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The White Noise

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Dear Readers, Who Are You? Why Do You Read about Addiction?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Somehow, it’s been a year, and throughout it, this blog has gone through something of an evolution. While always intended to focus on addiction and mental illness, I’ve begun skewing towards the cultural, mainly because there already exist excellent drug bloggers like DrugMonkey and David Kroll who cover hard drug chemistry. I’m interested in people, their stories, how addiction ties into society, as well as how it should influence (and be influenced by) science.

Because I’m hardly a traditionalist, I’d particularly like to know who my audience is (since it may be away from the usual SciAm readership pack), and on this first anniversary, all of the bloggers are making similar entreaties. I’d love to hear from you. Take a look at the questions below, and answer one or several if you could.

Commenting here is really easy (and will become even easier by the end of the year). “Registration” is a misnomer, it’s just a login on a separate page from the blog post. When you click on “Register” you are taken to a page where you give us a name, an email address and a password. Pseudonyms are welcome. Then you come back (there is no confirmation email you need to wait for, etc), click on “Log In” and enter the same name and password and are ready to comment. Please do.

1) Tell me about you. Who are you? Do you have a background in science? If so, what draws you here as opposed to meatier, more academic fare? And if not, what brought you here and why have you stayed? Let loose with those comments.

2) Tell someone else about this blog and in particular, try and choose someone who’s not a scientist but who you think might be interested in the type of stuff found in this blog. Ever had family members or groups of friends who’ve been giving you strange, pitying looks when you try to wax scientific on them? Send ‘em here and let’s see what they say.

3) How did you come across this blog?

4) If you were me, what would you write about? What would you like to see more of that I’m overlooking?

Cassie Rodenberg About the Author: I write on culture, poverty, addiction, and mental illness: I explore things we like to ignore. I also teach public school in New York City's South Bronx. Follow on Twitter @cassierodenberg.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. DMinPDX 4:06 am 07/6/2012

    I am new to this blog, drawn here by “Split.” This is the most compelling image I have ever seen that depicted so accurately the soul and fate of my mother. She blended chaos and alcohol in alternating amounts until one day she was peeing black urine and denying it every time the doctor asked how long she’d been an alcoholic. My dad was her enabler and the man who was bound forever in her charismatic web. I was the daughter, 60 yrs. old now, who never stopped trying to achieve her dizzying heights of magic and sexuality. She died before I could tell her I loved her.

    No amount of therapy or acceptance or redemption can change it and I was frustrated in my attempts to see what I felt. I could write it but your image, your one perfect image captured everything I’d felt for 50 years. I don’t even know what to say to you, so incredible is this artistic expression. My God, you are talented.

    And I am not the least bit scientific except that I have been following the progress of the Higgs Boson, hoping its discovery would push me off the careful line I walked between practical science and Catholicism. Now I can believe with wholeheartedness that it is possible and right to believe that something can come from nothing. When I look at the sky, I will see where we began and remember we are made of stardust.

    Thank you, thank you for sharing Split.
    Deb M.

    Link to this
  2. 2. ungeneric 10:42 am 07/6/2012

    I come here precisely because I don’t have a background in science. I picked up a copy of Scientific American Mind, found it to my liking, found they had an RSS, and here I am :)

    As for why I read about addiction… because I’ve been affected personally by it, and because I (like a lot of people) have an especially imperfect brain that leads me to a fascination with the ways our minds go astray.

    So I guess you could call me, like, a pathology enthusiast?

    Link to this
  3. 3. DMinPDX 2:24 pm 07/6/2012

    Since it is no longer 4 in the morning, I see I made an error regarding the watercolor. I apologize. Stephanie Funk did a stunning job on it. Still, your genius was in sharing it. I would have missed out on something great had I never seen it.

    Also your blog is quite interesting. I enjoy reading it.
    Deb M.

    Link to this
  4. 4. HelicopterPilot 7:23 pm 07/6/2012

    I have been reading SA for 30 years, my dad got me a subscription when I was in highschool because I have always been interested in science stuff. I am a classic underachiever, 160 IQ – barely graduated highschool. I smoked pot regularly from age 16 to 35, used LSD many times from 17-19, used coke to abuse from 17-25, and meth addiction from mid 20′s-35. About the time of my 3 child’s birth, I was to be a stay at home parent and finally realized I was going nowhere fast. with only a highschool education and no real experience doing anything but basic office clerk, I have changed my story for the better. Since I always wanted to fly, I became a helicopter pilot, due to mulitple factors, that was not going to work out as a career, but I still enjoy flying whenever I get a chance. I am now going back to school for a career in IT, I have been working at the local airport for the flight benefits(my 7yr old has been to Hawaii at least 10 times). I came across your article because of the headline about addiction, something I know only too well… Anyway, due to your request, here I am, posting the generalities of my story, hope this is what you were looking for when you requested some responses from readers. Love the articles, keep up the great work.

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  5. 5. Jacqui p 10:39 pm 07/6/2012

    1. I do not have a background in science but recently discovered SM and are overwhelmed by my lack of knowledge, and how much I have been able to learn from just reading their emails daily. You could say I have discovered a passion I did not know I had. I do have a post grad background in IO psychology, but my under grad was business and I dont recall anything from science class beyond grade 7. The country I grew up in wasn’t very worried about girls doing science or math.
    2. I have been posting some of the more interesting and accessible articles on my Facebook page and sending them to friends and family and it has been impossible to get anyone interested. I come from a culture that doesn’t really like talking about addiction. Heavy drinking is a way of life where I come from and by all medical definitions the majority of the country would probably be classified as functioning alcoholics.
    3/4. I can’t recall how I came across this blog but i find the cultural aspect of addiction fascinating. We talk about this a lot more in America than any other country I have been to and I have lived in many other countries over the past 15 years. I am really not that sure how many countries are even concerned about alcoholism or see it in the same light as drug addiction. In many European countries people are served alcohol with lunch in their staff cafe’s. I think an examination of cross cultural persepectives would be interesting. Surely in these countries I refer to there are just as many people destroying their lives with alcohol – or are there?

    The image of the week was really moving. Thanks for sharing.

    Link to this
  6. 6. Celia 1:38 am 07/8/2012

    I was drawn to your blog through the link provided in an email update from SciAm. I have taken a few minutes to look over your posts and will definately subscribe.

    Who am I? I currently work as a grocery clerk because it is terrifically not stressful. I have no background in the “hard” sciences. In 2008 I completed a BS in Sociology and was accepted into my three top graduate program choices with funding. I turned those down in lieu of 5-7 visits to various men.tal health facilities over the course of a year and a half…without funding. I’ve had many diagnoses but have settled with plain old nonresponsive major depressive disorder…this year. My last semester of college I took a course in physiological psychology and have since been fascinated by the new science of our brain
    I was excited to see that there was very little cited material in the text more than fifteen years old. I found myself searching our primary sources for fun. I dream of attending UCSD’s cognitive neuroscience undergraduate programs and continue through my doctorate, but that would probably lead me to long term placement in a state run mental health facility, possibly funded…hmm?, so for now I’ll happily remain an armchair neuro nerd.

    I am also an addict! It started out sugar at four, cigarettes by 13, marijuana at 14, meth at 15, LSD and prescription drugs by 18. I pretty much kicked the daily need for drugs at 23, went to school and found out I had a brain. I still smoke marijuana once to twice a month to reorient, tune my guitar perfectly by ear, and pop my back in the most amazing way, but daily use would kill the progress of my depression maintenance, although I firmly believe the occasional use is benificial for me and I am confidant that one day brain science will tell me why. Right now I am legally addicted to Effexor, Klonopin, Ritalin and Trazodone to sleep. Guess what I haven’t taken yet this evening.

    In summary I am drawn to your blog because of my own issues with addictionnd mental illness. I sought out sociology to find out who I am
    , and am interested in cognitive neuroscience for the same reason, and your
    blog fits my interest quite well by taking a multidisciplinary approach to helping me understand myself and others dealing with the same junk.


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  7. 7. rvp8806 4:56 pm 07/9/2012

    I am a second-year medical student who is interested in addiction and can’t quite remember how I ended up stumbling upon the blog exactly. However, I use Google Reader and believe that this blog was suggested to me based on my subscription list.

    Though I am interested in psychiatry, I also coordinate activities for the local chapter of BAPS, an NGO committed to empowering youth through spirituality and service. I work with a group of 20-25 high school and college students and help them with developing leadership/speaking skills as well as provide support as needed. Working with adolescents has also fed my interest in these topics as well.

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  8. 8. AmoebaMike 1:20 pm 07/10/2012

    Cassie, we’ve met. :) I have a BS in Biology. I tend to shy away from the super academic posts. Frankly I think that any writing to the public should be no “higher up” than about sophomore for-majors level courses. I visit frequently, because I love your stories. Truthfully, I’m quite the sheltered person and don’t have experience with lots of the things you write about (specifically, the illegal substances). So, it’s nice to read the nonfiction tales.

    My friends tend to either be hardcore scientists, or hardcore not. I have lots of friends with PhDs in science and lots of friends who are lawyers, for example.

    I’m sure the first time was via Bora, of course. Now, I stop by regularly via a tweet or facebook link from you or him. You and Science Sushi’s Christie Wilcox are my absolute favorite science writers.

    Keep doing what you’re doing. I’m not the type to tell Michelangelo to sculpt landscapes or Frank Lloyd Wright to design highway rest stops. If you did anything else, you wouldn’t be you. And I’m a big fan of you.

    Link to this
  9. 9. BDubs 3:53 pm 07/18/2012

    I am an Emergency Physician. I deal with this every shift. I am very science oriented, but this topic is so much more complex than just the science. Found out through the SciAm Daily Digest.

    Link to this
  10. 10. cassierodenberg 10:29 am 07/19/2012

    @all — Thank you for reading and saying a bit about why, and who you are. I’m humbled by your responses…it seems we all share a fascination and have an unwillingness to ignore, for which I’m quite grateful. It means we might change public perception, or at least our own, bit by bit. Feel free to reach out to me, too, via email if you like:

    Link to this
  11. 11. janetteb 5:20 am 09/10/2012

    I don’t remember how I stumbled across this little treasure blog. I am an MSW student planning to focus my career on substance abuse counseling. My BS was in Psychology and Sociology, minor in Ethics. I’ve always been immensely interested in people- the things they say, the human to human interaction, and most of all the differences between their choices, preferences, and idiosyncrasies. I could find scientific data about drugs , addiction, and mental health all around me. What I appreciate about the blog is the cultural aspect that it has taken on.

    Thanks for writing!

    Link to this
  12. 12. sleeprun 11:31 pm 09/21/2012

    Ok, let’s see what the questions are again…
    1) Marketer completely addicted to brain research of the primary, completely geeky, cellular mechanism, cellular receptor level, etc. Also, 27 yr member of Alanon, and pretty much all relatives suffer from alcoholism and or sex addiction, not me fortunately. Less interested in addiction from family illness perspective but from modeling of self-harming behavior of all sorts – mainly with financial matters. Avoid pop science as basically pandering to pop ideology. Have brain science blog, Linked In groups and plan to write semi-pro techbook on brain science and biz/marketing
    Am also singer songwriter so luv stuff on music ‘n brain. Heck, i just luv anything on the brain.
    2) I pretty much know nobody at all interested in brain science or the facts about addiction. Tragic but true. Even my alanon pals who are friends and family members of people with (horribly destructive) alcoholism have zero interest in the medical facts.
    3) Twitter
    4) Addiction is the best understood of all mental illnesses and brain disorder. Because animal models are easy to create. The medical treatments are meager but improving. Stories about addicts are all the same, unenlightening and frankly sensational. Making the medical facts available is not done. Why treat addictive brain disorders any differently from diseases and impairments of any other organ of the body. The brain is just another organ.

    For example just today I listened to a very technical podcast suggesting this:


    these folks inherit nerve cells that are hyper sensitive and abnormally depleated

    Because they can barely get the energy they need to survive
    So when they are stressed, these cells feel
    Like they are suffocating and going to immediately die!

    So all the crazy destructive behavior makes sense. If I felt like i was suffocating, starving of energy and going to die I would act the same. So they have lots of cells in their brains screaming this out.

    So actually the disease isn’t addiction, that the symptoms, it a depleted brain cell condition. It would be like calling heart disease – short of breathness or sharp, left arm pain disease.

    Well, the facts about alcoholism always helps me be more compassionate. I have also learned to avoid any contact of any kind with anyone suffering from addictions or other mental illnesses. Very dangerous.

    Finally, the way the US treats addiction is just dumb, contrary to the facts and destructive — but it will not change in our lifetimes. However, it no accident that one of the best professionals in this topic is David Nutt, a Brit.

    Link to this
  13. 13. Alie78 3:44 pm 12/21/2012

    I am a 34 year old mother of two daughters with an undergrad degree in psych and a master’s degree too.i have never smoke a cigarette much less drugs. I found your blog through zite. An article came up and I found it so interesting that I started reading all your posts. I like human interest stories best and I guess I find it interesting because it is so far removed from my life and your posts paint fascinating pictures of people and you see the good and bad in people which is interesting and real. I like your profiles on different individuals and it was also interesting to read the article on judgement. Guess everyone likes to feel superior to others no matter where in life they are. Maybe I like your posts too because they remind me how lucky I am to have a supportive family and home.

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  14. 14. mctizzz 12:39 pm 03/8/2013

    1) I have been around drugs and addiction as long as I can remember. Many friends and family members are addicts, ranging from caffeine to crack, highly functioning to homeless. From age 14-21 I experimented, at times considering myself an addict, but because of my early experiences I always felt it was important to keep my use in check. With my experimenting days behind me I still have a couple beers on the average night and would fit some definitions of addiction. I am currently finishing up a BS in physics and will be attending a respectable grad school next fall. I appreciate the honesty in this blog, the gritty reality paired with the sense of hopelessness, knowing you can say and do all the right things yet relapse will remain on the horizon. I am very frustrated with current drug policy and the way addiction/addicts are portrayed. I see your blog providing insights that could be used as catalysts for change.

    2) check

    3)My mom found your blog and sent me the link after seeing Chris Arnade’s photos on fb.

    4) You are doing a way better job than I would. My blog would consists of long rants leading to finger pointing and racial/financial conspiracies. I could not do what you do without quickly becoming depressed. I like how you present reality without judgements and the problems without one dimensional solutions. Keep up the good work!

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