Posted by: 2restore | Saturday 20 December 2008

Don’t Medicate Christmas

Don’t Medicate With Alcohol and Drugs This Holiday Season!

Daniel G. Amen, MD, CEO, Amen Clinics, Inc.

Guess what the busiest month is in mental health treatment nationwide – January! Wonder why? For many, the holidays include a visit from “the ghost of Christmas past” who brings a tray full of unpleasant memories and unrealized expectations.

Sometimes we set ourselves up to fail during the holidays, thinking that for some magical reason this year will be different, when we’ve done nothing to change difficult family and relationship problems. It’s easy to slip into the “comfort zone” of overeating, isolating and abusing alcohol and drugs.

Unfortunately, the temporary relief provided by indulging wears off fast and leaves you feeling worse. And, the damage you do to your brain sets the stage for repeated failure. Here are a few things to consider as the holiday season approaches…

1. Alcohol and drug abuse damages the brain.

From the first scan I ordered on a patient with substance abuse problems, I saw very significant brain changes. A healthy scan shows full, even, symmetrical activity. Drug and alcohol abuse tended to cause overall decreased activity in the brain. These brains looked more aged, more shriveled, and more toxic than the brains of people who did not use drugs.

Heroin and heroin-like drugs, called opiates, caused severe decreased activity, as did much alcohol. Methamphetamines and cocaine tended to cause what looked like multiple holes or mini-strokes in the brain. Marijuana caused decreased activity in the frontal and temporal lobe areas (areas involved with memory and motivation).

All substance abuser brains did not look the same. Some people who have used drugs for a short time had horrible looking brains, while others, who used drugs for longer periods of time, had brains that did not look that bad. There must be genetic factors involved as well.

2. Alcohol and drug abuse is often a form of self medication (hot brains and cold brains).

One of the most powerful lessons we have learned from imaging is that many people who abuse substances are really trying to change their own brain chemistry. First, a word about what SPECT studies actually show us. We basically look for three things: areas of the brain that work well, areas of the brain that work too hard, and areas of the brain that do not work hard enough.

People with overactive brains, such as those with bipolar or manic-depressive disorder, anxiety disorders, certain forms of depression and obsessive compulsive disorder, tend to abuse substances that calm the brain down, such as marijuana, alcohol, or opiates.

People with under-active brains, such as those who have attention deficit disorder, tend to abuse stimulating drugs such as methamphetamine or cocaine. The drugs or alcohol make them feel better, so they continue to use, even though it has many other problems. It is essential to treat the underlying problems in order for them to heal from the substance abuse. Brain injuries are also involved in substance abuse in far greater numbers than most people realize.

3. The past is history and the future a mystery – let’s live today!

This can be a great time of year – I encourage you to take care of yourself, don’t overindulge in destructive behavior and don’t let your past destroy the present. Make new and positive holiday traditions, beginning this year! This year, be kind to yourself and your brain – it will make a difference for you and those you love!

To your brain health,

Daniel G. Amen, MD
CEO, Amen Clinics, Inc.



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