Asking the same exact questions of alcohol, caffeine
May 14, 2013
1. Nevada County Public Health Dept, 2012 Nevada County Health Status Report, p. 19.
2. Mayo Clinic Proc. 2009 July; 84(7): 625–631
3. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2004 Oct; 176(1):1-29
4. American Journal of Emergency Medicine, Volume 26, Issue 7 , Pages 799-802, September 2008
5. Nevada County Sheriff’s Office Data, 2001-2009
6. Hum Brain Mapp. 2009 Oct;30(10):3102-14. doi: 10.1002/hbm.20732
7. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2009 June; 33(6): 793–806
Doctor Lasich's recent letter to the editor inspired me to write in.
People ask a lot of questions about alcohol and caffeine, addictive and mind-altering drugs used for recreational purposes by the majority of adults in Nevada County.
But people may not be asking all of the right questions (Note: The use of toxic, mind-altering and addictive recreational drugs even includes physicians, who — like law enforcement — generally have drug addiction rates equal to or higher than that of the general population).
Of those who don't question alcohol and caffeine use, some don't ask questions because they don't want to hear the answers. Many don't even realize there are very important answers that need to be heard because they've been lulled into thinking alcohol and caffeine are just benign drink ingredients that cause no harm. Nothing is further than the truth.
Here are some true answers to questions that are infrequently asked:
Does the use of alcohol and caffeine lead to dependency/addiction? Absolutely; the use of alcohol and caffeine has been clearly documented to change the brain, particularly the reward system, in ways very similar to those found with opioid chemical dependency/addiction.
Statistics show that 13 percent of people who drink as little as one cup of coffee per day will develop dependency that includes withdrawal symptoms categorized as "clinically significant distress or functional impairment."
In a three-year study of patients 10 years and older, hospitalization for caffeine abuse was also associated with pharmaceutical abuse.
As far as alcohol here in Nevada County, local alcohol-related arrest rates for DUI and Drunk in Public are more than 10 times higher than rates for the second most prevalent drug possession offense (meth) and more than 20 times higher than marijuana possession.
What are the symptoms of alcohol and caffeine withdrawal? As with all substances that cause dependency, an alcohol or caffeine dependent individual experiences withdrawal when he/she stops using. The symptoms of caffeine withdrawal are very similar to marijuana, including irritability, depressed mood and flu-like symptoms, but add to that: decreased alertness, drowsiness, difficulty concentrating, nausea/vomiting and muscle pain/stiffness.
The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are worse than caffeine or marijuana, add rapid heart rate, tremors, clammy skin, hallucinations, fever, seizures and sometimes death (Yipes!) And don't forget: most local physicians use both of these toxic, mind-altering and addictive drugs regularly, 95 percent of the time without any prescription).
The problem is that people don't need prescriptions for alcohol and caffeine, and once addicted they continue to self-treat their symptoms of addiction as if they're due to "stress" or maybe the flu, and not withdrawal.
What is the long-term impact of alcohol and caffeine use? Unlike water and juice, which are harmless drinks that have no lasting negative impact on the brain, alcohol and caffeine leave a huge footprint on the brain.
Using MRI technology, researchers have documented the severely blunted cerebral blood flow in the brains of even low-dose caffeine users, with blood flow in the brain reduced by an average of 27 percent.
People that interact with a caffeine user don't need an MRI to tell them what they already know. Spouses and friends recognize the user's personality is different or that he/she "is not the same unless they've had caffeine."
School officials don't need an MRI to notice the cycles of sleepiness/restlessness, drowsiness/agitation, and a general inability to concentrate by those who use caffeine regularly.
The impacts of alcohol use on the brain are also MRI-documented, including actual brain shrinkage in areas involved in reason and judgment, with older people being especially vulnerable. The impact of alcohol and caffeine use in schools is due to their impact on the brain's ability to remember and learn.
These impaired cognitive skills can improve after the user quits using caffeine and/or alcohol.
However, the recovery time is much slower in children, because studies demonstrate exposure to caffeine and alcohol during brain development can have long-lasting effects on brain function.
The footprint left by them on a developing brain looks more like a gigantic boot print.
Do the potential benefits of alcohol and caffeine use outweigh the risks? This question is rarely asked in light of our community's obsession with condemning marijuana while ignoring more serious drug problems. Don't fool yourself into thinking that there are no risks involved with using alcohol and caffeine (See this story online for documented sources).
The risks have been clearly documented, including dependency, addiction, brain impairment and even the potential for death.
Everyone needs to take alcohol and caffeine use more seriously because they are not benign, harmless drink ingredients.
Martin Webb lives in Penn Valley.