Tag Archives: alcohol

Hangover.

Five ways to manage hangovers that anybody can apply

So you went out drinking, ended up drinking way too much, and now every fiber of your being is screaming in agony. What should you do about it?

Hangover.

image credits Michal Jarmoluk.

Most of us will go through a particularly bad hangover at least once in our lives. Some do it quite regularly (thoughts and prayers your way, folks). Obviously, nobody likes them. The combination of dizziness, an upset stomach, a splitting headache, and dehydration simply makes you feel terrible.

But is there anything we can do to escape the horrible clutches of hangovers?

Limit intake

The easiest and most effective way to not get hungover is simply not drinking that much. Hangovers are a perfect storm of several factors, all of which or another to how much alcohol you’re willing to put into your system. There seems to be a common value for how much alcohol is too much for humans  — but exactly how many drinks will take you to that value depends on several factors.

“Alcohol hangovers are generally not experienced after consuming low dosages of alcohol,” a study published in the journal PubMed Central reported in 2013. “Evidence from experimental studies demonstrates that, to develop an alcohol hangover, an alcohol dosage that produces a peak BAC [blood alcohol concentration] of at least 0.11% to 0.12% is necessary.”

“The peak BAC attained depends on various factors including sex, body weight, amount of time allowed for drinking, dilution of the beverage, and time since last meal.”

Some people develop a hangover after only 2 or 3 drinks, while others can drink the bar dry and still be perky the next day. Try to keep an eye on your alcohol intake each time you go out drinking and how you feel the next day. Over time, you’ll get a pretty good idea of what your body can handle. Don’t put too more than that on its plate (or rather, in its pint) and you should avoid bad hangovers.

Pint.

Image credits Stefan Schweihofer.

“How much you drink” isn’t limited to single outings. A 2010 study, also published in PubMed Central, showed that self-reported hangover severity of holidayers was “increased significantly during a week of heavy drinking” and that “the impact of alcohol consumed on hangover became more pronounced later in the week.” An approach I found effective was to alternate between drinking and non-drinking days — although this might make you the butt of a few jokes from your mates.

Avoid congeners

Congeners are by-products of the fermentation processes that put alcohol in your drink. They’re only found in small amounts in drinks, but they are toxic. A high intake of congeners seems to increase hangover severity and frequency. These compounds can also slow down your body’s efforts to metabolize alcohol, prolonging hangovers. This study tracked people that drank enough to reach a BAC of 0.11% over the course of two days. Among other things, it reports that:

“No effect of beverage congeners was found except on hangover severity, with people feeling worse after bourbon,” and that “[c]ongener content affects only how people feel the next.”

Gin, rum, and especially vodka have low levels of congeners. Meanwhile, tequila, whiskey, and cognac are all high in congeners, with bourbon whiskey containing the highest amount. A good rule of thumb is that clear drinks have low levels of congeners, while dark/brown drinks have higher quantities.

So make your own vodka and swig away merrily.

Stay hydrated

Water.

Drink this, it helps.
Image via Pixabay.

Alcohol is a diuretic — it makes you pee. This dehydrates and drains your body of electrolytes. These effects worsen if you drank so much you started throwing up. Dehydration, by itself, doesn’t cause a hangover. However, it contributes to many of its symptoms, such as increased thirst, fatigue, headache, and dizziness.

Staying well-hydrated, then, mitigates some of these symptoms. Try to have one glass of water for every alcoholic drink while you’re at it. Avoid carbonated (fizzy) drinks, which speed up the absorption of alcohol into your system. This will help keep you hydrated and reduce your overall alcohol intake at the same time.

Do your best to have some water before you go to sleep and every time you feel thirsty the next day to reduce your hangover symptoms. The best choices are simple, bland drinks like water or tea.

Eat well

A nutritious meal works wonders to put you back on your feet when you’re feeling wobbly. Hangovers are associated with low blood sugar levels, which make you feel dizzy, weak, or even nauseous.

Breakfast.

But food helps. Food always helps.
Image via Pixabay.

Excessive alcohol consumption can throw a wrench in your body’s metabolic mechanism. One paper links hangovers with “marked metabolic acidosis” in the subjects it investigated, adding that glucose and fructose “significantly inhibit” these metabolic disturbances. It’s important to note, however, that the study found no evidence of hangovers being caused by alcohol-induced metabolic effects or its by-products. No amount of food, in other words, will cure your hangover.

“The results indicate that both fructose and glucose effectively inhibit the metabolic disturbances induced by ethanol but they do not affect the symptoms or signs of alcohol intoxication and hangover.”

Sugary foods are good for a quick boost of energy. Bullion soup is dense in vitamins and minerals and “easy for a fragile stomach to digest,” according to the NHS.

It also pays to keep in mind that when drinking on an empty stomach, alcohol passes into your bloodstream much more quickly. This intensifies all the side effects of drinking, such as impaired cognitive skills and coordination of body movements. It’s not a huge concern if you drink in moderation, but let’s face it — you’re researching hangover cures, so you don’t. Having a bite before you take up the pint can help mitigate a hangover to a limited extent, as it slows down alcohol absorption into your blood (giving your liver more time to process it)

Sleep it off

Lack of sleep won’t cause a hangover, but it will make any hangover worse. Fatigue, headache frequency, their intensity, and general irritability exacerbate when you’re sleep deprived. At the very least, getting a good night’s sleep will make you better able to handle the unpleasantness of a hangover.

You might have some difficulty doing this, however. I know I certainly do. Although a moderate quantity of alcohol can promote sleep, higher quantities and/or chronic use can be really disruptive of your sleeping patterns, leading to decreased sleep quality and duration.

Cold, dark climates linked to heavy drinking

Because nothing says “Let’s have a few drinks” like a dreary afternoon.

The new study analyzed data from 193 countries, finding that colder, darker climates are correlated with higher alcohol consumption and liver diseases. Senior author Ramon Bataller, associate director of the Pittsburgh Liver Research Centre, said:

“This is the first study that systematically demonstrates that worldwide and in America, in colder areas and areas with less sun, you have more drinking and more alcoholic cirrhosis.”

This seems to make a lot of sense if you think about it. At a physical level, alcohol is a vasodilator — it dilates your blood vessels, which increases the flow of warm blood to the skin. This means that consuming alcohol will make you feel warmer (although technically, your body is losing heat as it flows towards your skin, where it is easily lost), which could explain why people are more inclined to drink during cold spells. On a social level, people are also more likely to stay indoors when it’s cold and dark outside, which can also lead to drinking — particularly around Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

There’s also a connection between alcohol and depression, as well as a link between depression and a lack of sunlight — putting two and two together, it seems plausible that alcohol and darkness go hand in hand.

However, not everyone is convinced, and despite this solid study, the evidence seems a bit contradictory with previous studies. Prof. Jurgen Rehm from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health says that according to his work, there’s no link between temperature, light, and alcohol consumption. Instead, he says, countries such as Ireland, the UK, Germany and Poland have the highest alcohol consumption, whereas northern (Norway, Sweden, Finland) and southern countries (Malta, Greece, Italy) have the lowest reported consumption. He also added that this pattern of alcohol consumption is not restricted to Europe — anywhere you look, globally, the coldest and the hottest climates have the lowest alcohol consumption rates, which suggests that some other factor is at play.

However, Rehm also emphasizes the need to adopt healthy policies that reduce alcohol consumption. Earlier this year, Scotland implemented legislation that mandates minimum alcohol pricing — a move which was widely praised by health organizations and scientists.

Despite what some producers would have you believe, and what a few isolated studies have found, alcohol is, almost always, quite bad for you. Even moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a swarm of health risks.

England’s youth are drinking less and less — and some have never had a drink

Wine glasses.

Image credits Kimery Davis / Flickr.A new study published by researchers from the University College London shows that the younger generations in England drink less, and in fewer numbers, than those before them. This trend, the authors note, is largely powered by people who never start drinking.

Cracking fewer cold ones with the boys

“These trends are to be welcomed from a public-health standpoint,” says the study’s corresponding author, Dr. Linda Ng Fat. “Factors influencing the shift away from drinking should be capitalised on going forward to ensure that healthier drinking behaviours in young people continue to be encouraged.”

The team drew on data pertaining to alcohol consumption recorded as part of the annual Health Survey for England, which looks at changes in the health and lifestyles of people all over the UK. The survey was first carried out in 1991 and involve around 8,000 adults and 2,000 children each year. Information is collected through an interview and, if the participants agree, a visit from a specially trained nurse.

The team used data from 9,699 people aged 16-24 years collected between 2005-2015. They looked at the proportion of non-drinkers among social demographic and health sub-groups, along with alcohol units consumed by those that did drink and levels of binge drinking.

The data revealed that 29% of 16-24-year-olds in the UK don’t drink alcohol — a significant increase from 18% back in 2005. The lion’s share of this increase is represented by those who have never consumed alcohol: their ranks swelled from 9% of their age cohort in 2005 to 17% in 2015. In other happy news from the team, fewer young people are drinking above recommended limits — from 43% in 2005 to 28% — and they’re less enthusiastic about binge drinking — 18% reported to binge drinking in 2015, down from 25% in 2005. Furthermore, more young people were also engaging in weekly abstinence compared to previous generations (from 35% to 50%).

“Increases in non-drinking among young people were found across a broad range of groups, including those living in northern or southern regions of England, among the white population, those in full-time education, in employment and across all social classes and healthier groups,” Dr. Ng Fat explains.

“That the increase in non-drinking was found across many different groups suggests that non-drinking may becoming more mainstream among young people which could be caused by cultural factors.”

Beer pressure

Young people tend to take more risks and live less healthily than older generations, but the team’s results seem to hint at a cultural shift. Risky behaviors such as binge drinking “may be becoming less normalized,” the authors explain, while not-drinking “maybe becoming more acceptable”. This rise in non-drinking wasn’t mirrored among ethnic minorities, those with poor mental health, or smokers, however — with the last point suggesting that the risky behaviors of smoking and alcohol tend to cluster together.

Still, the authors caution that the cross-sectional, observational nature of this study does not allow for conclusions about cause and effect to be drawn at this time.

The paper ” Investigating the growing trend of non-drinking among young people; analysis of repeated cross-sectional surveys in England 2005–2015″ has been published in the journal BMC Public Health.

There is no safe level of alcohol, according to most important study yet

Credit: Pixabay.

Although there are some isolated health benefits to moderately consuming alcohol, scientists say these are outweighed by the combined health risks of drinking. Bearing these findings in mind, one of the most comprehensive studies of its kind — which involved people in 195 countries, between 1990 and 2016 — concludes that there is no safe amount of alcohol.

The new study published in the reputed medical journal The Lancet used data from 694 studies in order to determine how common drinking was worldwide, and from 592 studies to work out the health risks. More than 28 million people worldwide have been included in this massive meta-analysis.

You may have heard about how a glass of wine each evening is good for the heart. While there is some truth to this claim, with studies linking moderate amounts of alcohol to lower risk for certain heart diseases, the benefits of alcohol are far outweighed by the risks — in particular, cancer and liver disease. Men are disproportionately affected by alcohol-related harm due to their higher intake of the psychoactive substance.

“Our findings indicate that alcohol use was associated with far more health loss for males than for females, with the attributable burden for men around three times higher than that for women in 2016,” the authors wrote.

According to the study, alcohol was responsible for 2.8 million deaths in 2016, making it the leading risk factor for premature mortality and disability in the 15 to 49 age group (20% of deaths). In people over 50, alcohol was an important risk factor for cancer —  27.1% of cancer deaths in women and 18.9% in men over 50 were linked to alcohol use, the study reported. In young people, the biggest causes of alcohol-related deaths were tuberculosis (1.4% of deaths), road injuries (1.2%), and self-harm (1.1%).

The study found that young people who have one drink of alcohol per day have a low risk of alcohol-related harm (0.5%). However, this risk jumps fast with heavier drinking: 7% for those who have two drinks a day and 37% for those with five.

Weighted relative risk of alcohol for all attributable causes, by standard drinks consumed per day. Credit: The Lancet.

Alcohol is perhaps the most popular psychoactive drug in the world, with one in three people, or 2.4 billion people around the world, drinking alcohol. However, alcohol use is distributed non-uniformly across geographical areas, ethnicity, and gender. A quarter of women and 39% of men drink. The most drinkers can be found in Denmark, where 95.3% of women and 97.1% of men consume alcohol, however, the heaviest drinkers are in Romania, for men (8.2 drinks a day), and Ukraine, for women (4.2 drinks a day). Conversely, the fewest drinkers were found in Pakistan, for men (0.8%), and Bangladesh, for women (0.3%).

The findings suggest that there are no safe levels of alcohol consumption and that alcohol control programs and policies should recommend abstinence.

“By evaluating all associated relative risks for alcohol use, we found that consuming zero standard drinks daily minimizes the overall risk to health,” the researchers wrote.

Failing to address the perils of alcohol, the authors of the new paper wrote, countries face dire effects at the population level. A prime example is Russia where 75% of deaths among men aged 15–55 years are caused by alcohol.

“The widely held view of the health benefits of alcohol needs revising, particularly as improved methods and analyses continue to show how much alcohol use contributes to global death and disability. Our results show that the safest level of drinking is none. This level is in conflict with most health guidelines, which espouse health benefits associated with consuming up to two drinks per day,” the authors concluded.

Alcohol addiction

Deep brain stimulation might one day treat the worst cases of alcohol addiction

Alcohol addiction

Credit: Pixabay.

Millions of people around the world are struggling with alcohol addiction, but only a small fraction stop drinking or seek treatment for their addiction. That’s because once alcohol hooks you in, it becomes extremely difficult to break free. To make matters even worse, even existing therapies are rather ineffective and bear a high rate of noncompliance —  thus, an innovative type of treatment could one day go a long way towards dealing with this issue. Writing in the journal Neurosurgical Focusresearchers at Stanford report that deep brain stimulation (DBS) — essentially, driving a mild electrical current through the brain — could treat even the most severe alcoholics.

Alcohol stimulates the release of dopamine, the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter that is usually released during pleasurable or rewarding activities. When the brain’s reward center is overly stimulated with alcohol, a person learns to associate the psychoactive substance with positive experiences. In time, if a person drinks frequently and heavily, the brain becomes sensitized to the release of dopamine, so the enjoyment of alcohol fades. The immediate consequence is that a person needs to drink more and more in order to get the same ‘kick’.

The transition towards addiction happens when the brain becomes so used to alcohol that it compensates for the substance’s depressant effects by increasing the activity of glutamate —  the most important transmitter for normal brain function. Glumate is one of the main excitatory neurochemicals in the brain, which means alcohol will make a person more excited in the presence of alcohol — and the brain can remain in this excited state even when alcohol is absent. Ironically, a person who is hooked on alcohol — typically a depressant — needs to drink more to be less excited and feel ‘normal’.

The longer a person has been drinking, the harder it becomes to break the habit. That’s because consistent alcohol consumption rewires the brain, forcing the alcoholic into a dreadful state when there is no more alcohol in the system.  Alcohol sensitizes certain brain circuits and changes neurotransmitter levels, and it can also affect executive function, which is the part of the brain involved in decision-making that tells a person not to drink.

The effects of alcoholism on a person’s life can be devastating and, in the United States alone, the addiction is responsible for a quarter trillion dollars in health care costs per year. In 2013, 45.8 percent of liver disease deaths among Americans ages 12 and older involved alcohol.

There are various types of modern alcohol rehab treatments, but recovery rates are generally very low. Addiction recovery rates for popular 12 Step groups such as AA may be as low as 5-10%, according to Dr. Lance Dodes, the author of The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry. What’s more, up to 75% of treated alcoholics relapse within 3 years.

According to a recent review of both animal and human studies, deep brain stimulation may be a far better option for treating alcohol use disorder. This type of therapy is widely used to treat Parkin’s disease and obsessive-compulsive disorder, but scientists have noticed that it can also reduce alcohol cravings.

“DBS is a minimally-invasive brain surgery,” explained senior author Casey Halpern, MD, an assistant professor of neurosurgery at Stanford. “For Parkinson’s, we place deep brain stimulators to restore normal function of the region in the brain known to be dysfunctional. Patients improve immediately when a small dose of current is delivered to this area. We anticipate a similar treatment will be possible for alcoholism. At the moment, we’re performing animal studies to optimize this potential therapy and to learn its underlying mechanism of action.”

When they’re intending to treat alcohol use disorders, researchers target the nucleus accumbens, a brain region that plays a key role in reward circuitry. Stimulating this region is linked with reduced impulsive behavior.

“The nucleus accumbens is triggered when patients anticipate a reward or prior to completing a rewarding behavior. It’s been shown to be perturbed in both addictive disorders and OCD,” said Allen Ho, MD, a Stanford neurosurgery resident working with Halpern. “By targeting this brain structure with stimulation, we hope to modulate the reward circuit in the brain to help patients resist the temptation to indulge in a binge and other addictive behaviors.”

In humans, the impact of deep brain stimulation on alcohol consumption has only been reported in a handful of patients. In one of the studies that the scientists reviewed, a 54-year-old man was struggling with severe anxiety, secondary depressive disorder, and severe alcohol dependency with daily alcohol consumption of more than 10 drinks/day. The patient had been previously hospitalized on multiple occasions for withdrawal. However, following initiation of DBS, the patient rapidly and drastically reduced his alcohol consumption, and within 1 month was consuming 1–2 drinks/day and subjectively reported having completely lost the desire to drink. The same study treated another patient, a 69-year-old man with a more than 30-year history of alcohol dependence, who drank more than 200 grams of vodka daily. He also received numerous detoxifications, withdrawal treatments, and psychopharmacological interventions that had all failed. Similar to the first patient, after DBS therapy the patient began to remarkably reduce his alcohol consumption and was completely abstinent after one year.

Treating alcohol addiction with brain surgery may sound a bit extreme but the researchers explain that the procedure is one of the safest and least invasive operations performed by neurosurgeons. Considering the devastating consequences of this type of addiction, DBS might ultimately be more than worth it.

At the moment, deep brain stimulation therapy for alcohol use disorders is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but that may change in the face of more positive evidence. What’s more, DBS might prove effective in treating other types of addictions, such as opioid addiction, and even obesity.

Credit: Pixnio.

Bacterial superbugs have become up to 10 times more tolerant to alcohol-based hand sanitizers

Credit: Pixnio.

Credit: Pixnio.

Many hospitals around the world have installed hand sanitizers for staff, visitors, and patients to use. However, the bacteria was quick to react. A new study found that superbugs found in Australian hospitals have become up to ten times more tolerant to alcohol exposure, the key ingredient in hand sanitizers.

These bacteria hold their liquor

After hospitals across Australia started massively adopting alcohol-based hand sanitizers in the early 2000s, the rate of infections dropped, signaling that the introduction had a positive effect. Other types of infections, however, weren’t reduced. In fact, the incidence of some infections — enterococcal infections, in particular, which affect the digestive tract, bladder, and heart — actually went up. And this wasn’t happening just in Australia, but around the world.

Enterococci infections are the leading cause of sepsis — a life-threatening condition in which the body is fighting a severe infection that has spread via the bloodstream — and are responsible for around 10% of bacterial infections acquired from hospitals.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne’s Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity compared 139 types of bacterial strains collected between 1997 and 2015. The cultured bacteria collected after 2009 were up to 10 times more tolerant to alcohol than pre-2004 bacteria — the year the local government pushed the use of hand sanitizers in hospitals.

These bacteria aren’t resistant to alcohol, not yet at least. However, they’ve built up a huge tolerance. When the researchers incrementally raised the concentration of alcohol to which each type of bacteria was exposed, the tolerant-variety started dying at around 70% alcohol mixture, whereas most hand sanitizers carry 60% alcohol.

One of the greatest challenges in modern medicine is the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, which occurs when an antibiotic is no longer effective at controlling or killing bacterial growth. Bacteria which are ‘resistant’ can multiply in the presence of various therapeutic levels of an antibiotic. Sometimes, increasing the dose of an antibiotic can help tackle a more severe infection but in some instances — and these are becoming more and more frequent — no dose seems to control the bacterial growth. Each year, 25,000 patients from the EU and 63,000 patients from the USA die because of hospital-acquired bacterial infections which are resistant to multidrug-action.

What’s worrisome about these latest findings is that many of the alcohol-tolerant bacteria are also resistant to multiple antibiotics. For instance, half of such bacterial strains don’t respond to vancomycin, a very potent antibiotic which is typically used as a last line of defense when treating infections.

Writing in Science Translational Medicinethe researchers recommend that hospitals should adhere to stricter sanitizing procedures. Feeling confident that alcohol sanitizers destroy most bacteria, medical staff might feel overly confident that they’re hands are sanitized, not bothering to use soap and water afterward. However, the simple act of rubbing bacteria off the skin is still one of the most effective methods for controlling bacterial infections. This latest study should serve as a reminder.

In the future, research will have to establish which is a safe alcohol-threshold for modern sanitizers to use. It might even be possible that some bacteria will become resistant to alcohol.

 

 

Alcohol is causing a spike in liver diseases — and it’s mostly in young people

A concerning study has found that cirrhosis-related deaths have increased by 65 percent from 1999 to 2016, and deaths from liver cancer doubled — predominantly due to alcohol consumption.

We focus a lot of our attention (and taxpayers’ money) to deal with the problem of illegal drugs, but we often tend to overlook the more common problem with legal substances — like alcohol. Drinking alcohol is often fashionable — beer is fun, wine is stylish, scotch is manly — but can be extremely damaging, especially if consumed in the long term. Apparently, America has a drinking problem.

Researchers at the University of Michigan studied death certificate data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to see how liver diseases were faring compared to previous years. They found a remarkable increase in both cirrhosis and liver cancer and even more worryingly, the biggest increase was in people in the 25-34 years old group.

This younger generation of Americans is being afflicted “by alcohol misuse and its complications,” said lead author Elliot Tapper, a liver specialist at the University of Michigan. He says that anecdotally, he and his colleagues noticed an increase in the number of young liver patients in their practice, but no one was expecting such a massive increase.

[panel style=”panel-default” title=”Liver trouble” footer=””]Alcohol is not the only source of problems for the liver. Sugars and fats, as well as obesity, hepatitis, and some medications, can also damage the liver. But according to this study, alcohol is the main culprit for the surge in liver diseases.[/panel]

Although there was some geographical variation (things actually got a bit better in Maryland), it seems in most places across the US, the trend was somewhat similar. Cirrhosis is generally a condition that takes years, even decades to set in, which is why it’s so surprising to see a relative rise among the young. You’ll never get cirrhosis from a night of heavy drinking, it takes a lot of time for the disease to set in, due to the livers’ impressive regeneration capacity.

The liver is the original detox: one of its main roles is to transform substances like ammonia, metabolic waste, drugs, and chemicals so that they can be safely excreted by the body. If the liver gets overloaded, it can get blocked up, which causes scarring, further reducing the liver’s ability to process these substances. But although all our organs have some capacity of recovery, none equals the liver, Tapper explains. If people with alcohol-related liver damage stop drinking, there’s a good chance that the liver will repair itself — but the problem is that we don’t really have a treatment for alcohol addiction and in most places, social support can also be difficult to find.

Although the study looked as far back as 1999, the sharp rise only began around 2008. It’s not yet clear exactly what happened in 2008, though it’s likely not a singular event, but rather a sum of factors.

The study was published in BMJ.

whisky

Researchers find a way to block alcohol addiction and ease withdrawal symptoms

whisky

Credit: Pixabay.

More than 15 million Americans abuse alcohol, trapped in a downward spiral where they need to ingest more alcohol in order to ease severe withdrawal symptoms. Many admit they simply can’t help themselves. But the latest findings by Scripps Research scientists could be a silver lining for numerous struggling alcoholics. Researchers found that activating a receptor in the brain of alcohol-addicted rats induced them to drink less and eased withdrawal symptoms.

The brain’s seat for alcohol

More than a decade ago, researchers who were combing through the human genome looking for genetic sequences that resemble known receptors came across a G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) called GPR139. This class of receptors plays a key role in brain signaling, some of which have been previously linked to mental disorders, such as depression, schizophrenia, and drug-induced psychosis.

Subsequent research had shown that GPR139 is primarily found in the habenula, a brain region that mediates some forms of emotive decision-making by influencing the release of dopamine and serotonin. For instance, by inhibiting dopamine-releasing neurons, habenula activation leads to the suppression of motor behavior when an animal fails to obtain a reward or anticipates an aversive outcome. Moreover, the habenula is involved in behavioral responses to pain, stress, anxiety, sleep, and reward.

Olivier George, associate professor at Scripps Research and lead author of the new study, suspected that GPR139 might play a role in addiction, seeing how the habenula is activated during drug and alcohol withdrawal.

“We’ve been very interested in the habenula because this is the area of the brain that produces withdrawal symptoms, which an animal or human then tries to avoid by taking another drink or another dose of a drug,” said George in a statement.

Olivier George, PhD, associate professor at Scripps Research. Credit: Scripps Research.

Olivier George, PhD, associate professor at Scripps Research. Credit: Scripps Research.

In an experiment, George and colleagues gave 12 non-alcohol-dependent rats and 17 alcohol-dependent rats an experimental compound called NJ-63533054, which activates GPR139. The drug had no effect on the alcohol intake of the non-alcohol-dependent rats. However, it significantly decreased the amount of alcohol ingested by the rats addicted to alcohol. 

The JNJ-63533054 compound was particularly effective for one-subgroup of rats: those that had the highest alcohol intake and showed compulsive drinking behavior. These rats had such a severe drinking problem that they would continue to ingest alcohol even when it was adulterated with a bitter taste, which should have normally been repulsive for them. This behavior suggests that the targeted receptor is activated when the rats are drinking a lot and going through withdrawal.

[RELATED] The science of hangovers

During alcohol withdrawal, the pain threshold in rats (and humans) is generally lower. In order to confirm their findings, the researchers tracked the pain threshold of 17 rats undergoing alcohol withdrawal. When the rodents were treated with JNJ-63533054, they later had a higher threshold for pain. Yet again, the effects were strongest in the rats with the most compulsive drinking behavior.

Finally, in another experiment, the researchers delivered JNJ-63533054 directly to small areas of the brain through thin tubes. Rats ingested less alcohol when the drug was sent to the habenula, but not other brain areas. This confirmed the habenula’s role in alcohol addiction.

The experiments were performed exclusively on male rats, but the researchers suspect that the findings should carry over female rats, too. What’s more, the habenula is involved in broader types of addiction, meaning JNJ-63533054 might ease other types of addiction, besides alcohol.

“The good thing about this type of target is that is almost exclusively expressed in the brain, which limits side effects, and it seems to have no effect on individuals who are not dependent,” says George. “Those are both positive indications of the receptor being druggable.”

The findings appeared in the journal eNeuro.

Alcohol and tobacco, not illegal drugs, are the biggest threat to human health

What should we be more worried of: the legal, fairly common consumption of alcohol and tobacco, or the illegal drugs? Most people would answer the latter, but they’d be wrong. A new study found that the burden of death and disease falls heavily on alcohol and tobacco, both of which are legal and enjoyed by a significant portion of the population.

The study compiled the best, most up-to-date data on alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drug use. The study analyzed the impact in terms of disability-adjusted life years or DALY (a measure commonly used to assess health cost) — one DALY is one lost year of healthy life. Researchers found that in 2015, tobacco cost the world 170.9 million DALYs while alcohol cost 85 million DALYs. Meanwhile, illicit drug use turned out to be the lowest of the three, being responsible for “only” 27.8 million DALYs. While still very significant, the damage caused by illegal drugs is dwarfed by alcohol and cigarettes, which are much more common.

Available data suggests that nearly 1 in 7 adults regularly smoke tobacco, and about 1 in 5 drink heavily at least once a month. Europeans seem to take the crown for both smoking and drinking. Central, Eastern, and Western Europe recorded consistently higher alcohol consumption  — 11.61, 11.98 and 11.09 liters of pure alcohol per year, respectively. These areas also recorded the highest smoking figures, at 24.2%, 23.7%, and 20.9% respectively. However, when it comes to drug consumption, US and Canada severely outranked Europe, having one of the highest rates of cannabis, opioid, and cocaine dependence.

The authors explain that mortality rate, however, wasn’t as big in Europe as the alcohol and tobacco consumption would suggest — perhaps being offset by quality, universal healthcare.

“Europeans proportionately suffered more but in absolute terms, the mortality rate was greatest in low and middle-income countries with large populations and where the quality of data was more limited,” the authors wrote.

The authors also note an important limitation of the study: data collection is not equally reliable all over the world, so in some areas, the damage (especially that caused by illegal drugs) might not be properly understood — this is especially the case in Africa, Caribbean, and some regions of Latin America and Asia.

This study shouldn’t be understood in the sense that equal consumption of tobacco/alcohol and illegal drugs are equally damaging — of course, people consume much more alcohol and tobacco than drugs, which is why the damage is much more severe. However, for policymakers, it’s important to understand the biggest burdens to public health, and focus efforts to alleviate it. So put that cigarette down, and skip that extra beer.

The study “Global statistics on alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug use: 2017 status report” by Peacock et al. was published in Addiction.

wine

Every extra drink could shorten your lifespan by 30 minutes

There are some health benefits to be gained from drinking moderate amounts of alcohol, but science cautions that it will start negatively affecting your health past a certain threshold. A new study has quantified the lifespan-shortening effects of alcohol, finding that for every extra glass of wine or pint of beer over a certain limit, people lose 30 minutes of their life. The risks of drinking over the allowed weekly limit for a 40-year-old were comparable to smoking, according to the study’s authors.

wine

Credit: Pixabay.

Drinking sensibly has been shown in the past to reduce the chance of a non-fatal heart attack and can even be good for the brain. However, it’s very easy to cross the dangerous threshold over which cardiovascular diseases have a field day.

The new meta-analysis (a study of studies) included 600,000 drinkers from 83 studies performed in 19 countries. Half of the participants reported consuming more than 100g of alcohol a week and 8.4% drank more than 350g per week (the heavy drinkers). The study suggests that the risk of premature death rose quickly when more than 100g of alcohol was consumed per week — that’s five to six glasses of wine or pints of beer.

On average, a 40-year-old who consumed twice this amount reduced their life expectancy by six months. Beyond that, between 200g and 350g a week, they can expect to lose one to two years of life. Finally, those who drank more than 350g a week shortened their lifespans by four to five years. The really heaviest drinkes out there might lose as many years of life as a smoker (ten years lost), the researchers say.

Estimated future years of life lost by extent of reported baseline alcohol consumption compared with those who reported consuming >0–≤100 g per week. Credit: The Lancet.

Estimated future years of life lost by extent of reported baseline alcohol consumption compared with those who reported consuming >0–≤100 g per week. Credit: The Lancet.

“Above two units a day, the death rates steadily climb,” David Spiegelhalter, Winton professor for the public understanding of risk at the University of Cambridge and lead author of the new study, told The Guardian. 

“The paper estimates a 40-year-old drinking four units a day above the guidelines [the equivalent of drinking three glasses of wine in a night] has roughly two years’ lower life expectancy, which is around a 20th of their remaining life. This works out at about an hour per day. So it’s as if each unit above guidelines is taking, on average, about 15 minutes of life, about the same as a cigarette.

In 2016, the UK changed its national guidelines for alcohol consumption, reducing the recommended daily limit for alcohol. The decision was hotly debated and criticized at the time, but the new study supports the maximum of 14 units a week for both men and women set out by England’s chief medical officer. In countries like Italy, Spain, or the United States, the recommended limit is now almost double that in the UK (equating to up to two lost years of life). In other words, a lot of people might be indulging thinking they’re on the safe side, when, in fact, they might not be — and this is something definitely worth considering next time you go out.

The findings appeared in The Lancet medical journal.

Credit: Pixabay.

Marijuna is nowhere near as dangerous to the brain as alcohol

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

Because of the powerful psychoactive effect of marijuana, many have always assumed that prolonged use can hurt the brain in a similar way to alcohol but while the effects of alcohol on the human brain have been thoroughly documented, the same can’t be said about marijuana. Luckily, we’re seeing a marijuana research revival in the past decade, prompted by the legalization of the recreational and medicinal use of cannabis in more than 10 states in the US.

There are many contradictory findings, but one thing’s for sure: if cannabis poses long-term risks to brain health, these are nowhere near as harmful as those of alcohol — that’s according to the latest findings of researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder (UCB) and the CU Change Lab.

Your brain on pot

The psychoactive compound in marijuana that provokes its notorious high is a so-called cannabinoid called THC, or Tetrahydrocannabinol. However, cannabis contains over 60 cannabinoids, most of which are not psychoactive. For instance, Cannabidiol  (CBD) — another cannabinoid and possibly the 2nd most famous one after THC — is not only nonpsychoactive but actually blocks the high from THC. Other well studied cannabinoids include Cannabigerol (CBG), which has anti-inflammatory effects, Cannabichromene (CBC), which has both anti-inflammatory and anti-depressant effects, and Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), which promotes appetite (the famous munchies).

These cannabinoids act on receptors throughout our brain, keeping neuron firing and affecting dopamine levels, similarly to alcohol, caffeine, and sugar. Because the short-term effects of marijuana can be very intense, there is a valid concern that long-term use can trigger physical changes in the brain that are not beneficial. Alcohol, whose effect on the brain has been very well studied in the last half a century, is known for a fact to damage the brain. Studies on alcoholics found evidence of brain shrinkage, a common indicator of brain damage, which causes learning and memory problems. Can marijuana cause brain shrinkage like alcohol? That’s what UCB researchers set out to find out.

“Particularly with marijuana use, there is still so much that we don’t know about how it impacts the brain,” said Rachel Thayer, a graduate student in clinical psychology at CU Boulder and the lead author of the study, in a statement. “Research is still very limited in terms of whether marijuana use is harmful, or beneficial, to the brain.”

The team examined the brains of over 1,000 participants, both adolescents and adults, using MRIs. They then compared the results to brain images of alcohol users. To spot the differences, the researchers focused on two of the most important components in the brain: gray matter and white matter.

Gray matter, which has a pinkish-grey color in the living brain, contains the cell bodies, dendrites and axon terminals of neurons — this is where all synapses are, where all the heavy lifting takes place. White matter is made of axons connecting different parts of grey matter to each other. Both components are extremely important for cognition and loss of size in either is seen as a sign of brain damage or the brain not working properly.

“When you look at these studies going back years, you see that one study will report that marijuana use is related to a reduction in the volume of the hippocampus. The next study then comes around, and they say that marijuana use is related to changes in the cerebellum or the whatever,” said study co-author Kent Hutchison, a professor of behavioral neuroscience at CU Boulder and co-director of the CU Change Lab.

“The point is that there’s no consistency across all of these studies in terms of the actual brain structures.”

“With alcohol, we’ve known it’s bad for the brain for decades,” said Hutchison. “But for cannabis, we know so little.”

The MRI scans revealed the alcohol use was significantly associated with a reduction in gray matter size and white matter integrity. The longer the exposure to alcohol, the more pronounced the effects. Marijuana use, on the other hand, was not associated with any long-term impact on the amount of gray matter or white matter. This shows that while there may be some unwanted physical changes in the brain because of long-term marijuana use, these consequences are nowhere near as harmful as alcohol. But this is only the beginning. Hutchinson says that despite there are a lot of claims hinting towards the therapeutic effects of marijuana, much more research is required.

“Considering how much is happening in the real world with the legalization movement, we still have a lot of work to do,” he said.

The findings appeared in the journal Addiction. 

[ALSO READ] What happens when you mix marijuana and alcohol

Pot twist: Cannabis component helps fight addiction in new study

A new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology has revealed that a non-psychoactive and non-addictive ingredient of the Cannabis sativa plant can help reduce the risk of relapse among cocaine and alcohol addicts. According to lead author Friedbert Weiss, non-psychoactive cannabinoids could have important medical benefits in the fight against substance addiction.

Image via Pixabay/futurefilmworks

Addiction is a powerful, vicious monster that lives inside yourself. The battle is an extremely hard one and it often carries stretches out over years and years — potentially for an entire life. Many abstinent addicts find it even harder to control themselves in drug-related settings or when they experience stress or higher levels of anxiousness. For them, it’s a true struggle to dismiss their impulses when offered an addictive drug like alcohol or cocaine.

Researchers wanted to study the effect of Cannabidiol (CBD) on drug relapse in a rat model. CBD is a non-psychoactive compound of the plant Cannabis sativa (I suppose you already know that’s weed). CBD has been considered as a treatment for neurological and psychiatric disorders, and more recently also as a treatment for drug and alcohol addiction.

“The efficacy of the cannabinoid [CBD] to reduce reinstatement in rats with both alcohol and cocaine – and, as previously reported, heroin – histories predicts therapeutic potential for addiction treatment across several classes of abused drugs,” says Weiss.

Scientists applied a gel containing CBD once per day for a week to the skin of lab rats. The rodents had a history of deliberate daily alcohol or cocaine self-administration, leading to addiction-like behavior.

Next, they performed a number of tests to observe the rats’ reaction to stressful and anxiety-provoking situations, as well as behavior tests that measured impulsivity — a psychological trait associated with drug addiction. The research team reported that CBD reduced relapse provoked by stress and drug cues. CBD also reduced anxiety and impulsivity in the rats.

The authors wrote: “CBD attenuated context-induced and stress-induced drug seeking without tolerance, sedative effects, or interference with normal motivated behavior. Following treatment termination, reinstatement remained attenuated up to ≈5 months although plasma and brain CBD levels remained detectable only for 3 days. CBD also reduced experimental anxiety and prevented the development of high impulsivity in rats with an alcohol dependence history.”

Authors hope that insight into the mechanisms by which CBD exerts these effects will be investigated in future research. They believe that the findings are proof of CBD’s potential in relapse prevention, CBD’s major benefits being its actions across several vulnerability states, and long-lasting effects with only brief treatment.

“Drug addicts enter relapse vulnerability states for multiple reasons. Therefore, effects such as these observed with CBD that concurrently ameliorate several of these are likely to be more effective in preventing relapse than treatments targeting only a single state,” Weiss concludes.

Alcohol might lead to postsexual regret more than ecstasy or marijuana

A new psychological study reveals that drinking might lead to post-sex regret more than ecstasy or marijuana consumption.

Via Pixabay/bridgesward

According to the scientists, alcohol is more strongly associated with heightened perceived sexual effects like perceived sexual attractiveness of self and others, sexual desire, length of intercourse, and sexual outgoingness.

The paper, published in the journal Psychology & Sexuality, says that male participants experienced sexual dysfunction when consuming alcohol or taking MDMA (the main psychoactive ingredient in ‘ecstasy’ pills), but female participants suffered sexual difficulties when smoking pot. Interesting, right?

“A lot of studies suggest that the use of various drugs increases the chances for sexually risky behavior, but few have examined the actual sexual effects of drugs,” said Joseph J. Palamar of New York University, an author of the study, to the Psypost.

Ecstasy pills
Via Wikipedia

“Whether or not someone uses a condom while high is important. However, limiting research to this behavior really ignores the actual sexual responses associated with drug use that may in fact influence one’s decision to have sex with or without a condom.”

Scientists gathered interviews from 679 young people between the ages 18 and 25 right outside New York’s nightclubs and dance festivals. They found out that alcohol made them feel sexier than the other drugs.

“Each drug is associated with its own level of sexual risk,” said Palamar. “Alcohol is likely the riskiest as use is not only so common but also promoted throughout much of society. Even if sex itself isn’t risky while on alcohol, post-sex regret is extremely common as users may hook up with someone they normally wouldn’t have sex with.”

There was no surprise that ecstasy was found to be the drug most associated with an increased body and sex organ sensitivity, as well as increased sexual intensity. After all, its name speaks for itself.

The study has its limitations though: researchers only relied on self-reports. Another thing we ought to consider is that youngsters often mix these drugs up, and it’s rather difficult to say what substance has which effect. And let’s not forget that… well, users are prone to forget things when under the influence of psychoactive substances.

Drinking two glasses of wine a day, keeps premature death away

A long-term research, known as The 90+ Study, revealed some interesting statistics about longevity. Scientists were surprised to learn that the risk of premature death is lowered by 18% if you consume alcohol in low quantities (around 2 glasses of beer or wine per day). Meanwhile, exercising 15 to 45 minutes daily reduces the risk of early death by 11%.

Via Pixabay/Goyaines

This data seems a bit odd when looking at other studies which portray alcohol as carcinogenic.

“I have no explanation for it, but I do firmly believe that modest drinking improves longevity,” said neurologist Claudia Kawas from the University of California, that initiated the study in 2003.

Since then, Kawas has been studying a group of over 1,600 people over the age of 90. Scientists paid visits to the participants biannually. They performed various tests, such as cognitive, neuropsychological and physical ones. Researchers also collected data on the participant’s medical history, hobbies, diet, and daily activities.

Another curious discovery was that people who were overweight in their 70s lived longer than normal or underweight people. The team found that 90-year-olds who were a bit overweight, but not obese, had their chances of premature death lowered by 3 percent.

“It’s not bad to be skinny when you’re young but it’s very bad to be skinny when you’re old,” stated Kawas.

Other findings on longevity showed that people who spent about two hours daily on a hobby lowered their risk of premature death by 21 percent. Meanwhile, subjects who drank two cups of coffee each day saw the risk fall by 10 percent.

“These people are inspiring — they drink wine, drink coffee, gain weight, but they exercise and use their brains. Maybe that can tell us something,” Kawas added.

Other major findings discovered by the team are:

  • Over 40% of people aged 90 and older suffer from dementia while almost 80% are disabled. Both are more common in women than men.
  • About half of people with dementia over age 90 do not have sufficient neuropathology in their brain to explain their cognitive loss.
  • People aged 90 and older with an APOE2 gene are less likely to have clinical Alzheimer’s dementia but are much more likely to have Alzheimer’s neuropathology in their brains.

So, who is to tell that we can’t live our lives in a fun way? Perhaps the people who lived to be 90 were more relaxed than the ones who didn’t. Maybe this counts more than imposing restrictions upon ourselves. Maybe we should pay more attention to our desires, engaging more in our hobbies, and relax every night with a glass or two of wine. It doesn’t sound that bad, does it? I, for one, think I will subscribe to these simple ‘rules’ of living. Will you?

Drunk octopi.

Alcohol makes you aggressive by impairing the polite parts of your brain

Drinking and fighting are an age-old pair — but why? Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Australian researchers found that as little as two drinks can impair the part of the brain that tempers our aggression levels.

Drunk octopi.

Image credits Adrian Scottow / Flickr.

We don’t actually know why people become more aggressive after imbibing. We have our hypotheses, sure — mainly that alcohol-related fisticuffs are borne of an impaired prefrontal cortex — but there wasn’t much neuroimaging evidence to back that hypothesis up.

Gray matter matters

That’s a chink in the data that a team from the University of New South Wales in Australia patches up in their new paper. Led by Thomas Denson, the team recruited fifty healthy young men and gave each two drinks — either vodka or a placebo. After the volunteers downed their drink, the team placed them in a fMRI machine and pitted them against a standard test aimed at observing levels of aggression in response to provocation.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging allows researchers to see changes in blood flow throughout the brain — which they can then use to infer brain activity. They used these readings to see what parts of the areas this task activated. They also used the brains of participants in the control group as a baseline and compared the readings of those in the alcohol group to this baseline.

They report that being provoked had no influence on the participants’ neural responses. However, when behaving aggressively, those who had consumed alcoholic drinks had a dip in their prefrontal cortex activity. This dampening was also seen in areas f the brain involved in the reward pathways, and the hippocampus — a part of the brain associated with memory — saw heightened activity.

“Although there was an overall dampening effect of alcohol on the prefrontal cortex, even at a low dose of alcohol we observed a significant positive relationship between dorsomedial and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex activity and alcohol-related aggression,” Denson explains.

“These regions may support different behaviors, such as peace versus aggression, depending on whether a person is sober or intoxicated.”

The results are consistent with other current research on the neural basis of aggression, and its relationship to the prefrontal cortex, the limbic system, and reward pathways in the brain (you can find all of those structures here). The team says the results are encouraging, and call for “larger-scale investigations” in the relationship between alcohol and aggression using larger samples and stronger doses.

“Doing so could eventually substantially reduce alcohol-related harm,” adds Denson.

The paper “The neural correlates of alcohol-related aggression” has been published in the journal Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience.

Ever wondered if you have a drinking problem? This online, science-based tool can help

If you ever considered that you might have a drinking problem but just wasn’t sure, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has recently launched an online portal called the Alcohol Treatment Navigator. The portal features important information about alcoholism, as well as a couple of questionnaires to help you assess whether or not you have a problem.

Does your average drinking night look something like this? You might want to read on.

Alcohol-use disorder (AUD), more commonly referred to as alcoholism, affects a whopping 208 million people worldwide (4.1% of the adult population). In the United States, about 17 million (7%) of adults are affected by AUD.

However, despite these striking statistics, most individuals never seek help — sometimes because they don’t think they have a problem, and other times because they don’t even realize it. With that in mind, the National Institute of Health (NIH), which runs NIAAA, launched a portal that tackles both problems.

“We now know that there’s a full spectrum in alcohol use disorder,” George Koob, the director of the NIAAA told NPR. “A lot of people struggling with alcohol problems do not know where to turn. 90% of adults in the U.S. with an alcohol use disorder don’t get any treatment whatsoever.”

For starters, there’s a simple questionnaire which assesses whether or not you might have a problem with alcohol. It’s recommended to start from there. You either tick or leave black 11 statements. Then, there’s a quiz to assess your “drinking pattern.” After doing both quizzes myself, I’ve found some reason for concern: apparently, I’ve had more “heavy drinking days” in the past year than 7 out of 10 U.S. adults. The other quiz reported:

You checked 2 symptom(s). Even one or two could be a reason for concern, depending on the particular symptom(s) and the severity. The symptoms toward the top of the list tend to be early signs of potential trouble, whereas the ones further down the list indicate that you have moved further down a risky path.

My result from one of the questionnaires.

The website also shows you how to find high-quality treatmenthow to search for us, and what the costs might be. It also offers support if it’s not yourself that’s suffering, but a loved one. It’s all private, offering complete discretion, and most importantly its reliable. It offers evidence-based treatment options — treatment that’s grounded in the best available scientific research, with demonstrable improvements.

If you do suspect you have a problem or you know someone who might, I can’t recommend this tool enough.

Alcohol use is generally treated casually but alcoholism is a big problem and a growing one at that. Between 2002 and 2013, overall drinking increased by 11%, while ‘high risk’ drinking (four or more alcoholic drinks a day) rose by 30%. Even casual drinking increases cancer risk, whereas heavy drinking is linked to a myriad of health problems.

Alcohol byproduct causes DNA mutations that might lead to cancer

A new study published in Nature brings sorrow to all alcohol consumers, be they light or heavy users. An older study showed a significant link between cancer and light drinking, but researchers haven’t quite established a causation between the two. Now, Ketan J. Patel, a Cambridge geneticist, and his team discovered that an alcohol metabolite — acetaldehyde — causes significant DNA  damage in the blood stem cells of mice.

After drinking alcohol, the body converts it into smaller parts, one of them being acetaldehyde, a toxic compound. When the body is over-flushed with acetaldehyde, the molecule accumulates within the cells and starts to cause DNA and chromosomal damage.

Researchers from the Medical Research Council’s lab of molecular biology at Cambridge University genetically engineered mice by deleting the genes that controlled the formation of acetaldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ADLH2). Acetaldehyde dehydrogenases are a group of enzymes that are one of the natural mechanisms of alcohol degradation. Their purpose is to convert acetaldehyde into acetic acid. Basically, they rendered the mice unable to produce ADLH2.

Via Pixabay/lisichik

Next, they gave the mice diluted ethanol and then analyzed their genome to see what had happened. They discovered that acetaldehyde had altered their DNA by causing double-stranded breaks, which can lead to cancer.

Scientists were amazed when they saw that mice lacking the ALDH2 enzyme had four times the DNA damage in their blood stem cells when compared with mice that possessed the enzyme.

“We saw huge amounts of DNA damage in these cells. Bits of DNA were deleted, bits were broken and we even saw parts of chromosomes being moved about and rearranged,” Patel, the lead author said.

Via Pixabay/Goyaines

Another part of the experiment was to establish the methods through which the body repairs the damage done by acetaldehyde. Patel’s team learned that cells have a coordinated way of dealing with acetaldehyde poisoning.

“There are lots of ways cells can fix DNA damage,” says Patel in a press release. “What we’ve shown is that when damage happens as a result of breaking down alcohol, there’s a hierarchy when selecting the best way to carry out repairs.”

The most frequently chosen way was the Fanconi anemia repair pathway — a rare genetic disease resulting in impaired response to DNA damage. Other methods used were the non-homologous end-joining repair pathway and the homologous recombination pathway.

Either way, the news is not that great for drinkers. Of course, it would be best if all mankind could renounce drinking alcohol once and for all, but let’s face it: that’s not happening any time soon.

Parents giving alcohol too soon to kids, researchers say

Mom and Dad shouldn’t really allow little Timmy to drink that small glass of wine, scientists say. We’re giving alcohol to children too soon, while their brains and bodies aren’t fully developed. Socially advantaged parents are particularly prone to this type of behavior.

#alcohol, #parenting, right? Image credits: Leonid Mamchenkov / Flickr.

About one in six kids British parents allow their children to drink alcohol by age 14, the study reports. Parents believe they are acting responsibly and helping their children prepare for adult life, but the science just doesn’t back this up. The researchers, from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the UCL Institute of Education, and Pennsylvania State University, say that educated, white parents are especially guilty of this.

“Parents of socially advantaged children may believe that allowing children to drink will teach them responsible use or may in fact inoculate them against dangerous drinking. However, there is little research to support these ideas.”

The team surveyed 10,000 children from the Millennium Cohort Study, a study which previously revealed that children who start drinking early are more likely to have worse results in school, have behavior issues, and develop alcohol problems in adulthood. Permitting alcohol use did not vary by child gender, teenage or single parenthood, or variation in parental drinking level, the study reports.

Researchers say that it’s good that parents want to have an open conversation with children and offer them advice about alcohol, but this needn’t include actual drinking. Still, the good news is that overall, the percentage of children drinking alcohol is at its lowest level in history.

Katherine Brown, chief executive of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, highlights that kids should simply not drink alcohol before the age of 15 — even if it’s just a small glass of wine or half a beer. Alcohol is a major health risk during adulthood, for children it can have significant, far-reaching consequences.

“This is important guidance because alcohol can harm children, given their bodies and brains are not yet fully developed,” she said.

“It is worrying to see that this advice may not be getting across to parents, who are trying to do their best to teach their children about alcohol. We need to see better guidance offered to parents via social marketing campaigns and advice from doctors and schools. Parents deserve to know they can have a positive impact, and can reduce health harms associated with young people drinking.”

As Christmas and New Year’s Eve draw nearer, people tend to become more and more indulgent. People have an extra glass of wine, they stay up late with family, have a few beers with friends, and you might be tempted to just allow your kids to have some mulled wine. Researchers conclude It’s something you might want to reconsider.

Journal Reference: Jennifer L. Maggs, Jeremy A. Staff. Parents Who Allow Early Adolescents to Drink. DOI: http://www.jahonline.org/article/S1054-139X(17)30482-2/pdf

alcohol hangover

The science of hangovers or why you feel like crap after a night of heavy drinking

alcohol hangover

Credit: Pixabay.

Science knows surprisingly little about what causes hangovers or how we can tackle them. While there are thousands of studies dealing with alcohol one way or the other, there are only a handful of published scientific papers that explore what causes hangovers and whether or not there’s a cure. That’s quite a shame too, considering hangovers are the bane of every weekend warrior all over the world.

What physiological changes or biological interactions with alcohol could be responsible for the diabolical melange of headache, nausea, poor appetite or diarrhea, to name a few? According to the Alcohol Hangover Research Group (AHRG), “an international expert group” which aims to “elucidate the pathology, treatment, and prevention of the alcohol hangover,” most of what we know about the morning-after effects of heavy drinking is wrong.

What causes hangovers?

According to the AHRG, “alcohol hangover develops when blood alcohol concentration (BAC) returns to zero, and is characterized by a feeling of general misery that may last more than 24 h.” 

In a 2008 article published in the journal Alcohol & Alcoholism, Dutch researcher Joris Verster dispels a number of popular beliefs surrounding the triggers for alcohol hangover symptoms.

One of the most widely cited reasons why people feel wretched following heavy drinking is dehydration. Alcohol is known to suppress a hormone called vasopressin, which typically keeps you from feeling the need to urinate. Because you urinate more often, the body also loses more water. What’s more, if you’re drinking whiskey or other spirits, water is likely not on the menu for the rest of the evening, which worsens the dehydration. Why is it then that even if you neck copious amounts of water before you go to bed or while drinking alcohol, there will still be a dreadful hangover the next morning? That’s because dehydration doesn’t have much to do with it, says Verster.

Research suggests that levels of electrolytes — naturally occurring elements and compounds in the body that conduct electricity when dissolved in water — are more or less the same in both controls and people with hangovers. Even in those cases where there were some differences in electrolyte levels, these didn’t correlate with the severity of hangover symptoms. What’s more, studies haven’t been able to link hormones associated with dehydration and hangover severity.

According to Verster “alcohol hangover and dehydration are two independent yet co-occurring processes that have different underlying mechanisms.” In other words, drinking alcohol will dehydrate causing symptoms such as dry mouth and thirst. Drinking alcohol will lead to a hangover but not because you’re dehydrated. 

To be fair, there’s one major hangover symptom that can be attributed, or at least largely so, to dehydration: the annoying monster headache. Blood vessels narrow because of dehydration, restricting the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain in the process. In an attempt to restore fluid levels, blood vessels begin to dilate causing swelling around the brain.

The nausea we feel the morning after can be explained by alcohol’s effects on the stomach and intestines, which become irritated, causing inflammation. Alcohol also triggers the production of extra gastric acid along with more pancreatic and intestinal secretion.

Acetaldehyde, a byproduct that builds up in response to alcohol processing in the body, is thought to be 30 times more toxic than alcohol itself. Studies have shown that it produces hangover symptoms. The substance may partly explain the origin of hangovers.

Another intriguing hypothesis that might explain the origin of hangovers suggests that alcohol affects the immune system. Previously, researchers found a strong correlation between high levels of cytokines, which are the immune system signaling molecules, and hangover symptoms. When the body gets infected, cytokines trigger fever or inflammation, but it seems that excessively drinking alcohol can trigger a similar response, causing symptoms like muscle aches or headache, but also cognitive effects like memory loss and irritation.

Why hangovers are worse for some people

Some people seem more prone to hangovers. One study found that age may play a big part in hangovers, with adolescent drinkers reporting the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal less frequently than older adults. Another study found adolescent rats are less sensitive to the effects of a hangover has on anxiety and sociability.  The jury isn’t out yet as a recent Danish study which examined younger and older adult drinkers and found that the tendency to experience hangovers after binge drinking actually decreased with age.

Women seem to report the worst hangover effects, but that may be due to lower body weight than men rather than some intrinsic female biology. A total of 12.6 percent of women surveyed in the study say they ‘almost always’ or ‘always’ have a hangover after having more than five drinks at a party. The figure for men is 6.1 percent.

Are some types of alcohol more likely to give you a hangover?

Credit: Verster et al.=

Credit: Verster et al

You might have heard friends say that some types of alcohol give you a worse hangover or you might have experienced the feeling yourself. Like a lot of things related to hangovers, this hypothesis is rather poorly studied, but one important review from the 1970s seems to suggest there’s some truth to the idea. According to the study, alcoholic drinks with congeners — substances produced during the alcohol fermentation process or added later in the production — may enhance the toxicity effect of alcohol and, hence, increase the likelihood of a hangover.

Specifically, it seems like gin and vodka, both drinks with fewer congeners, are less likely to introduce a hangover episode than drinks with higher levels of congeners like brandy or red wine. Another study which followed 95 heavy drinkers compared vodka versus bourbon and reached similar results. 

So what can you do to cure a hangover?

There are a couple of things you can do to make things easier for you the next morning.

  • Don’t drink too much alcohol in the first place… but if that’s not an option,
  • At least don’t drink quickly or on an empty stomach.
  • Food doesn’t absorb the alcohol but a full digestive tract will slow down alcohol’s absorption into the bloodstream. Eating also replenishes electrolytes.
  • As we’ve learned, dehydration doesn’t really cause a hangover but it is partly responsible for some symptoms. Drinking a glass of water for every alcoholic beverage could prevent a very serious headache.

If you arrived here by googling a ‘science-based cure for hangover’, I’m sorry to break it to you but there’s no such thing yet. You’ll find many urban legends and anecdotal cures for hangovers — from coffee, eggs Benedict, tripe soup, and all the way to shrimp — but there’s no study that suggests any of these works. What you can do, however, is attack some of the symptoms. Aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil) can treat headaches and muscle pain while drugs like Tums or Pepto-Bismol can reduce nausea.

Until science comes up with a cure for hangovers, it’s best you wait it out.

Gin makes you sad, spirits make you sexy: Different alcohols have different effects on your mood, study finds

A group of researchers from the UK (where else?) set out to see how different types of alcohol affect your mood. To their surprise, they found that there might be some truth to the urban myths around alcohol.

Image credits: David Straight.

It’s the biggest study to ever document how people react to alcohol, mood-wise. Researchers used data from almost 30,000 people who responded to the Global Drug Survey, a yearly international poll about drug and alcohol habits around the world. They found significant differences between different types of drinks.

Strong spirits (like vodka, gin, or whiskey) made people feel energized (58% of people), confident (59%) and sexy (42%). But they also had a negative effect, tending to bring out aggression in some people. Negative feelings such as aggression (30%), restlessness (28%) and tearfulness (22%) give significant cause for concern. Meanwhile, just 2.5% of red wine drinkers reported feeling more aggressive.

Red wine tended to make people sad in 17% of cases, but more significantly, 53% of red wine drinkers said it left them feeling more relaxed. A similar fraction of people (almost 50%) reported this sentiment for beer. As it turns out, having a beer or a glass of wine does tend to make you feel more relaxed.

It’s not clear exactly why these things happen. It may be due to the nature of the drink, such as different ingredients, alcohol content, and the amounts consumed. However, it may be due to cultural aspects as well. Basically, the setting in which people tend to drink red wine might be more relaxing, whereas the setting for spirits might be more active. Authors conclude:

“Feeling positive emotions may in part be related to the promotion of positive experiences by advertising and the media. Emotions experienced could also be related to when the alcohol is drunk, the levels of alcohol within each beverage type and the different compounds found in different drinks.”

“Understanding emotions associated with alcohol consumption is imperative to addressing alcohol misuse, providing insight into what emotions influence drink choice between different groups in the population.”

Professor Mark Bellis, Public Health Wales’ director of policy, research and international development, says we should pay extra attention to spirits, which are associated with a rich history of violence.

“Spirits are often consumed more quickly and have much higher concentrations of alcohol in them. This can result in a quicker stimulating effect as blood alcohol levels increase. They may also be consumed in different social occasions so people may be drinking them deliberately to feel the drunken effect quickly while other types of drink are more likely to be consumed slowly or with food. As people get the kick from escalating alcohol levels, the same increases reduce the brain’s ability to suppress impulsive feelings or to consider the consequences of acting on them.”

The study was published in the British Medical Journal.