Tag Archives: binge drinking

Every week of lockdown makes binge drinking more likely

Being stuck at home due to the coronavirus pandemic can affect our mental health and behavior in more ways than we imagine. As many around the world can attest, it can even make us more likely to drink more alcohol. A new study has just confirmed that idea.

Image credit: Flickr / Diann Bayes

In response to the outbreak, local and state governments across the US mandated temporary shelter-in-place and business shutdown policies as an attempt to control and reduce the spread of the virus. As a result, many experienced a sudden loss of salary, unemployment, and physical isolation — all of which can take a serious toll on our minds.

As of late June, 40% of US adults reported struggling with mental health problems, including substance use, previous studies have shown. However, limited research has evaluated the impact of specific COVID-19-related stressors on alcohol consumption, and specifically, binge drinking.

Binge drinking is a common but preventable alcohol use behavior defined as having 5+ drinks for men or 4+ drinks for women, in a span of only two hours. It’s a practice commonly associated with increased stress levels and has been shown to be detrimental to mental health. Researchers from the University of Texas surveyed nearly 2,000 people over 18 years old across the US, to analyze the interplay between the binge drinking and the lockdown.

They collected data on sociodemographics, alcohol consumption, and COVID-19-related stressors using a web-based, self-report survey. Then, they used a multivariable logistic and multinomial regression model to establish the link between alcohol consumption and pandemic’s stressors.

The findings showed that 34% of the sample reported binge drinking during the pandemic. More binge drinkers increased alcohol consumption during the pandemic (60%) than non-binge drinkers (28%). For every week spent at home during the pandemic, there were 1.21 greater odds of binge drinking.

Binge drinkers had, on average, four drinks per occasion, compared to just two drinks for the non-binge drinkers. Those surveyed who drank at harmful levels during the pandemic would consume seven drinks maximum on one occasion, compared to a maximum of two per session during the pandemic for those who did not.

Underlying mental problems also seemed to play a role in people’s behavior. People with a previous diagnosis of depression and current depression symptoms had greater odds of increased alcohol consumption compared to those reporting no depression. Meanwhile, living with children was associated with lower odds of binge drinking during the pandemic, according to the study.

While the findings are significant, the researchers note a few limitations of their study. Over 70% of respondents reported an annual income of greater than $80,000, which potentially indicates more disposable income. This relatively high income could skew the data, though it’s not entirely clear which way.

At the same time, the findings may also differ as time progressed. For example, individuals may have adapted to the “new normal” and maintained pre-pandemic alcohol consumption behaviors. On the other hand, others may feel more strained due to the length of the lockdown and increase their dependence on alcohol.

At any rate, the study goes to show that the ramifications of both the pandemic and the lockdown orders can have on our mental state. Further studies are needed on strategies to prevent and intervene in binge drinking behaviors while people are in isolation, especially considering the potential of a longer lockdown as the pandemic continues, the researchers argued. That’s currently the case in many parts of the world, with cases on the rise amid a massive second wave.

The study was published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.

Ten days of binge drinking disrupts neuron connections, causes anxiety and other cognitive problems

Credit: Pixabay.

It’s no secret that lifelong alcohol abuse is responsible for serious health problems that can lead to organ failure and diminishing cognitive function. But a recent study shows that even temporary heavy drinking can cause important cognitive impairments and problems. According to scientists in Portugal, 10 days of binge drinking can disrupt connections between neurons, leading to anxiety.

Of mice and alcohol

João Relvas, a neuroscientist at the University of Porto, and colleagues, gave male mice alcohol or water via tubes for 10 consecutive days. The rodents in the intoxicated group were given 1.5 grams of alcohol per kilogram of body weight, a dose which is equivalent to five drinks for an adult human of normal weight.

After their binge drinking streak, the mice’s brain tissue was analyzed, with the researchers finding that the heavy drinking caused microglia to destroy synapses between neurons in the prefrontal cortex.

Microglia represent a specialized population of macrophage-like cells in the central nervous system, which act as immune cells that defend the brain and spinal cord from foreign invaders. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the cerebrum that lies directly behind the eyes and the forehead. It is primarily responsible for processing complex cognition and decision making.

The synaptic dysfunction in the mice given alcohol for ten days straight led to a visible increase in anxiety-like behavior. After the researchers investigated the rodents’ brain tissue in more detail, they found that the microglia disrupted brain cells due to inflammation triggered by the alcohol.

“The loss of these connections did not cause neuronal death during the study but instead depressed neurotransmission and increased anxiety-like behaviors in the mice. These findings suggest that binge drinking induces anxiety by activating microglia that destroy neuronal connections,” the authors wrote in their study.

When the scientists blocked the production of an inflammatory molecule called TNF with pomalidomide, a commercially available drug, the synapse disruption did not occur, preventing the onset of anxiety.

Microglia from mice that were only given water (left) versus microglia in alcohol-fed mice. The panel on the right shows microglia engulfing synapses in the prefrontal cortex. Credit: Science Signaling.

These findings suggest that drugs that regulate TNF may be useful in treating alcohol addiction and the effects of alcohol abuse on the brain. This possibility would have to be investigated by clinical trials on humans.

The authors of the study also point out, however, that TNF inhibiting drugs shouldn’t be used by people who experience fallout due to a week-long heavy drinking streak. Besides cognitive impairments, binge drinking affects the whole body, negatively impacting the function of the heart, liver, pancreas, and immune system.

A 2018 study published by researchers at Vanderbilt University found that young adults who frequently binge drink have greater cardiovascular risk factors such as higher blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.

Ultimately, the best treatment is prevention: only drink in moderation or don’t drink at all, the researchers cautioned.

The findings appeared in the journal Science Signaling.

Binge drinking ranks high among older adults, research shows

Binge drinking, the practice of consuming large quantities of alcohol in a single session, is surprisingly common in adults age 65 and older: 1 in 10 binge drink once a month, putting them at risk for a wide range of health problems, according to new research.

Image Credits: Flickr.

 

Binge drinking is the most common, costly, and deadly pattern of excessive alcohol use in the United States. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and AlcoholismExternal defines binge drinking as drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 grams percent or above. This commonly means 5 drinks for men and 4 for women over the course of 2 hours.

“Binge drinking, even episodically or infrequently, may negatively affect other health conditions by exacerbating disease, interacting with prescribed medications, and complicating disease management,” Benjamin Han, MD, the study’s lead author, said.

Binge drinkers were more likely to be male, current tobacco and/or cannabis users, African American, and have less than high school education. They were also more likely to visit the emergency room in the past year.

Particularly for older adults, binge drinking is considered a risky practice because of aging-related physical changes, such as an increased risk of falling, and the likelihood of having chronic health issues. Nevertheless, research hasn’t been much focused on binge drinking among older adults.

Han and the research team examined data from US adults age 65 and older to determine the current prevalence and factors that may increase the risk of binge drinking. They looked at the prevalence of current binge alcohol use and compared demographic and health factors of binge drinkers with people who drank less.

The results showed 10.6% older adults have binge drank in the past month–an increase compared to earlier studies. In the decade leading up to the data used in this study (2005-2014), binge drinking among adults 65 and older was between 7.7 and 9%.

The study, also found that factors such as using cannabis can be associated with an increase in binge drinking in older adults.

“The association of binge drinking with cannabis use has important health implications. Using both may lead to higher impairment effects. This is particularly important as cannabis use is becoming more prevalent among older adults, and older adults may not be aware of the possible dangers of using cannabis with alcohol,” said researcher Joseph Palamar, the study’s senior author.

The study also revealed that binge drinkers had a lower prevalence of two or more chronic diseases compared to non-binge drinkers. The most common chronic disease among them was hypertension (41.4%), followed by cardiovascular disease (23.1%) and diabetes (17.7%).

“Our results underscore the importance of educating, screening, and intervening to prevent alcohol-related harms in older adults, who may not be aware of their heightened risk for injuries and how alcohol can exacerbate chronic diseases,” said Han.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Young drinkers beware: binge drinking is bad for you. Real bad

If you’re going out drinking tonight, you might wanna tone it down just a bit — especially if they still ask for your ID at the pub.

By now, it’s no secret that alcohol probably isn’t the best thing for you. Although it’s still a matter of active research, the vast majority of the science we have points to the negative effects of alcohol, which are long-lasting and far-reaching — especially if you start out young.

Binge drinking prevalence rates are highest in young adults, and yet the effects that it has on health remains largely understudied.

A new study carried out by Mariann Piano, senior associate dean of research at Vanderbilt University, and colleagues, reports that young adults who frequently binge drink have greater cardiovascular risk factors such as higher blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.

Writing in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the researchers explain that binge drinking by young men was also associated with higher systolic blood pressure — the force on blood vessels when the heart beats. Furthermore, frequent binge drinking had additional effects on cholesterol, which is also a major factor in cardiovascular disease. Female binge drinkers also tended to have higher blood glucose levels than abstainers.

Piano says that the risks are not trivial and should be strongly considered and addressed.

“The risk extends beyond poor school performance and increased risk for accidental injury,” she said.

The study is particularly relevant for college students — where binge drinking is more prevalent than ever.

About one in five college students report three or more binge episodes over the course of two weeks, consuming six to seven drinks per drinking session. Also, more and more students drink solely to get drunk, often up to the point where they pass out. Compared to previous generations, the propensity of college students to get drunk puts them at a greater risk for alcohol-related harm.

High-frequency binge drinking was reported by 1 in 4 men, and approximately 1 in 9 women. However, when it comes to occasional binge drinking (12 times a year or less), the figures were much closer: 29.0% for men and 25.1% for women.

However, things are starting to change, at least in some parts of the world. A previous study found that in the UK, a country where “you’re born with a basically born with a beer in your hand,” drinking rates among the youth have started to decline dramatically. Around 29% of 16-24-year-olds in the UK don’t drink alcohol at all, a significant increase from 18% back in 2005.

Globally, 3 million deaths every year result from the harmful use of alcohol, representing 5.3 % of all deaths. There is a strong causal link between alcohol and 200 disease and injury conditions, including several types of cancer, diabetes, and heart problems.

The study has been published in the Journal of the American Health Association (JAHA).