Helping someone overcome an addiction to alcohol is difficult and requires a lot of effort on the part of the addict, loved ones and treatment or counseling team. However, helping someone who is addicted to alcohol and also suffering from a mental illness can be even harder.
This smaller portion of the population are often forced to receive treatment for the mental illness and alcoholism separately, which makes it more unlikely that they will actually overcome their addiction. In order to find a better solution to this problem, researchers at Washington State University conducted a study that examined a potentially better form of treatment for those that have been diagnosed with an addiction to alcohol and a mental illness.
This particular experiment centered around small rewards for submitting clean urine tests. Participants that had been identified as alcohol dependent and suffering from a severe mental illness were split into two groups. The first group, of about forty subjects, were given small prizes if they passed a urine analysis test. The other group, made up of the same amount of people, were given rewards whether they passed the test or not. The study lasted about 12 weeks. The researchers found that subjects who had been given rewards for staying clean were more likely to stay clean, even after the 12-week study. Additionally, researchers also noted that drug use and tobacco use were also diminished in the group that received rewards for passing their tests. This was not the intention of the study, but interesting because it appears that the reward system is powerful enough to address more than one addiction at a time.
“Our findings suggest that contingency management is a feasible approach for people with alcohol problems. And it may be particularly effective in those with serious mental illness – such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder – a high-cost and difficult-to-engage population,” explained Michael McDonell, associate professor in WSU’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.
While this particular group is not vast, mental illness paired with an alcohol addiction can be extremely dangerous and costly to the individual, family and society. Developing an effective way to treat these patients is important and may also open doors for more successful treatment modalities for non-mental health patients that suffer from alcoholism.
In order to correctly gauge the substance abuse problem in the United States, researchers have to examine data from all sorts of different agencies. One of the agencies that have been able to supply massive amounts of information to researchers is Medicare. Medicare is a federal health care program that is responsible for the care of adults over the age of 65 and people with disabilities as well as people with certain types of diseases. Because of the population that Medicare serves, they are in the possession of valuable information that helps researchers determine how drug and alcohol abuse is growing or declining and what sorts of people tend to gravitate towards substance abuse. However, Medicare has recently declined to offer any sort of demographic information, effectively hindering any attempts at further research.
In 1987 a rule was enacted that stated that in order to use someone’s information for research purposes, the researchers had to obtain that individual’s permission. In the past this rule has been overlooked, yet in 2013 Medicare began taking things into their own hands. They started deleting information from their database that, in the past, had been available to researchers. While nothing can be done to obtain this information, many are working to get the rule reversed or altered to allow researchers can conduct proper investigations.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) stated that they were almost done drafting an appeal to the rule. Representatives from the New York Times and New England Journal of Medicine have also been vocal in the need to change or edit the rule. Despite this, it is unlikely that researchers will be granted access to the demographic information any time soon, as once the rule change is drafted; it has to be passed by the government.
Research conducted using Medicare’s database has been able to shape hospital policies, alert law enforcement of certain drug-using trends and provided researchers with valuable information for other studies relating to drug and alcohol abuse. As the drug environment continues to expand beyond teenagers and young adults, researchers are clamoring for vital information relating to an entire section of the population that has proven that they are at just as much risk for developing drug and alcohol addictions as anyone else.
Mixing alcohol with other beverages is nothing new. Bartenders and mixologists have made a living by coming up with different concoctions for consumers. Alcohol and caffeine has been one such combination that has proven to be dangerous for some. Research indicates that mixing alcohol and caffeine can increase the risk for addiction.
Due to the amount of caffeine in the alcohol mixture, consumers tend to drink more in an evening than those who are not consuming this type of drink. Since the caffeine allows a person to stay up longer and it counteracts the drowsiness, they tend to drink more. The dangers of alcohol and caffeine are so grave that many states have started banning drinks like Four Loko. Four Loko is a caffeinated beer that is the equivalent of four beers and a cup of coffee.
With the increased heart rate combined with the intoxicating effects of the alcohol, the toll that caffeinated alcohol beverages take on the body is a risk that many warn is not worth taking. Despite states beginning to ban caffeinated alcoholic beverages, there is really nothing preventing bartenders from combining alcohol and caffeine. Depending on the regulations of the bar or restaurant, a bartender pretty much has free range.
Alcohol by itself tends to make people tired, this is because alcohol is a depressant. Researchers state that the tired feeling that a person receives after consuming alcohol is usually a big reason why they stop drinking for the night. When people consume alcohol with caffeine they no longer receive that tired feeling, so they do not feel as compelled to stop drinking. The more a person goes out and orders caffeine and alcohol the more likely they are to make poor decisions, drink more and ultimately the more at risk they are for developing an alcohol addiction.
In order to prevent caffeine and alcohol from harming someone it is best not to mix the two drinks. Experts agree that those who stay away from alcohol and caffeine mixtures have a better chance at not becoming addicted to alcohol in their lifetime.
Samuel Bacharach and Peter Bamberger have recently written a book entitled, “Retirement and the Hidden Epidemic: The Complex Link Between Aging, Work Disengagement and Substance Misuse – and What To Do About It.” The book highlights the problems that many retirees face and how they oftentimes turn towards alcohol to get through the latter part of life. They realized that this was a topic worth writing about after they spoke with over one thousand retirees and found that alcohol abuse was a very common thread among the elderly.
According to the authors, 10 to 17 percent of retirees are misusing alcohol. There are a variety of reasons behind this high level of abuse. Some point to the fact that retirees have an increased amount of free time on their hands. Not knowing what to do with all the time, some turn to alcohol, which can create a late in life addiction. Others claim that because retirees are no longer working they have lost their sense of purpose, this oftentimes leads to a sort of depression that alcohol is used to cover up. Some experts say that because many retirees socially drank during their lives it is an easy transition into addiction after they retire.
Regardless of the reason, it is important that people understand that this problem is occurring so they can spot it in their loved ones. There are treatment options that exist for those that are suffering from an alcohol addiction problem at any age. “If you can kill the stigma, there’s hope. This research points to that possibility,” explained Bamberger.
Banberger and Bacharach are pleased that their book is gaining attention. They hope that if people understand that some retirees are suffering from depression and subsequent alcohol abuse that society will begin to do something about it. Increased alcohol intake by the elderly is something that affects more than just the addict. Health care costs rise as well as social welfare costs. Properly treating the alcohol abuse and any co-occurring disorders can create a happy retirement free from damaging substances.