toxic people

Are there toxic people?

No, I do not believe so….

I think there are toxic interactions.

Toxic behavior. And it takes two to tango, really.

Do I have to stay away from someone who behaves badly? Do they set me off? Well, that’s about me, isn’t it? I need to go look in the mirror and see what is bothering me. What does this remind me of? Are they getting under my skin? So what part of my skin needs better boundaries?

I realized that my father drank too much when I was in college. I read about it and went home, ready to intervene. My mother and my sister refused, much to my surprise. And slowly I realized that my mother was enabling the drinking.

I set boundaries with my father. I said that he could not come to my house drunk and he could not drink at my house. I refused to sleep in my parents’ house because he was falling asleep and there were cigarette burns in the floor and an 8 inch diameter one between the couch cushions. I told my mother I was having nightmares about fires. She joked that she would be mad if he burned a hole in the waterbed. I told my father I was afraid to sleep upstairs and moved to my grandmother’s, two doors away. I was lucky that I had that option.

My father stopped drinking a decade later. I took my young son to visit, and found that my father had started again. I asked my mother, “Why didn’t you tell me?” She replied, “I told you I would leave if he drank, but I am not going to leave.” I said, “We are not staying with you.” and we moved to my mother-in-law’s house.

As a family doctor, I try to help each person. My clinic and I do have boundaries. If they no show for three visits within one year, we ask them to change to another doctor. People call for referrals often. I can’t do a referral without documenting a diagnosis and doing an examination, so they need a visit. “But you’ve seen me for hip pain!” “Yes, and that was a year ago. Time to reevaluate, right?” And all doctors here are swamped: they want to save their over busy time for people who truly need them. The orthopedist does not want to see that hip unless I agree that they need to: if physical therapy and discussion can fix it, one less person that they don’t get to operate on.

I recently had calls for an emergency referral. I left a message with both the patient and the specialist. I had not seen the person for five months. I have no idea what is happening. If it’s an emergency, they need to contact the insurance, not me, because I have not seen the person: no diagnosis. And insurance should cover if it is an emergency. If it is not an emergency, well…

There is behavior that I prefer not to be around. There is behavior I will tolerate in clinic but not my personal life, since I get paid in clinic. There is behavior I won’t tolerate in clinic. But think of the great ones that are still spoken of: the Buddha, the Bodhisattvas, Jesus. They had boundaries to where any person was allowed to approach them and was received and was sometimes changed by that reception. When I say “I can’t be around him or her,” how do I need to change? Ok, not the crazy person shooting into crowds, no tolerance. But day to day, the things that get under our skin, it’s our skin that is fallible.

I do not want to label anyone toxic. I hope to make a small difference in the world through my clinic. And add to the joy in the world.

For the Daily Prompt: saintly. I am not there. 

Sweet Honey in the Rock: Would you harbor me?

teens high risk for addiction

What teens are at high risk for addiction?

Would you say inner city, poor, abused, homeless?

This study : Adolescents from upper middle class communities: Substance misuse and addiction across early adulthood. which I first saw in WebMd, says that the privileged upper middle and rich children are at higher risk  for addiction than many of their peers.

350+ teens in New England were studied.

Drug and alcohol use was higher than across country norms, including inner city.

Rates of addiction diagnosis by age 26 were
19%-24% for girls
23%-40% for boys
These rates are two to three times the norms across the country.

Rates for addiction diagnosis by age 22 were
11%-16% for girls
19%-27% for boys
These rates are close to the same in girls, but twice as high in boys as peers across the country.

The teens were often popular high achievers who are A students. Parents tended to drink more in those cohorts than the norms.

Also: “Findings also showed the protective power of parents’ containment (anticipated stringency of repercussions for substance use) at age 18; this was inversely associated with frequency of drunkenness and marijuana and stimulant use in adulthood.” That is, parents who sent a clear message that consequences for illegal and underage substance use including alcohol and marijuana would be serious, provided protection for their teens.

A second article: Children of the Affluent: Challenges to Well-Being says this:

“Results also revealed the surprising unique significance of children’s eating dinner with at least one parent on most nights. Even after the other six parenting dimensions (including emotional closeness both to mothers and to fathers) were taken into account, this simple family routine was linked not only to children’s self-reported adjustment, but also to their performance at school. Striking, too, were the similarities of links involving family dining among families ostensibly easily able to arrange for shared leisure time and those who had to cope with the sundry exigencies of everyday life in poverty.”

Other children’s perception of parenting examined included:

felt closeness to mothers
felt closeness to fathers
parental values emphasizing integrity
regularity of eating dinner with parents
parental criticism
lack of after-school supervision
parental expectations

This aligns with my observations both in my town and with patients. I see parents “check out” sometimes when their children are in their teens. “I can’t control him/her. They are going to use drugs and alcohol.” I told my children that if they partied I would NOT be the parent who says, “Oh, he needs to play football anyhow.” I would be the parent who would be yelling “Throw the book at him/her. Bench them.” And I saw parents of teens going out to the parking lot to smoke marijuana at a church fundraiser when it was still illegal. And saying “Oh, our kids don’t know.” I thought, “Your kids are not that dumb.” They invited me along. I said, “No.” And I really lost respect for that group of parents. What example and message are they sending to their teens? Yeah, cool, do illegal things in the parking lot, nod, nod, wink, wink.

Meanwhile, my children keep me honest. “You are speeding, mom.”

“Yeah,” I say. “You are right. Sometimes I do.” And I slow down.

disaster and withdrawal

When I watch the disaster news, what I think about is withdrawal.

Everyone who is on a substance that causes dependence or addiction is withdrawing.

They don’t seem to ever discuss that, but think…. if you are in Houston or Florida when everything floods, are your cigarettes dry? I don’t think so. And put multiple people in close contact in a shelter, with many withdrawing… I am not surprised that tempers flare.

Let’s look at numbers.

Tobacco: in 2013, 21.3% of the US population age 12 and older, smokes tobacco. Disasters are a reason to quit. It’s hard enough to quit tobacco, but imagine going cold turkey if we have our Pacific Northwest really massive earthquake. Quit smoking now, don’t wait for a disaster. And think about being in a stadium with one in five of the people over age 12 withdrawing from tobacco. Is that fun?

Alcohol: “In 2013, 30.2 percent of men and 16.0 percent of women 12 and older reported binge drinking in the past month. And 9.5 percent of men and 3.3 percent of women reported heavy alcohol use.” Ok, that’s rather vague. If you have a drink or two after work every day or with dinner, will you notice the lack? Yes, I think so, but maybe only 10% of the adults are really going into alcohol withdrawal. That’s a conservative estimate. 30% are probably grumpy.

Illicit drugs: 4-8% of the 40-70 year olds used something in the past month. Are they addicted? Well, some are. And the 18-15 year olds are the most active, around 20%. Methamphetamines, cocaine, crack, crank, heroin, eeee-yuk.

Prescription drugs: “More than half of new illicit drug users begin with marijuana. Next most common are prescription pain relievers, followed by inhalants (which is most common among younger teens).” So let’s see, what percentage of the population is on prescribed opioids, benzodiazepines and barbituates? Ooooo, 1/3 of the US population has been prescribed opioids (2). Chronic opioids are prescribed to 3-4% of the US population, but of course, that is the prescribed chronic pain ones, not the illicit ones. Now, those can have a withdrawal. Alcohol and benzodiazepine withdrawal are the most dangerous for the patient, but in opioid withdrawal the pain receptors go absolutely crazy, like a volcano blowing up. And the tweakers withdrawing from methamphetamines. The sleep medicines like sonata and ambien avoid the issue of whether they are addictive by saying they are for “short term use” — 6 weeks for the former and 2 weeks for the latter, but some people have been on them for years. And marijuana daily, I have seen great difficulty with anxiety and sleep when people are trying to quit.

Marijuana: 7.5% of the population over age 12. How many of those are addicted? I see varying numbers, ranging from 10% to 50%. If you use marijuana regularly, check. Stop it for a week. See if there is a problem. I’d try it before a disaster, because it would add to the stress during….

Caffeine: Ok, I would withdraw from caffeine. 90% of US people are addicted to caffeine. I get a massive headache for 24 hours and then I am ok. I have gone off it more than once….

With ADHD medicines for children, a “drug holiday” is sometimes recommended. If you are regularly using any potentially addictive substance, try a “drug holiday” of your own.

And I think it’s the best motivator ever to quit smoking. Friday I had a couple of dedicated smokers and when I talked about flooded cigarretes, they blanched. Quit now, before you quit in circumstances…

And prayers for everyone in the disaster areas.

1. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/nationwide-trends
2. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/more-than-one-third-americans-prescribed-opioids-in-2015/
3. https://www.cnbc.com/2016/04/27/americans-consume-almost-all-of-the-global-opioid-supply.html  Hey, 80% of the world opioid supply is eaten by the US population! Why are US citizens in so much pain? Or are we under the impression that we shouldn’t have to feel pain and by gosh, we can afford the drugs….
4. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMra1507771#t=article Opioid Abuse in Chronic Pain — Misconceptions and Mitigation Strategies.

So WHY doesn’t the news talk about this? Because the cigarette and alcohol and prescription drug companies would yank the advertising?

Alcohol

Let’s talk about alcohol.

I am a family practice physician and I talk to people of all ages about alcohol. The current recommendation is no more than seven drinks a week for women and fourteen drinks a week for men, no saving it up for the weekend. No more than two drinks in one day for women and no more than three for men.

“What?” you say “No way. Come on, that’s ridiculous.”

My patients don’t say “That’s ridiculous.” After all, they are paying me to do a physical exam and a preventative exam. I am supposed to give them advice. But what is the basis for that?

One drink is defined as a regulation 12 oz beer or 6 ounces of wine or two ounces of hard liquor. If it is a high alcohol beer or wine or liquor, the amount is less.

It is NOT the liver doctors that have given us these numbers. It is the cardiologists, the heart doctors. One drink in women or two in men lowers blood pressure and in general, has good effects. Go over that daily and there is a rebound in blood pressure as the alcohol wears off. Alcohol works in the same way as benzodiazepines: it makes people less anxious and more relaxed and lowers inhibitions. Both alcohol and benzodiazepines are addictive for many people. That is, they develop tolerance, it takes more of the substance to have the same effects, more tolerance and then it takes more and more substance to try to feel half way normal.

Cardiologists qualify this recommendation as follows: there is no recommended daily amount of alcohol that is considered heart protective because there are too many alcoholics. The recommended daily amount of alcohol for an alcoholic is none. The recommended daily amount of alcohol for the general population is none.

Alcohol withdrawal can be very very dangerous medically. I think that the three most difficult things to quit are heroin (and all opiates), methamphetamines and cigarettes, but alcohol is more dangerous. In heroin withdrawal all of the pain receptors fire at once, so it is torture, but people don’t die. With serious alcohol withdrawal, the blood pressure skyrockets and the person can have seizures, a stroke, a heart attack, delerium tremens and can die. In the hospital, benzodiazepines are used to slow the withdrawal, replacing alcohol in a controlled manner.

Alcohol does more than affect the blood pressure. Over time, alcohol can damage the heart and lead to congestive heart failure.

Of course, you know that it can damage the liver and lead to cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is sneaky: as long as there are a few functioning liver cells, the lab work can look pretty normal. The liver makes proteins for the blood and makes proteins that allow our blood to clot. Once there aren’t enough healthy cells to make those proteins, alcoholics will bleed quite spectacularly. If the amount of the protein albumin in their blood is low, fluid leaks from the blood into the tissues: so whatever part is “dependent”, that is, lowest, will be swollen. Alcoholics can have legs with swelling where I can push with my finger and there is a two or three cm dimple. Alcohol also can lead to gastritis and ulcers. If someone can’t clot and they are vomiting blood from an ulcer, the doctor gets a tummyache too, from worrying. Ow. The liver is also supposed to filter all of the blood in the body. As the liver gets blocked with dead liver cells, the blood starts to bypass it. The bypass is through blood vessels in the stomach. Remember that person vomiting blood? The swollen vessels in the stomach are called varicies and we don’t like them to bleed. They are big and can bleed really really fast. The person can die. I don’t like transfusing and really don’t like transfusing 12 units of blood. In end stage alcoholism, the liver no longer lowers the blood level of ammonia. Ammonia crosses the blood brain barrier and poisons the brain. We haven’t even discussed the lack of vitamin B12 and thiamine which can cause unraveling of the myelin sheaths on the long fibers in the spinal cord: this means that the person gets permanent asterixis and “walks like a drunk” even when they are sober. I’m sure I haven’t remembered all of the consequences of alcohol, but that will do for now, right?

How much alcohol daily causes the above charming picture? We Don’t Know. Really. And it is not okay to do randomized double blinded clinical trials to find out. Same with pregnant women: we don’t know if there is a safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy and we bloody well can’t test it. It is safer not to drink while you are pregnant.

In clinic, I ask how much people drink. If they say 1-2 drinks daily, I ask what the drink is. Sometimes they look confused. I explain that I have one patient who has two drinks a day: however, it is a 12 ounce glass with a little ice and a lot of whiskey. I asked him to estimate how much whiskey and he said, “6-8 ounces.” That is, each glass is 6-8 ounces. His blood pressure is not under control and so far I feel like a failure as a doctor with him; he is NOT reducing the amount. In medical school, the two jokes were: How much alcohol is too much? More than your doctor drinks. And: How much does the patient drink? Double or triple what they tell us.

The popular word in college used to be that you could drink one drink an hour and still be “okay”. “Okay” to drive and it would wear off. Sorry, nope. Breathalyzers are now pretty cheap; buy one if you are drinking more than the 1-2 per day. And the college students that are binge drinking 6-8 or more drinks on Friday and Saturday: it DOES have long term effects and it IS doing damage.

Lastly, sleep and depression. If you are having trouble sleeping, don’t drink. No alcohol at all. Alcohol is a depressant. It helps people to fall asleep. But they do not have “normal sleep architecture” and it works AGAINST them staying asleep. People often wake up as the alcohol wears off. And the blood pressure is having that rebound, remember, and often their heart will race. That is withdrawal. If you are having trouble sleeping or you are depressed, do not take a depressant. It makes it worse.

I saw a nineteen year old in clinic who admitted to “occasional” heroin use. “But I’m not addicted,” she said. I said, “Well, that’s good. But I took care of a bunch of people undergoing heroin withdrawal while I was in residency and it looked like one of the most painful things on the planet. So I would advise you to quit while you are ahead.” I saw her a year later and she said, “When I tried to quit, it WAS hard. I was addicted and didn’t know it. I’m off now and I won’t go back.” So if you tell me, no problem, I can quit alcohol any time, I say more power to you. Show me. And if it’s harder than you think, get help.

 

Originally written in 2009 and updated a little today. The picture is just a little fuzzy…like it might be if I was drinking…..

https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/noras-blog/2015/06/addiction-disease-free-will

https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/what-standard-drink