06/30/14

Is Legalizing Reefer Madness?

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The Pew Research Center found that for the first time since 1969, more Americans favor legalizing the use of marijuana (52%) than those who oppose it (45%). The change started after 1991, when 78% of Americans opposed legalization and merely 17% supported it. The greatest support for legalization was found within youngest age group, individuals born since 1980. Sixty-Five percent of these Millennials favor legalizing marijuana.

The past three years have seen a rapid shift in support of legalization. In 2010 only 41% were in support of legalization. “Since then, support for legalization has increased among all demographic and political groups.” Boomers, born between 1947 and 1964, have seen their support for legalizing marijuana increase from 24% in 1994 to 50% in 2013.

Along with the increased support for marijuana legalization, there has been a corresponding decline in negative attitudes about marijuana. Currently, 32% believe that smoking marijuana is morally wrong, an 18 point decline since 2006 (50%). Over that same period, the percentage of people who said that smoking marijuana was not a moral issue rose 15 points from 35% in 2006 to 50% in 2013.

Over the past three decades, attitudes on whether or not marijuana was a gateway drug have shifted as well. A 1977 Gallup survey found that 60% of people believed that marijuana was a gateway drug. In 2013, only 38% believed so. Most of this shift is the result of generational change. Gen X and Millennials were far less likely to say that marijuana use leads to the use of hard drugs (36% of Gen X and 31% of Millennials).

The efforts of organizations like NORML and the Marijuana Policy Project seems to be paying off. They have been working to “legalize the responsible use of marijuana,” so that marijuana is “legally regulated similarly to alcohol.”

But I wonder if the momentum towards legalization is moving in right direction. NORML and the Marijuana Policy Project cited various studies on the safety profile of cannabis, the therapeutic potential of cannabis and how long-term cannabis use does not cause permanent cognitive impairment. But there seems to be an opposing consensus on the potential harmful effects of marijuana use.  Just a few of these concerns are noted below.

  • The potency of marijuana has doubled since 1998; tripled in the past 20 years.
  • In 2010, marijuana was involved in more than 461,000 ER visits nationwide.
  • In 2011 around 872,000 individuals received treatment for marijuana use.
  • In 2012 4.3 million individuals could be diagnosed as dependent upon or abusing marijuana.

There is also clear evidence of an association between marijuana use and psychosis. NORML gave a summary of the 1995 Lancet study that said smoking cannabis, even long-term use, was not harmful. Yet they ignored the Lancet’s retraction of that support published in the July 2007 edition of the Lancet:

In 1995, we began a Lancet editorial with the since much-quoted words: “The smoking of cannabis, even long term, is not harmful to health.” Research published since 1995, including Moore’s systematic review in this issue, leads us now to conclude that cannabis use could increase the risk of psychotic illness. Further research is needed on the effects of cannabis on affective disorders. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs will have plenty to consider. But whatever their eventual recommendation, governments would do well to invest in sustained and effective education campaigns on the risks to health of taking cannabis.

A web site, Cannabis & Psychosis, was recently launched to “increase awareness and understanding of the relationship between cannabis use and psychosis from the perspective of youth.”

Public support for the legalization of marijuana is growing. The potency of marijuana is increasing. And the evidence for the harmful effects, especially psychosis and other mental health issues is becoming clearer. Marijuana will likely surpass alcohol and tobacco as a public health concern once it is legalized. For more information on the health concerns with marijuana go to “Marijuana Research Findings” on this website.

Do you think marijuana should be legalized despite its potential harmful consequences? 

06/27/14

God Breathing on Us

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In my turning-from-adolescence-to-adulthood rebellion years I resisted my father’s attempts to make me go to church. My mother convinced him to not press the issue. So for the next eight years when I stayed overnight on Christmas and Easter, he would ask me if I wanted to go to church with him and the family. I always declined.

One of the first changes that came over me after I made a commitment to Christ was a strong desire to know the Word of God. So that Christmas, I gave Bibles as Christmas presents to several members of my family.  I remember trying to match each person with the “right” translation. I gave my father a NASB—New American Standard Bible. I didn’t realize at the time that since he was Roman Catholic, the New American Bible translation would have been a better choice.

So from the beginning of my faith walk, the Bible has been important to me. It has been THE holy book to me. Part of the reason I chose to attend Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia was its commitment “to Scripture and to the systematic exposition of biblical truth known as the Reformed faith.”

This last phrase, “known as the Reformed faith,” didn’t have the significance to me then that it does now. I was drawn to Westminster because of reading Cornelius Van Til. I knew he had taught there and I wanted to attend the seminary where he had taught. I also had a suspicion that I would try to opt out of studying the original biblical languages if the going got tough and I could and still complete my degree.

And I was right; I would have if I could have. Westminster didn’t give me that option, for which I continue to be grateful. In frustration I once crumpled up a Hebrew vocabulary quiz and threw it towards the front of the classroom. Doug Green, my professor, quietly picked it up, smoothed it out and returned it to me. I failed that quiz, but eventually passed all the language requirements.

Now, most of the in depth bible study I do is with my computer. The power of Logos Bible Software makes up for what my linguistic skills lack. Some of the same reference works I used in print I now use electronically. Is it wrong to admit that I find exegetical work less tedious now?

I believe the Scriptures to be the inerrant Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice. This has been a personal and spiritual confession that has grown with time. These days, there is an ongoing dispute among evangelicals over the appropriateness of attaching the words infallible and inerrant to a statement of faith regarding the inspiration of the Bible.

I don’t have the linguistic or exegetical skills to contribute constructively to this debate. But I believe the end result must be compatible with the belief of the Christians who went before us. They used the terms infallible and inerrant to communicate what the inspiration of Scripture meant in their time and culture. I want future generations of believers to experience the wonder I did as I began to understand the significance of 2 Timothy 3:16. I still remember the class where Dr. Gaffin taught how Paul was saying that all Scripture was theopneustos; inspired by God—that it was God breathing on us with His Word.

Peter Enns is one of those individuals who has the linguistic and exegetical skills to contribute constructively to the work of communicating what the inspiration of Scripture means in our time and culture. I don’t agree with everything he said in Inspiration and Incarnation. But I do think he’s right that we trust the Bible because of the gift of faith. “By faith, the church confesses that the Bible is God’s Word.” If our generation ultimately decides that words other than infallible and inerrant are needed to describe the Bible as the Word of God, let it be by the same Spirit that moved previous theologians and inspired the original autographs.

“It is up to Christians of each generation … to work out what that means and what words work best to describe it.” But it must still convey a sense of theopneustos, God breathing on us with His Word.

Do you believe the Bible is inspired in the sense of theopneustos, God breathing on us?

06/25/14

Let the Marriage Bed Be Undefiled

One woman told me that she didn’t think she could even tell her closest female friend some of the things her husband had forced her to do sexually. Another woman spent about two months in counseling accompanied by her best friend before she trusted enough to meet with me alone. A woman went with a friend of hers to a conference on abuse to be supportive of the friend. She left the conference with an awareness of how her husband had sinned against her sexually. All three of these marriages were between professing Christians. All three husbands used pornography at some point in their lives.

I first heard about When Your Husband is Addicted to Pornography by Vickie Tiede from a pastor as we talked about individuals and couples who struggle with porn addiction. Then someone I was counseling said reading it had really helped her. Then I heard that Harvest USA endorsed it, and finally read it. I was using another Harvest recommendation, Closing the Window by Tim Chester, when counseling men with sexual addiction problems. Now When Your Husband is Addicted to Pornography and Closing the Window are my one-two punch in reading assignments when I counsel couples struggling with porn addiction.

From the very beginning, Tiede reaches out to minister to women hurting because of their husband’s pornography addiction. “If you are reading this introduction, it’s most likely because God had unveiled your husband’s secret addiction to lust, masturbation, and pornography. Perhaps I am the first to say this to you: I’m so sorry.” Her gentle, personal tone is evident even in the midst of honestly telling it like it is. She frequently shares from her own experience and those of other women to illustrate her various topics.

As she said in a YouTube video (available on her website, vickitiede.com): “I wrote this book because it’s my story.” Her first husband was addicted to pornography. She clearly tells her readers that the book is not a handbook to fix their husband. “It is for and about you, not your husband.”

The chapters of her book are structured as six “weeks” of themes, with five “days” of reading and contemplation around each theme: hope, surrender, trust, identity, brokenness, and forgiveness. The discussion themes are carefully grounded in Scripture. Vickie’s discussion of forgiveness is one of the best-reasoned and balanced ones I’ve ever read.

Discussion, testimony, bible study and assignments that apply to the material are throughout the book. She also lists several helpful resources, including internet filters, support groups and workshops, Christian ministry websites and professional counseling resources. As Vickie suggests, keep this resource handy to give out when there is an unexpected conversation with a neighbor or friend (or someone you counsel) whose husband struggles with porn addiction.

There is no biblical justification for using pornography. And whether a husband uses porn to feed his own lust or spice up his marital sex life, he abuses his wife and defiles his marriage. Let marriage be honored by all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral (Hebrews 13:4). Unfortunately, there is a crucial need for Vickie Tiede’s book. Fortunately she had the courage to write it.

What other resources do you know of for women whose husbands are addicted to porn? 

06/23/14

Breaking Bad and Living Next to a Meth Lab

Very early one morning in September of 2000, I left my apartment and headed to work. I passed by my landlord who was talking to a policeman in the parking lot. While this was unusual, I wasn’t concerned since my landlord nodded to me and continued talking to the policeman. I assumed if there was something I needed to know he would have said something. Wrong.

When I returned home after work, I found my street blocked off by the police. I could see a television crew setting up at a good distance from my apartment building. The police officer waving away cars said that a meth lab had been discovered in the apartment building. I explained that I lived in that apartment building and was just returning from work. He said no one could approach the building and he didn’t know how long the restriction would continue. I told him that all my things were in the apartment; could someone go with me so that I could get some of my things for overnight. He said I couldn’t and suggested I stay at a local motel.

The incredible irony was I was working full time for a drug and alcohol treatment agency. An addictions counselor who lived in an apartment building that had a meth lab! As it turned out, there technically wasn’t a lab in the empty apartment. But someone had been using it for storing the chemicals used in cooking meth. You can read an original newspaper article about this here.

Breaking Bad was by all reports a powerfully written and acted drama. Even Anthony Hopkins wrote Brian Cranston a fan letter (Yes, that Anthony Hopkins).

But the show may have also helped to revive the meth industry. According to statistics available on the DEA website, the number of “meth incidents” steadily dropped from a total of 23,829 in 2004 to 6,858 in 2007. The year Breaking Bad premiered in 2008 on AMC, the number of “meth incidents” known to the DEA increased to 8,810; then to 12,851 in 2009; and peaked at 15,196 in 2010.  By 2012 the number of meth incidents had dropped to 11,210. You can find the DEA statistics here. There was a surge of almost 400 per cent in the number of meth labs dismantled between 2010 and 2012 in the United States. See the following graphic taken from the 2014 Global Synthetic Drugs Assessment. meth labs

The number of first time meth users increased from 97,000 in 2008 to 151,00 in 2009. The number of past month meth users in 2012 was 444,000, .2 percent of the U.S. population. This compares to the 18.9 million Americans (7.3% of the population) who reported using marijuana in month prior to the same 2012 survey. Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the U.S., while meth is the least commonly used illicit drug. You can find the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health here.

I don’t believe that Breaking Bad alone revived the meth industry. But the show certainly gave it a high public profile just as DEA statistics seemed to suggest it was dying out. As they say, there is no such thing as bad publicity. I think it will be interesting to see if the national meth incidents continue to drop off now that the show is off the air.

Do you think there could be a relationship between Breaking Bad and the reported increases with meth use and meth labs?

06/20/14

Groanings Too Deep for Words

My personal spiritual journey includes experiences of God talking to me; words of knowledge or discernment; praying in tongues and prophetic utterance. But I do not see myself as a charismatic or Pentecostal Christian. Nor do I think these experiences are more profound than insight gained from reading and studying the Bible. Well, maybe the time God talked to me should be reserved as a more profound experience; especially since it didn’t occur as a result of ingesting psychedelic drugs.

Recently I discovered an online dialogue about these experiences stemming from T. M. Luhrmann’s book, When God Talks Back. I think she has given us some great insight into the psychic mechanisms by which we encounter God. Here is my attempt to add two cents worth to that discussion: We need to recognize a distinction between discursive and non-discursive thought.

In her classic work Philosophy in a New Key, Susan Langer said that all language has a form that requires us to string out our ideas as if we were hanging them on a clothesline; even though these ideas may actually nest one within the other like layered clothing on a cold, windy day. This property of verbal symbolism is called discursiveness. And only when our thoughts are arranged discursively can they be spoken. “Any idea which does not lend itself to this ‘projection’ is ineffable, incommunicable by means of words.” Langer added that this was why the laws of reasoning are sometimes known as the “laws of discursive thought.”

Non-discursive expressions of our inner mental life are not linguistically structured. They exist in an incommunicable, largely unconscious mental state of emotions, feelings and desires. Some expressions of this inner mental life are seen in tears, laughter, or profanity. Langer said this leads to two basic assumptions: 1) that language is the only means of articulating thought, and 2) everything that is not speakable thought is feeling.

Langer then said that human thought is like a tiny, grammar-bound island in the midst of a sea of feeling. This island has a periphery of “mud”—a mixture of factual and hypothetical concepts broken down by the emotional tides into a “material” mode: a mixture of meaning and nonsense. Most of us live our lives on this mud flat. In artistic moods we will take to the deep, “where we flounder about with symptomatic cries that sound like propositions about life and death, good and evil, substance, beauty and other non-existent topics.” I’d substitute the word “immaterial” for Langer’s term “non-existent.” She then said:

So long as we regard only scientific and “material” (semi-scientific) thought as true cognitions of the world, this peculiar picture of mental life must stand. And if we admit only discursive symbolism as a bearer of ideas, “thought” in this restricted sense must be regarded as our only intellectual activity. It begins and ends with language; without the elements, at least, of scientific grammar, conception must be impossible.

Building on this discussion, I’d agree with Langer that conscious thought, which we use to structure the world around us, is essentially discursive. Our unconscious thought life of feelings, emotions and desires is then mostly non-discursive and largely not available to us, unless it somehow manages to press its way through to the conscious, discursive world.

A biblical expression of this distinction is found in Romans 8:26: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

There is a human tendency to give greater significance to discursive impressions that appear suddenly, fully formed out of our unconscious thought life. I think this is true religiously as well as psychologically. Oftentimes these insights appear while the person is concentrating on something entirely different; and also when they are dreaming.

Charismatic and Pentecostal Christians see discernment, prophetic utterance and speaking in tongues as miraculous manifestations of God’s presence. But they could simply be unexpected encounters with God that take place as they go swimming in the sea of their immaterial, unconscious thought life.

Psychological theorists such as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung similarly place a high value on the content of dreams as manifestations of the unconscious thought life of the individual. But they are no more significant that the material gathered by the practice of discursive “talk therapy.”

Have you ever given too much importance to impressions that appear suddenly in your conscious thought life?

06/18/14

Sometimes I Hate Marital Counseling

There are times when I really hate doing marital counseling. Sometimes it feels like I am watching a gun fight. Other times I feel like a dentist, trying to pull impacted wisdom teeth. Then there is the couple that waits until their marriage is on life support before seeking help.

A female friend once told me about a twenty-something niece of hers who was undecided about accepting her boyfriend’s marriage proposal. They were both Christians. They loved each other and the woman did want to marry him, but she was afraid. She was afraid their marriage would turn out like her parents.

Every Sunday her family would go to church together. When they returned home, her parents resumed living separate lives under the same roof. Whatever were the problems in the relationship, her parents had long ago stopped trying to resolve them, stopped trying to nourish and cherish each other.

Too few Christian couples in trouble seek to become an Ephesians five example of Christ and the church.  Once a woman asked me,“ What does that look like?” I told her to study what Paul said in Ephesians four and the first part of chapter five about how Christians are to live as one body. An Ephesians five marriage looks like a husband and wife trying to jointly “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” (Eph 4:1) Often when counseling Christian couples I see exactly the opposite of this.

For several years now I’ve used Leslie Vernick’s The Emotionally Destructive Relationship when working with couples in crisis. She has a copy of the “Emotionally Destructive Relationship Test” from the book available on her website that I’ve found very helpful. This test is designed to look at multiple relationships—marriages, parent-child, siblings, friends.

She has also written The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, specifically for wives in controlling, destructive, abusive marriages. As she said in her Introduction, there are many good books about how to be godly wife or how to build a successful and happy marriage. “There aren’t many books written on how to wisely deal with a destructive and abusive marriage.” In my opinion, this is the best.

There is an Emotionally Destructive Marriage Test to help the reader evaluate whether or not she is in an emotionally destructive marriage. She helps wives see their marriage clearly. She challenges them to accept that change begins with them. Building four CORE strengths is the heart of that change, “with God at the center and with his help.” Another helpful assessment tool is “Sixteen Traits of a Healthy Marriage” to see whether a marriage is relatively healthy, even if it is disappointing.

Leslie also suggested to her readers how to initiate change in their marriages. In this section she gave advice on how to Learn to Speak up in Love, to Stand Up Against the Destruction; what to do When There is No Obvious Change. She then described some Necessary Changes for a Marriage to Heal and gave counsel on Restoring the Destructive Marriage. Each of these topics had it’s own chapter.

Her website also has a blog where she gives practical, Biblical advice for women in destructive marriages. There is an active blogging community where these women can “receive prayer, support, encouragement and wisdom” in the midst of their relationship struggles.

There are increasingly times that I really enjoy doing marriage counseling. Sometimes it feels like I am a coach to a dancing couple striving to get their routine just right. These are couples that truly want to become the husband and wife that God has called them to be. Here it is a privilege and a joy to be part of the process. I find that Leslie Vernick’s books and material are an integral part of that process.

Do you know someone who may be in an emotionally destructive marriage?

06/16/14

Killing Us Softly with Prescription Drugs

And now, the top five abused prescription drugs of 2013 are: 1) OxyContin®, 2) Suboxone®, 3) Concerta, 4) Ambien and 5) Ritalin. Rounding out the top ten are: 6) Zoloft, 7) Lunesta, 8) Adderal XR, 9) Opana® ER, and 10) Xanax.  Three of the top ten are prescribed for ADHD; two are prescribed for pain relief; another two are sleep aides. Plus there is a tranquilizer, an antidepressant and AN OPIOID MAINTENANCE DRUG! Don’t get me started about that one (Suboxone; buprenorphine). Well it’s actually too late to say that. See “Is Buprenorphine Just a New Head for the Hydra of Opiate Addiction?”

See a list of the top 17 abused prescription drugs here.

The website from which the information on the top abused prescription drugs was taken, GeneticEngineering & Biotechnology News also took a poll of its readers on whether the government should move to put limits on the availability and use of pain and mood-altering drugs. 52.7% said yes; 47.3% said no. It amazes me that the vote was so evenly split. I would have liked to see a higher percentage of yeses.  Let’s look at some further information on the abuse of prescription drugs and then ask that question again.

For several years, the nonmedical use of prescription drugs has been the second most commonly abused illicit substance after marijuana. The rankings of most frequently abused illicit drugs for 2012 are: marijuana, pain relievers, tranquilizers, cocaine, stimulants, ecstasy, methamphetamine and THEN heroin. See my “2012 National Drug Use Summary” for more information.

Let’s look at some straight up statistics from the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The drug overdose death rate per 100,000 was approximately 1.0 in 1970. By 2007 that rate had risen to 9.18. The following graphic (to the left)  is from the Office of National Drug Control Policy report on “Prescription Drug Abuse.”

There are now more unintentional overdose deaths from opioids than cocaine and heroin COMBINED, as illustrated by the additional graphic, also from the Office of National Drug Control Policy report on “Prescription Drug Abuse.” (to the right)

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2000

2002

2004

2009

2010

All ages

6.2

8.2

9.4

11.9

12.3

15-24

3.7

5.1

6.6

7.7

8.2

55-64

4.2

6.0

7.8

13.7

15.0

White males

8.4

11.1

12.6

16.4

16.8

White females

4.3

6.2

7.5

10.3

10.9

Black males

10.8

11.5

11.1

10.8

10.1

Black females

4.1

5.0

5.5

5.6

5.7

Further data from the CDC on death rates from opioid analgesics indicates that in the year 2000, the death rate per 100,000 of the US population for all ages was 6.2. By 2010 the rate had increased to 12.3. Among 15-24 year olds, the death rate was 3.7 in 2000 and 8.2 in 2010.  For individuals between the ages of 55 and 64, the death rate was 4.2 in 2000 and 15.0 in 2010. White male death rates have increased from 8.4 in 2000 to 16.8 in 2010; white females from 4.3 in 200 to 10.9 in 2010. Rates for Black or African American males actually fell; Black female rates had a slight increase. See the table above for selected years and demographics. Go to the CDC report for additional information.

Now what do you think? Should the government move to put limits on the availability and use of pain and mood-altering drugs?

 
06/13/14

Coping with Our Porn-is-the-Norm Culture

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What would you say if someone came up to you after a church service and said:

  • “Dirty, ugly, shameful, unwanted and unloved are a few of the words I’ve used to describe myself. For twenty years I have lived in the darkness of sexual addiction.”

or

  • “I was a good, Christian boy raised in a good Christian home and community, and my life didn’t look any different from the world and what it promotes sexually. . . . I knew all the Christian doctrines, but in my heart I was helpless to resist, a slave to my desires—for the next 25 years.”

or

  • “After college I “stumbled” across pornography following a broken relationship. . . . After every fall I would be crushed with guilt and shame; I would ask for forgiveness; I would feel better; and then shortly thereafter fall again.”

Could you give these three people any hope and practical help for their struggles with sexual sin? One place you could suggest is Harvest USA. In their Winter 2013 Newsletter, you can read the complete personal stories of the three people quoted above. In that same newsletter, is the Dave White and Nicolas Black article, mentioned in a previous blog post, “Our Porn-is–the-Norm Culture.”

Another helpful resource that I’ve used regularly in Tim Chester’s book, Closing the Window. Chester said that porn is providing the sex education for a generation of young people. It is establishing their expectations for sex and marriage. “We have a generation of young people for whom the call to repentance must include a call to turn from porn.”

Chester gave a helpful, biblically sound definition. Porn “is anything we use for sexual titillation, gratification or escape—whether it was intended for that purpose or not.” So looking at ads or catalogues to stimulate lust, “undressing” someone with your eyes, fantasizing about sex with someone who is not your spouse, are equally pornographic along with sexually explicit material in magazines or movies or on the Internet.

The biblical starting point for this definition of pornography is Matthew 5:27-28, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Chester suggested five key ingredients that need to be in place to win the battle with porn:

  1. Abhorrence of porn—a hatred of porn itself (not just the shame it brings) and a longing for change.
  2. Adoration of God—a desire for God, arising from a confidence that he offers more than porn.
  3. Assurance of grace—an assurance that you are loved by God and right with God through faith in the work of Jesus.
  4. Avoidance of temptation—a commitment to do all in your power to avoid temptation, starting with controls on your computer.
  5. Accountability to others—a community of Christians who are holding you accountable and supporting you in your struggle.

John Freeman, the President of Harvest USA, had this to say about Closing the Window: “This is a wonderful resource to add to the arsenal of anyone serious about finding freedom from the power of pornography. . . . It is an excellent pastoral tool to help those dealing with and impacted by the false promises and lies of our porn-is-the-norm culture.”

Several years ago I had a conversation with Tim Geiger, now the Executive Director of Harvest USA, about counseling individuals struggling with sexual sin. I frankly told him of my reluctance to counsel individuals with this issue. The problems were so entrenched. The denial and resistance was so strong. This was coming from someone who has spent most of his counseling career working with addicts and alcoholics. But that reluctance faded away after I read Closing the Window. This is THE resource to read and recommend to individuals struggling with porn.

Do you agree with Tim Chester’s definition of porn?

06/11/14

Our Porn-is-the-Norm Culture

“Those who argue that pornography has been with us since cavemen first drew fornicating women on earthen walls ignore the vast discrepancies between a world in which pornography was glimpsed on the sly … and today’s culture, in which pornography is omnipresent, accepted, and glorified.” (Pornified, p. 241)

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Today, according to Pamela Paul, “the entire culture has become pornified.” Paul is the author of the 2006 book, Pornified: How Pornography is Damaging Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families. By pornified, Paul means that “the aesthetics, values, and standards of pornography have seeped into mainstream popular culture.”

In her essay, “From Porn to Porno to Porn: How Porn Became the Norm,” Paul noted how there has been a radical shift in the cultural landscape and social acceptance of pornography. Technology, especially with the Internet, “has made pornography more anonymous, more accessible, and more affordable than ever before.”

Porn stars are regular features in the same magazines that profile actors, singers and other celebrities. Americans rent upwards of 800 million pornographic videos and DVDs yearly. Eleven thousand porn films are shot each year, outpacing Hollywood’s yearly output of 400. More money is spent on video pornography (4 billion dollars) than on football, baseball and basketball combined.

A man rented “Smurfs 2” from a Redbox vending machine for his kids. After taking it home he discovered someone had overdubbed it with hardcore porn. Redbox said this was an ongoing problem. “This is an unfortunate incident caused by an individual with ill intent.”

Members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported in 2002 that 56 percent of their divorce cases involved one party having “an obsessive interest in pornographic websites. . . . 33 percent of the divorce cases cited excessive time communicating in chat rooms (a commonly sexualized forum).” The association’s president said: “While I don’t think you can say the Internet is causing more divorces, it does make it easier to engage in the sorts of behaviors that traditionally lead to divorce.”

And the statistics just keep coming. Daily Infographic indicated that twelve percent of all the websites on the internet (24,644,172) are pornographic. Every second, $3,075.64 is being spent on porn. In the US, internet porn brings in $2.84 billion per year. Worldwide, Internet porn revenue is $4.9 billion. There are 116,000 searches daily for “child pornography.” The average age at which a child first sees porn is 11; yes ELEVEN. The most popular day of the week to view porn is Sunday.

Dave White and Nicolas Black, of Harvest USA referred to the normalization of porn within the church as a silent crisis. “Pornography, which is now so widespread and accessible, seems to have become almost a non-issue for so many churches.” They mentioned a woman who said her 11-year-old daughter had been watching online porn for months. They had a call from parents saying that they discovered their 8-year-old son was watching bestiality videos on his iPod Touch.

White and Black said the church cannot afford to ignore this growing epidemic. “We must speak up… We must name the problem, proclaim that there is freedom and hope in the gospel, and patiently show our people how to manage their sexuality well.” They observed that one of the reasons for the weak and wavering faith of many in the church today may well be how “its people are capitulating to the sexualized culture and are immersed in sexual struggles and sin.” Here are some of their suggestions:

  • Sermons on sexuality and faith with real-life illustrations and strategies on an ongoing basis.
  • Adult Sunday school classes where practical strategies on how to live with sexual integrity are taught.
  • Gender-specific men’s and women’s groups that talk openly about real-life struggles in this area.
  • Youth pastors and volunteers need to be equipped to know how to help youth who are ensnared in sexual struggles and sin.
  • Parents must learn how to talk about sexuality to their kids and given tools to protect them from the dangers of unfiltered Internet usage on tablets, smartphones and iPod Touches.

Do you think porn has become normalized within the church and within our culture?

06/9/14

The Dark Side of a Pill to Cure Addiction

On December 23, 2013, The Wall Street Journal published an article with the provocative title: “A Pill to Cure Addiction?” The article was generally upbeat and positive about the research done at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California—a well known and reputable research institution. The original research article, “Gabapentin Treatment for Alcohol Dependence” is available in JAMA Internal Medicine. A news release by The Scripps Research Institute, “Clinical Trial Indicates Gabapentin Is Safe and Effective for Treating Alcohol Dependence,” is available on their website.

The study found that “gabapentin significantly improved the rates of abstinence and no heavy drinking.” In the placebo group, the abstinence rate was 4.1%, 11.1% in the 900mg dose group, and 17.0% in the 1800mg dose group. The no heavy drinking rate was 22.5% in the placebo group, 29.6% in the 900mg dose group and 44.7% in the 1800mg dose group.  See the JAMA Internal Medicine abstract for the above data. The subjects who took the highest dose of gabapentin either stopped drinking altogether (17%) or refrained from heavy drinking (45%).

Barbara Mason, the lead researcher, reported in the Scripps Research Institute news release that the high-dose group refrained from heavy drinking twice as often (45% to 23%) and entirely abstained four times as often (17% to 4%) as the placebo group. Patients who received the lower, 900mg dose of gabapentin showed intermediate benefits. She concluded: “I think that we can now have confidence in the pharmacological effect of this drug.”

The WSJ article reflected this positive, upbeat attitude towards gabapentin as a treatment alternative for alcoholism. It also elaborated on the neurochemical mechanism gabapentin is theorized to influence—the brain’s stress response system—specifically CRF (corticotropin-releasing factor). Alcohol or drug use is thought to trigger the brain’s release of CRF in order to help the brain return to normal after the heightened sensation of pleasure from the chemical high. So years of drinking or drug taking are thought to make the brain more sensitive to CRF.

CRF is sometimes referred to as a “misery neurotransmitter.” It is thought to cause the anxiousness felt by addicts, which they “treat” by drinking again or taking more drugs. It also is believed to play a role in the difficulties that alcoholics and addicts have when trying to quit, particularly during situations that heighten feelings of tension and stress.

The neurochemical research into CRF and CRF-related neurotransmitters has an exciting and promising future into this so-called “dark side of addiction.” It seems to have something to say about the acute withdrawal and post acute withdrawal symptoms alcoholics and drug addicts must wrestle with and overcome to establish abstinence. But there is a dark side to gabapentin, the drug proposed to treat this dysregulation of the brain’s stress response system.

A previous blog, “Twentieth Century Snake Oil,” related the sordid, illegal history of how gabapentin became such widely prescribed drug for not just epilepsy and pain, but a slew of non-approved uses such as: anxiety, post traumatic stress, headaches and insomnia. In 2008 the FDA also mandated that anticonvulsant drugs such as gabapentin carry warning labels about the increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.  A 2010 study confirmed that gabapentin and other anitconvulsants could be associated with an increased risk of suicidal acts or violent deaths.

An article in Psychiatric Times, “The Link Between Substance Abuse, Violence, and Suicide,” indicated that individuals with a substance use disorder are almost six times more likely to report a lifetime suicide attempt than those without a substance use disorder. Emerging research also suggested that a greater severity of recent drinking is associated with the greater likelihood of suicide attempts and successes. Co-occurring alcohol and drug use may also predict a greater likelihood of suicide.

The study by the Scripps Howard Research Institute did not report any serious side effects among the treated patients. But was the presence of serious side effects actively assessed within the study or were they simply noted if reported by the subjects? It should also be pointed out that within the group with the most promising response to the gabapentin treatment, 38% of the subjects were still drinking heavily while using high doses of gabapentin; and another 45% were drinking to some extent while using gabapentin. This alone is clearly contraindicated in the FDA approved Medication Guide for Neurontin (gabapentin).

Medication assisted forms of recovery are all the rage in addiction treatment and research these days. My fear is that well meaning researchers and clinicians could be putting the very people they seek to help at risk with the solutions they propose. This study does not alleviate that fear. Let’s stay tuned for future developments.

Do you think that gabapentin should be used as a treatment for addiction?