vehicle deaths for the number one cause of accidental injury-related death. This increase, many experts agree is due to the aggressive prescribing of pain medication we’ve seen in the past decade. Drugs like Oxycontin and Percocet are two legal and popular opioid drugs prescribed by many doctors for pain related injuries. The scary part is that they are similar to Heroine in that they are all derived from the poppy plant. Needless to say they are highly addictive and many users don’t realize the risk they are taking by starting up on these meds.

The sad part is that many of these deaths could have been prevented if someone had made the 911 call. The chances of surviving an overdose greatly depend on how quickly the person gets medical attention. And, in most cases people who overdose are not initially alone when they start to have a negative reaction. While witnesses to heart attacks, car accidents or strokes won’t hesitate to call the authorities, witnesses to someone overdosing from illegal drugs often are afraid to call for help because they are concerned about getting in legal trouble for drug possession themselves.

Californians should be aware that as of January 1, 2013, the 911 Good Samaritan law took effect. This law is meant to take away the fear factor and encourage bystanders at the scene of a possible overdose to call 911 without any repercussions for their own minor drug law violations. This means that if you are at the scene of an overdose and possess small amounts of drugs and/or paraphernalia or are under the influence, you will not get in trouble. It’s basically motivation for the caller to help save another person’s life without hesitation. There are at least 14 states that currently abide by this law including New Mexico, Washington, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Illinois, Colorado, Florida, Delaware, North Carolina, New Jersey and Vermont. Many more have the bill pending.

Why do the statistics remain on the rise despite a huge national effort to stop drug abuse? The answer is we need to do a better job at educating the public about prescription drug as well as illegal street drug abuse. From middle schoolers to adults, everyone could use a course on the risks and dangers of drug use and what to do in the case of an emergency to possibly save a life. The nationwide budget cuts to education spending over the years has done away with a lot of the drug education classes in the public school system. It’s up to parents and caregivers to take the time to teach teens about why to avoid peer pressure and just say no. It’s also important for adults to take a close look at the prescription drugs that are being prescribed in their family and limit or avoid opiate based pain meds. It’s hard to say when someone will become addicted. Staying alert, aware and educated about the pharmaceutical drugs you or a loved one is taking can help avoid misuse in the first place.

Educate Your Kids On The Risks of Drug and Alcohol Use

Regardless if you have your children safely ensconced in a small private school setting or they are in a large public middle or high school, there is no question that they will at some point be exposed to alcohol and drugs. As the brain develops through their teen years, they can become more self confident and determined to make their own decisions, reliant on the approval of their peers and just more unpredictable. Experts agree that one of the important keys to preventing risky behavior is the level of influence and involvement you as a parent have in their life. Studies repeatedly show that kids admit that the more they learn about the risks of drug and alcohol use at home, the less likely they are to try them.

So it’s important to keep the lines of communication open at all times. This means listening to the details of their day and making time to enjoy activities with them when you are completely focused. It also means that if you do hear things that upset you, you need to keep your cool. If you respond with anger or threats, it will most likely cause your child to retreat and clam up. As early as middle school, start the conversation and explain clearly and calmly that it’s not okay to drink or take drugs. They may not understand what the big deal is, especially if they have seen you and other role models having an alcoholic beverage. Here are some discussion points to help you along in the ongoing conversation you will need to revisit every once in a while throughout their teen years:

  • Alcohol affects teenagers differently than it does adults. Starting to drink at a young age can contribute to a life long addiction as the brain is still maturing.
  • Alcohol and marijuana impair physical coordination, slow down reaction time, and can impair vision. Marijuana can even cause hallucinations.
  • Drinking takes away inhibitions and impairs judgment. This combination can lead to dangerous behavior like drunk driving and unprotected sex and/or embarrassing behavior that might be documented on social media sites in today’s environment. According to a 2013 Kaplan Test Prep study, nearly 31 percent of college admissions officers reported they looked up an applicant on social media during the review process.
  • It’s illegal. The drinking age in this country is 21. If the authorities catch you it can result in fines, community service, mandatory drug and alcohol education classes and a police record.
  • Grades and extra curricular activities will suffer. Teens who drink or take drugs often have trouble focusing on schoolwork. They fall behind, put off responsibilities and start a downward spiral.

A common question that often comes up or should be brought up is what he or she should do if in a situation when others are drinking or doing drugs. You can brainstorm different scenarios and solutions to get them to buy in. One way your child can respond is to put the blame back on you by saying that they can’t partake because their parents randomly alcohol and/or drug test them. Some high schools even offer this program so that kids have a way out. Lastly, its always good to reiterate that you will pick them up at any time, from any location if they find themselves in a difficult situation, and you promise that you won’t pull right up in front of everyone. They can walk out and down the block to meet you. In the end, it’s your support and intervention that will help them navigate through these tricky teen years.

The Facts About Marijuana Use Everyone Should Know

Marijuana has been used as a way to get “high” or reach euphoria as far back as 2737 B.C. when it was first discussed in a Chinese medical journal. Since then, it’s been historically used as a medicinal herb in many cultures. Researchers believe that its use spread from China to India to North Africa and then to Europe as early as 500 A.D. In the 1600’s in the U.S., the government actually encouraged production of hemp to use for rope, sails and clothing. However, by the early 1900’s increased crime and social problems were linked to marijuana use so Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act, which basically made it illegal except for authorized medical and industrial uses. It was listed in the U.S. Pharmacopeia from 1850 to 1942 for use in relieving labor pains, nausea and rheumatism. In 1956, the Narcotics Control Act set mandatory sentences for drug-related offenses. Nevertheless, the counter-culture of the 1960’s popularized the drug once again, using it is a symbol of their rebellion against authority.

Today 20 states and DC have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes and 9 more, including Florida, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia have this legislation in the works. And, as we all know, it’s legal to smoke marijuana on private property in Washington State and Colorado if over 21 years old. All of this definitely works to diminish its danger in the eyes of the average adolescent.

So, how do you explain to your teenager that its not something they should get involved with when it’s popularity and acceptance in the U.S. is growing leaps and bounds? In fact, in speaking recently with a group of teenagers, the group consensus was that smoking marijuana is safer than drinking alcohol.

The answer is that our kids should have the opportunity to learn the facts about drug use by signing them up for an online drug education class. Taking a private program from the convenience of your own home will give your teenager the freedom to learn the information on his or her own time and in a relaxed atmosphere, free from peer pressure. Parents can sit through the program with their kids and stop it whenever a question comes up that the teen wants to discuss in further detail.

In case you are wondering yourself what kind of damage smoking marijuana wreaks on the mind and body, here’s some quick highlights:

  • Respiratory illness: chronic use can contribute to pulmonary infections, bronchitis, inflamed sinuses, development of pre-cancerous cells, lung inflammation and risk of lung cancer.
  • Reduced Function of Immune System: It affects the body’s ability to fight viruses and bacteria. It could reduce ability to fight tumor activity.
  • Cardiovascular Effects: Marijuana alters and increases heart rate.
  • Behavior Effects: It impairs short-term memory, makes it more difficult to concentrate, slows reaction time, impairs motor skills, and has an unmotivating effect. The relaxed and euphoric state contributes to a lack of ambition to get anything done. This translates to poor grades, reduced exercise and reduced desire to accomplish goals.
  • Mental Health: Marijuana can contribute to anxiety, panic attacks and paranoia.

Heavy Drinking During Middle Age Accelerates Aging Process

Dennis Rodman once again made news this weekend after checking into an alcohol rehabilitation center for a 30-day program. Most recently, the flamboyant basketball star has been facing criticism for his “goodwill” trip to North Korea to play with former NBA players against a Korean team. He made headlines by singing Happy Birthday to dictator Kim Jong Un in front of 14,000 fans, and by mouthing off that an American who has been imprisoned by North Korea since 2012 may have done something to deserve the captivity. After reflecting on his antics, he admitted that he had been drinking excessively and was embarrassed and remorseful for his behavior. Rodman has been treated for alcoholism in the past, but has currently been experiencing a relapse.

It’s normal for individuals to suffer setbacks in battling alcoholism and at 52 years old, Rodman’s determination to get this behavior under control is more important than ever. Studies show that he isn’t alone and that middle age men who consume more than 2 ½ drinks per day should be particularly concerned. A recent study published in Neurology last week shows evidence that men who drink heavily during midlife find themselves with an accelerated rate of memory decline in the next 10-year span. The study looked at 5,000 men and 2,000 women in the UK. They tracked these white-collar workers and how much they drank for a period of ten years and then gave them cognitive tests. The participants taking the tests ranged in age from 45 – 69 and displayed higher rates of cognitive decline than the average non or light drinker.

In other words, heavy drinking during this time of life not only blurs your memory of the evening, but also can accelerate the aging process in the long-term. According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, 23% of men between 50 and 64 years old report consuming at least 5 alcoholic beverages per day. As people age, the bodily functions change which can result in more alcohol circulating in the bloodstream and the liver becoming less efficient. It’s a serious problem that can lead to serious health repercussions like high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and liver disease, hangovers and now we know accelerated memory decline as well.

For many, middle age is a particularly difficult time to stop drinking. It’s customary in social and business situations in the U.S. to drink during work dinners, celebrations as well as during get togethers with friends and family. During middle age, many male adults are at the pinnacle of their careers and quite honestly, business relationships are often sealed over a bottle of wine or spirits. So what is middle-aged man supposed to do?

One can start by keeping in mind that there is no downside to not drinking. You will feel better, have deeper conversations, make better judgment calls and don’t have to worry about embarrassing yourself with sloppy behavior. If you are concerned about how others will perceive your abstaining, just walk around with a non-alcoholic drink and don’t make a big deal out of it.

If the alcohol dependence has become severe, an in-patient facility might be the best bet to help get through the initial withdrawal stages. However, once you’ve made the commitment to stop drinking, you can also start at home by going cold turkey or slowly cutting back on the amount you drink each day. Get rid of any temptations that are easy to get your hands on in the house, stay away from your drinking buddies and look for support from people who really care about your wellbeing. If it’s not the first attempt, as in Rodman’s case, it’s important to reflect on what can be done differently this time to avoid another relapse. Most importantly, finding an alcohol recovery group that you click with, 1-1 psychotherapy or take an alcohol awareness class will help you stay the course.