Selling Booze to Teens Via Top 40 Music Lyrics

Marketing Alcohol to Kids and Teens in Song

One of my passions is the ways in which we are influenced without our knowledge. These are referred to as subconscious influences. And it turns out we are far more easily influenced than we realize.

Priming studies have consistently shown that we are influenced by a task as simple as unscrambling four sentences. Given the right word, these priming tasks have been shown to effect short term memory, pace of walking, aggression, degree of politeness, and body posture.

So it was with great interest that I looked at this new study looking at the effects of music lyrics on alcohol consumption in teens in the United Kingdom. As one in five songs in the top ten in the UK reference booze, do these lyrics have any impact on teen drinking? Which raises other critical questions, if behavior is affected by lyrics, what effect are the myriad of songs referencing prescription pill use, marijuana use, illegal drug use having?

Mention of alcohol is so blatant in songs, I’ve wondered if alcohol companies are paying musicians for product mentions in songs. What better way is there to market to the younger generation?!

Several experts argue that recent evidence shows that public health messages on alcohol may be drowning amidst the louder and more ubiquitous messages from some genres within the music industry.

Researchers from Liverpool John Moores University found that older children and teens listen to more than two hours of music daily. Researchers in the United States have documented a rise in alcohol and drug references, including mention of specific liquor brands and types (e.g., Patron), in popular music. But until recently, little data was available on comparable UK trends. Hardcastle’s team selected four years for analysis, comparing music charts across four decades. They discovered a significant increase in the number of times alcohol was mentioned.

Top ten songs in the early 1980s contained relatively few references to alcohol, with the number declining further in 1991. Rave culture was popular in this period; a music scene linked more to Ecstasy than alcohol. But  alcohol references returned by 2001, showing up in eight percent of popular hits. This figure continues to rise, more than doubling by 2011, with almost one in five (18.5%) top ten songs featuring alcohol-related lyrics. This pattern is consistent with US trends, although UK charts still have fewer alcohol mentions than their US counterparts.

Alcohol-related song lyrics are associated with hip hop and rap and US artists, with lyrics generally putting a positive spin on alcohol consumption. Drinking is linked to confidence, outgoingness or physical attractiveness, as well as outcomes such as money, fame, and sex. Popular artists sing about the negative effects of alcohol far less frequently.


Positive psychology and teens
Negative Side of Teen Drinking


Lyrics have an impact beyond the US and UK, pointing out that US and British songs often have global appeal. For example, US artist Katy Perry’s 2011 single “Last Friday Night” detailing excessive drinking and risk-taking behavior, achieved a top 10 position not only in the US and the UK, but also in 15 other countries.

How Can I Be happy
Katy Perry – Lyrics Influencing the Youth?

So what impact do these alcohol references have on young people? It is highly likely that we underestimate the true impact of exposure to pro-alcohol messages young people hear, says lead researcher Katherine Hardcastle:

“Public health concerns are already focused on the impacts of alcohol advertising on the drinking behaviours of young people, yet the growing reference to alcohol in popular music could mean that alcohol promoting messages are reaching much larger audiences; regardless of restrictions (e.g. age) on direct advertising.”

Children Exposed to Pro-Alcohol Lyrics May Be Influenced to Drink Earlier

The study concludes that:

“The exposure of young people to alcohol in the media is a major concern given its potential impact on drinking behaviours […] A greater understanding of the impacts of alcohol-related popular music content on young listeners is urgently needed. Health and other professionals should be vigilant for increases in alcohol-related lyrics and work to ensure that popular music does not become a medium for reinforcing and extending cultures of intoxication and alcohol-related harm.”

Given that we listen to our favorite songs hundreds, if not thousands, of times, it seems safe to assume that frequent repetition of pro-alcohol and pro-drug lyrics will normalize such behaviors making them somewhat more likely to occur.

Positive psychology and marijuana
Wiz Khalifa with the Ubiquitous Blunt

In my private practice, I see this frequently with male adolescents who are listening exclusively to rap and hip-hop. While I enjoy several songs of Wiz Khalifa and 2 Chainz, I also know enough to listen to them infrequently. Our emotional mind is trained most effectively via repetition. Listening to pro-marijuana lyrics thousands of times is likely to influence minds which are already open to suggestions.

Keep an open mind!

Dr. John

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.
Positive Psychology Coach
Anger Management Specialist
Expert Consultant to Pixar
Founder, Guide to Self, Inc.
913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280
Danville CA 94526
Positive psychology blog: 
Anger management blog:
Main site:
Twitter: @johnschin


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by SAGE Publications, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Journal Reference:

  1. Katherine A. Hardcastle, Karen Hughes, Olivia Sharples, and Mark A. Bellis. Trends in alcohol portrayal in popular music: A longitudinal analysis of the UK charts. Psychology of Music, September 2013 DOI: 10.1177/0305735613500701

Batman Shooting in Colorado: Dealing With the Emotional Aftermath

Resiliency Following the Colorado 2012 Shooting and James Holmes (with his apparent Prescription Pill Abuse)

John L. Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Guide To Self, Inc.

I wrote an article following the 2007 slaughter at Virginia Tech on how to make sense of senseless tragedies. Unfortunately, it appears time to share these ideas again. This time it follows the horrific shooting at a Colorado movie theater during the new Batman: The Dark Knight Rises movie in July 2012.

James Holmes was on a large dose of prescription pain killers during his rampage.

The main question is how do we best respond to such unnecessary suffering and frightening tragedy?

While my work is in positive psychology, teaching clients to work towards greater happiness and contentment, there are many times during which I must teach others to address rage, grief and anxiety.

We are all pressed by the vicissitudes of life to confront humbling, depressing, horrifying incidents during our lifetimes. As we learn to become more resilient, we can bounce back from tragedy and restart in a positive direction.  To learn greater resiliency, to begin to experience post-traumatic GROWTH, you need a greater awareness of the emotions that are likely to arise in the aftermath of the the Colorado massacre. The human response to such unbelievable suffering is primarily emotional. We struggle to make rational sense of such insanity. Yet there are frequently no rational explanations. Many human acts simply defy reason, defy explanation. So we are left with intense, lingering emotional responses such as indignance, rage, sorrow, confusion, and fear.

Below is a brief breakdown of the major emotions that may follow a tragedy such as the Colorado Batman shooting:

  1.     Sadness and despair
  2.     Destructive anger
  3.     Constructive anger
  4.     Compassion

1.       Sadness and despair:

Following a tragic loss, sadness and grieving are normal responses. Both serve the purpose of lowering your energy level in order to keep you close to home where you are more likely to have the comfort of loved ones around you. Relationships buoy emotions in times of distress. Sadness acts to keep you in a safe place where you can take the time you need to recover and rebuild your internal, emotional reserves. If you were directly impacted by the Colorado murders and lost a loved one, recovery may take anywhere from 6 months to several years. With time, the feelings of sadness (which can arise suddenly and without warning) will slowly and gradually wash over you less frequently, last for shorter periods of time and become less intense.

2.      Destructive anger

Senseless violence often leads to feelings of anger – anger at the killer, anger at society, anger at God for allowing it to happen, anger at our own helplessness in the face of mindless brutality. Anger signals the fact that something or someone has come between you and a desired goal of yours. It is a call to action. The goal may be as simple as trying to get home through dense traffic or as basic as survival.

Destructive anger may be turned inward at oneself or outward at other people. Studies show that 90% of anger is turned inwards. You are most likely to bury your anger, to suppress it.  This is a normal attempt to control and contain the frightening emotion of anger, yet ultimately, it is doomed to failure, for anger cannot be contained. Given enough time, given no tools to release anger, anger frequently leads people to go volcanic – explode in anger.

It is better to become aware of your anger in the moment, label it (“I’m getting pissed off right now” or “I’m starting to be annoyed”), and release. Instead, most people I speak with, attempt to hold anger at a distance, bottle it up, contain it. Inevitably, this approach backfires. This stuffed anger is toxic and leads to all sorts of negative health outcomes (e.g., increased likelihood of heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, etc.). It also leads to displaced anger where you get angry with the wrong person, at the wrong time, and to the wrong degree, and can even lead to extreme behaviors such as hurting innocent others.

The weapons James Holmes used for his psychopathic act.

3.      Constructive anger

Constructive anger is anger that is used as motivation to act in a positive manner towards an ethical end. In other words, it is using your anger to help you remove something which is keeping you from reaching a goal. Unlike destructive anger which is usually held onto, constructive anger is released in a short period of time, usually as a result of the positive action taken, such as writing a letter to the editor of the local paper or starting a non-profit organization to help survivors.  Constructive anger provides you with a persistent attitude which enables you to push forward to solve a given problem.

Anger is frequently misunderstood. Anger is almost always thought to be negative and destructive, despite the fact that anger itself is merely a feeling. Anger, by itself, is instructive, not destructive. Anger can be a good thing. Anger is a step up the emotional ladder from sadness as it allows you to have the energy to act, to do something. However, for anger to be positive, you must first learn to manage your emotions. Then you have a choice as to how to respond to anger’s signal.

It may be early to ‘rejoice in the suffering’ but the sentiment is correct

4.      Compassion

When you are ready to get past your anger, start to think of the world as compassionate and nurturing. As such it is designed to reward compassionate, nurturing behaviors in individuals. Throughout the world, there are far more loving people who are committing acts of kindness than there are angry people committing foul deeds. The human mind is naturally inclined to overfocus on the negative – negative emotions, thoughts, self-definitions and actions by other people. This is the heart of media and news organizations.

Counterbalance this negativity bias with constant reminders of the good around you – positive emotions, supportive thoughts, good people, and kind deeds. The firm belief that humankind is primarily good, that the vast majority of people in the world are well-intentioned, lies at the heart of compassion.

Compassion occurs when you feel the suffering or distress of another person. Compassion is the identification with and the understanding of another person’s situation, feelings, and motives. It stems from an understanding that we are all interconnected, that our survival is dependent upon our peaceful coexistence. Compassion, the ability to “walk in the other person’s shoes,” is the antidote to anger. The goal is to understand the situation from the perspective of the other person. Often this involves interpreting the situation with a large degree of grace, understanding and forgiveness. It is an act that few of us have been trained to do.

Our lack of emotional management skills is, in my opinion, the greatest failing of our society. A heightened awareness of the power of emotional management may be the highest good that can arise out of the Colorado Batman shooting. Research has shown that better emotional management is related to longer lives, improved job performance, better grades, better management skills, greater resiliency and much more. As Aristotle said, “Educating the mind, without educating the heart, is not education at all.”

Tragic, difficult times demand that we look inward to see a different view of ourselves, our species and of life. This new view brings meaning to that which is unfolding. When you feel trapped in circumstance, when you are overcome with anger or sadness, try, try, and then try again to assume a new perspective. Tragedy masks the opportunity for growth. The surest way out of untenable situations is to change your perspective and view the situation as a challenge to which you are meant to rise.

Challenge yourself by asking, “What am I supposed to learn from this?” Your answer will usually involve a human strength or value, such as compassion, interconnectedness, gratitude, resiliency, gratitude, freedom, spirituality, or family.  Your answer will lead to a deeper connection with yourself, with your loved ones and with humanity.

Learn to manage your ‘Wild Thing’, the emotional mind, with constant reminders of the good around you

The challenge is to find meaning in the senselessness. Many times, a simple awareness of the lesson or value is all that is necessary to free you from the binds of sadness and anger. If not, the new connection with your core values will fuel your courage to help you find new ways to persevere, survive and eventually thrive. This meaning may be as simple as

“I survived this, I can survive anything” or

“I am resilient” or

“I must value my loved ones more.”

August Wilson once said, “Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing. Use the pain as fuel, as a reminder of your strength.”  Tragic situations remind you of your strength, for you are more resilient than you ever realized.  You always have the choice to focus your attention on the positive, such as compassion and forgiveness.  Do not give into your fear. Be courageous. Overcome your fears. Look your fear in the eye and move forward in spite of it, for that is the very definition of courage. Do not believe that we humans are, at heart, evil. Choose to believe in the good in humanity.

The Roman poet Horace put it well, “Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents which, in prosperous circumstances, would have lain dormant.” Find your talents. Find your strengths. Use them to help others. Persevere.

About the Author

John Schinnerer, Ph.D. is in private practice teaching men the latest ways to turn down the volume on painful emotions such as anger, anxiety and stress. He also helps individuals discover successful, more meaningful lives via the latest in positive psychology. He has consulted with and presented to cutting-edge companies such as Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health, RAMS, and Pixar. John’s offices are in Danville, California 94526. He graduated from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in educational psychology.  He has been an executive, speaker, entrepreneur and coach for over 14 years.  John is Founder of Guide To Self, a company that coaches men to happiness and success using the latest in positive psychology.  He hosted over 200 episodes of Guide To Self Radio, a daily prime time radio show, in the SF Bay Area.   His areas of expertise range from positive psychology, to emotional awareness, to anger management.  He wrote the award-winning, “Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought.”  His blog, Shrunken Mind, was recently recognized as one of the top 3 in positive psychology on the web ( ). His new video blog teaches people concrete steps for anger management ( His latest project is an eMagazine entitled, Happier, aimed at teaching positive psychology tools to laypeople. It is expected out in September of 2012.

How Does The All-American Kid Fall Prey to OxyContin Abuse?

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Guide To Self, Inc.

Handsome. Intelligent. Strong. Athletic. Popular. Addicted to OxyContin.

As a senior in high school, Steve (whose name and details have been changed to protect his identity) is captain of the football team, an elite baseball player, has a 3.8 grade point average and dates one of the hottest girls on campus. His blonde hair flows in curls down around his ears. His olive skin is darker than usual due to afternoon practices under the 100 degree California sun. He is the quintessential All-American Guy – ruggedly good-looking, muscular, smart, physically gifted, admired by his peers and teachers, and revered by underclassmen.

As he sits in my office, Steve begins to tell me how he became addicted to one of the strongest prescription drugs on the planet – OxyContin.

OxyContin Facts

OxyContin is an opiate-based medication used to manage high intensity pain. It is an alternative to morphine for pain management. While morphine has been shown to be the most potent pain killer on the planet, OxyContin clocks in at a close second.

A 2009 WebMD report states that 12% of high school seniors have taken opioids without a doctor’s orders. The purpose? To relieve stress, to have a good time with friends, pain relief or simply for the high. These numbers are based on self-reports by high school students so it’s likely that these numbers are a conservative estimate.

OxyContin is produced by Purdue Pharma. It was introduced to the United States in 1996 after being approved by the FDA a year earlier.  In five short years, OxyContin became the biggest selling brand name narcotic pain reliever in America.  In 2008, retail sales of OxyContin surpassed $2.4 billion.

The generic version of OxyContin is oxycodone and comes under a variety of names including Oxycontin, Percodan-Demi, Percodan, Tylox, Percocet, OxyIR (immediate release), OxyNorm, Proladone suppositories and Roxicodone or Roxicet (both of which are immediate release). Most of these are available in varying dosages (e.g., 2.5 mg, 5 mg, 10 mg, and so on up to 80 mg).     

Steve’s Journey

As quarterback of the football team, Steve was expected to play regardless of physical injury.  When he suffered a low back injury, he went to his doctor who prescribed him Vicodin. The Vicodin took the edge off the pain but not fully. His ability to play was still impaired due to the injury. He returned to his M.D. who upped the ante to Vicodin ES which increased the dosage from 5 mg to 7.5 mg. The Vicodin and the Vicodin ES were his first introduction to the pleasant ‘high’ which results from opiate-based pain killers. Steve was prescribed 80 tabs of Vicodin ES with three refills and he was off and running.

Scripts for Pain Killers Represent a Ethical Quandary and Financial Opportunity for Some

The flip side of this difficult equation is that for some individuals, these prescriptions represent a money-making opportunity that is impossible to ignore. At $4 to $5 a pill, Steve’s prescription carried a street value of $1200 at the top end. For a student, that amount of cash lights up the reward centers in the brain to rival the effect of the opiates themselves.

One high school student told me that, upon bringing up the subject of his father’s recent shoulder surgery, he was asked what prescriptions his dad received. As soon as he mentioned Percodan, he was asked by a friend ‘Hey can you get me some of those? I’ll pay you for them.’

Slang Terms for OxyContin

Oxycontin is known as ‘hillbilly heroin’ due to the first cases of abuse occurring in rural areas like Appalachia. It also goes by the nicknames ‘OC’ and ‘oxy.’

Getting Into the Body

OxyContin can be swallowed in tablet form, crushed up and snorted, crushed and smoked, injected or inserted rectally in suppository form.  Oxy is a timed release pain killer so crushing it makes the high more intense and immediate. It also makes it more addictive and life-threatening.

Cranking Up the High

After a month of ramping up the number of Vicodin ES per day, the relaxed sense of well-being Steve got from the pills led to a desire for a more intense, longer-lasting buzz. A friend told him about the power of OxyContin. The friend had a few oxy that he’d taken from his dad’s medicine cabinet. Steve and his friend both swallowed a 20 mg oxy before school. Steve had never experienced anything like it. He felt ‘chill, relaxed and happy’, yet he was able to do his school work and manage his life. Steve later recalled, ‘all my problems seemed to recede into the background when I was taking oxy.’

How Long Does Oxy Take to Get Out of the Body?

Oxycontin is eliminated from the body via sweat and urine.  Individuals metabolize the drug at varying rates based on age, weight, amount consumed, frequency of doses consumed, overall health, metabolism rate of the body, tolerance to the drug and the manner in which the drug was consumed (e.g., swallowed, smoked, snorted, rectally inserted or injected).  The substance is detectable in urine tests for anywhere from 12 hours to 5 days from time of consumption (with an average of 3 days to leave the body).  Urine tests can look specifically for OxyContin use and are quite accurate. Be aware that there are tests which do not look specifically for synthetic opioid and thus miss the presence of oxy.

How OxyContin is Made

Oxy is a byproduct of the opium plant. Liquid is drained from the opium plant and dried to create a powder form of opium. A variety of substances are derived from this powder, including morphine, codeine and oxycodone.  

Climbing the Ladder

Soon after taking his first pill of oxy, Steve was swallowing 3 20 mg pills per day. He was flying on a cloud of detachment all day every day. Yet, the high started to dull after two weeks. The group of 4 friends he was hanging with spent most of their time, energy and money seeking out more and more oxy. If one of them could earn or steal $80, they would head to the town next door where a dealer would sell them 3 40 mg tabs of oxy for $80. Steve felt an intense rush of anticipation and excitement waiting in the car, unsure whether or not the dealer would deliver. Within a few weeks, Steve was crushing the pills into powder and snorting it with friends. Next, the group started crushing the pills, putting it in a pipe and smoking it to max out the euphoric high. However, the best high, according to Steve, was injecting it.

Cost of Oxycontin   Approximately $1 per mg
Dosage of OxyContin Retail Price Street Price
10 mg Approx. $1.25 Approx. $10
20 mg Approx. $2.30 Approx. $20
40 mg Approx. $4 Approx. $40
80 mg Approx. $8 Approx. $80

Acceleration towards Addiction

In the U.S., Oxycontin is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration due to the high risk of addiction associated with it. As individuals use oxy, a tolerance develops over time. As tolerance builds, users frequently increase dosages to get the same effect. Some individuals try different methods of taking the drug to achieve a similar or stronger effect (e.g., snorting, smoking, injecting).  As oxy is designed to be time-released and work over a 12-hour period, many abusers chew the pill, crush it and snort it, or crush it and mix with water to inject it so as to make the high more immediate and intense.A 2009 study from the National Study on Drug Use and Health reports that prescription pain relievers has risen over 400% from 1998 to 2008 in individuals over the age of 12. Pain killer abuse rose from 2.2% in 1998 to 9.8% a mere ten years later. These gains were seen across a variety of demographics including age, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, educational level and geographic region. Even more startling, pain killer abuse exploded in treatment centers across the U.S. increasing from 6.8% in 1998 to 26.5% in 20008.  

Prescription pain killer abuse is now ‘the 2nd most prevalent form of illicit drug use in the nation,’ stated Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Administrator Pamela Hyde, J.D.

Side Effects of OxyContin

While the main effect of the drug is relief from moderate to severe pain, OxyContin provides a variety of side effects. While these side effects vary by individual, they frequently include a sense of well-being, euphoria and relaxation. One side effect reported by a client is a feeling of calm in social settings (i.e., ‘it allowed me to chill’).   Many use to dull the emotions that cause them distress: anxiety, sadness, irritation and guilt.

OD and OC – The Downside

As a mental health professional, few things are as scarier to me than OxyContin and the possibility of overdose (OD). People begin taking oxy for the happy and pleasant high. Within 2 to 3 weeks, they use oxy simply to function and feel normal. Within 2 to 3 weeks, they are addicted. Within 2 to 3 weeks, they are forced into a terrible choice – use or suffer intense withdrawal effects. Some users combine alcohol with oxy to create a deadly effect. The FDA reports that combining OxyContin with alcohol, barbiturates, antihistamines, or benzodiazepines (e.g., Valium) may result in death. The exact number of deaths due to OxyContin is difficult to determine, but Miami-Dade County reported 11 deaths likely due to oxy use in 2001. The true numbers are likely far higher. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the ‘vast majority of (oxycodone-related) deaths have been associated with oral consumption of the drug.’ More people have died taking oxy orally than smoking, snorting or shooting it.  Also, the majority of deaths related to oxycodone involve more than one drug (e.g, OxyContin and Valium).  The CDC stated that deaths from opioids have exploded by 300% from 1999 to 2006. In 1999, there were 4,000 known opioid-related deaths. In 2006, that number ballooned to 13,800.One report found oxy use to be a gateway to heroin use. Given the addictive strength of the high associated with oxy, when money gets tight, users may look for a cheaper fix. Many overcome their aversion to needles, start with oxy and move on to heroin. While the life-shattering effects of heroin and oxy are similar, there is one massive difference: heroin is illegal; oxy is legal when used under doctor’s orders. While the battle currently rages on over the legalization of marijuana (with its own set of issues), one of fastest-growing drugs in the world has the FDA’s stamp of approval and is easy to rationalize in the mind of users. One of my oxy-using clients told me that he would never take Vicodin because it has too much acetaminophen in it and it can ruin your liver. As soon as he uttered this statement, we both laughed aloud at the absurd nature of the statement. However, this is exactly what users tell themselves in their minds when they are in the midst of using. This is the power of rationalization.

Withdrawal Effects of OxyContin

When oxy is stopped, the symptoms can include nausea, vomiting (in some cases for multiple days), muscle aches and pains, twitching (also known as ‘crazy arms and legs’), insomnia, intense irritability, depression, diarrhea, extreme fatigue (e.g., sleeping for 12 – 16 hours), runny nose, perspiration, and possible auditory and visual hallucinations. Clients have anecdotally reported the withdrawal symptoms are ‘ten times worse than a bad flu.’

What to Look For as a Parent or Loved One

How do you spot someone who is abusing oxy? By the time Steve’s parents were aware of the abuse, needle tracks littered his arms. Yet, he was still managing a 3.4 GPA (dropping a bit from when he was sober), playing one high school sport, had a girlfriend, and was popular among peers. Steve was pulled over by local police 20 times over an 8 month stretch and ticketed only twice (for speeding). He was high on oxy every single time. He had liquor in the car with him nearly every time. No one picked up the fact that he was high on oxy. Why didn’t the police pick it up? Because it’s that difficult to detect. There is no smell as in alcohol or marijuana use. There are no slurred words. The eyes are vaguely glassy but not necessarily bloodshot. Balance is intact. What’s more, the feeling of relaxation that comes from oxy, lulls others into thinking the user is sober because they don’t get overly anxious in pressure-packed situations. So what are some of the signs of oxy abuse?The easiest signs to pick up are also the most concrete such as used syringes wrapped up and thrown away, pens which have been disassembled with powdery residue inside the hollow shaft (used for snorting crushed oxy), aluminum foil thrown away in garbage cans outside the kitchen (used to contain the oxy when heating it), lighters, pipes, needle tracks on arms and cut straws. You can also spot oxy use by dramatic changes in sleep behavior (e.g., up all night most nights, sleeping for 12+ hours after coming down) and sudden weight loss (e.g., 5% of body weight in a 2 to 3 month period).

Less obvious signs of abuse come from careful, mindful attention to patterns of behavior. Patterns to watch for include:

·         Concern for the abuser expressed by friends and peers

·         Text messages or emails referencing ‘deals’, ‘needles’, ‘OC’, ‘oxies’, ‘roxies’ or ‘O’

·         Wearing long sleeves all the time regardless of outside temperature (to cover up needle tracks)

·         Intense impatience and jitteriness (e.g., cannot stand to stay at home, always in a hurry, a 10 on a 10 point scale)

·         Out all day long (e.g., leaving for school early to use, staying out late to use)

·         ‘Riding dirty’ ( as one parent termed it) where a group of 3 to 5 friends drive around for hours with no real plans

·         Extreme fatigue (e.g., user will crash hard and sleep for 12-15 hours upon coming down off high)

·         Profuse perspiration

·         Angry and indignant when approached about discipline or use (again, think of a 9 or 10 in intensity on a 10 point scale)

·         Intensely emotional denial of black and white truths such as the existence of texts referring to ‘hooking up with some OC’ or ‘needle’ references or a positive drug  test result

·         High frequency of lying

·         Low engagement with family

·         Most of free time is spent shut in bedroom or out with friends

·         Missing money among family members (frequent theft of cash, perhaps $80-100 per week or more)

·         Excuses for more cash that are socially acceptable but are untrue (e.g., ‘Mom, I want to go to tutoring for help with calculus. Can you give me $80 to pay for a tutoring course at school?’)

Reformulation of OxyContin – OxyContin ‘Version 2.0’

A newly reformulated version of oxy is more difficult to abuse as is resistant to cutting, chewing and breaking. Attempts to melt or dissolve the new oxy creates a gooey substance that individuals cannot pull into a syringe. While version 2.0 of oxy reduces the possibility of abuse, it does not eliminate it.

A Happy Ending?

After a massive collective effort by his parents, psychiatrist, friends, family, counselor and himself, Steve has been clean and sober for over three months. However, everyone is well aware that a relapse is only a bad day away. The motto used by everyone involved is ‘trust and verify’ as a reminder to mindfully work to rebuild the trust that’s been disintegrated and to ensure the factual accuracy of every story Steve shares. His grades are back up to a 3.8. His relationship with his girlfriend is solid. And perhaps, most importantly, his relationship with his parents is on the mend. The indignance and conflict that were daily occurrences at home have been replaced with greater happiness and emotional equanimity.


“A Guide to the Safe Use of Pain Medicine.” (2009-02-29).  Federal Drug Administration.

“Misuse of Prescription Pain Relievers: All Graphics and Other Media.” (2009-12-16). Federal Drug Administration.

“Prescribed Opioids: Overdoses Not Uncommon (2010-01-19). WebMD.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2009). Results from the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings (Office of Applied Studies, NSDUH Series H-36, HHS Publication No. SMA 09-4434) Rockville, MD.

“Summary of Medical Examiner Reports on Oxycodone-related Deaths  Drug Enforcement Agency.

Tough P (2001-07-29). “The alchemy of OxyContin”. New York Times. 

About the Author John Schinnerer, Ph.D. is in private practice teaching clients the latest ways to turn down the volume on negative emotions such as anger, anxiety and stress. He also helps individuals discover successful, more meaningful lives. His offices are in Danville, California 94526. He graduated from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in educational psychology.  He has been an executive, speaker and coach for over 14 years.  John is Founder of Guide To Self, a company that coaches men to happiness and success using the latest in positive psychology.  He hosted over 200 episodes of Guide To Self Radio, a daily prime time radio show, in the SF Bay Area.   His areas of expertise range from positive psychology, to emotional awareness, to anger management.  He wrote the award-winning, “Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought,” which is available for FREE right now at  His blog, Shrunken Mind, was recently recognized as one of the top 3 in positive psychology on the web ( ). His new video blog teaches people concrete steps towards managing anger and irritability. ( ).