Recovery For Life

How to live a healthier life one day at a time.

The Science Behind the Fiction

Chemicals can interfere with the science of our biology

When I was a little boy, I loved to read comic books based on science fiction. I loved to watch television programs like The Outer Limits and Twilight Zone, and I was an avid reader of Jules Verne's books like A Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in Eighty Days, and The Mysterious Island. Indeed, it was the science and the fiction that would always draw me in to these literary sojourns. At once, I could escape my reality and enter a world that did not exist - but perhaps had the scientific "virtue" to exist.

Science fiction is such an interesting term - especially for a psychologist to ponder, because it so envelopes what psychologists often deal with. We deal with the science of the brain as well as the thoughts of the mind - which of course can be reality or fiction. This, perhaps even more so, is unusually true for those of us who specialize in addiction psychology. Drugs often deal with taking one out of reality (fiction), but there is a basic science and reality to them in terms of the harm that they can do to one's health. Anyone who psychologically and physiologically craves a chemical must realize that they have interfered with the "science" of their own biological system.

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Over the years, it has been speculated that many writers of science fiction "experimented" and in certain cases became addicted to all kinds of substances. However, the reality is that if this process occurs, it ironically will lead to a stifling of creativity (the reader is referred back to my blog entitled, "A Myth about Alcohol, Drugs, and Creativity").

The human physiological system strives for homeostasis - a balance if you will, in terms of mind, body, and spirit - both inter-systemically and intra-systemically. It is this fine "ecosystem" that helps the human to survive - to think clearly, to fight off disease, to feel compassion and love. When one takes a drink or a drug, they are intruding on their whole system - organs such as the liver, kidneys, and pancreas, lungs, the brain, and systems such as the cardiovascular system, etc., all play a role in terms of metabolism, distribution, and excretion. (Ever fascinated why we can detect drugs in your system from a hair sample?)

It is no wonder that when one's brain feels the affects of alcohol and drug use that they don't become frightened - especially, since so many street drugs are adulterated by additional chemicals, and the individual is playing Russian roulette with a system that some speculate was created by God or through evolution over millions of years.

I personally have never liked feeling any effect of a drink or a drug - as a scientist, I suppose I was either too preoccupied by what damage I was doing to my system, as a psychologist, what damage I was doing to my mind, and as an "obsessive compulsive," what control I was relinquishing to a chemical. I admit I worry when I have to take medicine prescribed by a licensed physician, let alone ingest something that can be purchased on the street or in a bar. Likewise - wouldn't it be interesting if television commercials had to list all the dangerous side-effects for alcohol that the FDA requires them to list for medication:

Alcohol may result in cognitive impairment, including short-term memory effects and impairment in logical reasoning; sexual impairment, including impotence or erectile dysfunction; heart impairment, including weakening of the heart muscle and increase in blood pressure; gastrointestinal impairment, including gastritis, pancreatic disease, ulcers, and esophageal and stomach cancer; liver impairment, including fatty liver, hepatitis, cirrhosis, and cancer; central nervous system impairment, including brain and/or peripheral nervous system damage; nutritional impairment, including inability to absorb vitamins and minerals; and breast tissue impairment, including increased risk of breast cancer.

There is indeed a great deal of science behind the fiction that drug dealers and purveyors of alcoholic beverages would have us believe. Now don't get me wrong, we live in a free society and I believe people have a right to make informed decisions - I just thought I would do a little informing!

Harris Stratyner, Ph.D., CASAC, is a Clinical Associate Professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine; he is also with Caron Treatment Centers.

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