Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What is a friend and how do you build a friendship?

By Philip Copitch, Ph.D.

Friendship is a common concern for most people. Are we a good friend? Do our friends treat us correctly? Do we have enough or the right type of friends? Today I’m going to cover these issues, and hopefully demystify them for you.


By definition, the word friend means simply, someone you know and share a mutual affection with. It is that basic. You know them, and they know you. You like them, and they like you. 

However, even with this basic definition we run into a problem. It is the 'and'. You 'and' they have to agree to friend each other. You both have to know and like each other. But, we know that friends can get angry with each other…and still be friends, right? 

The Urban Dictionary adds to the definition by adding the modifier, “real”

A real friend is someone who: 

a) it's okay to fart in front of. 

b) you don't mind talking to on the bus for at least 20 minutes. 

c) can borrow $5 and never has to pay it back 

d) you'll actually call up to do stuff.

The Urban dictionary definition seems to shorten my list of friends.

How many friends should I have?

This is a very tricky question. Based on the first dictionary definition above, most people have lots of friends, people they know. But if you think of a friend as someone you can count on, and who can count on you, this number thing gets much more confusing.

I once read a research study that asked people to open their address books and rank how many people, listed in their address book, they had talked to in the last week. The number was low, very low. When asked to rank how many people in their address books they'd had no contact with in over a year, the number was high. In fact, the study found that most people had little contact with a handful of people in their address book. (Replace the word 'address book' with 'contact list', and the math will still be the same.)

I find that having a “real close friend” is a lot of work. You have to be there for them and they have to be there for you. Wow! Lots of responsibility is involved in being a “real close friend.” Thus, if at any time I have 1 or 2 close friends, I feel blessed. I know lots of people, but not lots of people I can comfortably pass gas in front of.

Why do we modify the word friend?

By adding words like “best” “real” “school” “work” or “church” we start to pass judgment on our friendships. We label them to categorize them so that we can get a handle on how valuable to us the relationship really is. 

A best friend is more important to us than a school friend, for example, but that doesn’t diminish our relationship with our school friend. It just helps us to understand our own feelings about our friends. 

Friend is a verb

A verb is an action word like run or catch. Friend is an action word also. You build a friendship by doing things with like minded people. By saying 'like minded', I’m not talking about thinking exactly alike, I’m referring to common interests. When these common interests are actions that you and your friend can do together or talk about, then you have the building blocks of a healthy friendship.

How do you build a friendship?

The simple answer is activity. Mark came into my office a few years ago. He was 26 years old and feeling really lonely. He felt like he lost all of his friends since he left the Army, which was pretty much the truth. Facebook and emails were not the same as being there. Mark had worked at a large Army hospital where he had lots of people he knew. He liked the sense of purpose that his work gave him and he enjoyed the social activities that working at such a vibrant hospital afforded him. (Note: all the activities he used to have with like minded people that stopped because of his move. He now had a lot less verbs in his life.)

Mark liked his new job, the reason he chose his new community, but his coworkers were all older and had families. They were nice, but they were very busy people. They didn’t have time to go out at night after work. His new hospital was much smaller and there weren't the pickup soccer games or the impromptu lunch and dinner invitations.

I talked with Mark about how friendship was built on activity and that by finding an activity he was interested in, he was more likely to find like minded people that he would have something in common with. He decided to go to the local college to see what it offered. 

Mark ended up taking a ceramics class, something he always wanted to try, but never had the time for. During the third week, he and a few classmates decided to go out for dinner after class. A few weeks later, one of the classmates introduced Mark to his sister. By the end of the pottery class Mark and his new girlfriend were planning to take an art class together. Mark also started playing Frisbee Golf with one of the guys from class. This helped him meet more like mined people that liked exercise, fellowship, and Frisbee Golf.

Tips for making friends

  • Reach out. Look for like minded people.
  • Join a group. School, church, political, sports… Join a group that is doing something you are interested in. Go with your interests so that you will have the energy to keep attending the activities.
  • Ask people questions. By learning about others, you increase the likelihood that the other person will ask you to participate in stuff that they are doing. My mom always encouraged me to “listen more, talk less.” It was great advice.
  • Smile. It makes sense that if you smile people are more likely to want to be around you. I’m not kidding here, if you are down or look sad, people will avoid you. Pick your feelings up by smiling.
  • Don’t be too quick to say no thank you. Don’t wait for the perfect invitation before you say yes. Often fear of new things can get in the way of making new friends. I encourage you to be a little uncomfortable so that you can grow as a person. Challenge yourself at least a little.
  • Volunteering to help a local charity is a wonderful way to meet nice people.

It is very easy to stay home and plug into the internet. Please be careful with this. Make sure that by plugging into the internet you aren’t really unplugging yourself from living your life in the real world.

Books by Dr. Copitch:

I'd love to hear your thoughts about friendship. Any helpful hints you can share are most welcome. Please leave a comment or a question.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Is our brain controlled by product brands?

Product branding is everywhere. As we go through our daily lives we couldn't get away from advertisements, even if we wanted to. Billboards, store signs, and logos on shirts, are all around us. Large companies like Coca-Cola or McDonald's spend millions to place their brand logos all aver the world. The companies know the truth about the old saying, "Out of sight, out of mind," so they work hard to stay clearly in your sight.

Scientists from Charité University Medicine and Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany have looked into how powerfully this branding influences the human brain.

Do brands control us? A new study says yes!

If you got together with a few friends to taste test your favorite cola, would you be able taste the difference between brands?

Researchers found that the taste testers they studied liked the cola labeled "coke" or "pepsi" better than the cola labeled with generic soda names. In addition, the subjects' brains were tested using fMRI scanning technology. The tasters brains indicated a preference for the brand colas over the generic ones.


Each of the taste testers got the same cola, a mixture of the 4 types. 

The visual cues influenced how the person perceived the taste, and even the pleasurability, in the brain's pleasure center, .

The researchers concluded, "The results show the strong effects of brand cues on self-reported pleasantness, as well as on neural responses signalling reward in the brain."

Is it fair for us to say that the branded companies are training our brains to like them best? It does seem that way.

Thanks for reading my blog, your comments are welcomed and encouraged. Thanks!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Online is real life with digital memory

By Philip Copitch, Ph.D.

I have talked a lot about the belief that online behavior is often considered to be anonymous, or simply doesn't matter in the real world.

Google is a verb, an action word

When you apply for a job, it is common for your name to be Googled. Those photos of you 4 years ago at the holiday party may not look so funny to your perspective employer. 

How about the stupid stuff we all say at some point during our day? When I was waiting in line today at the store, I overheard 2 young men talking about the party they were heading to. They were looking forward to meeting girls and hoping that there would be lots of beer available. The implication I noted was, if there is lots of beer, then sex is more likely. If a police office overheard their immature conversation, could he arrest them for conspiring to rape? 

After the words were said, they were lost in the ether. But were they really? What if the store had security cameras? Not wanting to present a conspiracy story let's move on to a real situation.

Justin Carter

Justin is now 19 years-old. He is stuck in jail for saying some very mean things on Facebook while playing a violent game. 

CNN reports his father saying:

"Someone had said something to the effect of 'Oh you're insane. You're crazy. You're messed up in the head,'" Jack Carter told CNN affiliate KVUE in Austin. "To which he [Justin] replied 'Oh yeah, I'm real messed up in the head. I'm going to go shoot up a school full of kids and eat their still-beating hearts.'"
According to court documents, Justin wrote "I'm f---ed in the head alright. I think I'ma (sic) shoot up a kindergarten and watch the blood of the innocent rain down and eat the beating heart of one of them."
Jack Carter said his son followed the claim with "LOL" and "J/K" -- indicating that the comment wasn't serious.

NPR reported:
In April (2013), a grand jury in Comal County, Texas, indicted Carter on a charge of making a terroristic threat, and a judge set bail at $500,000. The high bail has kept Carter imprisoned while his case moves through the court process.
"I have been practicing law for 10 years, I've represented murderers, terrorists, rapists. Anything you can think of. I have never seen a bond at $500,000," says Carter's attorney, Don Flanary.
The charge is a third-degree felony, which in Texas carries up to 10 years in prison. The Comal County District Attorney's office hasn't responded to our calls, but police in New Braunfels, Texas, who have investigated the case, say in a time of heightened sensitivity to school shootings, their interest is in preventing violence when they can.
"The whole situation is kind of unfortunate," said New Braunfels Police Lt. John Wells. "We definitely understand the situation that Mr. Carter is in, however he made the comments, and it is an offense. We have to ... protect the general public and specifically, in this case, with it involving schoolchildren, we have to act. We take those very seriously."

The lesson 

1. What is on the Internet survives forever. No joke. Your great-grand-children will know so much more about you than you know about your parents or grand-parents. They will know snapshots of your life, out of context, but available to be judged by them. 

2. Law enforcement branches are often bound by their own rules once a case starts down a legal path. I do wonder about a District Attorney that does not see that strict adherence to the letter of the law can lose the spirit of the law. I recall what Abraham Lincoln said, "I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice".

Learn more about Justin Carter and his court case

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Huge increase in prescription painkiller overdoses

By Philip Copitch, Ph.D.

Just last week in my office I had a discussion with a young mom about her back pain medication. Her belief was, "...the pill doesn't work like it used to, so now I need two." We had a nice discussion about the dangers of prescription painkillers, and how our bodies deal with them. As it turned out, some days she is actually taking 3 pills at a time. 

Prescription doesn't mean safe

Often people are confused by the word prescription. They think it means the pill has been tested and authorized to be safe. This is partially correct, but prescription simply is a fancy medical word that means "order". The doctor is giving an order to the pharmacy for the patient to get a controlled substance. 

A prescribed medication is actually a balancing act of positive versus negative side effects. Your back hurts so the goal is that the correct dose of medication alleviates the pain. This is the positive side effect, the desired side effect. There are also negative side effects with every prescription drug. Some of the negative side effects may be small, such as mild constipation, others may be severe, such as potential liver damage or increased likelihood of heart disease.

This is where the balancing act comes in. Let's say you are taking a mild antidepressant. It may help by lifting your spirits a little, the positive; as well as making you a little thirsty throughout the day, the negative. Now the question for you, in consultation with your doctor is, does the benefit outweigh the negative? Are you getting more positive than negative? It is often difficult to balance all the positives with all the negatives. Unfortunately it is difficult to truly know all the positive and negative side effects of any medication we take. 

New statistics from the CDC

In early July 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released new statistics concerning prescription pain killers and overdoses. the numbers were alarming.

  • Nearly 48,000 women died of prescription painkiller* overdoses between 1999 and 2010.
  • Deaths from prescription painkiller overdoses among women have increased more than 400% since 1999, compared to an increase of 265% among men.
  • For every woman who dies of a prescription painkiller overdose, 30 go to the emergency department for painkiller misuse or abuse.
*"Prescription painkillers" refers to opioid or narcotic pain relievers, including drugs such as Vicodin (hydrocodone), OxyContin (oxycodone), Opana (oxymorphone), and methadone.

About 18 women die every day of a prescription painkiller overdose in the US, more than 6,600 deaths in 2010. Prescription painkiller overdoses are an under-recognized and growing problem for women.

Although men are still more likely to die of prescription painkiller overdoses (more than 10,000 deaths in 2010), the gap between men and women is closing. This rise relates closely to increased prescribing of these drugs during the past decade. Health care providers can help improve the way painkillers are prescribed, while making sure women have access to safe, effective pain treatment.

Prescription painkiller overdose deaths are a growing problem among women.
SOURCE: National Vital Statistics System, 1999-2010 (deaths include suicides)

Every 3 minutes a woman goes to an emergency department for a prescription painkiller misuse or abuse

The CDC chart shows huge changes:

Every 3 minutes, a woman goes to the emergency department for prescription painkiller misuse or abuse.

CDC advice to women

  • Discuss all medications they are taking (including over-the-counter) with their health care provider.
  • Use prescription drugs only as directed by a health care provider, and store them in a secure place.
  • Dispose of medications properly, as soon as the course of treatment is done. Do not keep prescription medications around "just in case." (See
  • Help prevent misuse and abuse by not selling or sharing prescription drugs. Never use another person's prescription drugs.
  • Discuss pregnancy plans with their health care provider before taking prescription painkillers.
  • Get help for substance abuse problems (1-800- 662-HELP); call Poison Help (1-800-222-1222) for questions about medicines.