The keynote speaker at the Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse (RCASA) annual meeting was Dr. Ruth Potee. Potee is an addiction specialist who is Board Certified in Family and Addiction Medicine and works on the South Shore. Potee focused her presentation on the effects of addiction on the brain. The brain, as part of its natural mechanism, produces a chemical called dopamine. Potee explained how addictive drugs change the production of dopamine, producing false highs and serious lows, causing greater drug usage. “Addiction affects the part of the brain that tells you to survive,” Potee explained.
Of particular concern to Potee was the effects of drug usage on the developing brains of adolescents. She highlighted the use of alcohol in adults as a coping mechanism for stress and explained how this becomes a learned behavior for children in the home. Adolescents who have at least two drinks a week starting at age fifteen are forty percent more likely to become alcoholics, as opposed to just seven percent of those who adapt this behavior after the age of twenty-two. People whose parents or grandparents were addicts are fifty percent more likely to become addicts, but this genetic predisposition disappears if a person does not use substances until after age 21.
Potee urged the audience to asses their own drinking and the example they are setting. “Five ounces of wine is considered one drink,” Potee explained, “If you are drinking a goblet of wine each night you may be more addicted than you think.” About one-third of the country does not drink while about one-third only has one drink a week or less. The remaining third is responsible for consuming the rest of all the alcohol consumed in the country, with ten percent having nine or more drinks a day. “Alcohol is one of the most damaging drugs in our society,” Potee continued, “because it takes so long to show its effects.”
Potee also expressed concern over the lack of true information our adolescents have about marijuana. Most believe that it is less addictive and less damaging, thus safer, than smoking or other drugs. Potee referenced a study that showed that adolescent use of marijuana can cause up to an eight point drop in intelligence quotient and that in New Zealand, students using marijuana during the teen years were far less likely to have college degrees in their twenties and more likely to be unemployed and on government subsidies. She also explained that the levels of the drug THC in marijuana today are three to four times higher than it was in the marijuana used in the 1960’s. THC percentage skyrockets in chewable forms of marijuana, many of which are directly marketed to children.
Potee ended by stressing that people can recover from addiction, emphasizing that the number one need for people coming out of detox is available sober housing. Just returning people to the same environment does not help the problem.
The entire presentation can be viewed on RCTV’s YouTube page.