1. Study suggests gamblers more likely to have suffered childhood traumas

    August 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Lincoln press release:

    Men with problem and pathological gambling addictions are more likely to have suffered childhood traumas including physical abuse or witnessing violence in the home, according to new research.

    Psychologists examined responses in a survey of more than 3,000* men on a variety of life factors, and found that just over a quarter who had probable pathological gambling problems had witnessed violence in the home as a child. Ten per cent also reported being physically abused in childhood, and a further seven per cent said they had suffered a life-threatening injury.

    Problem gamblers — those who have not yet escalated to a pathological problem, but are deemed to have a more serious addiction than non-problem gamblers — also reported higher rates of childhood trauma, with just under 23 per cent saying they had witnessed violence at home, and nine per cent experiencing physical abuse. In comparison, just eight per cent of non-problem gamblers witnessed domestic violence when they were a child, and less than four per cent had suffered abuse.

    The study, led by the University of Lincoln, UK, also found that 35 per cent of pathological gamblers had suffered serious money problems as adults, 29 per cent had been convicted of a criminal offence, and almost 20 per cent had experienced relationship breakdowns. In comparison, for non-problem gamblers the figures came in at just 12, 9, and 10 per cent respectively.

    The pattern of people who had previously suffered traumas in childhood or stressful events as an adult becoming pathological and problem gamblers remained even when other associated risk factors, such as substance abuse and homelessness, were accounted for. Interestingly, the more serious the gambling problem, the higher the percentage of reported childhood trauma or life stressors as an adult in all but two questions.

    Researchers say the findings highlight a need for gambling treatment services to include routine screening for traumatic life events or substance abuse, so that treatments can be better tailored.

    Forensic psychologist Dr Amanda Roberts, from the University of Lincoln’s School of Psychology, led the study. She said: “The links between gambling problems, trauma and life stressors have been known to exist for some time, but understanding the extent of these relationships will help early intervention and better treatment.

    “We have found that among men in the United Kingdom, disordered gambling remains uniquely associated with trauma and life stressors in childhood and adulthood after adjusting for alcohol and drug dependence.

    “Probable pathological gamblers and problem gamblers reported injuries, marital difficulties, homelessness, money problems and criminality more often than non/non-problem gamblers. Taken as a whole, this suggests that disordered gambling does not occur on its own, but that it is perhaps symptomatic of other social, behavioural and psychological problems of some individuals.

    “General experiences of stressful life events, such as job loss or homelessness in adulthood are not usually characterised by the same extreme psychological responses; this distinction is important, since associations with traumatic events might indicate increased vulnerability to developing gambling problems, while associations with other types of stressful life event, such as job loss, might indicate consequential harms associated with gambling.”

    The results build on Dr Roberts’ previous study which found that men who gamble are more likely to act violently towards others, with the most addicted gamblers the most prone to serious violence.

    The new findings have been published in the journal Addictive Behaviors.


  2. Trauma-informed, mindfulness-based intervention significantly improves parenting

    August 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Thomas Jefferson University press release:

    Researchers at Jefferson’s Maternal Addiction Treatment Education & Research (MATER) program found significant improvement in the quality of parenting among mothers who participated in a trauma-informed, mindfulness-based parenting intervention while also in medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder. Results of the study, the first to scientifically test a mindfulness-based parenting intervention with this population, were published July 27 in the Journal of Addiction Medicine.

    “Our results validate a powerful intervention when it is needed most,” said senior author Diane Abatemarco, Ph.D., MSW, principal investigator, Director of MATER and Associate Professor of OB/GYN and Pediatrics in the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University. “By improving parenting through mindfulness, we may be able to change the intergenerational trajectory of trauma and improve children’s and families’ lives.”

    A total of 160 women participated in a 12-week mindful parenting intervention at Jefferson’s Family Center, an outpatient and intensive outpatient treatment center that cares for women who are pregnant, parenting or working toward reuniting with their child. The mindfulness-based program included mother/baby education and practice, education on the impact of trauma, and mindfulness meditation. Themes included non-judgment, full attention and compassion.

    “We designed the mindfulness-based parenting program to give women the resources and tools to be great parents. Our program supports moms, building their self-efficacy and self-confidence,” said Abatemarco.

    The research team conducted pre- and post-tests with the women using three validated instruments to measure observed parenting quality, the mother’s childhood trauma exposure and self-reported mindful parenting. Women who participated in the mindfulness-based parenting program experienced a clinically significant increase in parenting quality, from “low” at baseline to “moderate” at completion.

    “We also found that attendance matters,” said Meghan Gannon, Ph.D., MSPH, first author and research project manager at MATER. “For women who experienced high levels of childhood trauma, attendance was key to improving parenting.”


  3. Why does prenatal alcohol exposure increase the likelihood of addiction?

    July 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University at Buffalo press release:

    One of the many negative consequences when fetuses are exposed to alcohol in the womb is an increased risk for drug addiction later in life. Neuroscientists in the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions are discovering why.

    Through a research grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Senior Research Scientist Roh-Yu Shen, PhD, is studying how prenatal alcohol exposure alters the reward system in the brain and how this change continues through adulthood.

    The key appears to lie with endocannibinoids, cannabis-like chemicals that are produced by the brain itself.

    “By understanding the role endocannibinoids play in increasing the brain’s susceptibility to addiction, we can start developing drug therapies or other interventions to combat that effect and, perhaps, other negative consequences of prenatal alcohol exposure,” Shen says.

    Prenatal alcohol exposure is the leading preventable cause of birth defects and neurodevelopmental abnormalities in the United States. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) cause cognitive and behavioral problems. In addition to increased vulnerability of alcohol and other substance use disorders, FASD can lead to other mental health issues including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), depression, anxiety and problems with impulse control.

    After the prenatal brain is exposed to alcohol, the endocannibinoids have a different effect on certain dopamine neurons which are involved in addicted behaviors than when brain is not exposed to alcohol,” Shen says. “The end result is that the dopamine neurons in the brain become more sensitive to a drug of abuse’s effect. So, later in life, a person needs much less drug use to become addicted.”

    Specifically, in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of the brain, endocannibinoids play a significant role in weakening the excitatory synapses onto dopamine neurons. The VTA is the part of the brain implicated in addiction, attention and reward processes. However, in a brain prenatally exposed to alcohol, the effect of the endocannabinoids is reduced due to a decreased function of endocannabinoid receptors. As a result, the excitatory synapses lose the ability to be weakened and continue to strengthen, which Shen believes is a critical brain mechanism for increased addiction risk.


  4. Brain region that affects drug use habits identified

    July 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Iowa press release:

    The human brain is nimble. It can reorganize itself to learn new things, catalog memories, and even break old habits. So, what if our brains could be taught to suppress cravings, especially the destructive impulse to use drugs?

    University of Iowa researchers studying the infralimbic cortex — a region of the brain that controls addictive behavior — performed a series of experiments in which rats were given cocaine, then taken off the drug. The scientists found that, generally speaking, this region of the brain can be reprogrammed to ease the rats’ cocaine urges.

    The finding could help users kick the habit with the help of drugs that target the infralimbic cortex — or with improved behavioral treatment for substance addiction and relapse, according to Andrea Gutman, a postdoctoral researcher in the UI Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and corresponding author on the paper, published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

    The infralimbic cortex, a part of the prefrontal cortex located toward the front of the head, is responsible for forming habits and regulating behavior. Think of it as a mental green light or a check on destructive or embarrassing tendencies.

    Researchers already knew about that role, but they were unsure how it controlled cravings and other habit-forming behaviors — or whether the infralimbic cortex could be manipulated to temper impulses. The UI team worked with a group of rats that were administered cocaine when they pressed a lever with their paws; the rats did so for two hours per day over the course of two weeks.

    Over the next two weeks, the rats received no cocaine when they pressed the lever. When they realized they were no longer getting the drug, the rats pressed the lever less frequently, until, by the end of the two-week period, “they hardly pressed the lever at all,” Gutman says. In other words, at least some of the rats learned to curb their addiction.

    A second group of rats followed the same regimen as the control group and were allowed to use cocaine for two weeks. However, in this second group, the researchers turned off neurons in the rats’ infralimbic cortex just as the animals pressed the drug-dispensing lever. By silencing those neurons for a period of 20 seconds every time the rats pressed the lever, the researchers in effect prevented the rats from learning to curb their drug appetite. The rats’ cravings remained as intense as in the beginning of the experiment, even though they weren’t receiving the drug.

    “They’re failing to learn to inhibit their cocaine craving,” says Gutman, who works in the lab of Ryan LaLumiere, assistant professor in the UI Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. “They want the cocaine just as much.”

    The researchers silenced the neurons in the rats’ brains for the first five days of the cocaine-less two-week period. They found that these five days had a major impact on how effectively rats learned and began to adapt to the drug’s absence. The rats whose neurons were silenced were more likely to relapse than those that underwent withdrawal, the study found.

    The results strengthen the hypothesis that the infralimbic cortex plays an important role in the suppression of addictive behavior. It also points to when the region could best be “taught” to curb a habit.

    “No study has looked intensively at exactly how the infralimbic cortex functions, nor the importance of the first five days of treatment when it comes to curtailing drug-seeking behavior,” says LaLumiere, the paper’s co-author. “And while our experiments involved cocaine, we think the results could hold true for the infralimbic cortex’s role in conditioning withdrawal and relapse from other addictive substances, including opioids.”

    Kelle Nett, Caitlin Cosme, Wensday Worth, and Subhash Gupta, all from the UI, helped perform the research and are contributing authors on the paper. John Wemmie, UI professor of psychiatry, also is a contributing author.

    The National Institute on Drug Abuse (a branch of the National Institutes of Health), the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation funded the research.


  5. Anxiety study shows genes are not fixed: Experience and exposure can change them

    July 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Research Society on Alcoholism press release:

    Epigenetics refers to how certain life circumstances can cause genes to be silenced or expressed, become dormant or active, over time. New research shows that adolescent binge drinking can lead to epigenetic reprogramming that predisposes an individual to later psychiatric disorders such as anxiety. These data will be shared at the 40thannual scientific meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA) in Denver June 24-28.

    “Adolescence is an important period of growth,” said Subhash C. Pandey, Ph.D., professor and director of the Alcohol Research Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “This is when the brain is maturing, and consistent epigenetic programing occurs. This is also a period when binge drinking is prevalent. Adolescent binge drinking can disrupt epigenetic programing in key brain regions by changing certain key molecular targets within the epigenome.”

    Pandey explained that early life exposure to alcohol can have not only long-lasting effects on brain chemistry but also induce a predisposition to psychiatric problems such as alcohol abuse and anxiety disorders. “Anxiety disorder is highly comorbid with alcoholism,” he said, “and adolescent alcohol exposure can lead to the development of high anxiety and alcohol intake in adulthood.” Pandey will elaborate on these findings at the RSA meeting on June 25.

    “More specifically, our data indicate that the enzymes histone deacetylases and demethylases — which are responsible for the regulation of histone acetylation and methylation — are altered in adulthood due to previous adolescent alcohol exposure. This alteration causes specific genes involved in regulating synaptic events to become suppressed, leading to high anxiety and high alcohol drinking behavior.” In other words, adolescent alcohol exposure can change the architecture where certain genes reside, and thus modify how the genes perform.

    “In short,” said Pandey, “epigenetic reprogramming in the brain due to early life experiences or exposure to alcohol can lead to the changes in gene functions and predispose an individual to adult psychopathology.”


  6. Drinking makes you older at the cellular level

    by Ashley

    From the Research Society on Alcoholism press release:

    The more alcohol that people drink, the more their cells appear to age. In a new study that will be shared at the 40th annual scientific meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA) in Denver June 24-28, researchers found that alcoholic patients had shortened telomere lengths, placing them at greater risk for age-related illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and dementia..

    Telomeres, the protein caps on the ends of human chromosomes, are markers of aging and overall health,” said Naruhisa Yamaki, M.D., a clinical fellow at the Kobe University Graduate School of Medicine. Yamaki explained that every time a cell replicates, a tiny bit of telomere is lost, so they get shorter with age. But some groups may have shorter telomeres for reasons other than aging.

    “Our study showed that alcoholic patients have a shortened telomere length, which means that heavy drinking causes biological aging at a cellular level,” he said. “It is alcohol rather than acetaldehyde that is associated with a shortened telomere length.” Yamaki will present this research at the RSA meeting on June 25.

    Yamaki and his co-authors recruited 255 study participants from alcoholism treatment services at Kurihama National Hospital in Yokosuka, Japan: 134 alcoholic patients and 121 age-matched controls or non-alcoholics, ranging in age from 41 to 85 years old. DNA samples, as well as drinking histories and habits, were collected from all participants.

    “We also found an association between telomere shortening and thiamine deficiency (TD),” said Yamaki. “TD is known to cause neuron impairments such as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. Although how exactly TD can cause neural impairments is unclear, it is well known that oxidation stress cause telomere shortening and, thus, it is possible that oxidation stress may also cause neuron death.”

    Yamaki added that it’s important for the public to understand that heavy drinking causes telomere shortening because “awareness of this fact provides important information necessary for people to live healthier.”

    Yamaki will present these findings during the RSA 2017 meeting on Sunday, June 25 at 3:15 during “A Multifaceted View of Alcoholism in Older Adults” at the Hyatt Regency Denver.


  7. Study shows childhood psychiatric disorders increase risk for later adult addiction

    July 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Elsevier press release:

    Children’s health and well-being while growing up can be indicators of the potential health issues they may encounter years later. A study published in the July 2017 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry(JAACAP) suggests that a childhood psychiatric disorder increases the risk of developing addiction later in life. Based on a large amount of data from previous studies on these participants, the researchers identified a correlation between various psychiatric disorders among children and later risk of developing addictions.

    The team, led by researchers from the Child Study group at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam and Accare, the Center for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University Medical Center Groningen, the Netherlands, found that individuals diagnosed in childhood with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)/conduct disorder (CD), and depression had an increased risk of developing addictions. Interestingly, results concerning anxiety were less clear. The risk may depend on the specific type of anxiety disorder, but to date, no studies have focused on this topic.

    “We know that ADHD in childhood increases the risk for later substance-related disorders, but until now, no systematic evaluation of other childhood psychiatric disorders had been conducted,” said Dr. Annabeth P. Groenman, researcher at Accare, Center for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University Medical Center Groningen, the Netherlands. “Our findings show that not only ADHD increased the risk of addictions, but that other childhood psychiatric disorders also increased risk. This indicates the importance of early detection of mental health problems in a wider group. Addiction is a major cause of immense personal, familial, and societal burden, and prevention is therefore an important goal.”

    The study re-analyzed data of 37 previous studies containing a total of 762,187 individuals, of whom 22,029 had ADHD, 434 had disruptive behavior disorders (such as ODD/CD), 1,433 had anxiety disorder, and 2,451 had depression. The researchers identified studies looking at childhood psychiatric disorders and later addiction.

    Disruptive behaviors (ODD/CD) frequently co-occur with ADHD, in approximately 30% of cases. This so-called “comorbidity” is often thought to be the main cause of addictions in individuals with ADHD. However, the results suggest that co-occurring ODD/CD in ADHD does not fully explain the risk of addictions in this group.

    Professor Jaap Oosterlaan, principal investigator of the Child Study Group at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam and the Emma Children’s Hospital AMC, the Netherlands, said: “Now that we have firmly established children with psychiatric disorders as a high-risk group for later substance-related disorders, the next step is to make parents, clinicians, and the government aware of these risks and work together in reducing the risks for addiction and its debilitating consequences.”


  8. Perceptions about body image linked to increased alcohol, tobacco use for teens

    July 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Missouri-Columbia press release:

    How teenagers perceive their appearance, including their body image, can have significant impacts on health and wellness. Prior body image research has shown that people with negative body image are more likely to develop eating disorders and are more likely to suffer from depression and low self-esteem. Now, Virginia Ramseyer Winter, a body image expert and an assistant professor in the University of Missouri’s School of Social Work, found negative body image also is associated with increased tobacco and alcohol use, with implications for both young men and women. Notably, she also found relationships between substance use and perceived attractiveness, with girls who believe they are very good looking being more likely to drink.

    “We know alcohol and tobacco can have detrimental health effects, especially for teenagers,” Ramseyer Winter said. “I wanted to see if the perception of being overweight and negative body image leads to engaging in unhealthy or risky substance use behaviors. Understanding the relationship means that interventions and policies aimed at improving body image among teenage populations might improve overall health.”

    Ramseyer Winter and her co-authors, Andrea Kennedy and Elizabeth O’Neill, used data from a national survey of American teenagers to determine the associations between perceived size and weight, perceived attractiveness, and levels of alcohol and tobacco use. The researchers found that perceived size and attractiveness were significantly related to substance use. Adolescent girls who perceived their body size to be too fat were more likely to use alcohol and tobacco. Boys who thought they were too skinny were more likely to smoke, and boys who considered themselves fat were more likely to binge drink.

    “While poor body image disproportionately affects females, our findings indicate that body image also impacts young males,” Ramseyer Winter said. “For example, it’s possible that boys who identified their bodies as too thin use tobacco to maintain body size, putting their health at risk.”

    In addition to body size, the researchers looked at the connection between perceived attractiveness and substance use. Girls who thought they were not at all good looking were more likely to smoke. Girls who thought they were very good looking were more likely to binge drink. Ramseyer Winter suggests this is because attractiveness may be associated with popularity, which is related to increased alcohol use.

    To improve body image awareness, Ramseyer Winter suggested that parents, schools and health providers need to be aware of body shaming language and correct such behavior to help children identify with positive body image messages. Body shaming language can affect teenagers who have both positive and negative perceptions of themselves.

    “Adolescent tobacco and alcohol use: the influence of body image,” recently was published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Substance Abuse. Kennedy is a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California and O’Neill is a doctoral candidate at the University of Kansas. The MU School of Social Work is in the College of Human Environmental Sciences.


  9. Study suggests alcohol use frequency may lead to cognitive impairments

    July 1, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health press release:

    Impairments in processing and using information that help with decision-making and planning simple tasks such as grocery shopping are linked with one’s frequency of alcohol or drug use according to a new study. Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and Columbia University Medical Center found that cognitive impairments are not a problem limited to addiction patients in treatment, but constitute a broader problem among substance users in the U.S. general population. Results are published online in the journal Addiction.

    This is the first study to find associations between deficits in attention and executive functioning with frequency of binge drinking and use of marijuana, cocaine, opioids, sedatives and tranquilizers, and stimulants in the general population ages 18 and older.

    “Regardless if cognitive impairments precede substance use or vice versa, poorer cognitive functioning negatively impacts daily life and may cause lack of insight into one’s substance use as a source of problems, impeding treatment utilization or decreasing the likelihood of effective treatment,” said senior author Deborah Hasin, PhD, Columbia Mailman School of Public Health professor of Epidemiology and in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center.

    The researchers analyzed data from 36,085 respondents to the 2012-2013 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions-III, a representative sample of the U.S. adult population, to create two cognitive scales based on dimensionality and reliability.

    “Our study shows the validity of two scales for assessing how cognitive impairments are associated with many substance disorders including alcohol, cannabis, cocaine and one’s ability to function well in important interpersonal or occupational areas,” said Efrat Aharonovich, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center, and first author. “Our validation of the cognitive scales will facilitate further investigations of the relationships of cognitive functioning to the use of multiple substances, substance use disorders and treatment utilization, advancing our knowledge of substance use, a major public health problem.”

    Poorer attention was linked with frequent and infrequent binge drinking and use of drugs, in particular, stimulants. A lower score on executive functioning scale was associated with frequent binge drinking and drug use, cocaine in particular.

    Binge drinking was defined as four or more drinks in a day for women and at least 5 drinks in a day for men. About half the sample was female, 45 years of age or older, with an income of $20,000 or less. Slightly more than two-thirds were Non-Hispanic White; and 60 percent completed at least some college. Prevalence of substance use ranged from 33 percent for binge drinking to 1 percent for cocaine.

    “While abstinence or reduced substance use may partially improve cognition, future research should determine whether factors shown to protect against cognitive impairments in aging adults, such as a healthy diet, and physical and intellectual activities, also protect against cognitive impairments in populations with difficulties in reducing substance use,” said Dr. Hasin.


  10. Drinking during adolescence can alter brain cell nerve growth

    June 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Research Society on Alcoholism press release:

    The developmental period from adolescence to adulthood is accompanied by a greater vulnerability to addictions — including alcohol use disorders — than is seen in other periods of life. This increased risk may be due to genetic predisposition, poor impulse control, or heightened sensitivity of the still-developing brain to drug-related toxicity. This report describes a study in mice of the neurobehavioral impact of chronic, intermittent alcohol-vapor exposure during adolescence, in an effort to model periodic heavy drinking and compare it with similar drinking behavior during adulthood.

    Researchers conducted two parallel tests in adult male mice following their exposure to alcohol vapors during adolescence (4-6 weeks old) or adulthood (8-10 weeks old). First, they tested the adult mice for changes in the density and structure of dendritic spines (nerve endings) in the infralimbic cortex (IL), prelimbic cortex (PL) and basolateral amygdala (BLA) regions of the brain. Second, they tested the adult mice for alcohol drinking, sensitivity to alcohol intoxication, blood-alcohol clearance, and measures of response to food reward.

    Chronic exposure to alcohol vapors during adolescence produced significant, persistent, and strong regional-specific alterations in neuronal dendritic spine density in IL and BLA neurons, accompanied by a limited set of behavioral alterations. Comparable effects were not seen in the mice exposed to alcohol only during adulthood. Together, these data demonstrate that specific key brain circuits are vulnerable to alcohol’s effects during adolescence, with lasting and potentially detrimental consequences for behavior.