Monday, February 21, 2011


                I’ve never been a huge fan of Valentine’s Day if I am truly honest (thus the picture at the top of this blog article).  However, in the interest of helping others, I decided I would reflect on positive ways to celebrate this holiday.  Here we go!
                There’s a famous song by Crosby, Stills, and Nash called “Love the One Your with”.  I love the song because it has a great groove.  The lyrics talk about a man who is separated from his girl (whether by distance or relationship issues, it is unclear) yet is in the presence of another girl.  The songwriter encourages the forlorn youngster to engage the girl in his immediate presence and “love the one your with”.    It’s a catchy, pop love song that remains a classic to this day.
                Speaking of this day, as I write this, people all over the world are preparing for love as well because today is Valentine’s Day 2011.  Happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours!  And may this day be all that you hoped it would be.
                I would like, however, to take a different spin on Valentine’s Day this year.  Normally, the holiday is an opportunity to express our love for someone special in our life.  We buy cards, candy, and flowers to win their hearts and express our inner heart to them.  This is all well and good and is a good practice I think.  However, I’d like to propose, for the purpose of addiction recovery, that recovering addicts/alcoholics use this holiday as a time to love themselves.  This love of self, when genuine, humble, and accurate, is very important to sobriety.  Allow me to explain.
                When someone in recovery grasps the concept of love of self, a veil is lifted and their vision is restored.  Part of recovery is understanding and believing that you have worth and are lovable just because you exist; just because you are you.  When you believe that you are loveable and that you have inherent worth, there is no reason to choose self-destructive activities like drugs and alcohol because you realize just how much worth you really have!
                This Valentine’s Day (or every day for that matter) try this little exercise and see how you feel about yourself.  Stand in front of a mirror first thing upon waking in the morning and last thing before you go to bed at night.  While standing in front of the mirror, make and hold eye contact with yourself.  While holding eye contact with yourself in the mirror, say out loud, “I love you.  I forgive you”. 
                You may not feel that way or even believe it but as the program says, “Fake it ‘til you make it”!  Give it a try and don’t rush to judgment if you don’t feel different immediately.  Give it some time to soak in deep in your soul.  Remember, you’ve probably been giving yourself negative messages for a long time.  It may take a little while to learn to sing to a new melody.  This is just one way you can ‘love the one your with’ because wherever you go there you are.  You are a permanent resident inside your skin so why not get to know the fabulous, awesome person you really are!  Happy Valentine’s Day… enjoy being you!  

Chris Newcomb, Aftercare Coordinator/Recovery Coach

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Land of Make Believe


     It was a tough battle.  The enemy was big…a lot bigger than me!  He had powers greater than mine.  But, I had trained hard.  I was ready.  I was a Jedi and I believed!
     Actually, I was a little kid standing in my friends’ backyard “playing” Star Wars.  He was Darth Vader and I was Luke Skywalker.  We were locked in an epic lightsaber after school battle between good and evil just before dinner was ready.  It was real to us but make-believe to the rest of the world.  Sometimes I miss the days of make-believe!
     This month we take a look at Step 2 of Alcoholics Anonymous which reads, “We came to believe in a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”  I want to focus on the world ‘believe’.  It is a powerful word.  By belief, children look forward to December 25th every year hoping for the latest toy from their good friend Santa Claus.  By belief, top athletes will push themselves to accomplish physical tasks mere mortals only dream of achieving.  Throughout history, countries have been created and destroyed by beliefs.  Like it or not, belief or the act of believing is a major factor in the human race.  This is true not only on a global scale but on an individual one as well.  Recovery is the perfect example of this truth. 
     Most alcoholics/addicts became addicted because they believed the wrong things about themselves and/or others.  Things such as” ‘Only cool people use drugs”, “I have to fit in so I will drink”, “I’m not worth anything to anyone”, “I can handle it.  I won’t get addicted.”  Unfortunately, most never took the time to ‘argue’ with those beliefs to see if they were actually true or false.  Blind belief comes with terrible consequences!
     As people enter into recovery, they embrace Step 1, namely, that their lives have gotten out of control due to their addictive behavior and that they are unable to solve the problem using their own power.  After they come to believe the truth of their own powerlessness, they are ready to embrace a new belief about their future: the need for help from a higher power.  This is usually shocking and uncomfortable for most addicts, to say the least.
     However, if an addict is serious about changing his/her behavior, they must be realistic about where they were living before they got into recovery: the Land of Make Believe!  This is a place that destroys lives.  It takes away freedom, fiscal prosperity, relationships, jobs, and even someone’s very life.  But at one point, the active addict believed that everything in the Land of Make Believe had to offer was true and worth the cost.  Nothing could be further from the truth!
     This is where changing beliefs can change your life.  When the addict chooses to embrace belief in a higher power, there is a pivotal change in their recovery.  They realize they don’t have to do it all alone.  They realize that something/someone who is more powerful and more intelligent will guide them, help them, and empower them to stay sober and recover from this awful disease.
     Ask yourself these questions: What do I believe about recovery?  What do I believe about the prospect of having a higher power’s help to stay clean and sober?  Why would I entertain such an idea if I can’t stay sober by my own strength? 
     The choice is yours.  Each day you can believe that, “a power greater than yourself will restore you to sanity” as AA /NA teaches.  You can step out into a beautiful new landscape full of new hopes and dreams that are waiting to be fulfilled.  The other alternative is to go back to the Land of Make Believe where everything seems wonderful but is rotten to the core.  The choice is yours…what do you believe?

Chris Newcomb, Aftercare Coach/Coordinator 

Synthetic Marijuana

     I was recently asked to help advise a subcommittee of the Virginia Senate for a new bill they are planning on passing to make it illegal to possess and distribute the new synthetic cannabis products.  These artificial marijuana products go by the names of "Spice" and "K2".  They are sold quite legally because they contain chemicals that have not yet been made illegal.  I had to do quite a lot of research to be able to advise the panel.  Here is some of the information I found out about the new synthetic marijuana products:
  • These products are being widely used, especially by young people.  Many of my patients report either that they have used them or they know people who do.
  • There are coffee shops and other places that are openly allowing these products to be used; some are even supplying the smoking paraphernalia like pipes and hookahs.
  • The products are very available to purchase online and in local head shops and even tobacco shops.
  • They are sometimes being used instead of natural marijuana because they will not usually cause a positive drug test.  Some new drug tests are being developed to test for these new products.
  • No one really knows what is in each product.  Each manufacturer puts in whatever they believe will sell more of their product.  There is no quality control.  Each batch is different.
  • Many consumers seem to believe they are buying and using a ”natural” product. Some companies even claim that these products are natural and therefore they are healthy and good for you.
  • The main ingredients are not “herbal products” at all, but chemicals sprayed onto a variety of plant materials.
  • The chemicals used have names like cannabicyclohexanol, JWH-018, JWH-073, and HU-210.  Most were synthesized in the lab as experimental drugs for research. They were never intended to be used in an unsupervised way. The safety margins between a safe dose and a toxic dose have not been established.
  • These drugs attach to the brain’s cannabis receptors. Some are reported to be more than 500 times as potent as THC.
  • While they do work on the cannabis receptors in the brain, most of the chemicals also work on other parts of the brain and we don’t yet know anything about these other effects.
  • There are a number of adverse effects reported from these drugs. Emergency rooms are reporting a large increase in visits for patients with toxic effects.  At low doses, they seem to cause an increase in heart rate, anxiety, and aggression.  At higher doses, there are reports of overdose, confusion, seizures, psychosis, and suicidality.
  • Some therapists are reporting that clients are relapsing using these products.  Some of the clients believe that they haven’t relapsed because these are natural products and are not against the law.
  • There is no way for consumers to tell what drugs are actually in the products they are smoking.
     So the question is: what should be done about these new synthetic marijuana products?  When it comes to the legal issues associated with substances of abuse, there are a number of points of view and a number of factors to be considered.  On the one, hand it is true that criminalizing marijuana and other drugs has not led to dramatic reductions in their use.  It is certainly true that the criminal element does get involved with the whole drug business and this has its own set of serious problems.  It is also true that people who want to use drugs are very resourceful and will usually find ways around most of the barriers that society puts up to stop them. On the other hand, these are new chemicals and we have no realistic idea just how they work, what are their adverse effects, or what are their toxic doses. They may easily cause permanent brain damage or have other serious long-term consequences.

     So, from a legal standpoint, there are only a couple of options. We could allow them to be legal and have them be controlled by some kind of state agency.  But this is simply not realistic at this point.  We don’t know enough about the chemicals themselves, and if one of these products was later found to have serious adverse effects, it would be disastrous.  We could look the other way and allow these products to be used in the way that they are currently being used.  But this option suffers from the same problems as legalization.  We just don’t know enough.  We are also in danger of sending a powerful unhealthy message – not just that we can’t control drug use, but that we have given up trying and that we don’t care.

     The only real option at this point in time, in my opinion, is to make these products illegal.  We need to accept that our attempts to make them illegal will be met with counter measures from the drug manufacturers and the users themselves.  It is an ongoing cat and mouse game that will never end, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.  As a society, we need to stand for the fact that there are products out there that are not good for us.  We should definitely study these products.  The more we learn about them, the more we will understand about drugs of abuse and the whole process of addiction.  We may even find that some of these products are quite safe and some may have therapeutic benefits that far outweigh their risks.

Peter R. Coleman, M.D.