Qia and the dark

This story is part of a series about a Balint group for angels. Balint groups are groups for physicians to get together and talk about cases that bother them. This often means facing their own biases and discriminatory feelings. I wrote this in January 2022. The current estimate of Long Covid is 10 to 30% of non hospitalized people. Which is huge and terrifying.

___________________________

“And really, it looks like at least half the population will get Omicron. The question,” says Qia, “is how much Long Haul it causes. If it causes 30-50%, like Delta, we are in serious trouble.”

The angels are silent.

“Do you think it will?”

“I am hoping for under 10%.” says Qia. “But of course I do not know.”

Silence again.

“Why do you go to WORST CASE?” snaps Algernon. His wings rustle.

Qia blinks at him slowly.

She thinks about it. “It is the safest place to start.”

Algernon frowns at her. Another angel slowly nods.

“If I start in the worst case scenario, I can face it. I have to think about it, work through it, plan for it. Then I can back off and hope for one of the less horrific scenarios.”

“You are WEIRD.” says Algernon.

Qia is annoyed. Her wings go bat and blood red.

“Word.” whispers a very young angel.

“WHY?” snaps Qia, “WHY NOT face the worst?”

“Most people never do,” says the moderator.

“What?” says Qia.

“Most people never face the worst. They don’t want to. They are terrified. They are scared. They do things to avoid thinking about it. They skip that step and just go straight to hope.”

Qia glares at her. The moderator smiles and her wings go black as pitch.

“We aren’t PEOPLE. We are ANGELS.” says Qia, nearly snarling.

Algernon laughs. “Yeah, well, some of us do not want to think about the worst either. That is Gawd(esses) job.”

Qia is doubly pissed off to be crying. “No, we have to think too.”

“Qia, I agree, but it is hard.” says the moderator. “That is why you have the job you have. Because you are willing to go straight to the dark.”

Qia has her face in her hands.

The angels surround her, soothing, and start to sing.

Navigating disability

I am having an interesting week regarding disability. Maybe it will make me a curmudgeon.

A woman says, “It must be difficult to be disabled, with your lungs.” I wear my oxygen to sing in chorus. I did the concert without the oxygen but had to drop some held notes at the end. I get goofy when I am hypoxic. I also write really strange rhyming songs when hypoxic, which I recorded.

I reply, “Well, my mother and father and sister are all dead, so by comparison I am doing well.”

She looked horrified. “ALL DEAD?”

“Yes.” I said.

Mother at 61, father 75 and sister at 49. Cancer, emphysema, cancer. I am so lucky that I don’t smoke and have always disliked sodas and thought that addictive things were very dangerous for me before I started college.

I also attended a Roam Echo Telemedicine yesterday, about Long Covid. WOW. It was EXCELLENT.

https://hsc.unm.edu/echo/partner-portal/echos-initiatives/long-covid-fatiguing-illness-recovery/

Yesterday’s program was given by an attorney, discussing disability. She was describing how the chart notes can damage a patient’s chances of obtaining disability and she gave us forms to help us document disability successfully.

She put the number of people with Long Haul Covid at 30% of the not hospitalized people.

Thirty percent. That is HUGE and damaging. I have heard numbers from 10-30%.

There were also physicians attending the Roam-Echo program who have Long Covid and are realizing that they can’t work to the level they did before. Some can’t work at all.

The panel recommended neuropsychiatric testing if the patient is having any trouble with memory or executive function or brain fog. Document, document, document.

Not only that, the previously taped programs are linked to the site above. So I can watch the rest of them. It is FREE and I get Continuing Medical Education from it.

I trained in Family Medicine from 1989-93 in medical school and residency 1993-96. When I was in school I got virtually no training on how to do disability paperwork. Or even how to tell if someone is disabled. The truth is that people do not want to be disabled. In our culture it is shameful and anyhow, social security disability is often $1000 per month. Try living on that. Unenviable.

It turns out that I am lucky or smart or some weird combination. I bought disability insurance way back in medical school and paid $1000 per year for 29 years. I used it twice before 2021. I was on bed rest for 3 months of preterm labor. My insurance doesn’t kick in until I have been off work for 3 months. I wrote them a letter and said I expected to return to work six weeks after having my child, unless there were complications. The company paid me for an extra week. I called them and basically they said, we are so happy to have you return to work that we do not care.

The second time was after my third pneumonia. Strep A and my lungs and muscles were trashed. Both burned like strep throat. It hurts. I was out for six months and then worked half of my usual for another six months. Really I was working about 1/4 of a regular Family Practice Physician. I was seeing 4-5 patients a day and then sleeping for 12 hours, exhausted. A “normal” load is 22 or more. Which is not really sustainable with today’s complex patients, but that is another essay. I had chronic fatigue, MECFS, as it’s now called, but I was in denial. I never got past 8-10 patients a day for the next seven years. I was also running my own small business and had continual hostility from the only hospital in the county. I was one of three independent practitioners. I really do not understand why they thought my tiny clinic was a threat, but whatever. They could grow up.

From 2014 to 2021, I asked any patient with upper respiratory symptoms or a cough to wear a mask for the visit and I masked too. I explained that if I got a fourth pneumonia, I would be disabled for Family Practice medicine. I hoped it wouldn’t happen. I masked the people with allergies too, because after all, you can have allergies AND a cold. When Covid-19 hit, my patients just rolled their eyes and wore the masks. I only ever had one man, a new patient, object. “I won’t wear a mask,” he said.

I said, “Sir, you don’t have to. But I won’t see you without a mask, so please leave and go to Urgent Care.” This was in my waiting room.

“You mean that!” he said.

“Yes I do. I get pneumonia, so that is a firm policy.”

He put on the mask.

I closed the clinic in early 2021. Covid-19 hit us too hard and we were a shoestring clinic anyhow, with 8-10 patients a day. I went to work in the next county. I kept walking into patient rooms where people had their masks off. I had pneumonia in five weeks.

So it goes.

My disability insurance is paying. I did have to hire an attorney to get the company to explain the policy rules clearly. I don’t speak legalese, I hate it, and I think that insurance companies will use any loophole they can find to get out of paying. So far I am lucky to have navigated this. Now I have to look over my policy again, because some policies change after two years of paying and they don’t have to pay if you can do ANY paid employment. It’s pretty clear that I can’t. I went for a beach walk yesterday and then crashed for a two hour nap and then slept 8 hours last night. Any labor, walking OR brain, will crash me. ME-CFS sucks. I think we will have a handle on it in another decade and it’s clear that it is an immune system response. Too late for my employment, though. Ah, well. I got 30 years in. I was annoyed because I was NOT planning to retire yet. I keep running in to people who say, “How do you like retirement?” “I didn’t retire. I am disabled by my fourth pneumonia and grumpy about it.” “Oh,” they say. I should do the social thing, “Love it!” but I’ve never been good at that anyhow. I joke that I tell the truth because I am often not believed, so why bother to lie?

At any rate, 10 or 30% of the people who have had unhospitalized Covid-19 is a huge number of people, and we do not know how long Long Covid will last or how to resolve it. Stay tuned. I hope it is less than a decade, but it will be a little while yet.

Prayers and blessings for all.

The photograph is the really beautiful agate I found yesterday. For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: curmudgeon.

Chronic pain #I forget

The CDC has a new set of recommendations for chronic pain.

I will write about them. I have to read them first. Hurts too much, right now, the election, and all the pandemic fighting. Stress people and you see what they are really like.

My church has melted down into a huge fight. I was in a chorus singing instead of being in a meeting. Apparently there is a group that says brown people have “taken over” the national organization of the church. Um. Hello. That is discrimination. Does the color of the skin matter if it is a good leader? Why are people insane? I filled out a county survey on drug use today. I know we have methamphetamines and heroin in our high schools because patients have told me. But then I get to the race question. What race am I? I checked OTHER and wrote HUMAN. The race bullcrap is NOT SCIENCE. I haven’t done any genetics testing. I DO NOT KNOW WHAT RACE I AM THOUGH I LOOK WHITE.

It is important for medicine in that there is proven discrimination with less screen health services offered to “brown” people, whatever the heck “brown” people means. I wish the heavens would turn us all the same color over night. Or perhaps blind us. That is not nice of me and I do not care.

I am glad that this horror came out in my church. Because now the discrimination is out in the open. And the committee has sent out a message saying NO. We WILL stay part of the national organization. We WILL not give in to this discrimination. AND I SAY HOORAY AND BLESSINGS ON THEM.

Here is the new CDC set of recommendations for chronic pain: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/71/rr/rr7103a1.htm . You can read them yourself.

I read to this sentence so far: “Approximately one in five U.S. adults had chronic pain in 2019 and approximately one in 14 adults experienced “high-impact” chronic pain, defined as having pain on most days or every day during the past 3 months that limited life or work activities (5).”

Part of me is horrified and part of me is calm. Because pain is a part of life. Pain, love, joy, fear, it’s all part of our emotional evolved systems to survive, right? If God is love, God is also pain and fear. It is not a split. It is both.

This song is a love song. But to me, it’s a love song from heroin to a woman. One lovely day, a place where there is no pain. There will be pain on the return, the withdrawal. I have patients say, “You need to get me pain free.” My reply was “I will not get you pain free. Pain free is dead. Or at least, they can no longer tell me if the next form hurts.” In this song, “she won’t let on, that the feelings have got so strong.” Addiction, opioid overuse.

I took the photograph of Elwha yesterday. He is my relaxation mentor.

Arty’s warning

Trigger warning: non graphic mention of child abuse.

_____________________________

I don’t notice that things are frozen at first, because the cats aren’t frozen. I do notice the light. Also I notice the change in sounds. The car outside in the street is not moving nor making sound. Uh-oh.

I go to the front door. Might as well if everything is frozen. I just finished putting on make up, which always means a dangerous mood.

She lands first, on a white flying horse. Who smiles at me, showing fangs. Smoke is coming out of the Pegavamp’s nostrils. Eeeee.

Arty herself is in silver and black today. Silver cloth with black embroidery that seems to be writing a little.

“Good morning, Goddess.” I say, bowing. The other horses and dragons and flying motorcycles and pterodactyls are landing as well. Sol Duc is in the window. Elwha has gone to hide, quite sensibly, I think.

Arty stomps her staff on the ground. “I am really pissed.” she says.

“They named a rocket after you.”

“That penis toy? That is supposed to please me while they are killing virgins who refuse to tent their heads?”

“Sorry.” I hang my head.

“And do you know how much the smoke is going to shorten the lives of my birds and stags?”

“A lot, I think.”

“Do you all want to starve in the dark?’

I look up at her then. “No. I want grandchildren and a healthy earth.”

“Work harder.” she snarls. The rest of the dangerous crowd is muttering and snarling and the local cats have come out. They are sitting very respectfully at a distance. Rooftops. The ridge above my house three blocks up. The tree tops are frozen too.

“Do you need prescriptions again?” I ask. “I see that there have been a lot more rapists jailed. Thank you, Goddess.”

She looks tired for a moment. “We are hunting them everywhere: cities, countryside, hovels, palaces, movie sets, where ever.”

“You don’t turn them into stags any more?”

“Yes, sometimes. My hounds love to tear them apart. But sometimes prison is slower and crueler and a better punishment.”

I kneel. “What service can I do, Goddess?”

She touches me with the staff. I feel a hard bright shock, pain that roars through me and is gone.

“Write this. Write my warning. If this continues, it is death in the cold dark of nuclear winter and we will begin again.”

“Is that the only choice?”

“Oh, no, we are all being very creative. One suggestion has been the sperm banks. There is nothing that says they can’t be used to make one gender only. The one that rapes less and doesn’t kill young girls for what they wear.”

“Thank you for your warning.”

“Stand up.” she says. “You and every abused child, male or female, are under my protection. Yet the cycle must be broken and the abused must not become abusers. Write this.”

The Pegavamp drops one knee and she steps up easily. The other riders start to roar and shout and howl. Her winged creature jumps in the air and the whole group follows. There is a snap and they are gone.

The car in the street is moving and the treetops as well. The cats stand and move away.

I keep writing.

___________________

October 22, 2022

Don’t try this at home

https://news.ohsu.edu/2022/03/17/little-evidence-on-how-psilocybin-therapy-interacts-with-existing-psychiatric-treatments-review-finds?linkId=156952130

People are busily hopping on the psilocybin bandwagon. DON’T. Why not, you say, it’s NATURAL. Well, the death angel mushroom is also natural but it will kill you. So are red tides, poisonous snakes and sharks.

You wouldn’t take your buddy’s appendix out in your kitchen, would you? Don’t mess with your buddy’s brain either. Especially if there is already a behavioral health diagnosis and/or an addiction already on board. Either or both might get WORSE rather than better. Wait for the research.

And remember: one in four people meets diagnostic criteria for a behavioral health diagnosis at least once in their life. When there is also an addiction, we call it dual diagnosis.

And for pity’s sake, be careful with pot products, ok? It’s a total myth that they are not addictive. Yeah, people have told me for my entire career, over 30 years, “I am not addicted to (pot, heroin, alcohol, gambling, cocaine, meth, crack, whatever)”. ALL ALCOHOLICS say this the first time they are admitted for crashing a car or alcohol poisoning or vomiting blood or liver failure. “Not me. I am stopping today. I am NOT addicted. I do not need to talk to the substance abuse person.” We roll our eyes and send in the substance abuse person anyhow, because HEY, THE PERSON IS TOO ADDICTED AND IN DENIAL.

If you are going to use pot products, use them one or two times a week. Max three. Because a study of teens that paid them (with parental permission, consent, etc) to stop for a month found that almost none of the teens who used pot daily could stop. They relapsed. And they complained of anxiety and insomnia. And I have worked with adults trying to quit: again, anxiety and insomnia. The teens in the study who only used 2-3 days a week COULD stop for the month. The study monitored urine drug screens quite strictly.

And if you say, well, I can’t sleep without it. Um, yeah, that is addiction. I would wean. Reduce amounts and then start with one night a week without it. Good luck. Get help if you need it.

And don’t jump on the psilocybin bandwagon!!! Holy moly, humans are amazing, the ways they think up to hurt themselves and each other. If you want to be in a clinical trial, go find one. Don’t fool with Mother Nature, she can be a killer.

Happy solstice and blessings.

Here is the scientific paper for the science geeks like me:

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00213-022-06083-y

The picture is just a picture. No worries.

first impressions

I am taking a writing class and our next book is on cultural appropriation.

This interests me. I tend to be a little gender blind and race blind when I meet people. I am using my super skill instead. My skill is developed from a really scary childhood: I read the stuffed emotions. The stuff people are hiding.

No way, you say. Oh, yes, I say.

My sister described coming home from high school and stopping when she walked into the house. She was trying to sense what was going on. Were our parents fighting? Was our father drunk? Yes, he was drunk, but which stage?

We talked about the stages and which we hated most.

Stage goofy/silly was annoying but not toxic. We said we had homework.

Stage asleep in a fetal ball in the upstairs hallway. My sister said she would step over him to get to her room.

Stage maudlin. We both agreed this was the worst. He would cry and say, “You can tell me anything.” Once he caught me in that stage and I was in tears by the time my mother got home. I left the room. The next morning mother said, “He said you two were discussing the cat’s disappearance.” I didn’t answer. We never said a word about the cat. I didn’t know if he was lying or was too drunk to remember it the next day, so made it up. Don’t care. Avoid.

He was never physically abusive. He and my mother would scream at each other at 1 or 2 am through most of high school. Reading her diaries, she writes that she drinks too much. I think they were both alcoholics, thought the family story is that he was the bad one. But I can’t imagine yelling with a drunk at 1 or 2 am for an hour. What is the point? They are drunk. So either she was drunk too or needed to fight.

Emotionally abusive, yes, both parents. My mother would take any show of fear or grief and tell it as a very very funny story to every person she ran into. Is it any surprise that I had to go into therapy after she died to learn to feel fear or grief? My sister would say, “She’s got her stone face on,” about me. Um, yeah, I am NOT going to let my family see my emotions…

Anyhow, that is what I read in people when I first meet them. It’s not the suit, the clothes, the make up, the race, the gender. I pretty much ignore those. I was fashion blind in junior high, a girl geek, could not read the code and did not care. I had given up on socializing with my fellow students. I was hopelessly bad at it. I did a lot better with the adults around my parents. I could have actual conversations with them.

I had one patient who was transgender where I couldn’t remember which direction. I didn’t care, either. That was a really angry person. Anger is always covering other emotions, so I avoided pronouns and tried to be as gentle as possible.

I complained to a counselor once that I can’t turn this “off”. And that it’s fine in clinic with patients, but it screws with my relationships with my peer doctors. They do not like it if I “read” them.

It took me years, but I finally realized that I have to use my clinic skills with everyone. I can’t turn off “reading” any more than you turn off your eyes when you meet a new person. But I can be as gentle with everyone as I am in clinic. I realized that as I started on a trip and the trip was amazing, everyone was so nice.

This reading is a product of a high ACE Score: Adverse Childhood Experiences. I score about a 5. One of my patients set off my ACE alarms on the first visit. I asked if he had had a rough childhood and gave a very short explanation of ACE scores. “Oh, I am a ten out of ten,” he said. He was, too. Ran away from home at age 6 or 8.

The ACE scores of all the children are rising from the last two years. The war will raise them even more, worse for the children there and the kids trying not to starve in Afganistan and Syria and world wide.

It will be interesting to read about cultural appropriation. But I don’t care much: I don’t “see” those things when I meet someone.

Hugs and blessings.

The photograph is me and my sister Chris in 1987, before my wedding. We were dancing before the wedding. She died in 2012 after 7 years of breast cancer.

Doctors and nurses and hospital staff are the last caregivers for the elderly alcoholics and addicts who are alone, whose families have finally cut them off. I think this song illustrates their pain. We try to take care of them.

Update on Addiction 2022: Mouse Cocaine Addict Studies

Recent experiments on mice are giving us interesting information on addiction, and suggesting that l-dopa may be able to control/mitigate addiction. This lecture about how dopamine works in addiction using a mouse model (poor mice) blew me away. The mice fell into two categories: maintenance users and vulnerable addict rats. The study of the dopamine postulates a reason for the difference.

20th Annual Drug Conference Washington State from 2019

Notes from lecture 3: Paul Phillips PhD
Dopamine Neurotransmission in Substance Use Disorders: from Preclinical studies

For a long time there were no agreed upon animal models: rats don’t steal money from other rats to buy drugs. However, rats do get addicted and this can be studied.

There are features in rats, rat behavior and rat brains that might translate to humans.

1. Basic discoveries about dopamine neurotransmission in substance use disorders is discussed.
A neurotransmitter study checking every ten minutes in brain examines two areas: dorsal and ventral striatum. Dopamine is increased in the area between cells from the administration of substances “first time use” in animal models: cocaine, alcohol, methadone, cannabinoids, nicotine, amphetamine, morphine. This is the first clue re addictive drugs, whether there is an increase in dopamine intraneuronally. The endpoint is that direct effect on dopamine receptors, which has a different brain mechanism for each drug. Cocaine blocks the receptor that reuptakes the drug into the neuron. Methamphetamines and amphetamines reverse the reuptake pump, makes the receptor spit it out. Gaba neurons act to inhibit dopamine neurons, normally mu receptors on the gaba interneurons and the opioids block those. Ethanol has another mechanism of action. It changes inhibitory activity, lowering the inhibition of the gaba interneurons. Nicotine REALLY messes with multiple receptors and multiple cells, but main effect is increase of dopamine in the striatum.
Increased dopamine in human brain relates to the feeling of being high: brain PET scans show amphetamine and dopamine bound less, reduction in the binding. Subjects were substance abusers. Subjective questioning of how high they felt correlated with the amount of dopamine released on the PET scan. Methylphenidate was used in that study. Canada study: cocaine increases dopamine in human brain by PET scan.
Addiction does lead to changes in the brain, on both PET scans and functional MRIs.
PET scans measuring dopamine binding in the brain show that the baseline in brains of substance abusers differs from non-abusers. The levels of dopamine receptors is lower in the substance overuses and there is lower binding than controls: heroin, alcohol, meth, cocaine (and obesity and ADHD…..). (This has been known for opioid overuse and chronic use for a while: the brain cells withdraw receptors, so the same dose does not reduce pain because there are less receptors. The change in receptors appears to vary in different subjects. Recovery is very slow.)
The role of dopamine has been confusing. It is known that it is involved in the cue evoking cocaine “craving”, but is also involved with — satiety. This has been confusing and contradictory — what does dopamine do but also the dynamic structural signaling.

2. The animal studies demonstrate that the dopamine signals are phasic.
Rat studies measure changes in dopamine minute to minute electrochemistry for sub-second dopamine detection in vivo, which means we can measure changes in dopamine in real time. There is an identified output signature for dopamine levels, measure in 8.5 millisecond, ten measures per second.
The rats were voluntarily taking cocaine. The cocaine was available in a liquid with a light that would come on when it was available, for two hours daily. The animal presses a lever when the light cue is on and gets an infusion of drug. With the ten measures per second, the first and smaller dopamine response in the brain is before the lever is pressed. That is, there is a rise in dopamine BEFORE the rat presses the lever. If stimulated dopamine, the animal would go press the lever. Then there is a larger reward dopamine signal when the drug hits.
Dopamine is the chicken and the egg: signal to USE and signal that has ARRIVED.

3. Changes that take place with drug use
There is a signal change over time that correlation with features of addiction.
The mice had an implanted brain electrode, tinier than human hair, 7 microns, biocompatability — don’t make the brain attack it as a foreign object so rat brain keeps working. The study involves tyrosine hydroxylase, a precursor of dopamine. A food pellet response of the tyrosine remains the same at 1, 2, 6 months so can monitor substance abuse brain changes. These are cocaine addicted rats. They get cocaine via a nose poke of a button when it lights up. Pellets, not iv (they learn that faster). There are 2 ports to nose poke: active and inactive. The signal that cocaine is available and the pellet is active: a light comes on for 20s and then drug arrives. Can take again after 20sec. The rats titrate cocaine use: not continuous. They pace cocaine use, wait for it to wear off. Over time, drug use 1 hour access daily… slow increase, relatively stable.
When the access is bumped up to 6 hours access daily… rats do increase use — first of 6 hours, escalation of drug use faster — in humans development of tolerance.
With 1 hour cocaine availability, the dopamine response to the cocaine in the rat brain is lower by the 2nd and 3rd week, slowly decreases, then with 6 hours of access the loss of dopamine is very robust, happens faster, dopamine signal gets smaller every time.
Rats long access: were there individual differences? Yes, metric, nonescalated vs escalated groups so like humans. 60 escalated 40 didn’t and stayed stable. So essentially I named these “Vulnerable addict rats” and “Maintenance rats”.
Which group most motivated to take cocaine? The study ups the price of cocaine for rats, how many times are you willing to receive the drug? The escalating animals made more responses, “worked harder” for the drug. The escalator brains, Vulnerable Addict Rats, had just about a complete loss of dopamine signal by three weeks.
The nonescalators had more stable dopamine responses, retained some dopamine brain function.
The greater the loss of dopamine, the more the animal escalates the drug use.
The Vulnerable Addict rats would use cocaine to the exclusion of food, water, sex and sleep and died early.
This is a feedback loop. The rats get a success signal when the drug is taken — but over time don’t get the success signal because dopamine receptors are gone — so take more. In the Vulnerable Addict escalators, the dopamine signal of anticipation goes down in response to the cue, the drug effect takes a little longer but the pharmacological response to drug actually remains.
They tried giving l-dopa, a parkinson’s drug and if treat, the rats get a restoration of the dopamine cue — pharmacological response didn’t change — how does this affect behavior? A daily shot of l-dopa and the animals on the l-dopa have less escalation. (wow!) The l-dopa didn’t affect the nonescalators/maintenance rats. When they remove the l-dopa in the vulnerable addict rats, the animals jump to higher use and so the brain changes are happening even when it is masked by the l-dopa but does not stop the brain changes.
They ask the question: can you reverse escalation? With the the l-dopa, they use less.
Dopamine signaling to take drugs (the anticipation cue when the light goes on) decreases in animals that escalate drug taking, but does not change in animals with stable drug taking.
Restoring dopamine signaling with l-dopa can prevent or reverse escalated drug taking.
This dopamine signaling….

4. Mechanisms — drug cue elicits dopamine.
So this is about triggers. This is a paired drug cue: the light signals that the drug is available. If a non-contingent drug given to animal, the light still elicits drug seeking. Using a naive animal: pair reward with cue, over time the cue will increase dopamine.
(hmm. Facebook. blogging. Instagram. “You have mail”. )
The initial addiction has a short access time. One hour out of 24. When this is changed to long access, some animals escalate vs non escalation — as take more and more drug, the response to the drug taking cue gets larger in the escalators/Vulnerable Addicts. Presentation of cue — by investigator vs animal:
If elicits drug seeking than the dopamine response gets larger to the cue over time.
If the cue is given but other choices of liquid, then the dopamine response gets smaller in some rats — so terminating drug seeking. The Vulnerable Addict Rats had a larger and larger dopamine craving cue spike, the longer they were off the drug. The the increase in the cue drives craving and decrease drives seeking — so both bad.
The conclusion in the rats is that craving for drug, related to cues, is dependent to length of time off drug. The longer the rats were off the drug, the larger the dopamine spike when the cue light comes on. The measure of cue behavior gets worse …. 60 day study in rats, this is not physiological withdrawal, is prolonged way beyond the withdrawal.
1. noncontingent
wait a day or wait a month
work harder to get drug, harder a month out
reaction to drug cue presentation, enhanced over time
at start of drug small signal to drug cue
long access then cue gets bigger
same a day after stop drug
but huge in a month after no drug — huge dopamine response

(my thought was then swearing. how do we treat this?)
In chronic drug use the cue signal shrinks which reinforces drug use AND stopping increases the cue response which ALSO reinforces.

5. Implications for treatment
treating rats
They discuss a virus with promotor that affects dopamine cells, light activated ion channel, cells release dopamine when light stimulated
only activates release of dopamine, to understand mechanisms.
For the self administered nose cue …. In the nonescalator maintenence rats, dopamine cue response stays fairly robust, stimulate those cells and no change.
In the escalator/vulnerable addict rats… if do a virus stimulation of dopamine in the brain, more dopamine to cue boosted, so they use less cocaine and look like the non-escalators.
5th cue less dopamine than 1st cue: if put dopamine back then maintains the drug seeking.

What underlies the decrease in dopamine release?
When the animals use cocaine, dynorphin goes up (kappa antagonist).
They injected a kappa receptor blocker — animal no longer escalate (not in humans at this time, don’t understand well enough) treating animals that are escalating, so the bad addict/vulnerable rats.
Most animals don’t escalate — but pretty serious amounts of drug cocaine so not abstinent.

For future
Dopamine diametric changes: dopamine may reduce consumption but might increase craving, so it is difficult to treat.
l-dopa — treatment — some studies, looking for abstinence, does NOT produce abstinence. Does not make abstinence worse. Says that promise seen relates to the status of the subject — helps with people who are still using (some) but doesn’t help increase or prolong abstinence. So could reduce harm but not abstinent….politically unpopular. Happier with turning alcoholic into a social alcohol user, but that idea is less popular/politically ok with cocaine/opioids (and especially meth).

They are studying mouse nosepokes for alcohol — reduced intake when the rats are on l-dopa.

There is a functional agonist for kappa receptors == buprenorphine, might have effects on drug consumption, speculation across different drugs.

Dynorphin is a stress related peptide, so does that signaling produce escalation of drug taking? So other stress drugs — like corisol, CRF, plan for more studies.

Question: Stress related hormones– babies in stress in utero and in stressful childhood have less dopamine receptors and need more dopamine for pleasure, susceptibility to drug addiction (ACE scores) so is still really early studying neurotransmitters.

Dr. Question: why do people do better with agonist therapy than abstinence in opioids vs other drugs? Answer: we don’t know….. yet.

further information:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1920543/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC80880/
https://archives.drugabuse.gov/news-events/nida-notes/2017/03/impacts-drugs-neurotransmission
https://nida.nih.gov/

abuse, enabler style

I am raised by a family of triangulating enablers and enablees.

The enablers are my mother and two uncles. They are very very smart. Let me qualify that: they are very very smart intellectually. Emotionally, not so much.

The two uncles have PhDs and are professors. They marry wives that are lessor in their view. One tells my mother that he wants a woman who is not as bright as he is. I don’t know if she is less bright, but she is a hella better athlete. I also have the impression that she had a time where she drank too much.

The other uncle marries a woman who tends to be a hypochondriac. He takes her to India, where she gets polio while pregnant. She is then a sick hypochondriac, which is very difficult. The ill can control their families by planning things and then getting sick at the last moment. On the other hand, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia are very real and we are on the edge of figuring them out. That uncle divorces his wife and I instantly like both of them better. They stop being a weird unit and are suddenly individuals.

My mother tells me, when I am in college, “I wondered if your father was an alcoholic when I married him.” I want to hit her. She won’t leave him, she won’t stop enabling him, they scream at each other at 2 am often. Now I wonder about that and conclude that either screaming at someone was something she needed or she was an alchoholic too.

After my mother dies, I ask my uncle, what about his parents? After all, the three of them learned enabling somewhere and it pretty much has to be at home.

My uncle tells me his parents had a PERFECT marriage and that my grandmother LOVED being the wife of a physician and professor.

Um, so, then, why did she pay my tuition to medical school, uncle?

And I think about my mother’s stories. Once, she says, your Uncle Jim bet his friend Dick that Dick was too chicken to shoot a cigarette out of Jim’s mother’s mouth. Ooooo. With a rubber band shooter. Yes, my grandmother. Bob took the bet and succeeded. My grandmother roared with anger and the two boys ran like hell and hid.

And someone in the family tells me: your grandfather helped your grandmother control her temper.

There it is. The enabler/enablee.

The enablers die first. My grandfather of cancer at 79, my mother of cancer at 62. The cousins are all angry at me because I won’t follow the family rules and triangulate in a satisfactory manner, and I don’t care any more. I am ignoring them. I got my father’s banjo back and I am done. The two cousins I own land with jointly are not the worst triangulators.

I have to remind myself: for them, this is love. For some people, controlling or being controlled is what functions as love and intimacy. Fighting and tears when person A talks to person C about person B and person C then lets person B know, that is how they feel close. It is not only families, but communities. Clay Shirky’s description of a group being it’s own worst enemy describes the same patterns: identify an enemy inside or outside the group and then everyone comes together against the enemy. The enemy says the wrong thing, doesn’t worship the right god/desses, wears different clothes, looks different. And the group feels safer once the scapegoat has been killed, the guy has been burned. It would be nice if we could burn a ritual guy instead of torching each other.

The real anger is in the enabler. They control it by having the enablee express it. Then it is not “theirs”. They can feel superior to the enablee who is out of control. Sadly, the problem is only fixed temporarily and they will need their anger expressed again and again and again.

The cycle can be broken. It is a lot of work.

Blessings.

______________________________________________

Advice to Michael

This poem is about a dream that helped me after my mother died and through a divorce. It was not an easy process, to look at my childhood and what happened. It can be a very frightening place to go. Good luck and health to everyone who tries.

Fuzzy Poet Doctor and the small child

I think I finally understand what I have been doing in clinic all these years. And not just in clinic. As a theory it explains both why patients, nurses, hospital staff and specialists really really like me and my fellow Family Practice doctors, particularly the males, and the administrators, really really do NOT like me.

I am on a plane flying to Michigan a few weeks ago. Double masked. N95 with another mask over it. Sigh.

A friend keeps saying that he can see into me. He can, but he can see thoughts. Not feelings. I am wondering if I see feelings. But I see the stuffed feelings particularly, the ones that people keep hidden. They are like clouds.

And then I think, oh.

I automatically scan any new person for their small child. The inner small child, who is often damaged and hidden. The small child is hidden under those stuffed feelings, which I think of as monsters. In Ride Forth, I am writing about pulling every monster feeling that I can find stuffed out and letting myself feel them. And that people do not like seeing me like that. Their monsters attack me!

Except that the monsters don’t attack. The monsters come to me and say, “Please, please, help me. I want out. The small child needs to heal.” The monsters lie their monstrous heads in my lap and weep.

Now WHY would I develop this skill? That is weird.

I develop it because my parents both drink. The myth in the family is that it was my father. But my mother’s diaries and also her stories make it clear that she drank heavily too. I think they were both alcoholics. And she told two stories about me trying to get someone to get out of bed to give me food as a toddler. As jokes. But it is not a joke. I have food insecurity. At every meal, I think of the next one and whether there is food available. My daughter has it too….. epigenetics.

I think that the only way I could love my parents was to have compassion for them. Once you see another person’s damaged small child, then how can you not feel compassion for them?

With patients I learned to be very very delicate and gentle about asking about the cloud. Just gently. Sometimes people open up on the first visit. Sometimes they shut tight like a clam and I back off. Sometimes they return the next visit or the 3rd or the 8th or after a couple years… and say, “You asked me about this.”

It’s nonverbal communication. The reason why I take the WHOLE history MYSELF at the first visit is for the nonverbal communication. When the person doesn’t want to answer a question, veers away from a topic, switches subjects: there is my cloud. That is where the hurt is. That is where the pain is.

The first cracks in the United States medical system collapse are appearing. Not doctors quitting, not nurses, but medical assistants. Here is an article about how clinics all over can’t hire medical assistants. Because there are tons of jobs, employers are offering more money, why would you do a job where you may well be exposed to covid-19 if you can do something else? And make as much money or more….

The cracks will widen. Ironically doctors are doing what I have done for the last ten years: “rooming” the patients themselves. Ha, ha, good may come out of it, after the disaster. Which is getting worse fast. If people don’t put their masks on and don’t social distance and don’t get vaccinated, I predict more deaths in the US this winter then last winter. Sigh. And in the US we will run out of medical assistants, doctors and nurses.

It is ok to gently ask a patient about that cloud. It is not polite to “see” it in a Family Medicine colleague or and administrator. I can’t “not see” it. I can’t turn it off. However, on the plane my behavior changed even before I could put all of this into words. The words are that I have to be as gentle with everyone as I am with patients.

And the trip felt so odd. I was putting this into effect before I had words. That is how my intuition works. But everyone, absolutely everyone, was kind to me on the trip. A Chicago policeman helped me in the train station and was super kind. It was weird, weird, weird, with bells on. It took me a few more days to be able to put it into words.

Problem intuited, after 60 years of study. Implementation of solution proceeds immediately. Logical brain struggling to catch up, but results satisfactory long before logical brain gets a handle on it.

Pretty weird, eh? I think so. My doctor said that an episode of Big Bang Theory could be written just by following me around for a day. I think it was both saying that I am smart AND that I have no social skills. But I have implemented the social skills program already. She’s just upset that I gave her justifiable hell two visits ago and also…. I do hide my brain. Because sometimes colleagues are jealous.

But maybe they should not be jealous. Maybe they can learn it too. Maybe I can teach. Maybe….