Is the drinking age getting lower and lower? Teenage alcoholism

How young do kids start drinking?We’ve already mentioned that kids tend to get in quite a bit of trouble during their teen years (see here). Well, adolescence is also a time when the brain is developing and therefore is at a high risk for damage, especially when alcohol abuse enters the picture.

Early use means more alcoholism later

While the risk taking can be playful and harmless, when it involves alcohol and drugs the consequences of use at an early age can be long-lasting. The earlier a person begins drinking the higher the reported rates of alcoholism later in life. During this time, when an adolescent’s brain is changing, they are less likely to be able to inhibit themselves, let alone anticipate the future. Those with hyperactive, disruptive, antisocial personalities are at the greatest risk for alcohol abuse at early ages, putting their already somewhat compromised brains at an even greater risk.

Teens, like adults, report feeling more at ease when under the effects of alcohol, which makes it easy to understand why they would want to continue. Less like (some) adults, teens rarely consider the negative consequences of their actions, a fact that has at least a little to do with their still developing brain structures. But there are consequences to alcohol abuse and they can be dire – over 5000 kids die each year as a result of underage drinking.

Young bodies and early alcohol damage

Before these young adults are truly mature, their intake of alcohol may not be properly resolved by their bodies because their regulatory systems are not fully developed and can be further taxed by the intake of alcohol. Alcohol abuse in a young age can have a lasting effect on brain development resulting in impairments for many years to follow. Reproductive organs and other important maturation factors may also be stunted due to a consumption of alcohol during a vital time (especially when binge drinking). As with most people who drink, regardless of the age, liver enzymes are elevated soon after the heavy drinking begins, meaning the body is less able to ward off other toxins.

Parents and alcoholism

Children of parents who drink more and view drinking with a laid back opinion are more likely to drink more as well. This may not be a problem as long as responsible consumption is discussed, but my guess is that it rarely is. Also, kids who have older friends are more likely to begin drinking at an earlier age. Teens that have become addicted to alcohol need help specifically tailored to their age group that does not remove them from their normal home and school setting. It’s been shown that isolating these kids, or specifically grouping them together, may do more harm than good.

Often, adolescents with alcohol abuse problems are also using other drugs, and they may be suffering from other psychological disorders. All of the issues need to be treated at the same time in order to effectively treat the entire person. No matter what the issue(s), the sooner they are dealt with the more effective the results.

Teenage alcoholism is a problem, and one that we shouldn’t be ignoring.

Co-authored by: Jamie Felzer

Citations:

“Adolescent Brain Development, Decision making, and Alcohol Abuse and Dependence” NIAAA Research. November 2007.

“Why do Adolescents drink, What are the Risks, and How can Underage Drinking be prevented?” Alcohol Alert. January 2006, 67

The alcoholism gene? That’s quite a long story!

If you were trying to find something to blame alcoholism on, genetics would be a good place to start: As much as 50-60% of the risk of becoming an alcoholic is determined by a person’s genes (1). We’ve discussed the genetics of addiction in general as they relate to other condition like ADHD, depression, and anxiety, but the risk that a person may become an alcoholic also depends on their sensitivity to alcohol’s effects, development of tolerance, susceptibility to withdrawal symptoms and alcohol-related organ damage, among others.

Alcohol related genes and alcoholism

The genetic causes of alcoholism are not always simple and straight-forward, especially because genes interact with one another (and the environment) in ways that can create unexpected results. However, some aspects of the genetics of alcoholism are clear, like the case of the genes that affect the speed with which liver enzymes will break down (metabolize) alcohol and its byproducts. Some people have a gene variation which produces liver enzymes that have trouble breaking down acetaldehyde (ALDH2-2, very common among Asians), a basic breakdown product of alcohol. As the levels of acetaldehyde increase, people experience flushing, nausea and rapid heartbeat which makes them less likely to consume alcohol and therefore less likely to become alcoholics. Not surprisingly, alcoholism rates have been historically low in Asian populations. However, recent increasing trends of alcoholism in Japan show that if you work at it hard enough, even a genetic predisposition that is supposed to protect you from alcoholism is no match for good old social pressures to drink.

Researchers have identified one neuropeptide (called NPY) that is located near known alcohol-related traits and indicates an alcohol preference in rats, consequently increasing response to alcohol (1). The effects of alcohol are increased with certain forms of NPY and  that gene has been linked to addiction-related, and anxiety, behaviors (2). It is also generally accepted that genes that affect the activity of serotonin and GABA (one of alcohol’s main targets in the brain and body) are likely to be involved in alcoholism risk.

It is important for everyone to remember that there is a predisposition to becoming an alcoholic and that alcoholism is a disease, not simply an outcome of poor behavior . There are ways to treat both the physical symptoms and the underlying addiction in alcoholics.

We’ve barely scraped the surface of the numerous influences on alcohol’s effects, and the predisposition to alcoholism, but hopefully this post leaves you with a slightly better appreciation of the complexity of the matter…

Co-authored by: Jamie Felzer

Citations:

1. Alcohol Alert-National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. No.60. July 2003

2. Anxiety and alcohol abuse disorders: a common role for CREB and its target, the neuropeptide Y gene. Trends in Pharmacological Sciences, Volume 24, Issue 9, September 2003, Pages 456-460.

Women, Trauma and HIV Transmission

Co-authored by Jamie Felzer

Just how much can the events of a traumatic childhood affect the likelihood of contracting HIV or other serious diseases in later life? Unfortunately, recent research shows that the effect can be profound, especially for women.The silver lining may be in our ability to reduce later HIV transmission by providing better intervention services post-trauma.

Childhood Trauma, Women and HIV/AIDS

In ways both surprising and predictable, it seems that even very early childhood trauma can be firmly linked to high risk behaviors and a higher risk of contracting HIV. And with AIDS now reported by the US Department of Heath & Human Services as the leading cause of death for African-American women between the ages of 25-34 (and the perhaps even more sobering H&HS assessment that African-American women are a staggering 21 times more likely to die from AIDS compared to non-Hispanic white women), this crisis has a particular impact on women of color.

The obvious conclusion is that those subjected to childhood trauma are more likely to engage in risky behavior in an attempt to relieve some of the chronic stress that often accompanies such experiences. Drug use, unprotected sex, heavy drinking and other accompanying behaviors can all seem like appropriate responses to mental and emotional stress, but that stress can also inhibit one’s ability to make safe choices in this context. This naturally leads to an increased risk for contracting sexually transmitted diseases and blood-borne pathogens. Factor in the simple biological reasons why women may be at an elevated risk of contracting HIV through any one encounter, and it becomes clear that many at-risk young women are not receiving adequate education on how to protect themselves against this threat.

Many young women with a history of trauma and elevated lifetime stress from sexual assault, violence or any of the myriad stressors that accompany low socioeconomic status may be inadvertently putting themselves at greater risk for contracting HIV and AIDS. As mentioned, these risks can commonly come from unsafe sex and the abuse of unknown drugs, potentially with non-sterile needles. Without a strong support system to help them adequately process the short and long-term effects of trauma, many young women end up developing symptoms of chronic anxiety and depression, conditions that can alter behavior and even ultimately lead to demonstrated higher rates of mortality. That these conditions also often co-exist with other health issues linked to lower socioeconomic status such as obesity and heart disease serves to further compound this risk. Stress has even been shown to speed the progression of the AIDS virus, making the disease itself more deadly.

And with a full 1/3 of the female population having reported some form of sexual assault or similar violent trauma, the sad reality is that the risks for contracting HIV among young women are, if anything, growing. It seems that one way to attack the HIV pandemic is by improving prevention, as well as intervention, services, for women affected by such early trauma. It might be a way to kill two, or even more, birds with one stone.

About Addiction: Basics, Smoking and drugs

Whether you are interested in addiction as a whole or specific drugs, we have it all here.  Read on for some interesting breaking news and informative articles.

Addiction Basics

Addiction in Recovery: Alcohol and drugs are not the only addictions looming over US college students heads. This article reveals that cut off from the Internet, social media, cell phones and devices like iPods and TVs, students experience agitation, aggression, slight depression and a sudden overabundance of time.

PRLog: Some basic addiction statistics.  In 2001 almost thirty percent of kids between the ages of twelve and seventeen reported using drugs.

Smoking

Medical News Today: This article discusses a study which found that Arizona’s smoking ban reduced hospital visits.  Since the 2007 state law took effect, admissions for ailments related to secondhand smoke have declined by as much as 33 percent.

Health Today: A new study found that Americans could suffer 18,000 fewer attacks per year, save millions in health costs if all states banned smoking in restaurants, offices and other public spaces nationwide.

Medical News Today: The medical marijuana boom is always a prevalent topic. According to this article, fourteen states in the US plus the District of Columbia have passed laws intended to give certain ill people legal access to medical marijuana.

Other Drugs

Harm Reduction Journal: This is about a case study examining the closure of a large urban fixed site needle exchange in Canada. The article concludes that closing the fixed site needle exchange had an adverse effect on already vulnerable clients and reduced access to effective comprehensive harm reduction services.

AP News Break: The investment and crackdown of drug war in Mexico have failed to halt drug-related violence, which has killed 23,000 Mexicans in the past three years, or the availability of drugs in the U.S. marketplace, the world’s biggest. Obama said Tuesday that he would send as many as 1,200 National Guard troops back to the US- Mexico boarder to help battle illegal immigration and drug smuggling.

Science Daily: Researchers at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital have produced the first evidence that the opioid blocker extended-release injectable naltrexone (XR-NTX) is able to reduce the brain’s response to cues that may cause alcoholics to relapse.

About Addiction: Your brain, smoking, alcohol and drugs

Some new, different areas of addiction and some old favorites.  Read on to learn more!

Check out this USA Today story about President Obama’s public health fight and goals of reducing drug usage.  He said prevention and education are really what we need.

Your Brain and Addiction

Science Daily: A genetic variant of a receptor in the brain’s reward circuitry plays an important role in determining whether the neurotransmitter dopamine is released in the brain following alcohol intake.

Health Day: Children who experience psychological disorders such as depression and substance abuse appear to be headed for a financially depressed adulthood.

Science Daily: This article investigates separate and joint effects of alcohol and tobacco on the nucleus accumbens. A new study has found that alcohol abuse elevated the expression of a distinct set of genes in the NAC and VTA while nicotine blunted this effect in the VTA.

Alcohol

APP: This article talks about a new study on alcohol use of teens. The Partnership for a Drug Free America found in a study released in March an 11 percent increase among students in grades 9-12 who reported drinking alcohol in the past month, up to 39 percent in 2009, or 6.5 million students.

Science Daily: This article suggests that frequent alcohol use is linked to faster HIV disease progression. According to the article, HIV disease tends to progress at a faster rate in infected individuals who consume two or more alcoholic drinks a day.

Associated Press: This is a link to a short text which states that the World Health Organization endorsed a global strategy to reduce alcohol abuse. This text calls alcohol use one of the leading causes of sickness and death.

Smoking

Physorg.com: In a new study was found that treatment for smoking dependence is as effective among people with severe mental illnesses as it is for the general population.

Cesar Fax: This  states that cigarette excise tax increased in fifteen states in 2009. Four states have not increased cigarette taxes in more than a decade.

Other Drugs

Reuters: Prescription drug use of US children has risen. Children were the leading growth demographic for the pharmaceutical industry in 2009, with the increase of prescription drug use among youngsters nearly four times higher than in the overall population.

Medical News Today: There are significant changes in substance use treatment admissions patterns that have occurred over the past decade. The co-abuse of alcohol and drugs has declined gradually yet significantly.

About Addiction: Smoking, Drugs, Drinking and Cancer

New links for interesting articles about addiction. Check them out!

Tobacco, nicotine, and Smoking

Medical News Today: According to a recent study in China there is a new effective strategy for treating tobacco addiction.  Researchers have developed a novel tea filter that seems to help with cigarette addiction. (Note: this link doesn’t give direct access to the article so we’re basing the summary on the article itself)

SAMHSA: According to a new nationwide study, adolescent smoking may be influenced by mothers’ smoking or depression. The study states that adolescents living with mothers who smoke are 25.6% more likely to smoke. It’s frightening to think that 1.4 million 11-17 year old kids started smoking in the past 12 months!

Science Daily: Exposure to prenatal smoking may lead to psychiatric problems. According to new research, exposure to prenatal smoking can increase the need for psychotropic medications in childhood and young adulthood.

Hard drugs

Science Daily:  A newly developed and tested modified enzyme has been shown to break down cocaine into inactive products nearly 1000 times faster than the human body. The article states further that cocaine toxicity due to drug overdose results in more than half a million emergency room visits annually. This new enzyme could help prevent OD deaths by breaking down the drug.

Fox News: The number of soldiers seeking opiate abuse treatment has been increasing, going up from 89 in 2004 to 529 last year.

Addiction Inbox: A study that uses the Stroop test (have to name the colors of words and not the words themselves) seems to be a good predictor for addiction treatment effectiveness and drop out rates. Pretty cool stuff!

Alcohol

Join Together: This is a short article summarizing research which shows that rare childhood leukemia is tied to drinking during pregnancy. According to this research, children whose mothers are drinking during pregnancy are 56 percent more likely to develop a rear form of leukemia called AML.

Addiction Tomorrow: Britain is considering raising the prices of their very low-end alcohols most likely in an attempt to damper the young adults that binge drink and of alcoholics since they are most often the ones that drink the low-end alcohol.

About Addiction: Alcohol, breast cancer & war veterans

Check out our weekly links about addiction!

Health Day: A new study shows that breast cancer survivors who smoke are at increased risk for a second cancer. The time frame to develop second cancer is fifteen years.

Cesar Fax: Drug positives increase consistently with age amongst DC juvenile arrestees. 53% of the juvenile arrestees tested positive for drugs.

Psychology Today: An article from Psychology Today (which Adi has been writing for so check them out!) and discusses the issue of war veterans and drug use as well as PTSD. It relates the discussion to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Science Daily: There are some new insights into how alcohol affects brain function. Drinking alcohol over a long period of time does profoundly affect the brain.

Science Daily: More about alcohol! According to Science Daily, genetic differences that make you sleepy when you drink can protect against alcohol dependence.