CHANGING OUR GENES

Kevin Wandler, MD

CHANGING OUR GENES

On Thursday Feb. 11 from 6 PM. to 9 PM. at the Delray Beach Center for the Art’s Crest Theater, the Delray Beach Task Force will host SUD (Substance Use Disorder) Talks.

This event is modeled after the successful TED Talks and will include several talks from local, regional and national speakers. Among them are Dr. Kevin Wandler, Associate Chief Medical Of-ficer, Advanced Recovery System; Dr.D.John Dyben, Director of Older Adult Treatment Services, Hanley Center; Marc Woods, Code Enforcement Officer, City of Delray Beach; and Dr. Elaine Roten-berg, Clinical Director at the Alpert Jewish Family and Children’s Services.

The Visionary Speaker for the event will be Dr. Carl Hammerschlag, a master storyteller and internationally recognized author, physician, speaker and healer. He brings extensive knowledge regarding how communities can survive in rapidly changing cultures, the role community plays in healing and how a changed perspective is needed to gain ground in response to the swell of substance use disorder.

The Presenting Visionary Sponsor for SUD Talks is Weiner Lynne & Thompson, P.A., Attorneys at Law.

The effects of social media on a child or adolescent is in the infancy stages of being thoroughly examined. Preliminary research, and my 20 years of experience in treating adolescents for substance use disorders and eating disorders, shows that there is a significant cause and effect that is being exacerbated as the development of new media platforms is ever-growing and the level of intrusion into one’s personal life is constant. The media’s influence on a young person’s initiation of alcohol and drug use as well as self-esteem and body image can affect the young person’s psyche. Now more than ever we must hold social media channels accountable for their level of influence.

As adults, we are exposed to media at an exorbitant rate. Media messages are directly responsible for what we buy, how we “should” look, and for many how we feel about ourselves. The new normal for men is having a six pack abdomen and for women looking like the latest trend, always thin, athletic and “sexy” because the majority of models in commercials tend to be underweight or uber athletes. Surprisingly, it is estimated that teenagers spend nine hours a day using media—the majority being television and cell phones to access Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and Pinterest. Eighty percent of all teenagers use these social media websites. As a result, advertisers continue to increase their investments in social media advertising.

It is a fact that adolescents use and abuse substances such as alcohol, tobacco and marijuana. Influences have been parents, peers and ever more so “super peers.” These would include celebrities in the music, television and internet, or as they are now known, “influencers.” In fact, there are talent agencies today that solely focus on employing individuals that have large social media followings because they have the ability to directly impact the brand awareness and sales of the clients that seek their services.

Ninety-three percent of movies that adolescents watch portray the use of alcohol, and twenty-two percent reference illicit drugs. In music videos, alcohol use is portrayed every fourteen minutes and was associated with a thirty-one percent increased risk of use. (Pediatrics 2010). According to the journal Pediatrics 1998, an hour increase dose-response to television media lead to an elevated risk of starting to drink alcohol over the next eighteen months. The 2014 NIDA study recognized that the legalization of recreational marijuana in several states has made cannabis use even more accepted by youth because of the decreased perception of risk.

Early intervention and prevention is necessary to prevent long term damage and dependence. “Hijacking” of the brain occurs as a direct result of youth substance use. In those that become dependent, we are discovering epigenetic changes that affect how the brain responds and leads to increased use and drug dependence. Epigenetics occurs in addiction when there is a drug-induced change in how the gene affects the reward receptors in the pleasure centers of the brain. Thus we see addicts relapse quickly because the brain wants to continue the drug-induced level of pleasure. Sadly, it takes time for the genes to adjust back to a drug free lifestyle. Research is now looking at medications that may reverse this craving quicker.

The magnitude of influence cannot be underestimated with regard to body image and self esteem. A simple search on Pinterest returns millions of results to those looking for diet tips, “perfect” bodies and even suggestions on how to engage in unhealthy behaviors. “Thinspiration,” the online practice of sharing motivational images and text that encourage viewers and readers to lose weight and engage in disordered eating habits, much targeted to body image, has become extremely prevalent over the last several years and continues to grow in popularity as access to these resources is only a click away. Body image is learned and formed from many different sources, of which media is only one. Individual, familial, and social/cultural factors all are implicated in the development of body image, which is why mass media such as television can have differential effects. Children’s own weight status is a strong predictor of self-esteem and body satisfaction. Psychological characteristics such as self-esteem, the feeling of a lack of control, depression, anxiety, and troubled interpersonal relationships also have been linked to body-related perceptions and behaviors, especially among children and teens who unfortunately develop eating disorders.

Media messages about girls/women commonly emphasize the value of being young and beautiful — and especially, thin. Girls have been misrepresented in traditional media and with the impossibly unrealistic body proportions of Barbie. Male action figures that young boys tend to play with are even more unrealistic with dimensions exceeding those of the biggest bodybuilders. Another survey by the Today Show and AOL.com (2014) found that eighty percent of teen girls compare themselves to images they see of celebrities, and, within that group, almost half say the images make them feel dissatisfied with the way they look.

Based on current research, we can only conclude that traditional media puts young adults at risk for developing an unhealthy body image, especially with genetic risk factors for low self-esteem, perfectionism, and anxiety. Just as we see in early substance abuse, starving, bingeing, purging and dieting can also lead to epigenetic changes that strongly reward individuals while they are engaging in such behaviors.

Parents are critical to children’s healthy development. By limiting exposure to media to much less than nine hours a day, there is time for your child to complete homework and learn positive family messages. Parents must model a drug free lifestyle, i.e. not smoking, drinking or drugging. Families must discuss body image issues and monitor social media accounts. When young people start talking about dieting, parents must discuss what the meaning behind that is and the affects that it can have. Finally, always avoid fat talk, i.e. discussing how others look, and avoid the use of negative descriptors about others, especially in the family. Once the brain gets hijacked, the road to recovery can often be long and tumultuous.

Kevin Wandler, MD, is the Chief Medical Officer of Advanced Recovery Systems. He is Board Certified in General Psychiatry with added Qualifications in Addiction Psychiatry by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and a Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He is certified by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. He is the President of the Board of Directors of iaedp (2015-16)–The International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals. Dr. Wandler has been working in the Substance Abuse field for over 30 years and started his Eating Disorder career in 1995.