Tag Archives: drinking

In Poznan, Poland, eight clams get to decide if people in the city get water or not

Clean drinking water, like democracy, is one of those things you tend to take for granted until it runs out or becomes polluted. But just like democracy, securing it takes a lot of work and constant oversight.

In Poznań, a city in the western stretches of Poland, this work takes place in a round building with round windows in the middle of the Warta River. This building, the Dębiec Water Treatment Plant, harbors one of the most interesting and wacky takes on the issue of water quality management.

Here, artificial and biological monitoring systems ensure that the water pumped throughout the city’s pipes is safe to drink. The artificial systems take precise measurements of chemical contamination in the water, which is definitely handy. However, as Aquanet.pl explains, it is the plant’s biological systems (or ‘bioindicators’) that allow for a more reliable estimation of the water’s overall toxicity, as they account for a broad range of factors “simultaneously”.

Image credits Julia Pełka / GRUBA KAŚKA via Reddit.

These biological systems are comprised of eight mussels with sensors hot-glued to their shells. They work together with a network of computers and have been given control over the city’s water supply. If the waters are clean, these mussels stay open and happy. But when water quality drops too low, they close off and shut the water supply of millions of people with them.

Enter the mussel

According to a presentation from AquaNES, a project of the European Union that aims to integrate nature-based elements into water management systems, Poznań’s main source of water is the Warta River. The only issue here is that the Warta passes through some of the country’s densest population centers, and some of its oldest industrial areas (where heavy industry has been present since the later parts of the 19th century). This creates an avenue through which pollution can wind up into the city’s drinking water. One particular point of worry is heavy metals such as chromium seeping through the ground and into the river.

Which naturally raises a question — how can Poznań ensure that the drinking water running through its pipes isn’t dangerously contaminated?

“Using an organism as an indicator (bioindicator) cannot be accidental. It requires extensive field research that aims to accurately characterize natural occurrence conditions,” writes Aquanet.

“The best indicator organisms are those that have specific life requirements, i.e. they have a narrow ecological (occurrence) scale. This means that a number of different factors will limit their vital functions or even eliminate them from the environment.”

In essence, these “indicator organisms” allow engineers at the plant to know if the water is safe for human use or consumption, even if they don’t produce hard data on its quality. Organisms such as mussels are good indicators of water quality because they have a low tolerance for pollutants, and they show an obvious response to improper water quality: they clamp shut.

Shellfish service

Mussels require clean, well-oxygenated water with low levels of physical or chemical impurities to thrive. They’re less and less common in Polish lakes (and in virtually all coastal waters across the globe) because of pollution, which shows just how sensitive they are to changes in water quality. In Poland’s case, a former communist country, most of the damage is caused by pollutants seeping up from contaminated aquifers (groundwater) into lakes or rivers.

This sensitivity to pollutants made them ideal for monitoring Poznań’s water supply. When waters are nice and clean, mussels open up completely in order to feed — which they do by filtering water and eating any organic matter they find. When water quality drops, they very quickly close their shells, inlet siphon (their ‘mouth’), and slow down their metabolism.

The use of mussels as part of an automated water supply system was tested at the Department of Water Protection at the University of A. Mickiewicz in Poznań and found to be a very reliable indicator of water quality.

Whenever a mussel clamps down, it closes a circuit via a spring that was simply hot-glued to its shell, which alerts a computer that it may be time to turn off the water supply. The computer’s job is to monitor parameters obtained through artificial sensors and produce an alarm if anything seems amiss. This step is meant to account for any possible change in the individual behavior or mussels, of which there are 8; one presumes they may sometimes grow tired and close off for a nap.

If four of the mussels close at the same time, however, the system shuts down automatically. It’s engineering at its best.

Mussels are typically viewed as a nuisance that clogs and damages water supply systems. But the clam-powered system has been running at the Dębiec Water Treatment Plant since September 1994 and might change that view.

Gruba Kaśka (Fat Kathy)

This is one of those stories that you hear and just can’t believe its real. I first ran into it as a meme on Reddit and was convinced it’s just a funny story someone made up for laughs until I started digging around a bit.

But I’m definitely glad I did. The simplicity and creative thought that underpin this system is what I enjoy about it the most. I find it particularly exciting to see engineers cooperating with wildlife in such an important task: to protect public health and the quality of tap water.

Julia Pełka, the director of Gruba Kaska, a documentary film that follows the story of such mussels in Poland’s capital is the one who brought this story out of the plant and into the Internet. Her interest in the topic began when she was little, as Warsaw’s water pumping facility was clearly visible from a bridge she needed to pass over when going to visit her grandparents.

“I read an article about this building called ‘Gruba Kaśka’ which is a water pump and can be accessed through an underground 300-meter tunnel,” Julia Pełka told me. “Inside, 8 clams control the purity of our water.”

“No computer can replace these super-sensitive mussels.”

As an adult, she ran into a story detailing how clams help keep the water supply clean, and thus a documentary film was born. Julia’s documentary follows a clam-based control system similar to the one from Poznan in the city of Warsaw.

“These unassuming creatures take care of the safety of millions of people in Warsaw. I saw a certain metaphor in this, but at the same time a very good subject from a cinematic perspective,” , told me in an email.

She adds that the clams are “paid back after three months of work by releasing them to a place from which they will never be caught again”. While I definitely enjoy the thought of clams earning a comfortable retirement spot, this is done because they eventually become resistant to contamination in the water.

One thing that struck me in my back and forth with Julia (apart from the obvious coolness of the story) is the depth of themes that can be derived from a simple water safety system.

“By making this film I wanted to show man’s dependence on nature. I thought it was brilliant that humans are using mussels to create a warning system against danger. They use the clams’ senses to protect themselves from the dangers of modern civilization.”

“You could say that people use them as protection from themselves.”

Alongside malacologist Piotr Domek, who specializes in finding and selecting appropriate mussels for the Warsaw plant, Julia wanted to offer thanks to the Polish Waterworks, who allowed her to film “inside such a strictly guarded facility”. The documentary premiered late last month as part of the World Showcase Shorts Program 3.

New study furthers our understanding of how genetics influence heavy drinking

A new study comes to flesh out our understanding of the genetic basis for problematic drinking.

Image via Pixabay.

Previously, we knew of 13 gene variants associated with heavy drinking. Now, this study expands our knowledge to an impressive 29 different gene variants linked to problematic alcohol use. One limitation of the study is that, despite its relatively large sample of 435,000 people, all of them were of European descent.

Bottoms up

“The new data triple the number of known genetic risk loci associated with problematic alcohol use,” said Joel Gelernter at Yale University School of Medicine, the Foundations Fund Professor of Psychiatry and a professor of genetics and neuroscience.

Foundations Fund Professor of Psychiatry and professor of genetics and of neuroscience, who is the senior author of the multi-institutional study.

The study looked at genome-wide records of people of European ancestry contained in four separate biobanks and datasets. The team identified individuals who met criteria for problematic drinking, including alcohol use disorder and alcohol use with medical consequences and then looked for genetic variants they all shared.

They located 19 previously-unknown genes that represent risk factors for such behavior, alongside 10 previously-identified genes.

Furthermore, they looked at genetic risk factors for several psychiatric disorders including anxiety disorder and depression in the genomes. During the study, this step allowed them to analyze the genetic links between such disorders and heavy drinking. Major depressive disorder showed the greatest correlation to problematic drinking; risk-taking behavior, insomnia were also positively correlated with such behavior.

The genes identified in this study are particularly stable from a hereditary point of view in the brain (they’re more stable across generations) and in “evolutionarily conserved regulatory regions of the genome”, which suggests that they perform important functions in our metabolism. Exactly what these functions remain to be determined.

“This gives us ways to understand causal relations between problematic alcohol use traits such as psychiatric states, risk-taking behavior, and cognitive performance,” said Yale’s Hang Zhou, associate research scientist in psychiatry and lead author of the study. “With these results, we are also in a better position to evaluate individual-level risk for problematic alcohol use,” Gelernter said.

Heavy drinking is associated with adverse medical and social outcomes, so understanding which people are at risk for such behavior could help us better protect them.

The paper “Genome-wide meta-analysis of problematic alcohol use in 435,563 individuals yields insights into biology and relationships with other traits” has been published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

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.

New study maps what the world is drinking

Whether it’s coffee, milk, or sugary drinks, we all have our preferred drinks. Liquids make up a substantial percentage of the calories we ingest on a daily basis, and yet global information about their consumption remains limited. Researchers wanted to draw a global baseline and see what different demographics in different countries are consuming.

“These preliminary data derived from the Global Dietary Database project can help inform nutrition transitions over time, the impacts of these beverages on global health, and targeted dietary policy to improve diet and health,” said lead study author Laura Lara-Castor, a doctoral student in the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. Lara-Castor will present the research at Nutrition 2019, the American Society for Nutrition annual meeting, held June 8-11, 2019 in Baltimore.

Some results were pretty intuitive. For instance, consumption of milk was highest in northern Europe — high-income areas in which dairy has traditionally played an important role in the diet, and where a large percentage of the population isn’t lactose intolerant. Juice consumption was highest in Latin America, especially in Colombia (where adults drink an average of 1.4 cups per day) and the Dominican Republic (1.3 cups per day).

Other things, however, left more room for discussion.

Researchers were particularly interested in a particular set of drinks, one which is increasingly being considered a health hazard: sweetened drinks. Intriguingly, Latin America also had the highest consumption of this sort of beverage, with the average Mexican adult drinking 2.5 cups per day, followed by Suriname and Jamaica at 1.8 cups per day. The lowest intake was in China, Indonesia, and Burkina Faso.

“Notably, sugar-sweetened beverage and fruit juice intake was highest in the Latin American region, where both commercial and homemade sugar-sweetened beverages and fruit drinks are widely consumed,” said Lara-Castor.

Mexico is no stranger to its sugary problem. The country has extremely high rates of obesity (more than 70% of the population is overweight or obese), and much of that is owed to sugar. Over 70% of the added sugar in diet comes from sugary drinks, with Coca-Cola being particularly popular. Mexico has taken steps to curb its addiction to sugary drinks, adding a tax on sugar. The tax seems to work, causing a 5.5% drop in the first year after it was introduced, followed by a 9.7% decline in the second year. Other parts of the world are also attempting to tackle this issue, with several cities and countries implementing taxes on sugar to remarkable results.

Establishing this global baseline is important to see how beverage consumption develops over the years, particularly when it comes to something like sugary drinks, where policy can make an important difference affecting our health. This information can help policymakers and, of course, us consumers to make better decisions in our day to day life.


Employees forced to smile for customers drink more, new study finds

Forcing employees to look happy in front of customers might have the opposite effect — it amplifies their negative emotions and makes them more likely to be heavy drinkers.

Employees forced to smile more are more likely to have a drink after work.

We all like the people who work for us to be friendly and smiley, but if you’ve worked in services with a lot of human contact, you probably know just how hard it can be to maintain a happy look. At some point, actually being happy isn’t an option, and you have to fake it — but this comes at a cost. A team of researchers at Penn State and the University at Buffalo found that resisting natural emotions and putting on a forced happy face makes people more likely to drink more alcohol.

By faking or suppressing emotions in front of customers, employees are using a lot of self-control. However, after work, there might not be all that much self-control left in the tank. So employees are left with very little self-control for their own emotions and for restricting their urges — urges such as drinking.

“Smiling as part of your job sounds like a really positive thing, but doing it all day can be draining,” Grandey said. “In these jobs, there’s also often money tied to showing positive emotions and holding back negative feelings. Money gives you a motivation to override your natural tendencies, but doing it all day can be wearing.”

Researchers analyzed data from 1,592 U.S. workers who routinely work with the public, such as people in food service who work with customers, nurses who work with patients or teachers who work with students. The data also included information about how often participants faked or suppressed emotions (something called “surface acting”) as well as how often and how much the participants drank after work. Overall, employees who interacted with the public drank more after work than those who did not. Furthermore, the more surface acting the employees had to use, the more drinks they tended to have. The association was stronger for employees who have a one-time relationship with the customer (such as a cafe or a bar) rather than for people who tended to develop a relationship with their clients (like a nurse or a teacher).

“The relationship between surface acting and drinking after work was stronger for people who are impulsive or who lack personal control over behavior at work,” Grandey said. “If you’re impulsive or constantly told how to do your job, it may be harder to rein in your emotions all day, and when you get home, you don’t have that self-control to stop after one drink.”

Of course, it pays to be nice to your customers. Another recent study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto and the University of South Carolina, found that particularly for small businesses, it’s essential to offer excellent customer support. Customers expect a warmer relationship with a smaller company as opposed to bigger businesses and tend to hold small businesses to a higher standard.

However, you shouldn’t push for over-the-top disingenuous fake smiles. Researchers call on businesses to re-think their “service with a smile” policies, and call for more natural interactions between employees and customers, especially in fields of work where the incentive to smile is commercial in nature.

“Nurses, for example, may amplify or fake their emotions for clear reasons,” Grandey said. “They’re trying to comfort a patient or build a strong relationship. But someone who is faking emotions for a customer they may never see again, that may not be as rewarding, and may ultimately be more draining or demanding.”


Whatever your drinking strategy is, you’ll get equally hungover

“Beer before wine, you’ll be fine; wine before beer, you’ll feel queer” — similar variations of this advice are passed down in surprisingly many cultures. There’s the French (Bière sur vin est venin, vinsur bière est belle manière), the German (Wein auf Bier, das rat ich Dir — Bier auf Wein, das lass sein), and even the Romanian (Berea dupa vin e un chin) version. But does the folk saying actually have any truth to it? A new study says ‘no‘ — it doesn’t really matter in what order you have your drinks, you’ll still get equally drunk and equally hungover.

Most of us are familiar with the scourge of hangovers — perhaps too familiar. But despite all this, hangovers remain somewhat of a mystery: we don’t know what they are or even how to manage them.

“Alcohol-induced hangover constitutes a significant, yet understudied, global hazard and a large socio-economic burden,” researchers write in a new study.

Kai Hensel, M.D, has been thinking about hangovers for a long time. Not because he has a history of them, but because he wanted to see how accurate folk sayings about hangovers really are. In particular, he was curious about the different variations of “grape or grain, but never the twain” (twain being an archaic term for “both”).

He sought advice from older professors, scoured the literature, but couldn’t find any information. So he came up with a plan. After carefully laying out a study design and seeking ethical approval, he got 90 volunteers drunk — for science.

The study was simple but ingenious in its approach. The participants were split into two groups. The first group consumed two and a half pints of lager beer (graciously donated by Carlsberg), and then had four large glasses of white wine. The second group had the same but in the opposite order, while the third group was a control group, only drinking either wine or beer. A week after the first drinking session, participants were asked to come back and switch the drinking order, and they were also asked to grade how hungover they were. Hangover intensity was scored on an 8-item compound score (including thirst, fatigue, headache, dizziness, nausea, stomach ache, tachycardia, and loss of appetite)

The results were very telling: there was basically no difference between how hungover the different groups were. So regardless of wine before beer or beer before wine, people were equally drunk and equally hungover. Just because it rhymes doesn’t mean it’s true — who knew?

No tactical drinking — just red flags

Instead, the only predictor of how hungover people were the next day was how drunk they got. For instance, women had more and stronger hangovers, something which is in line with previous research.

“After doing all the blood tests, urine tests, and the marginal regression analysis, the only thing that was actually a predictor of a hangover the next day was the participants feeling drunk,” Hensel pauses, “and then vomiting.”

Another saying is that you shouldn’t mix drinks — but this also turned out to not be the case. Vomiting occurred more often in the control group (6 for wine only and 5 for beer only than in the study groups (4 in total for both groups). More women than men vomited both on study day 1 (5 to 4) and on study day 2 (8 to 4).

There was substantial difference between participants. Different people have different hangover predisposition, depending on body mass, individual tolerance, and habituation to alcohol intake. Colorings, flavorings, and sugar can also make hangovers more severe. But tactical drinking is not a thing, researchers warn.

“Although this should rob tactical drinkers of the belief that they can reduce the aftereffects of a heavy night out by careful ordering of beverages, our findings suggest that “perceived drunkenness” and “vomiting” are useful predictors of misery in the morning after the night before. Furthermore, this is in line with the recent observation that no level of alcohol consumption improves health,” the study concudes.

Researchers say that the best thing to do in order to avoid hangovers is to look for red flags. Drinking too much alcohol is associated with severe dehydration (so it’s always good to have some water when drinking a lot of alcohol), but essentially, if you want to not feel bad the next day, you should realize when you’re drunk and stop drinking. Of course, the irony is (as drunken people all around the world can attest) that realizing you’re drunk is pretty much the hardest thing to do when you’re drunk.

Hensen also discussed another strategy employed by some drinkers: the pre-emptive puking. There is some merit to it, he says, but if you’ve reached that point, you’re in trouble anyway.

“If you arrive at a point where you need to be sick you’ve probably passed the point of no return,” he added.

The study “Grape or grain but never the twain? A randomized controlled multiarm matched-triplet crossover trial of beer and wine” has been published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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).


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.

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 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.

How the brain makes drinking water feel like a pain once you’re hydrated

A new study led my Monash University has identified a mechanism that regulates fluid intake in humans for the first time. Their results show that it works to prevent humans from over-drinking, and challenges the popular eight glasses of water a day rule.

Image credits Tomasz Sienicki.

The paper, led by associate professor Michel Farrell of Monash’s Biomedicine Discovery Institute working in collaboration with University of Melbourne PhD student Pascal Saker, has shown that the brain kicks in a “swallowing inhibition” after excess liquid is consumed. This mechanism helps maintain water levels in the body — taking an active part in maintaining homeostasis.

Building on previous research, the team asked participants to rate how much effort it took to take a swig of water under two different conditions — first after exercise when they were thirsty, and the second time after they’ve already had their fill, so they drank an excess amount. They report it was three times as difficult for the participants to swallow after over-drinking. They used fMRI imaging to peer into the activity of various parts of the subjects’ brains, focusing on the period just before swallowing.

“We found effort-full swallowing after drinking excess water which meant they were having to overcome some sort of resistance,” Farrell said.

“This was compatible with our notion that the swallowing reflex becomes inhibited once enough water has been drunk.”

The fMRI studies showed strong activity in the right prefrontal areas of the brain in participants who were trying to swallow in effort-mode. The team believes this shows that the area has to step in and overcome the swallowing inhibition so drinking could occur.

While it may sound a bit insignificant, these findings are pretty important — you can actually poison yourself if you drink too much water. Called hyponatremia, it causes sodium levels in the blood to drop, leading to lethargy-like states and nausea to full-blown convulsions, coma, even death. While this doesn’t happen very often, people undergoing heavy exercise are particularly at risk of over-hydrating.

“There have been cases when athletes in marathons were told to load up with water and died, in certain circumstances, because they slavishly followed these recommendations and drank far in excess of need,” Farrell said.

So how can you make sure you won’t overdrink? Well luckily, we have an in-build prevention system, as the study found.

“If we just do what our body demands us to we’ll probably get it right – just drink according to thirst rather than an elaborate schedule,” Farrell concluded.

He does point out that people — most usually the elderly — often don’t drink enough, and should watch their intake of fluids.

So just let the thirst guide you, people.

The full paper “Overdrinking results in the emergence of swallowing inhibition: an fMRI study” has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Here’s why your drinking buddies are ruining your liver

The findings of a new Cardiff University study suggest that people estimate how drunk they are not by how much they’ve had to drink but by how they compare to the people around them.

I guess we can all get black-out drunk now.
Image via Wikimedia.

Heavy drinking isn’t healthy for you. We all know that. But somehow, when we go out for drinks, it becomes so easy to have more than what we’d consider a sensible amount of alcohol. University of Cardiff researchers think they know why this happens. In a new study, they found that while intoxicated and in a drinking environment, people’s perception of their own drunkenness and the health risk posed by their drinking are based on how intoxicated they are in comparison to others around them.

In other words, we feel less drunk and less at risk of the ones around us are more intoxicated, and more at risk when surrounded by more sober people.

“This has very important implications for how we might work to reduce excessive alcohol consumption,” said Professor Simon Moore from Cardiff University.

“We could either work to reduce the number of very drunk people in a drinking environment, or we could increase the number of people who are sober. Our theory predicts the latter approach would have greatest impact.”

The team tested the alcohol breath concentration (BrAC) of 1,862 people from different social groups, who averaged 27 years old. The tests were carried out between 8 PM and 3 AM on Friday and Saturday evenings at four locations near popular drinking spots. The participants were divided into eight reference groups based on location and gender — the idea was that people were most likely going to compare themselves with the members of the same gender in the location. Each individual’s BrAC levels were ranked withing their reference group.

A set of 400 people also answered four additional questions based on where they ranked in their group so that the team could study the dynamic between intoxication and people’s judgements: “How drunk are you right now?” for example, or “How extreme has your drinking been tonight?”, “If you drank as much as you have tonight every week how likely is it that you will damage your health / get liver cirrhosis in the next 15 years?”

Respondents with a BrAC of zero were not included in the rank-judgement analyses. On average, people considered themselves as moderately drunk and moderately at risk though their BrAC came in excess of standard US and UK drunk driving levels (35 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath.) On average, men had higher BrAC levels than women.

This study was the first look at how people estimate their intoxication and the consequences of alcohol consumption while drinking in a real-world watering hole. Previous work relied sober participants in lab conditions remembering how they compared to others while drinking. It also allowed a huge margin or error, as they compared their state to how drunk they perceived others to be.

“Researchers have historically worked under the assumption that those who drink most alcohol incorrectly ‘imagine’ everyone else also drinks to excess,” Moore added.

“It turns out that irrespective of how much someone has drunk, if they observe others who are more drunk than they are, they feel less at risk from drinking more.”

The researchers say the fact that people base their decision to drink on their environment and the people around them should form the basis of future alcohol reduction strategies. This study was observational, so it can increase our understanding of possible links between perceived drunkenness and drinking environments, but it’s not a direct cause-and-effect being established here. There are a lot of other factors that come into play when we decide whether to have another glass or not.

The study may also be limited by the assumption that people who are drinking in the same environment influence each other, which may not be the case — most of the people in the eight groups probably didn’t have any social relationship whatsoever. An experimental study would be needed to show a cause and effect. The researchers also suggest further investigation into the influences of more immediate social groups on drinking perception.

The full paper “A Rank Based Social Norms Model of How People Judge Their Levels of Drunkenness Whilst Intoxicated” has been published in the journal BMC Public Health.

Getting blackout drunk: how alcohol can leave you with no memory of the night before

Whether it happened to you or someone else, everyone knows what blackout drunk means. It’s probably ruined countless relationships and friendships, but what exactly causes it? Obviously, alcohol is the culprit, the process itself is quite complex. According to science, blackouts are the result of alcohol blocking the brain’s ability to form new memories due to an increase in inhibition stemming from changes in neurotransmitter levels.

How memory works

Before we look at what alcohol does to the brain during a blackout, we first need to look at how memory works in the human brain. Many researchers believe in the general model of memory formation proposed by Atkinson and Shiffrin in 1968. This model (depicted below) suggests that all sensory input is encoded into a short-term memory that – after the process of rehearsal – is then consolidated into a long-term memory.

Image credit National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Image credit National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Where alcohol comes in

Research shows that alcohol primarily inhibits the ability of the brain to encode information in short-term memory storage into long-term memories. Typically, someone who is very intoxicated can remember information immediately after they are exposed to it because it is kept active in their short-term memory for around one minute or more. However, the encoding process that consolidates this short-term memory into a long-term memory is inhibited by alcohol. In short, alcohol inhibits our ability to form new memories – each experience of the night simply passes through our conscious experience without ever leaving a lasting impact.

You might be asking yourself why someone who is blackout drunk can still remember their name and where they went to school as a child. Although alcohol affects the consolidation of short-term memories, it doesn’t affect long-term memories that were encoded prior to intoxication, making the recall of these memories possible even in states of extreme inebriation.


Alcohol primarily acts as a gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) agonist, meaning that it increases the levels of the GABA neurotransmitter throughout the brain by binding to GABA receptors. As the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the human brain, activation of these receptors reduces the rate of neuronal firing in standard cellular processes.

When alcohol concentrations reach very high levels – such as those seen during blackouts – it also acts as an N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) antagonist, in turn decreasing the levels of the glutamate, the neurotransmitter that acts on these receptors. Since glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter, blocking its receptors further inhibits neuronal firing.

Long-term potentiation

After alcohol causes a widespread inhibition of brain activity through its action on GABA and NMDA receptors, it inhibits long-term potentiation – the cellular process that consolidates short-term memories into long-term memories through the strengthening of connections between neurons in the brain. This strengthening occurs specifically in areas of the brain associated with memory, such as the hippocampus.

Image credit Pixabay

Image credit Pixabay


The hippocampus is a structure in the brain located in the medial temporal cortex that plays a large role in the formation of memories. Long-term potentiation is known to occur primarily in this brain region and NMDA receptors in particular are known to play an important role in this process, which is why receptor blockage by alcohol is connected to its inhibition.

How much is too much?

Although it seems safe to assume that drinking large quantities of alcohol causes blackouts – and indeed blackouts almost always happen during periods of heavy drinking – heavy drinking alone is not enough to cause a one. Other factors such as the speed of drinking and drinking on an empty stomach are necessary to cause blackouts due to their connection to rapid increases in blood alcohol content (BAC). Even social drinkers can fall victim to alcohol blackouts by letting their BAC increase too fast.

“They were inexperienced,” said Daniel Goodwin, a researcher who has conducted numerous studies on the effects of alcohol on memory, in reference to first-year medical students that reported experiencing at least one blackout. “They drank too much too quickly, their blood levels rose extremely quickly, and they experienced amnesia.”

Ultimately, pacing the speed at which you drink and ensuring that you keep some food in your stomach will lessen the likelihood that you will experience a blackout after consuming large amounts of alcohol. Without paying attention to these factors, you risk waking up with no memory of your night, or worse – with alcohol poisoning.

How the brain keeps your heat and water balance

What exactly makes you thirsty? Dehydration, obviously, but how does your brain know that your body needs water? And how does that grey, squishy lump resting in your cool and comfortable cranium, know when your body needs to heat up or cool off? Scientists at the McGill University Health Centre Research Institute (RI-MUHC) and Duke University have asked themselves just that, and being scientists, went ahead to find out.

They identified a protein in the brain that they think is the key to understanding body hydration and temperature control. Their findings could have huge implication in clinical science, allowing treatments for health issues associated with with the imbalance of bodily fluids — a common sight in the emergency room — to be developed. Their work was recently published in the print issue of Cell Reports.

Even the famous and powerful must drink!
Image via bossip

“We have identified what we think is the first protein that could allow the brain to monitor physiological temperature and it is important because this protein contributes to how the brain detects heat and triggers adaptive responses such as thirst,” says Dr. Charles Bourque, the study’s lead author and a researcher at the Centre for Research in Neuroscience at the RI-MUHC and at the Faculty of Medicine of McGill University. “This protein, which is an ion channel, that regulates the flow of ions across the cell membrane, is thought to play a crucial role in balancing body fluids (water, blood, etc.) and sodium (salts) levels, and changes in its regulation could be involved in linking salt to hypertension, and provoking fluid retention following cardiac failure, sepsis or brain trauma.”

The team led by Dr. Bourque is looking into how the brain performs osmoregulation — keeping the salt and water balance across membranes all through the body. Even slight osmotic imbalances can have major health consequences, with high salt levels increasing blood pressure and taking a big toll on kidneys. Low sodium levels on the other hand, hyponatremia, causes brain cells to swell, causing nausea, vomiting and headaches. It is known to be a very common problem in older adults and it can result in changes in cognition and even seizures.

Imbalances in the body’s fluid and salt levels are among the most common reasons for hospitalization after admittance to the ER, says Dr. Bourque.

‘’Now that we have discovered the protein’s structure, we can try to understand how this ion channel is involved in conditions such as hyponatremia. This would give us tools to modify the channel’s mechanism of action and either prevent or treat the condition,’’ says study’s first author, Cristian Zaelzer, Postdoctoral Fellow in Dr. Bourque’s laboratory at the RI-MUHC.

This breakthrough rests on previous work Dr. Bourque’s team performed at a laboratory in the Montreal General Hospital of the MUHC in 2006. They demonstrated the importance of the TRPV1 gene — it plays an essential role, detecting and informing of changes in our bodies’ fluid balance. Two years later, in 2008, they discovered that the same gene also had a part to play in keeping tabs on bodily temperature. However, they only managed to do so indirectly — the protein that TRPV1 holds the blueprints for was still unknown. Until now:

“Collaborating with Dr. Bourque’s group led to identification of a long sought-after TRPV1 ion channel that functions in neurons, making them sense osmotic pressure and temperature ,” explains senior co-author Dr. Wolfgang Liedtke, associate professor of neurology, anesthesiology and neurobiology at Duke University. “This ion channel becomes active during dehydration, switching on the neurons in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which instructs the body to act in order to maintain its fluid balance. This can be achieved by triggering a sense of thirst, and also by the secretion of vasopressin – an antidiuretic hormone that acts to promote the retention of water by the kidneys – to maintain body fluid balance.”

“Interestingly, our work also shows that the ion channel is an alternate product of the gene TRPV1 that normally codes for the capsaicin receptor that detects “hot’’ chilli peppers, adds Dr. Bourque. It is like nature has engineered a salt receptor out of a pepper receptor.”

Legal, but not safe: small distractions make driving drunk lethal

Even though driving after drinking small amounts is legal, it’s most definitely not safe, research from the University of Kentucky (UK) in the U.S. finds. Nicholas van Dyke and Mark Fillmore at UK reported that for intoxicated drivers, even those driving under the legally accepted alcohol limit, small distractions such as a text message or dashboard controls are just too much to handle safely. The study provides the first scientific evidence on the impact such distractions have on the ability of liquored drivers to safely control vehicles.

Image via huffingtonpost

In the US. an average of 28 alcohol-related traffic deaths are reported daily. Law makers are considering lowering the legal alcohol limit for drivers, currently at 0.08 percent, to 0.05 percent in an effort to reduce the number of incidents in the future.

Such laws however are based on the assumption that it’s safe to drive while below that limit – but it’s not. They do not take into account how distractions further influence a driver’s ability to control their vehicle.

Van Dyke and Fillmore wanted to see just how much of a toll they take on the driver. They tested 50 adult participants, gauging how they can maneuver a 5.9 mile drive through a typical urban setting after having just one drink.

They employed a driving simulator, and took note of how well participants continuously adapted to the road — such as making small adjustments to the steering wheel to keep the vehicle on a lane, how often they crossed into another lane or veered onto the edge of the road. Each test lasted 6 minutes, but during that time the drivers also had to respond to small red circles appearing on their simulated windshield.

According to the researchers, this distraction task was no more difficult than what drivers experience on a daily basis while reading or typing text messages or any of the numerous — and increasingly complex — dashboard controls that they have to keep track of on a modern vehicle.

Separately, alcohol and the distractions both impaired key aspects of driving performance, including within-line deviations, steering rate and lane exceedance. The magnitude to which alcohol impaired safe driving was increased two-fold when a driver also had to deal with distractions, even when under the legal US. alcohol limit.

“With continuing advancements in technology and the omnipresence of distractions while driving, it is becoming increasingly important to study the interaction between alcohol and distraction on driving,” van Dyke points out.

“A clearer understanding of how common distractions impact intoxicated drivers, especially at blood alcohol concentrations that are currently legal for driving in the United States, is an important step to reducing traffic accidents and fatalities and improving overall traffic safety,” Filmore added.

The findings were published in the journal Psychopharmacology.

Ballantine creates whiskey glass to be used in zero G, spill free

Another full and tiring day is over, and you just want to unwind with a nice glass of whiskey. You pour yourself a shot, and take up the glass, gleefully anticipating the aged flavor and warming flow of the liquor but then, disaster strikes. The drink floats up lazily into the cabin, in a most unglasslike sphere – you’re an astronaut, and you can’t get your buzz on, foiled by zero G.

If there’s one thing we at ZME Science support wholeheartedly it’s drinking…For science! We’ve already told you how Japanese distillery Suntory and Socttish Ardbeg Distillery sent samples of the amber nectar into orbit to study how the aging process can be improved when gravity is taken out of the mix.

Suntory’s packs of liquor were outfitted with straws, but it’s unlikely the astronauts manning the ISS would take a sip in such a crude manner.

But worry not, for Scottish manufacturer Ballantine comes to the aid of space-dwellers the world round (and beyond) with a new, high-tech glass that promises to make getting hammered with style in space a reality.

“With style” here is used loosely.
Image via pics-about.space

To make the glass space-friendly, Ballantine relied on James Parr from the Open Space Agency to engineer a system that would solve a two-fold problem: pouring the liquor inside, and getting it out only when drinking.

The solution Parr came up with is a futuristic glass that has a convex gold plate embedded in its base. This metal sheet provides enough surface tension to hold the liquid down. The drink then passes through a spiraling channel in the form of a helix, built around the glass’ side walls, reaching up to a golden mouthpiece. It was successfully tested in a microgravity environment at the Zarm Drop Tower in Bremen, Germany, Wired reports.

Image via 3dprint

Most of the materials including the gold base and the “glass” itself are 3-D-printed. The “glass” itself is a medical-grade PLA plastic since actual glass is fragile and could break easily as it floats in microgravity.

The tiny hole you see in the bottom of the glass is a valve through which the drink can be poured into the glass. Gold plate was chosen over other metals since it’s chemically unreactive and won’t spoil the liquor’s taste. But what good is it to have the whiskey contained if the glass is just gonna float around the spaceship? Well, it won’t – a magnet is built-in beneath the base plate to hold the glass down on magnetic surfaces.

They also put together an awesome presentation video for the glass:

Ballantine published the details of the process in an article for Medium.


Heavy drinkers may get extra “brain fuel” from alcohol

When a lion hunts a gazelle, he is actually hunting the weakest of the herd, the one which is the slowest. Repeating the hunt, in time only strengthens the herd. The drunken version of this is that the same things happen with alcohol and neurons: sure, alcohol destroys some neurons, but it’s only the weaker ones, and the remaining ones are stronger after drinking. Well, it may not be like this, but there are some advantages to being a heavy drinker.


Long-term booze use boosts brain levels of acetate, an energy-rich by-product of alcohol metabolism which pumps up the brain, a new research concludes. In the study, people who downed at least eight drinks per week also sucked more energy from acetate than their light-drinking counterparts (seriously, 8 drinks/week is now heavy drinking? sigh). What’s interesting is that given the energy boost the brain receives from drinking heavy, this may actually be one of the reasons why it’s so hard to quit alcoholism.

“I think it’s a very good hypothesis,” says biochemical geneticist Ting-Kai Li of Duke University. Scientists had suspected that heavy drinkers absorb and burn more acetate, but, he adds, “Graeme Mason showed that this is actually happening.”

Human brains typically run on sugar, but with enough acetate (a chemical found in vinegar), the brain can use this energy as well. To test and prove this theory, the team injected sober volunteers with a form of acetate that was tagged with a traceable atom. Then the volunteers were asked to stay put while scientists shot brief bursts of radio waves into the participants’ brains that delivered tiny bits of energy to the tagged atoms and jostled out a return signal which was picked up by MRI machines. Heavy drinkers transported more acetate to their brains and burned the chemical about twice as fast as light drinkers, Mason’s group found – they were basically able to tap into this alternative energy source.

“I jumped out of my chair and threw my fist in the air.” He had suspected that people with high blood acetate levels would be better at wringing energy from the chemical, but he says, “the effect was way bigger than I thought.”

High School alcohol

Teen drinking linked to Internet use

High School alcohol

According to a recently published study, teens who regularly drink alcohol tend to spend more time on a computer surfing the internet on social networking sites, than other teens who don’t drink alcohol.

As a conclusion that both somewhat bashes ‘nowadays teens’ and the Internet, the study concludes that a link between teenage drinking and Internet exists. Though it isn’t a direct cause-effect conclusion, it’s still an association, one which scientists explain by the number of alcohol refereces are portraied all over social media websites like facebook or twitter, as well as online adverts promoting alcohol use. It’s important that parents realize their children face enticements online that may encourage underage drinking, the researchers say.

More research over longer periods of time is needed to better understand the relationship between computer and alcohol use, the researchers of the study, which was published in the journal Addictive Behaviors, say.

“Children are being exposed to computers and the Internet at younger ages,” said study researcher Jennifer Epstein, a public health researcher at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. “For this reason it’s important that parents are actively involved in monitoring their children’s computer usage, as well as alcohol use.”

More than 200 adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17 were surveyed by Epstein and colleagues surveyed about their online activity and alcohol use. What they found was that teens who drank alcohol in the last month spent, on average, 16 hours online per week excluding schoolwork activities. Those who didn’t drink alcohol in the last month spent 12.7 hours online per week excluding schoolwork. Ergo the association between the internet and teen alcohol consumption, I’ll get back to this in a second.

Remarkably, researchers couldn’t find any link between playing online video games or shopping online and drinking. Guess, that’s because kids like to stay sober while playing WoW and unpack a brewsky from time to time while surfing facebook.

Considering that around 2 billion people use the Internet, of which most probably over 500 million are teens, I’m confident one could find all sort of links between surfing the web and other activities. What’s next, “researchers find hidden link between internet use and teen sex”. Twenty years ago, it used to be TV.

The study adds to a growing body of research that has found both pros and cons to teen Internet use. Related to this particular study, a recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics which I reported a bit about some time a go, described a new phenomenon known as “Facebook depression,” in which children and teenagers spend too much time on social networking sites, then develop symptoms of depression. And other studies have linked Internet use in general to an increased risk of depression and loneliness among teens.

Researchers agree, however, that Internet use is indeed important and helpful for a teenager. In addition to helping with homework, studies have found online activities help teens maintain ties with friends. I have an idea teenagers are using the internet for much more than researchers are lead to believe. Oh, and one study found those who did not spend time online were also at an increased risk for depression. Again, the key is balance.

“The Internet offers a wealth of information and opportunities for intellectual and social enrichment,” Gil Botvin, a professor of public health at Weill Cornell Medical College, said in a statement. “However, it is becoming clear that there may also be a downside to Internet use.”

More research is needed to understand these potential dangers and combat them, he added. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) National Survey on Drug Use and Health, some 24 million children aged 12-18 need treatment for alcoholic addiction, but only 2.6 million receive help alcohol recovery centers.