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January 16, 2013 - Image 12

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The Michigan Daily, 2013-01-16

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Wednesday, January 16 , 2013 // The Statement 5B

own college experience could be widely dis-
similar, their stories both share a theme:
Paige and Jake are both in recovery from
alcoholism and addiction.
And they're not alone in their addiction,
but are more of an anomaly for seeking
recovery. According to the National Institute
on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 19 per-
cent of college students are either abusive or
dependent on alcohol. And of that 19 percent,
only 5 percent seek treatment. '
"When you're in college, the penalties for
heavy use are not great because if you wake
up and you're too hung over to attend class,
you can get away with it or if you screw up
on an exam you can get away with it," Psy-
chology Prof. Robert Zucker, director of the
University's Addiction Research Center, said.
"But if you show up at work and you're acting
this way, you immediately have a problem.
Those are the kinds of external factors which
lead one to decrease use."
Zucker - who oversees the center's both
social and scientific research regarding
addiction - said research is still being con-
ducted to determine whether or not effects
from addiction are permanent.
"We know the brain is undergoing major
developmental changes between the ages
of about 12 and 25," Zucker said. "So if one
is drinking very heavily or has other drug
involvement, if that leaves some kind of
permanent residualdamages that does not
repair itself afterwards, we don't have the
answer to that yet. It's a very important
For students, it will be a very important
I turned to Paige and Jake to puta voice to
the data that taunts us in the news: "drinking
amongst students increases," "binge drink-
ing reaches new high," "university presidents
call for lower drinking age." I knew that
Paige and Jake struggled with addiction

when I met them, but the specifics I couldn't
have imagined. So I asked them for their
"Can we start at the beginning?" I asked
Paige as she sat down. Both Paige and Jake
started their stories by going back to high
In late March, Paige missed our first
interview due to her "nine-month sobriety
anniversary." But there was no celebration
because, as Paige noted, that would be simi-
lar to a graduation, and there's no graduation
from their program.
"We can't even have one drink and never
again will be able to have a drink," Paige
said. "As alcoholics, we don't know modera-
tion and never will. Iwill never want just one
drink,-and I keep having to remind myself
The pace and character of Paige's story-
telling was a story in itself: She would slow
down and look at her hands as she spoke
about times when the drinking caused harm,
or in moments where there is black and she
doesn't remember. At other times - times
where she was proud of what she has over-
come or accepting of the events - she spoke
to me as though she was a teacher of sur-
Paige is an alcoholic in recovery. However,
her drinking tendencies didn't fit the ste-
reotypical definition of an "alcoholic" - she
never drank alone, she didn't start drinking
when she woke up and her schoolwork didn't
plummet. But, she did drink to a blackout
state almost every night.
She came to college not having experi-
enced alcohol - told to stay away from it in
high school as both an athlete and someone
with a family history of addictive tendencies.
And she did.
When Paige started at the University, she
was told by her mom to rush a sorority as a
means of making friends. During her time

in the sorority, she frequently encountered
alcohol and decided to start drinking.
"I'm slightly awkward and quiet," Paige
said. "So then I discovered alcohol and that
was the "magic elixir" we call it, as some-
thing that made me someone different,
which I didn't realize then."
Unlike Paige, Jake's addiction started
earlier in his life. When he started at the
University in winter 2012 he was already in
recovery. Jake first had issues with drugs
and alcohol when he was in high school.
"I started having issues with drugs around
16 years old," Jake said. "That escalated pret-
ty fast through my sophomore, junior (and)
senior years of high school, and I'd say after
my junior year things were pretty hectic.
Things with my parents were very rocky, and
I couldn't stop using."
But why Paige and Jake? Why were they
susceptible to becoming addicted to drugs.
and alcohol early in life? Paige figured genet-
ics had to do with it, Jake said circumstance.
I sought to learn the science behind addic-
tion from Psychology Prof. Terry Robinson,
wh teachesa course on the subject and con-
ducts research that explores addiction and
the effects drugs have on the brain.
According to Robinson, addiction is rooted
in a primitive brain system humans have
developed for survival called the dopamine-
reward system. It's responsible for impulses
like human attraction to items like bananas
and other food to help them survive.
Robinson said some of the leading
research on the causes of addiction involves
an over-activation, or hypersensitivity, of the
dopamine-reward system in the brain that
is due to repeated drug use. Dopamine is a
neurotransmitter, which is a small molecule
released from nerve cells in the brain into

spaces between nerve cell endings called
synapses, carrying signals to other nerve
"What we think is going on in addiction
is because these drugs produce a surge in
dopamine, and they produce an unusually
large surge compared to natural rewards,...
they render all of the stimuli associated with
drugs with pathological motivational value
so that then they become excessively want-
ed," Robinson said. "... They have this prop-
erty to tap into this dopamine system that's
there just to mediate natural rewards."
In other words, when someone uses a
drug, its properties cause the brain to release
more dopamine than it normally does and
the user feels compelled to use them again -
they end up wanting drugs more than they
want the things that help them survive.
However, there is a popular misconception
about dopamine - that it encourages "lik-
ing." Robinson says this idea is false.
"The role of dopamine in reward is to
mediate the wanting, the desire for it. And in
the brain the wanting and liking are separa-
ble," Robinson said. "And, in fact, people will
report the drugs aren't so great anymore in
terms of the pleasure they get, but they still
want it more and more and more."
With repeated drug use, the brain changes
in ways that are proposed to be similar
to learning. As the brain changes and the
dopamine system becomes "sensitized," the
effects of the drugs increase.
"You can sort of think of (sensitization)
as the inverse of tolerance," Robinson said.
"Usually when you think about being repeat-
edly exposed to drugs you get less and less '
drug effect, that's tolerance. And that's true,
tolerance develops to some drug effects, but
other drug effects show sensitization - that
is they get bigger and bigger, suggesting that
the neural systems that mediate these drug

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