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Archive for February, 2007

Making gains over hair loss

Posted by Roberta Jewell
Categories: Medications and research

hair loss

As anti-craving medications become more widely accepted in treating alcohol dependence, dealing with potential side effects plays an increasingly important role. It’s one of the reasons we urge everyone to work closely with a qualified health care provider. 

One of the most popular drugs many drinkers have sought over the past couple of years to help curb craving is Topamax and it appears to do a pretty good job. But like any powerful medication, it has a down side: a lengthy list of potential side effects. It includes a lowered bicarbonate level in the blood which can lead to hyperventilation, irregular heartbeat and kidney stones; a rare form of glaucoma; cognitive slowing; sleepiness; weight loss; tingling in the extremities; flu-like symptoms; and other possible problems. The list may sound terrifying, but anyone who understands the the horror of addiction realizes it may pale in comparison to the self loathing of a mother whose young daughter admits to pouring her vodka down the drain in a futile attempt to save her.

Patients and members on our message board often complain about the cognitive slowing associated with Topamax and I consider it to be the most common and problematic of all side effects. But another one reported more ‘on the board’ than in the literature is this: hair loss or thinning.

In fact, I experienced some hair thinning myself and found it a little disturbing (although to be honest, I was somewhat stressed at the time, so wasn’t sure if it was caused by the meds.) Brenda, whose journals were included in my book, also reported changes to her hair, but only to texture. Neither one of us found ourselves devastated by significant hair loss like some women. And ours eventually passed.

But last week, I was interested to read that the FDA had approved a product to promote hair growth and I’m wondering if it may help those in our program who suffer with this problem. The device is purported to work by combining a laser with a comb and emit low-level pulses to stimulate hair growth. In a 26-week clinical trial, some 93% of the participants using this Hairmax Lasercomb saw an increase in hair density, with an average increase of 19 hairs per centimeter.

Recommend usage is 10-15 minutes three times a week and it is currently only approved to “promote hair growth in males with androgenetic alopecia”, although a number of testimonials on the company’s website include those of women who say they have enjoyed success with the product.

One would certainly hope so. Customers pay $545 for this wondercomb!

But for those who are devastated by hair loss, it may be worth every penny. I was interested to read feedback, both good and bad, on the company’s message board and they seem to be fairly liberal about allowing customers to post their experiences about the device. (I note that it is a moderated forum, which means administrators must approve each post. I know this because one of our members told me she recently registered there and was awaiting approval for her question regarding hair loss due to Topamax.)

A recent MSNBC story about the HairMax Lasercomb with video is here and a reference to an earlier piece they produced is listed on About.com.

Time will tell as to whether or not the Hairmax is effective and if people are willing to pay such a hefty price to restore their hair.

If so, it may be helpful to some who are ready to be done battling yet another indignity of the addiction.

Be my virgin valentine

Posted by Roberta Jewell
Categories: This 'n that

valentinesIf you’re planning a cozy evening with that special someone but are committed to keeping the night alcohol free, you’ll want to be sure and check out these recipes for fun and romantic beverages.

A selection of over 50 “mocktails”, including healthy iced drinks, smoothies, coffees and cocoas

31 non-alco beverages, with something that’s sure to please every palate

40 yummy recipes ranging from the White Fuzzy Navel to a Red Ruby Frost Punch

60 alcohol free drinks in an easy to read table format and recipes which follow.

Happy Valentines Day…what fun it will be to remember it in the morning. 🙂

Defining our terms

Posted by Roberta Jewell
Categories: Medications and research

Tara Conner, Miss USAI’m not sure why I continue to find the interviews with the new Miss USA, Tara Conner, a little distasteful, but I think I’m closing in.

You may recall after some hard partying she nearly lost her crown; then agreed to a month-long rehab stint after a talk with the Donald, who co-owns the pageant. I completely believe her when she says she’s come clean. I am moved by her honest account of dealing with her demons. And I know she means it when she says she’s in a much better place.

I suppose what’s bothersome is this new, conspicuous characterization of the 21-year old Kentucky beauty. It sounds so steeped in traditional recovery dogma and it feels to me like the queen has been made a bit of a pawn.

“I didn’t think I had any kind of issue going into rehab,” she was quoted as saying recently, “but I’ve realized I do have an issue. I suffer from the disease of alcoholism and addiction.”  

So of course the headlines scream “I am an alcoholic!”

In fact, I had a tough time with this one when I wrote my book. Was I an alcoholic? A problem drinker? Alcohol dependent? Excessive drinker? Which was it?

As I said, in the end it really didn’t matter that much – I just wanted to fix it. But for a number of reasons, I simply couldn’t bring myself to stand in front of a room full of strangers and pin that tag on my shirt. For one thing, I wasn’t sure if it was medically and therapeutically valid. And emotionally, the thought of branding myself scared the hell out of me. Or perhaps I simply wasn’t as brave as others who have done so. I admire their courage.

But a new study, as reported in Science Daily, may support the position that many drinkers have been misclassified – and I assume, directed to improper treatment. The research reveals that binge drinking is the most prevalent form of excessive drinking and many alcohol related problems may be a result of drinking among people who are not, in fact, alcoholics. They point to a study in the February 2007 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research in which 16.5% of 4,751 New Mexico adults were considered excessive drinkers, but only 1.8 percent of them met the criteria for alcohol dependence.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse an Alcoholism, alcoholism is defined by an individual’s continued drinking despite repeated alcohol-related problems. Specifically, it is measured by symptoms which include craving, impaired control, physical dependence and tolerance. More formal diagnostic criteria have been developed, as well.

In response to the recent study, Tim Naimai, a physician with the alcohol team at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, says we must recognize and address excessive drinking, in addition to alcoholism, if we are to prevent most alcohol related problems, including alcoholism.

“Focusing exclusively on alcoholism will identify only a small percentage of those at risk of causing or incurring alcohol-related harms, precludes the possibility of prevention, and is very costly, at least on a per-person basis,” says Naimai.

And then there’s treatment. How helpful, say, is a 12-step program to an individual whose binge drinking is tied to episodes of spousal abuse? Anger management classes, perhaps. But AA? Maybe, maybe not. Or a person who binge drinks to blunt depressive symptoms – perhaps they would be better served with a program of pharmacology, counseling and improved diet than forced to an in-patient facility away from their home and support network.

In the end, if Miss America is satisfied with her treatment and is empowered to lead a healthier, more productive life while setting a good example for others, it’s all worked out for the best. I mean that. I am in no position to judge whether or not she was a binge drinker or a true alcoholic.

And me, three years later, I freely admit that I am, in fact an alcoholic, not a binge drinker. I do (did) meet the criteria. Among other things, I drank to excess every night, had developed a tolerance for alcohol, and was powerless to control the craving.

I had a lot to lose before I got help – not a crown, certainly – but equally important to me: my family, my health, my career, my self respect. Thankfully, I wasn’t forced into rehab as many people are. I found something that worked well for me and my drinking is now in check.

I absolutely encourage others to attend fellowship based meetings or consider rehab if they’re willing and comitted to doing so. Both have been immensely helpful to millions of people.

Whatever the path, it’s important we expand our thinking about alcoholism and how we define it. How we define ourselves.

And I think it’s great to see new research is helping us do just that.

committed