Can AA Survive in Russia?

Can the AA 12-Step Program Thrive in Russia?

The US Helsinki Commission is charged with monitoring human rights compliance in the former Soviet Union. But on August 2, the commission took a break from its routine responsibilities to examine the thorny issue of alcoholism in Russia.

Russians’ capacity for drink is legendary. During the hearing, titled US-Russian Cooperation in the Fight against Alcoholism, one of the witnesses, Heidi Brown, an analyst at Kroll Associates, tried to quantify the impact of spirits on Russian society. The numbers she proffered were alarming: half-a-million deaths each year in Russia are alcohol-related, and approximately half of all male deaths in Russia are in some way connected to excessive alcohol consumption. In addition, a whopping 2.3 billion liters of vodka are sold every year in Russia, a country with a current estimated population of 142 million.

Another witness at the hearing was Dr. Eugene Zubkov, the co-founder of a 30-bed clinic in Leningrad Oblast outside St. Petersburg that specializes in treating alcoholics. Zubkov noted that there are 2.7 million officially registered alcoholics in Russia, but added that the official count was probably low. “It means probably three times that many patients … are not registered,” he said. If Zubkov’s estimate is accurate, it means that approximately one in every 13 Russian citizens may be an alcoholic.

The hearing spent a fair amount of time examining the applicability to Russia of the 12-step program developed by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), a mutual assistance movement designed to promote sobriety that was founded in 1935 in the United States.

Margaret Murray, the director of the International Research Program at the US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, told members of the Helsinki Commission that AA “has been an extremely important mainstay of [alcoholism] treatment in the United States.” Among the benefits, Murray said, was the “social support for abstinence that AA provides, as well as enhancing an individual’s spirituality, which we know is key to recovery for a lot of people.”

Zubkov said his clinic, called the House of Hope on a Hill, utilizes AA’s 12-step method in its 28-day treatment program. Since its opening in 1996, the House of Hope has treated about 4,500 patients, he said, adding that the facility has acted as a catalyst for the slow spread of AA chapters across Russia. “There are now 370 AA meetings … in Russia, and 40 percent of those meetings were started by – initiated by the graduates of the house,” he said.

AA encounters lots of opposition in Russia, Zubkov noted. Efforts to open an AA-based clinic in a new location often generate official opposition because the 12-step method is seen as a foreign import.

“There is a lot of mistrust of Alcoholics Anonymous there because it is seen as Western. … There are a lot of people who still have sort of a nationalism or a resentment about methods that have come from abroad,” added Brown. Some opposition also appears to be faith-based, as AA is seen by many Orthodox Christian Russians as essentially a creature of the Reformed Protestant tradition.

Preferred treatment methods in Russia lack an adequate after-care component, Zubkov said. “Russian treatment methods are largely very biologically oriented and sometimes strange.” The most popular method relies on the use of Antabuse, a drug that makes people sick when they drink alcohol. But this does not address the cultural and physical sources of the addiction. “And after this, [the] patient is basically – he is on his own,” Zubkov said. “He doesn’t get any therapeutic support. He doesn’t get any – he doesn’t go to any meetings. And when he has a personal crisis, the easiest way for him to resolve it is try to drink, and very often this could end in fatalities.”

Beyond cultural differences, the lack of a tradition of philanthropic giving in Russia is hampering the ability of AA programs to expand their reach. The House of Hope, Zubkov noted, depended on financial support provided by an American philanthropist, Lou Bantle, who died in 2010. Now, the clinic is facing an uncertain financial future. Finding Russian benefactors is an extreme challenge, Zubkov added.

Not only does the Russian government tax charitable contributions, but those corporations and philanthropists that do donate “prefer to support high-profile, socially acceptable organizations, such as the performing and visual arts.” The only exception has been the Baltika brewery, which has been “continuously supporting us for many years,” he said.

Originally published by

Teens & Alcohol Shops

Alcohol Shops Affect Teen Drinking

Alcohol outlets lead to specific problems among youth and young adults

Alcohol research has clearly demonstrated a connection between alcohol outlets and alcohol-related problems.

A new study focuses on the effects of alcohol outlets on underage youth and young adults.

Findings show that alcohol-related injuries among underage youth and young adults are shaped by the density and types of alcohol outlets in neighbourhoods.

Prior studies have not only demonstrated a clear connection between alcohol outlets and alcohol-related problems, they have also shown that certain types of outlets are associated with different types of problem outcomes. A new study shows that a particular group, underage youth and young adults, have specific problems – injury accidents, traffic crashes, and assaults that are related to specific types of alcohol outlets – off-premise outlets, bars and restaurants.

Results will be published in the March 2010 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.

“Over the past four decades, public health researchers have come to recognize that although most drinkers safely purchase and enjoy alcohol from alcohol outlets, these places are also associated with serious alcohol-related problems among young people and adults,” said Paul J. Gruenewald, senior research scientist at the Prevention Research Center and corresponding author for the study.

“In the early studies, researchers believed associations were due to increased alcohol consumption related to higher alcohol outlet densities,” added Richard Scribner, D’Angelo Professor of Alcohol Research at the LSU School of Public Health. “However, as the research area has matured, the relations appear to be far more complex. It seems that alcohol outlets represent an important social institution within a neighbourhood. As a result, their effects are not limited to merely the consequences of the sale of alcohol.”

For this study, researchers obtained non-public hospital discharge data from the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, including residential zip code and patient age for all patients discharged. Ninety-nine percent of the injury records were successfully mapped to zip codes. Population demographics, place characteristics, and data related to alcohol outlets were also collected from various sources, and modelled in relation to two age groups: underage youth between 18 and 20 years of age, and of-age young adults 21 to 29 years of age.

“Greater numbers of off-premise outlets such as take-out establishments were associated with greater injuries from accidents, assaults, and traffic crashes for both underage and of-age young adults,” said Gruenewald. “But only among of-age young adults were greater number of restaurants related to traffic crash injuries and greater numbers of bars related to assault injuries. These findings confirm previous observations that drinking at bars may be a particular risk for aggression and alcohol-related assaults while drinking at restaurants may be a particular risk for drunken driving and alcohol-related traffic crashes. The findings also confirm prior studies that indicate underage risks are uniquely associated with off-premise establishments.”

“In other words,” said Scribner, “the pattern of alcohol-related injuries among underage youth and young adults is not random; their occurrence is shaped by the density and type of alcohol outlets in a neighbourhood. For example, when young adults reach the minimum legal drinking age, they begin legally drinking in bars where events such as bar fights are relatively common, and more likely when the density of bars increases. A little more complex is the strong association between an increasing density of off-premise outlets such as convenience stores and liquor stores, and higher rates of all injury outcomes among both underage youth and young adults. The authors indicate this association may be related to broader social factors where the concentration of these types of alcohol outlets in a neighbourhood influences the social networks of both youth and young adults by reinforcing high-risk drinking practices. Clearly this type of research can help to develop informed policy in areas where high rates of youth injuries are considered a problem.”

The key message, said both Gruenewald and Scribner, is that a neighbourhood’s alcohol environment plays a role in regulating the risks that youth and young adults will be exposed to as they mature.

“From a prevention perspective, this represents an important refocusing of priorities, away from targeting the individual to targeting the community,” said Scribner. “This is hopeful because a community-based approach that addresses the over concentration of alcohol outlets in a neighbourhood where youth injuries are a problem is relatively easy compared with interventions targeting each youth individually.”

Chronic Illness Often a Taboo Conversation


Along with taboo topics such as politics and religion, many people are reluctant to discuss managing a chronic illness with family or friends, according to a new survey of more than 1,000 adults.

The survey found that 82 percent of respondents said they knew someone with a chronic illness, but only 34 percent were likely to suggest ways for this person to better manage their care. That’s about the same number who said they’d debate politics (37 percent) or religion (33 percent) with a loved one or friend.

only 34 percent were likely to suggest ways for this person to better manage their care

Respondents were more likely to;

  • discourage friends or loved ones from buying the wrong house (65 percent),
  • loan them a large amount of money (56 percent),
  • advise them against taking a job they didn’t think was right for the person (48 percent), and
  • tell them their spouse was unfaithful (41 percent).

The reasons why many Americans are reluctant to offer advice to chronically-ill friends or family include:

  • They think the person has the situation under control (66 percent);
  • they are not a health care professional (31 percent);
  • they don’t want to seem like a nag (31 percent) or
  • rude (29 percent);
  • they don’t believe the person would listen to them (27 percent); or
  • they didn’t think the matter was that important (15 percent).

Other findings:

  • Twenty percent of respondents said their spouse was the easiest person to give advice to about health, followed by a child (20 percent), mother (13 percent), and father (5 percent).
  • Most respondents said they’d prefer to receive advice about managing a chronic illness from a health care professional (67 percent), followed by a spouse (10 percent) or parent (7 percent). Men were twice as likely as women (14 percent versus 7 percent) to have their spouse give them such advice.
  • Men have an easier time offering health advice to their spouse (28 percent) than women (19 percent). Women have an easier time offering health advice to their children (24 percent) than men (16 percent).
  • Thirty-four percent of respondents said the person closest to them with a chronic illness is a parent (34 percent), followed by another relative (16 percent), spouse (14 percent), friend (11 percent), sibling (8 percent), and child (6 percent).

Tips on how to help family or friends, or even patients with a chronic illness:

  • Talk to them in order to get an understanding of their goals. Get the conversation started by discussing events or activities they used to enjoy or future events they want to be part of, such as a family reunion. Once you understand their goals, you can help them achieve them along with health care providers, doctors or community service agencies.
  • Appoint an “ambassador” — a friend or loved one feels comfortable talking with and respects enough to heed his or her advice. This person can help the ill person manage their condition.
  • If you don’t already know, increase your comfort levels by educating yourself about the person’s chronic illness. This will make you feel more comfortable speaking with them about the condition and reinforcing professional advice.

Everybody wins when ex-addicts learn to live again

A great failing of current strategies to solve the problem of drug addiction in B.C. is the near-absence of any long-term programs catering to the needs of patients in recovery.

It is doubly disappointing then, that when a private initiative is put forward offering such a program, it should encounter resistance from within the community.

There is a danger of this happening in Surrey, where, as Kent Spencer reported in The Province yesterday, former business tycoon John Volken is proposing to build a $20-million “campus” in the Newton area designed to teach life and job skills to recovering addicts.

Volken, 66, who sold his United Furniture Warehouse chain three years ago, has since invested more than $100 million in pursuing his grand scheme of social philanthropy.

More of this story at the Province.

Life-long druggie says prison’s no answer

Vancouver granddad says jail turns addicts into hardened criminals

Prison, Terry McKinney tells me, screws up your head so badly that when you’re on the outside, it’s payback time: A confused and off-track kid goes in, a slick, seasoned felon comes out.

So if Prime Minister Stephen Harper thinks users and traffickers like him will rush to change their stripes — spooked by a $64-million anti-drug plan that imposes must-do jail time — he can forget it.

McKinney, a 59-year-old Vancouver granddad, has been a junkie for the past 37 years; a regular in B.C.’s prisons after numerous convictions for peddling heroin to bankroll what was a $1,000-a-day habit at the peak of his intake.

The inmate who has done time is 10 times smarter, 10 times more vicious and 10 times bigger, he says. They have nothing better to do than form alliances, pump iron and plan more sophisticated crimes. The first to befriend an offender when he’s sprung are his jail buddies.

More of this story by Joey Thompson, at The Province

Treatment Benefits Inmates

Long Term Treatment Benefits Inmates

The Residential Substance Abuse and Treatment (RSAT) Program at the Wicomico County Detention Center in Salisbury, Md. provides repeat offenders with six months to two years of holistic rehabilitation services to promote permanent lifestyle changes, the Delmarva Daily Times reported on July 5.

’Substance abuse is more of a symptom than a cause — something else is going on that they’re either trying to self-medicate or ease a difficult situation,’ said Doug Devenyns, founder of the program and director of the detention center.

’When you couple the addictions treatment with the … other treatment that addresses that underlying cause, then we get into a pretty effective scenario. The success rate starts going off the map.’

The RSAT program has graduated 20 offenders since its formation two years ago, and only 4 have relapsed.

While up to 75 percent of offenders commit additional crimes after their release, only 2 of the RSAT graduates have been re-arrested.

RSAT participants live apart from the general inmate population, attending counseling and classes in such subjects as parenting, conflict resolution and hygiene for a total of 10 hours a day.

Those without a high school diploma are also required to complete a GED program to maximize the effectiveness of their rehabilitation.

The program can only admit 34 residents due to limited resources and a strict screening process.

RSAT costs $300,000 a year, 75 percent of which is provided by the governor’s office, while the remainder is paid by the city of Salisbury.

’There is so much talent with that group alone that the world hasn’t yet seen, that is hidden behind addiction,’ said RSAT lead counselor Lynn Schofer. ’They deserve an opportunity to show it and live it.’

Friends Can & Do Help

Mental health study shows friends can help

The study by the Mental Health Foundation discovered almost 80% of people know at least two friends who have experienced mental distress, yet many don’t want to admit their problems for fear of what their friends might think.

The charity surveyed people across the UK looking at the experiences of both people with mental health problems and those of people who have supported friends during a period of mental illness.

Half of all people who did not want friends to know about their mental health problem said it was because they felt ashamed and two in three were worried their friends would not understand.

A total of 49% of those who responded said they did not feel able to talk to their friends about their mental health problem.

Reassuringly, 60% of people with mental health problems reported that when their friends did find out, they were concerned and 47% offered support.

Two in three people said their friend’s mental health problem did not put their friendship under strain, and almost half (41%) declared that it actually made their friendship stronger.

A total of 62% of people with mental health problems said it helped to have friends around and 41% revealed they received more help from their friends than their GP or own family.

Almost half of the respondents who knew a friend with a mental health problem felt that they did not know enough about mental health to give advice and a further 48% said better information would have helped them to support their friends.

Nearly three quarters of people admitted feeling frustrated because there was no simple solution to their friend’s mental health problem.

Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: “Friendships are very important for good mental well-being, yet people can feel ashamed or embarrassed to tell their friends about how they feel.

“We know it can be hard for a person who feels depressed or anxious to discuss how they’re feeling but it is often friends who can provide the most support.”

Based on the findings of the new survey the Mental Health Foundation has developed a number of recommendations for people to support a friend.

Included in the suggestions are for friends to:

  • keep in contact through regular phone calls, visits or emails;
  • give emotional support through listening and talking;
  • try to provide practical support, such as offering to accompany them shopping or on a visit to their GP;
  • just be around; and
  • try and understand your friend’s mental health problem.

A problem shared is a problem halved

One day at a time sharing experience, strength and hope

Any member of a 12-Step fellowship will tell you of the benefits of ‘sharing’ their feelings with other sufferers.

This study proves what they have known all along that a problem shared is a problem halved.

The other study gives support to the principle of living ‘One day at a time’.

Putting feelings into words produces therapeutic effects in the brain
University of California – Los Angeles

Why does putting our feelings into words — talking with a therapist or friend, writing in a journal — help us to feel better” A new brain imaging study by UCLA psychologists reveals why verbalizing our feelings makes our sadness, anger and pain less intense.

Another study, with the same participants and three of the same members of the research team, combines modern neuroscience with ancient Buddhist teachings to provide the first neural evidence for why “mindfulness” — the ability to live in the present moment, without distraction — seems to produce a variety of health benefits.

When people see a photograph of an angry or fearful face, they have increased activity in a region of the brain called the amygdala, which serves as an alarm to activate a cascade of biological systems to protect the body in times of danger. Scientists see a robust amygdala response even when they show such emotional photographs subliminally, so fast a person can’t even see them.

But does seeing an angry face and simply calling it an angry face change our brain response” The answer is yes, according to Matthew D. Lieberman, UCLA associate professor of psychology and a founder of social cognitive neuroscience.

“When you attach the word ‘angry,’ you see a decreased response in the amygdala, a part of the brain” said Lieberman, lead author of the study, which appears in the current issue of the journal Psychological Science.

The study showed that while the amygdala was less active when an individual labeled the feeling, another region of the brain was more active: the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex. This region is located behind the forehead and eyes and has been associated with thinking in words about emotional experiences. It has also been implicated in inhibiting behavior and processing emotions, but exactly what it contributes has not been known.

Parts of brain

“What we’re suggesting is when you start thinking in words about your emotions —labeling emotions — that might be part of what the right ventrolateral region is responsible for,” Lieberman said.

If a friend or loved one is sad or angry, getting the person to talk or write may have benefits beyond whatever actual insights are gained. These effects are likely to be modest, however, Lieberman said.

“We typically think of language processing in the left side of the brain; however, this effect was occurring only in this one region, on the right side of the brain,” he said. “It’s rare to see only one region of the brain responsive to a high-level process like labeling emotions.”

Many people are not likely to realize why putting their feelings into words is helpful.

“If you ask people who are really sad why they are writing in a journal, they are not likely to say it’s because they think this is a way to make themselves feel better,” Lieberman said. “People don’t do this to intentionally overcome their negative feelings; it just seems to have that effect.

Popular psychology says when you’re feeling down, just pick yourself up, but the world doesn’t work that way. If you know you’re trying to pick yourself up, it usually doesn’t work — self-deception is difficult. Because labeling your feelings doesn’t require you to want to feel better, it doesn’t have this problem.”

Thirty people, 18 women and 12 men between ages of 18 and 36, participated in Lieberman’s study at UCLA’s Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center. They viewed images of individuals making different emotional expressions. Below the picture of the face they either saw two words, such as “angry” and “fearful,” and chose which emotion described the face, or they saw two names, such as “Harry” and “Sally,” and chose the gender-appropriate name that matched the face.

Lieberman and his co-authors — UCLA assistant professor of psychology Naomi Eisenberger, former UCLA psychology undergraduate Molly Crockett, former UCLA psychology research assistant Sabrina Tom, UCLA psychology graduate student Jennifer Pfeifer and Baldwin Way, a postdoctoral fellow in Lieberman’s laboratory — used functional magnetic resonance imaging to study subjects’ brain activity.

“When you attach the word ‘angry,’ you see a decreased response in the amygdala,” Lieberman said. “When you attach the name ‘Harry,’ you don’t see the reduction in the amygdala response.

“When you put feelings into words, you’re activating this prefrontal region and seeing a reduced response in the amygdala,” he said. “In the same way you hit the brake when you’re driving when you see a yellow light, when you put feelings into words, you seem to be hitting the brakes on your emotional responses.”

As a result, an individual may feel less angry or less sad.

This is ancient wisdom,” Lieberman said. “Putting our feelings into words helps us heal better. If a friend is sad and we can get them to talk about it, that probably will make them feel better.”

The right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex undergoes much of its development during a child’s preteen and teenage years. It is possible that interaction with friends and family during these years could shape the strength of this brain region’s response, but this is not yet established, Lieberman said.

One benefit of therapy may be to strengthen this brain region. Does therapy lead to physiological changes in the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex” Lieberman, UCLA psychology professor Michelle Craske and their colleagues are studying this question.

Combining Buddhist Teachings and Modern Neuroscience

After the participants left the brain scanner, 27 of them filled out questionnaires about “mindfulness.” Mindfulness meditation, which is very popular in Southeast Asia and elsewhere, originates from early Buddhist teachings dating back some 2,500 years, said David Creswell, a research scientist with the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.

Mindfulness is a technique in which one pays attention to his or her present emotions, thoughts and body sensations, such as breathing, without passing judgment or reacting. An individual simply releases his thoughts and “lets it go.”

“One way to practice mindfulness meditation and pay attention to present-moment experiences is to label your emotions by saying, for example, ‘I’m feeling angry right now’ or ‘I’m feeling a lot of stress right now’ or ‘this is joy’ or whatever the emotion is,” said Creswell, lead author of the study, which will be featured in an upcoming issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, a leading international medical journal for health psychology research.

“Thinking, ‘this is anger’ is what we do in this study, where people look at an angry face and say, ‘this is anger,’” Lieberman noted.

Creswell said Lieberman has now shown in a series of studies that simply labeling emotions turns down the amygdala alarm center response in the brain that triggers negative feelings.

Creswell, who conducted the mindfulness research as an advanced graduate student of psychology at UCLA, said mindfulness meditation is a “potent and powerful therapy that has been helping people for thousands of years.”

Previous studies have shown that mindfulness meditation is effective in reducing a variety of chronic pain conditions, skin disease, stress-related health conditions and a variety of other ailments, he said. Creswell and his UCLA colleagues — Lieberman, Eisenberger and Way — found that during the labeling of emotions, the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex was activated, which seems to turn down activity in the amygdala. They then compared participants’ responses on the mindfulness questionnaire with the results of the labeling study.

“We found the more mindful you are, the more activation you have in the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and the less activation you have in the amygdala,” Creswell said. “We also saw activation in widespread centers of the prefrontal cortex for people who are high in mindfulness. This suggests people who are more mindful bring all sorts of prefrontal resources to turn down the amygdala. These findings may help explain the beneficial health effects of mindfulness meditation, and suggest, for the first time, an underlying reason why mindfulness meditation programs improve mood and health.

“The right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex can turn down the emotional response you get when you feel angry,” he said. “This moves us forward in beginning to understand the benefits of mindfulness meditation. For the first time, we’re now applying scientific principles to try to understand how mindfulness works.

“This is such an exciting study because it brings together the Buddha’s teachings — more than 2,500 years ago, he talked about the benefits of labeling your experience — with modern neuroscience,” Creswell said. “Now, for the first time since those teachings, we have shown there is actually a neurological reason for doing mindfulness meditation. Our findings are consistent with what mindfulness meditation teachers have taught for thousands of years.”

The research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health.

Suppressing emotional memories

Emotional memories can be suppressed with practice

Recovering members of 12-Step fellowships will know that resentment means to ‘refeel’ emotions – over and over and over again. Practicing the program of 12-Steps to recovery, works in ways that remove unwanted feelings.

Steps 4 through 9 identify and resolve stressful memories and hence diminishing their power to disturb current emotions.

This new research aims to show that some immediate and current bad memories can be suppressed until 4 to 9 are worked through – one day at a time.


A new University of Colorado at Boulder study shows people have the ability to suppress emotional memories with practice, which has implications for those suffering from conditions ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to alcoholism, addiction and depression.

The study, which measured brain activity in test subjects who were trained to suppress memories of negative images, indicated two mechanisms in the prefrontal region of the brain were at work, said CU-Boulder doctoral candidate Brendan Depue, lead study author. The study may help clinicians develop new therapies for those unable to suppress emotionally distressing memories associated with disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive syndrome, he said.

The study was published in the July 13 issue of Science. Co-authors on the study included CU-Boulder Associate Professor Tim Curran and Professor Marie Banich of the psychology department. All three authors are affiliated with CU-Boulder’s Center for Neuroscience and the Institute of Cognitive Sciences, and Banich also is affiliated with the CU-Denver and Health Sciences Center.

“We have shown in this study that individuals have the ability to suppress specific memories at a particular moment in time through repeated practice,” Depue said. “We think we now have a grasp of the neural mechanisms at work, and hope the new findings and future research will lead to new therapeutic and pharmacological approaches to treating a variety of emotional disorders.”

During the training phase of the study, subjects were asked to learn 40 different pairs of pictures, each pair consisting of a “neutral” human face and a disturbing picture such as a car crash, a wounded soldier, a violent crime scene or an electric chair, Depue said.

After memorizing each associated pair, the subjects were fitted with special viewing goggles and placed in MRI scanners at CU’s Health Sciences Center in Denver. Subjects were shown only the face images and asked to either think about, or not think about, the disturbing image previously associated with each face, he said.

The functional brain imaging scans taken during the study indicated the coordination for memory suppression occurred in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, considered by neuroscientists to be the “seat of cognitive control,” he said. The team found that two specific regions of the prefrontal cortex appear to work in tandem to suppress particular posterior brain regions like the visual cortex, the hippocampus and amygdala, which are involved in tasks like visual recall, memory encoding and retrieval, and emotional output, he said.

“These results indicate memory suppression does occur, and, at least in nonpsychiatric populations, is under the control of prefrontal regions,” the researchers wrote in Science. The most anterior portion of the prefrontal cortex highlighted in the study is a relatively recent feature in brain evolution and is greatly enlarged in humans when compared to great apes, said Depue.

The study showed the subjects were able to “exert some control over their emotional memories,” said Depue. “By essentially shutting down specific portions of the brain, they were able to stop the retrieval process of particular memories.”

Depue speculated that memory suppression could be a positive evolutionary trait, using the example of a Stone Age hunter narrowly escaping from a lion while hunting antelope. “If the hunter became so beleaguered by memories of that incident that he stopped hunting, then he would have starved to death.”

It is not clear to what extent an extremely traumatic emotional memory, like a violent battlefield incident or a crippling car accident, manifests itself in the human brain, said Depue. “In cases like this, a person could need thousands of repetitions of training to suppress such memories. We just don’t know yet.”

Originated by psychologist Sigmund Freud more than a century ago, the concept of repressed memories is extremely controversial, said Depue. There is considerable debate today over whether repressed memories and suppressed memories are interchangeable terms, and even as to whether repressed memories exist at all, he said.

“The debate over repressed memories probably won’t be resolved in my lifetime,” said Depue. “I think the important thing here is that we have identified neural mechanisms with potential for helping the clinical community develop new therapeutic and pharmaceutical approaches for people suffering from emotional disorders.”

Implications include possible new therapies for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.

Sobriety high schools

Sobriety high schools offer a program of learning, recovery

The writer Anais Nin said that “adolescence is like a cactus.” The teenage years are indeed prickly ones, filled with uncomfortable emotions and uncharted terrain as teens enter high school and move self-consciously into young adulthood.

High school presents even more challenges for teens recovering from addiction who struggle to remain clean and sober after treatment. Drugs and alcohol are easy to come by in most schools, and the pressure to use them is often great. According to the national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the number of students age 12-17 who received treatment for substance abuse rose 20 percent from 1994-1999, with well over 100,000 young people entering treatment each year.

Studies show that approximately 80 percent of students who return to their former high schools after treatment begin using drugs or alcohol again.

“One of the first rules of recovery is that if youre trying to stay clean and sober you have to avoid your old playground and your old playmates,” said Andy Finch, director of the Association of Recovery Schools and executive director of Creative Recovery Communities, a nonprofit organization that runs Community High School in Nashville, Tenn.

Community High School is one of 19 high schools nationwide designed to support the recovery of young persons who have either received treatment for their addictions or made a conscious decision to live a sober lifestyle. According to Finch, four more such high schools are set to open in the next two years, and three college programs are currently in operation.

Often called “dry highs, sober highs, or recovery highs,” these schools provide what Finch calls a “protective cocoon” that nurtures students recovery as they work to attain their high school diplomas. “Recovery schools are not treatment facilities,” emphasized Finch. “Recovery schools are self-contained schools where students receive the full-range of academic services. Students are in school seven hours a day, just like in other schools, and they are expected to exist the other 17 hours a day in the real world.”

The difference between recovery schools and traditional high schools is that 100 percent of the students are in recovery, and staff and fellow students are dedicated to supporting all students in their recovery. Every student is expected to work a recovery program, and all students are required to be alcohol- and drug-free. While some schools conduct random urine screens, other schools have students sign a sobriety contract. Anecdotal evidence shows that the relapse rate is substantially lower for students who attend recovery schools after treatment versus those who attend traditional schools. Most recovery schools give students a second chance if they relapse and are honest about it and if they agree to do whatever they need to do to make their recovery program stronger.  

Recovery schools are quite small, ranging from six to 70 students. Many of the teachers, counselors, and staff are in recovery themselves or have worked in some recovery setting, and the individual attention a student gets can make the difference between flourishing and failing. However, it is the small student-to-teacher ratio and size of the school that makes it hard to get public funding in the current economy, and funding varies dramatically from state to state. For instance, the Nashville school receives no public subsidies, while other schools, such as the nonprofit Sobriety High in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, receive about 40 percent of their funding from the state and 60 percent from private donations.

Before the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment recently helped create the Association of Recovery Schools, schools developed on their own, through trial and error, with no blueprint and little guidance from other schools. It is Finchs dream that many more recovery schools will open now that an information and support network has been established and they don’t have to start from scratch.

“Every state and most major cities could populate a recovery school, yet 40 states provide no such options,” Finch said. “I would like to see schools develop around the country so that students coming out of treatment can easily commute to a school where they can learn life skills they need to maintain their sobriety and discover that being in recovery can actually be fun.”

For more information on recovery high schools and colleges, go to the Association of Recovery School Web site at  

Alive & Free is a health column that provides information to help prevent substance abuse problems and address such problems. It is created by Hazelden, a nonprofit agency based in Center City, Minn., that offers a wide range of information and services on addiction.