Fast Facts About Addiction


Drugs are chemicals that affect the brain by tapping into its communication system and interfering with the way neurons normally send, receive, and process information. Marijuana and heroin can activate neurons because their chemical structure mimics that of a natural neurotransmitter.  However, they don’t activate neurons in the same way as a natural neurotransmitter, and they lead to abnormal messages being transmitted through the network.                                                                                                                                      (NIDA)


Although women are more vulnerable than men to many of the medical consequences of alcohol use, a study comparing brain damage caused by alcohol use showed significant brain shrinkage in both men and women.                                                                                  (NIDA)


 FACT #3

The brain is made up of many parts that all work together as a team.  Drugs can alter important brain areas that are necessary for life-sustaining functions and can drive the compulsive substance misuse that marks addiction.                                                                                 (NIDA)



When smoking or injecting a drug, the intense high fades within a few minutes to lower levels. Scientists believe that this low feeling drives individuals to repeat drug use in an attempt to recapture that high, pleasurable state.                                                                               (NIDA)


 FACT #5

Genetic risk factors account for more than half of the likelihood that an individual will develop an addiction.                                                                                                                (NIDA)



Smoking a drug or injecting it into the skin increases addictive potential. Both smoked and injected drugs enter the brain within seconds and produce a powerful rush of pleasure.  (NIDA)



Substance misuse can lead to dramatic changes in neurons and brain circuits. These changes can still be present even years after the person ceases using drugs.                                     (NIDA)

Words Matter

What’s in a word?  Some words in our everyday lexicon hold a deeper, inexplicable meaning beyond their dictionary definition and become embedded in the way we think, feel, and act.  “Stigma” is such a word that evokes a certain reaction when it is used. In general, it means a mark or a sign, usually of disapproval.  In the context of mental illness or addiction, “stigma” can manifest itself in many ways.

Externally, those with mental health or substance use disorders often experience stereotyping, negative attitudes, and discrimination from the people around them, including their communities, families, and friends. Internally, they may start to believe these stereotypes and negative attitudes about themselves, harming their self-esteem and their chance for recovery.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health cites the cost of care as the number one reason for not receiving mental health services. However, there are other reasons, such as negative public opinion, a negative effect on the job, being concerned about confidentiality, and not wanting others to find out. These are social concerns that, when combined, become the second most important reason why people who need help are reluctant to seek it.

In addition, people living with mental illness or substance use disorders often have to contend with “structural stigma,” where policies set by private and public organizations — employers or landlords, for example — can intentionally or unintentionally limit their opportunities for jobs and housing.  With regard to health care systems, structural stigma could also be why access to behavioral health care is so limited and underfunded.

Over the last few years, we have attempted to move the health care field toward strategies that change behaviors as well as attitudes in order to accomplish more direct and immediate progress. 

Words matter.  Actions also matter.  If we are to overcome the prejudice against those with mental health and substance use disorders and make progress on prevention, treatment, and recovery, we need a language of action and commitment. A significant portion of all of us or members of our families will meet the criteria for one of these disorders at some point in our lives.  Social acceptance and community support can make a difference in outcomes for all of us, especially those who have experienced or are living with mental illness or addiction.  

Know! What To Do If Your Child's Friend Is Using

You just found out your child’s friend is smoking marijuana, now what? Do you tell this child’s parents? Does this mean your child is using too? Should you forbid your child from hanging around with this kid?”

Parent-to-Parent: Put yourself in the other parents’ shoes. If someone knew your child was experimenting with or using drugs and didn’t tell you, would you be upset? Of course you would. Parents are the first line of defense against drugs. But in order for parents to intervene and help, they must be aware of the situation. Even if it is uncomfortable, it is important (potentially life-saving) to share this valuable information with the other parents.

Friends Matter: Just because your child’s friend is using, doesn’t necessarily mean your child is using. However, youth who spend time with friends who drink or use other drugs are automatically at an increased risk of “joining in.” Youth say one of the biggest reasons they begin experimenting with substances is due to the pressure they feel from their alcohol or other drug-using friends.

Encourage Healthy Relationships: Unfortunately, we cannot hand pick our children’s friends. And even if you try to cut all ties with a particular friend, you can’t be certain your child will too. What you can do is remind your child that a healthy friendship involves maintaining your own voice and point of view and that a true friend will not try to control or pressure you to do something you do not want to do, like drinking, smoking or using other drugs.

In this situation, Know! suggests to: (1) share the information with the other parents (2) ask your child point-blank if he/she is using or is being pressured to use (3) do not allow unsupervised free time to be spent with this other child (4) make it known that until this ‘friend’ receives help and the behavior changes, interactions with him/her will be closely monitored and even limited.

What Parents can do?

•    Get to know your child’s friends and their parents

•    Monitor (and limit, if necessary) your child’s time spent with certain friends

•    Do not allow an over-night with a child you suspect smokes, drinks or use other drugs

•    Be present (as much as possible) when your child has friends in your home

•    If you cannot be home, make sure another trusted adult supervises when friends are over

•    Randomly call or text your child to check in when he/she is at a friend’s house

•    Establish open communication with other parents to check in on your child or to alert them of something happening with their child.

Keep the conversation going so you can be your child’s trusted source of information. Talk, listen and openly discuss (on a regular basis) the many issues surrounding alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

The campaign is designed by the Drug Free Action Alliance and can be accessed at www.

Study Finds 1 in 5 Teens Have Driven Under the Influence of Marijuana

A study conducted by Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) says that one in five teen drivers report they have driven under the influence of marijuana. The national study of nearly 2,300 11th and 12th graders, also found that 30 percent of the teens surveyed don’t consider marijuana use as a driving distraction.

Being under the influence of marijuana is more prevalent among teen drivers than alcohol, as compared to the 13 percent of teens surveyed who report they have driven after drinking. “Marijuana affects memory, judgment, and perception and can lead to poor decisions when a teen under the influence of this or other drugs gets behind the wheel of a car,” said Stephen Wallace, Senior Advisor for Policy, Research, and Education at SADD, in a news release. “What keeps me up at night is this data reflects a dangerous trend toward the acceptance of marijuana and other substances compared to our study of teens conducted just two years ago.” In that study, Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD found that 78 percent of teens were at the other end of the spectrum, characterizing marijuana use as “very” or “extremely” distracting to their driving.

Friends do play a significant role, as most teen drivers say they would stop driving under the influence of marijuana (90 percent) or alcohol (94 percent) if asked by their passengers. Yet even teen passengers are seemingly less concerned about riding in a car with a driver who has used marijuana than with one who has used alcohol. While a significant majority (87 percent) of teen passengers would speak up and ask the driver to refrain from getting behind the wheel after drinking, only 72 percent of teen passengers would do the same for a driver who has used marijuana. And the study found that girls are far more likely to speak to the driver than boys in either circumstance.


It takes only one car crash to change lives forever—far too many young people still die in alcohol and drug-related traffic deaths. Drug abuse is always unhealthy, unsafe, and unacceptable—and the problem becomes a public safety issue when drugged driving occurs.   Parents—start talking before a problem happens—driving or riding with an impaired driver is a high-risk decision.   Talk to your teens and tell them to SPEAK UP.  It is important that our kids know it is unsafe to ride with someone who is under the influence of any drug—including marijuana, prescription drugs not prescribed to them, or alcohol.


We need to keep reminding ourselves that we can make a difference.  We must raise consciousness around the risks of driving or riding with an “impaired” driver—remember “Friends don’t let Friends Drive Drunk OR Drugged.” And as always, resources for parents are available on our website at

It’s Counseling Awareness Month

Whether you call them counselors, therapists, or even “shrinks,” many people wonder what happens in the office of a therapist. April is Counseling Awareness Month, which means that if you’ve wondered if counseling is right for you, it’s a great time to try. There are lots of misconceptions about what happens in a mental health counselor’s office, but the reality is that, most of the time, it is really just a conversation between two people, one of whom is educated in helping people when they are going through difficult times or want to figure something out.

A client who visits a counselor will get help in identifying what he or she would like to address or change in their life. A counselor will not solve your problems, tell you what to do, or impose his or her personal beliefs on your situation.

People who visit a counselor simply want to improve their lives. It is not a weakness, nor is it a crutch. Visiting a counselor shows strength! It shows that you are ready and willing to tackle issues in your life that you want to change. Check your own mental health before visiting a counselor by taking a brief self-assessment at

Give Mindfulness A Try - It’s Easier than you Think

The term “mindfulness” is popping up everywhere lately. Experts seem to recommend it for everything from weight loss to managing anxiety. However, what exactly constitutes mindfulness and how do you do it? It’s easier than you may assume.

Mindfulness is a practice in which you focus on the physical feelings of what you are doing and maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness. For example, walking mindfully is a practice in which when you walk, you focus on what you are feeling and seeing. You focus on the feeling of your feet touching the ground, the air on your face, and the sights in front of you. Pretty different than walking around your neighborhood thinking about how you’re going to get everything done, isn’t it?

It’s important to focus on all this without judging the experience as good or bad. Some people find mindfulness easier than other forms of meditation because it does not require that you “clear” the mind. Instead, you do have something to focus on and that focus can take you out of feelings of anxiety and put you in a calmer state. Of course, simply practicing mindfulness will not address everyone’s anxiety. Another step in addressing any mental health symptoms is taking a free and anonymous screening, which Aliive-Roberts County offers at

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Ah, the holidays. It’s a time for people to gather with family, share gifts, and celebrate a new beginning. For most of the country, however, it’s also the time when the days are short, the nights are long, and the weather is cold. The outdoor light that felt so healing from March to November is now mostly shining while people are at work.

As a result of these changes, many people will suffer from a seasonal depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  Symptoms of SAD include loss of interest in usual activities, feeling sad, anxious, or irritable, and eating and craving more carbohydrates. The symptoms occur during the winter months, and experts theorize that the lack of natural light can contribute to the condition. They estimate that 10% to 20% of recurrent depression follows a seasonal pattern.

However, SAD can be treated with light therapy (lights are widely available), antidepressant medication and talk therapy. Of course, each case is different and there is not one way to treat SAD. A great first step to addressing your mental health is taking a free and anonymous self-assessment. Aliive-Roberts County makes these assessments available for free at

Preparing your child to attend the funeral of a friend.

While many children are initially exposed to the rituals associated with funerals through the death of older relatives, the first experience for other children may be through the death of a friend or peer.  And although burial rituals are obviously tied to culture, ethnicity, and religion and reflect many variations in the actual activities that take place, there is generally a consistency in the concerns children experience about attending funeral events.

Unfortunately, for us as parents, our children may not be able to articulate these concerns. Even teenagers may be embarrassed to acknowledge their uneasiness about going to funeral activities. So here are some simple guidelines to help you sensitively broach a conversation about funeral attendance and understand and address what may be your child’s unspoken concerns.

First, defuse your own anxiety about talking about death and funerals by remembering that most of your child’s concerns come from being exposed to an unfamiliar situation. While there may certainly be questions about what happens when we die, this does not have to be that kind of conversation. This is simply a way of helping prepare your child for another new life experience. If you frame it in this context, it doesn’t become such a big deal and it fits in more easily with more common parenting discussions.

In any unknown situation, understanding what will happen is the easiest way to feel prepared. Describe what the experience will be like in as much detail as possible. Consider saying something like what this parent explained to her middle school son:

“When we go into the funeral home, there will be a book at the door where we can sign our names so Jamie’s family will know we came to visit. We’ll probably have to wait on a long line because lots of other people will be there too. In the front of the room there’ll be this big box that’s called a casket. That’s where Jamie’s body will be. The top of the casket may be open so people who want to see Jamie for one last time can go and say goodbye. If you’d like to do that we can, but it’s not something we have to do. The casket may be closed, with lots of flowers on top of it. Jamie’s family will be in the front of the room and everyone will walk past them and tell them how sad they are that Jamie died. Sometimes people will tell them a story about Jamie – how much they liked him, or what they did together. You can think about this and see what you feel like saying when the time comes. If you don’t want to say anything, that’s okay, too. There will probably be lots of pictures of Jamie and his family and friends around the room and, if you want, we can take a look at these before we leave. Do you have any questions?”

This step-by-step review of the process paints a mental picture that allows your child to mentally rehearse attendance at the actual event. The anxiety and worry about the unknown will be immediately diminished when your child enters the funeral home and sees the same picture you have described. This behavioral rehearsal works well for younger children, but even older children can benefit from similar explanations.

Acknowledge worries about looking silly or saying something stupid by making them universal and providing an example of what you child can say. “You know, most people worry about saying something silly or stupid at funerals because it’s so hard to know the right things to say or do. The best rule is to keep it simple. ‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ or ‘I’m sorry Jamie died’ is absolutely enough!”

Funerals, especially those of children, tend to be pretty emotional events, and children may worry that they’ll be upset. Be honest, validate the feeling but outline an escape. “You know, a lot of people do get upset at funerals – that’s why there are always a lot of boxes of tissues at funeral homes. What happened is very sad, so crying is a really normal reaction and most people are so caught up in their own feelings that they’re really not paying any attention to anyone else. But I’ll carry some extra tissues with me just in case you or I need one. And if you change your mind about staying, just let me know and we can leave at any time.”

For whatever reason, some children may balk at going to funeral events. Let it be. Being forced to attend changes the event into an unnecessary power struggle. There are lots of ways to offer support and condolence to the bereaved family so simply suggest something else, like writing a short sympathy card.

Accompany your child. Having your support at an unfamiliar, emotional event like a funeral helps model an important life skill – how being together at a time of sadness helps get us through. If you can, pair your attendance at the event with something nurturing, like a stop on the way home to get a snack or a treat.

Information taken from