New Year’s Eve without drugs or drinking alcohol?

For many people all around the world, New Year’s Eve celebrations mean a lot of partying. Often, that partying includes drinking alcohol, doing drugs, and generally engaging in one last night of “things you’ll forget about” in the year that has passed. I know the ritual and I took part in it often. Hell, the virtual symbol of NYE is the Champagne toast (talk about a trigger).

Champagne glasses are essentially the symbol of NYE celebration. No big deal for most people, trigger for addicts.Since high-school, NYE celebrations meant little more than getting so &#@$-faced that I wouldn’t be able to remember what happened the next morning. Actually that’s not true – I’ve only experienced one blackout in my life – I always remembered what I did on New Year’s Eve. From my early days of drinking as close to an entire bottle of vodka as I could along with some gravity bong hits for my CB1 and CB2 receptors to fully light up to later parties that involved acid (LSD), ecstasy (MDMA), cocaine, and finally crystal meth, it was all about excess in its rawest form.

Humans enjoy celebrations in a way that other animals simply don’t. It comes with our keen awareness of past, present, and future. It’s the way we mark special events that only have true meaning because we assigned it to them. It’s part of what makes us the most social of animals and is tightly connected to our brains and their massive supply of executive function. But none of that matters when you’re loaded on drugs or alcohol on New Year’s Eve. All that matters is that you’re having fun.

For most people, this sort of partying doesn’t cause any problems. As long as they don’t drive under the influence, getting a little messed up is just not that big a deal. Hey, getting high on drugs and alcohol has left us with some of the best art, music, and writing I can think of and out livers and kidneys can handle the stress pretty well. But for some people, that same seemingly innocent set of behaviors can lead to a far darker place.

For addicts who have become dependent on drugs or alcohol, or for those people teetering on the edge of addiction with drugs and alcohol as still fully functional crutches that make the world slightly more tolerable, that same partying can get dangerous. It can lead to memory loss and accidental death. It can lead to the destruction of property, relationships, and self-esteem. It can lead to handcuffs and metal bars that don’t go away when the effect of the drugs or alcohol wears off.

As I’ve talked about so often here, we’re still pretty bad at telling the difference between those who are simply partying hard and those who have a real problem. We can tell after the fact, looking back at how long someone struggled (hard-core addicts can spend decades struggling with addiction while the more tame abusers/addicts only last a few years) but that doesn’t do anyone much good now does it?

I’ve sat in many groups with addicts trying to plan for these holidays so that they can make it to the other end without throwing away everything they’ve worked so hard for. The temptation of shooting up, smoking a bowl, or drinking a fifth of your favorite liqueur (or 2 bottles of wine)  can be too much when everyone around you makes it seem like so much fun. Many make it through with little more than resolved anxiety and a sense of relief. But every year, a few get left behind, some to return a bit later with a little more of a war story than they had previously.

The point – Making it through the holidays

The holidays, and New Year’s Eve in particular, are a bad time to try to figure out which of these groups you belong to exactly because everyone else is being excessive too. An addict can easily cross the line and seem no different. Until the next day that is. So this holiday, do yourself a favor and hold off on any grand experiment. Take it easy, spend some time with real friends who have your best interest at heart, and make it to the next year in style. You can always test yourself another day.

Does alcohol on T.V. make for more alcohol in the hand?

Dirk Hanson

The title of the Dutch study, published in the journal Alcohol & Alcoholism, is unambiguous: “Alcohol Portrayal on Television Affects Actual Drinking Behaviour.”

It is an easy and familiar accusation that has been levied at violent video games, drug use heavy movies, and alcohol advertising. But what is the actual evidence for it? Leave it to a group of Dutch scientists to design a practical experiment to test the proposition when it comes to drinking.  In a noble attempt to get around the self-reporting problem, the authors of the study went directly to the heart of the problem. They built a “bar laboratory” on the campus of Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Continue reading “Does alcohol on T.V. make for more alcohol in the hand?”

College students and binge drinking

Contributing co-author: Andrew Chen

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as any pattern of alcohol consumption that brings an individual’s BAC (blood alcohol content) above .08 (the legal limit in most states). This equates to approximately 4-5 drinks for a man or 3-4 drinks for a woman within a 2 hour period.

In case some of you forgot, one drink is approximately a 1.5 oz shot OR 5 oz. of wine OR 12 oz. of beer.

College binge drinking norms

College students are one population in which binge drinking is prevalent. Prior to 18 years of age, students who end up not attending any college are most at risk for binge drinking. However, after 18 (the age when most people graduate from high school), students who attend a 4 year university become the population most at risk to binge.

So what is it about going to college that makes people want to drink more?

One important factor to consider is the way we portray college in the media. Television shows and movies often show binge drinking as the “normal” way college students consume alcohol (think beer bongs). This gives students unrealistic ideas of how much the average college students drinks. In fact, when asked how much most students drink in a typical drinking situation, students consistently overestimate how much their peers drink. This false norm creates an atmosphere where people are pressured to drink more than they normally would on their own.

The long-term consequences of binge drinking

Aside from the obvious impact of heavy drinking on health, binge drinking can lead to other very unpleasant outcomes. Among college students, students that drink heavily report higher incidences of regretted sex, sexual assault, riding with a drunk driver, loss of consciousness, and going to class hungover compared to those that drink moderately.

What can parents do?

Research has shown that parents continue to influence the choices their children make long after they leave for college. Parents can decrease the chances that their children will develop problematic drinking behaviors by doing two things: monitoring and modeling. Monitoring consists of asking a child where they are, what they are doing, and who they are interacting with. Modeling consists of setting a good example, communicating expectations, and transmitting values.

By remaining involved in their child’s life, parents may also indirectly influence who their child becomes friends with, which in turn influences their drinking behavior.

Citation:

Timberlake et. al (2007) Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research

Abar. C, Turrisi, R. (2008) How important are parents during the college years? A longitudinal perspective of indirect influences parents yield on their college teens’ alcohol use

Drugs and Pregnancy: Drinking while pregnant

A number of questions from readers, as well as some of the searches that have landed users on this site (yes, we get to see that) have made me realize that many of you are wondering about the effects of drugs and alcohol on pregnancies. Especially given the fact that my wife is now pregnant with our first child, I think this is an important topic that deserves attention; for this reason, I’m going to dedicate a few posts to it, paying close attention to different classes of drugs. Given the fact that one of the most commonly used substance among my readers (per this poll) is alcohol, we’re going to start there.

Alcohol and pregnancy

Doctors frequently advise mothers-to-be to abstain from alcohol during their pregnancy. However, avoiding alcohol is difficult given how common it is in social situations. Also, many mothers-to-be are unconvinced and continue drinking, perhaps reducing their consumption, but not stopping altogether. So, can a glass of wine a day really have any impact on an infant’s health?

The most critical effects of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, aside from stillbirth (1), are a collection of symptoms known as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), estimated to occur in approximately 1-7 per 1000 live births (2). FAS individuals suffer a wide range of mental handicaps including diminished intellectual ability, and learning difficulties. Children with FAS exhibit poor socialization and frequently engage in disruptive and maladaptive behaviors. Additionally, they are more susceptible to drug abuse, criminal behavior, and psychiatric disorders. Research seems to indicate that drinking more than a single daily drink at least doubles the probability of producing a significantly growth-retarded infant (3). Drinking less than one daily drink seems to bring about a much lower risk for serious growth-related effects, though the more subtle effects of any alcohol consumptions are still being investigated. Even a single drink a day has been shown to be associated with reduced infant weight and an increased probability of preterm birth (4).

Remember: When considering alcohol in research, a single drink means the equivalent of a single ounce of pure alcohol. A 12 oz. beer or an 8 oz. glass of wine, but no more, would be equivalent. Also, an average of one drink per day does not mean that drinking five drinks on Friday and laying off alcohol for the rest of the week is okay. Even a single binge drinking episode greatly increases the risk of complications! Finally, drinking during the first trimester is far more dangerous to a growing fetus than doing so later in the pregnancy.

So in short, toasting champagne at a wedding, or enjoying an occasional glass of wine with dinner will most likely not do great harm to an ongoing pregnancy. Just be very conscientious of your behavior and be sure not to let things get out of hand. This is certainly an issue where a single night of letting go could result in a lifetime of regret. If you find it difficult to reduce your use after finding out about a pregnancy, it could be an early sign of trouble drinking or even alcoholism…

Look for upcoming posts on smoking and drug use risks to pregnancy!

Citations:

1) Kesmodel, U. Wisborg, K, Olsen, S.F., Henriksen, T.B., & Secher, N.J. (2002). Moderate alcohol intake during pregnancy and the risk of stillbirth and death in the first year of life. American journal of epidemiology, 155(4), 305-312

2) Niccols, A. (2007). Fetal alcohol syndrome and the developing socio-emotional brain. Brain and cognition, 65, 135-142.

3) Mills, J.L., Graubard, B.I., Harley, E.E., Rhoads, G.G. & Berendes, H.W. (1984). Maternal alcohol consumption and birth weight. How much drinking during pregnancy is safe? Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 252.

4) Dew, P.C., Guillory, V. J., Okah, F.A., Cai, J., & Hoff, G.L. (2007). The effect of health compromising behaviors on preterm births. Maternal and child health journal, 11(3), 227-233.