1. Brain injury in kids might lead to alcohol abuse

    August 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Researchers at Ohio State University have surveyed previous studies to investigate the relationship between traumatic brain injuries and alcohol abuse. They found evidence that traumatic brain injuries in children and adolescents could be a risk-factor for alcohol abuse in later life.

    When we think of the link between alcohol and traumatic brain injuries, we probably think of a person’s increased risk of injury while drunk. Alcohol intoxication is indeed a significant risk factor for traumatic brain injuries, and one study has reported that alcohol use is involved in as many as 50% of emergency department admissions for traumatic brain injuries in the US.

    Intriguingly, an animal study conducted by Zachary Weil, a researcher at Ohio State University, made him suspect that the converse might also be true, particularly in young people. “We recently reported that mice that experience a traumatic brain injury as juveniles drink significantly more alcohol as adults,” says Weil. “When we started to look at the human literature it became clear that alcohol and traumatic brain injuries were very connected. There were some hints that brain injuries might actually make someone more susceptible to alcohol abuse.”

    Weil was inspired to look more closely at the past literature, and what he and his team found was recently published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. The researchers found that it was difficult to tell if their hypothesis was true in adults. “So many adults that have brain injuries are already heavy drinkers and therefore it’s really hard to tell for sure if a brain injury has affected their drinking,” explains Weil.

    However, for people who suffer a traumatic brain injury in childhood or adolescence, there was a clearer link to alcohol abuse problems in later life. For example, children under 5 years of age who suffer a traumatic brain injury are over 3.6 times more likely to exhibit substance abuse as teenagers, compared with uninjured children.

    So, why would a traumatic brain injury potentially lead to alcohol abuse? The team found evidence in the literature that brain injury can negatively affect factors that are associated with reducing alcohol abuse. For example, forming stable romantic relationships, getting involved in extracurricular activities and maintaining full-time employment are all associated with a reduced risk of substance abuse, but all are less likely in brain injury survivors.

    Traumatic brain injuries can also make people more impulsive and less aware of the consequences of their actions, and there is also evidence that brain injury survivors may use alcohol to help deal with the negative consequences of their injury.

    Beyond its psychological effects, traumatic brain injury can cause significant inflammation in the brain. Alcohol also generates neuroinflammation, and evidence from animal studies suggests that this inflammation might drive further drinking.

    Finally, traumatic brain injuries can damage specific neurochemical systems in the brain that are vulnerable during childhood development, such as the dopaminergic system. A dysfunctional dopaminergic system is a risk factor for substance abuse, suggesting another potential link between childhood brain injury and alcohol abuse in adulthood.

    So, how can we address the problem? “This is an important issue because drinking after brain injury is associated with health problems and poorer outcomes. Specifically targeting substance abuse problems in the brain-injured population could do a lot of good,” says Weil.

    The researchers caution that the link between brain injuries and alcohol abuse has not yet been completely established and more work is needed. “This has not been completely confirmed in humans, but there is a lot of suggestive evidence,” explains Weil.


  2. 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.”


  3. 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.


  4. Study links sleep disturbances to higher incidence of substance use among college athletes

    June 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Academy of Sleep Medicine press release:

    Preliminary results of a new study show that sleep disturbance is strongly related to the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs among student athletes in college.

    Results show that student athletes with sleep difficulties were 151 percent more likely to use cigarettes, 36 percent more likely to drink alcohol, and 66 percent more likely to smoke marijuana. Sleep difficulties also predict an increased use of controlled, illegal, and banned substances. For example, student athletes with sleep difficulties were 317 percent more likely to use methamphetamine, 349 percent more likely to use cocaine, and 175 percent more likely to use steroids.

    “The most surprising thing was the consistency with which sleep difficulties among student athletes predict increased use of many substances, including substances that are illegal and banned,” said senior author Michael Grander, PhD, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “Across the board, students with sleep difficulties were more likely to smoke, drink, and use illegal substances.”

    The study involved an analysis of survey data completed from 2011 to 2014 by 8,683 student athletes at U.S. colleges and universities as part of the National College Health Assessment conducted by the American College Health Association. Participants were asked whether, in the past 12 months, “sleep difficulties” had “been traumatic or very difficult for you to handle.” Students also were asked whether they had used a list of specific substances in the past 30 days.

    Regression analyses examined whether use of any of these substances was associated with sleep difficulties, adjusted for age, sex, and survey year. Also, discrepancy between student use and perceived typical use and sleep was examined.

    “Sleep difficulties are quite common among students and especially student athletes,” said lead author Chloe Warlick, research assistant in the Sleep and Health Research Program. “Substance use is also a major public health problem. These results not only underscore the important link between sleep difficulties and substance use, but they show that this relationship is quite strong, even among student athletes.”

    Grandner added that the findings have important implications for both student health and athletic performance.

    “Knowing this association between sleeping difficulty and substance abuse could be beneficial for coaches, physical therapists, and physicians,” he said. “These findings could provide important insight when treating sleep disturbances or attempting to improve athletic performance.”

    The authors concluded that sleep-focused interventions should be evaluated to determine whether they decrease use of psychoactive substances.


  5. Study suggests growing up in affluent communities may up risk for addictions

    June 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Arizona State University press release:

    They have what most would want — affluent upwardly mobile parents, living in comfortable homes in the suburbs, going to an elite high school and being groomed for the nation’s best colleges. And they appear to thrive in this setting — popular among their peers, performing exceedingly well in school, highly regarded by peers and teachers, and accomplished at a various extracurricular activities.

    But these “privileged” American high schoolers can be at high risk for problematic substance abuse across early adulthood, according to new research from Arizona State University.

    “We found alarmingly high rates of substance abuse among young adults who we initially studied as teenagers,” said Suniya Luthar, a Foundation professor of psychology at Arizona State University and a professor emerita at Columbia University’s Teachers College, who led the research. “Results showed that among both men and women and across annual assessments, these young adults had substantial elevations, relative to national norms, in frequency of several indicators — drinking to intoxication and of using marijuana, stimulants such as Adderall, cocaine, and club drugs such as ecstasy.”

    The paper, “Adolescents from upper middle class communities: Substance misuse and addiction across early adulthood,” appears in the current issue of Development and Psychopathology. It is co-authored by Phillip Small, an ASU graduate student in clinical psychology, and Lucia Ciciolla an assistant professor at Oklahoma State University.

    In the article, the authors describe a study of two groups of students in affluent communities in the Northeast U.S. as part of the New England Study of Suburban Youth (NESSY). The researchers assessed these youngsters as high school seniors and then annually across four college years (NESSY-Y, for the younger cohort), and across ages 23 to 27 (NESSY-O, for the older cohort).

    “We found rates of addiction to drugs or alcohol among 19 to 24 percent of women in the older cohort by the age of 26, and 23 to 40 percent among men. These rates were 3 and 2 times as high respectively, as compared to national norms,” Luthar said. “Among the younger cohort by the age of 22 years, rates of addiction were between 11 and 16 percent among women (close to national norms) but 19 to 27 percent among men, or about twice as high as national norms.”

    Luthar said a look into the lives of these adolescents provide some clues to the cause of these high rates of addictions.

    When the NESSY groups were first assessed, they all attended the best schools in the region — suburban schools with very high-standardized test scores, rich extra curricular offerings and high proportions of their graduates heading off to very selective universities. In general, kids at such schools experience enormous pressures to achieve, and many come to live by the dual credos of “I can, therefore I must” and “we work hard and we play hard” with the playing involving parties with drugs and alcohol.

    Also implicated is affluence in the school community.

    “Not all of these students were from wealthy families but most were; as parents typically had advanced educational degrees and median incomes much higher than national norms,” Luthar said. “And without question, most of the parents wanted their kids to head off to the best universities, as did the kids themselves.”

    With affluence comes ease in acquiring drugs, she added. “Many kids in these communities have plenty of disposable income with which they can get high-quality fake ID’s, as well as alcohol and both prescription and recreational drugs.”

    Other factors that exacerbate the risks, Luthar said, include widespread peer approval for substance use, and the fact that parents can be lulled into a false sense of security, believing that as their kids continue to perform well in school there could not be any serious underlying issues. As a result, they can become somewhat laissez-faire about detected alcohol or marijuana use.

    So what can be done to reverse this trend?

    “This is a problem that derives from multiple levels of influence, so we’re going to need interventions at multiple levels to tackle it,” Luthar said.

    “At the level of the kids themselves and their parents, it will be important to disseminate research findings — based on rigorous scientific data — that messing with drugs and alcohol really should not be trivialized as just something all kids do,” Luthar said. “The earlier children start to use and the more frequently they do, the more likely it is that they will develop addictions down the line.”

    Luthar pointed to strategies like sex education programs conveying the “bottom line” of risks involved, such as “it only takes once” to contract a sexually transmitted disease.

    “For high-achieving and ambitious youngsters, it could actually be persuasive to share scientific data showing that in their own communities the statistical odds of developing serious problems of addiction are two to three times higher than norms. And that it truly just takes one event of being arrested with cocaine, or hurting someone in a drunken car accident, to derail the high profile positions of leadership and influence toward which they are working so hard for the future.”

    On a second level is reducing the enormous pressure these kids are under trying to get into only the most selective universities.

    “As long as university admissions processes continue to be as they are — increasingly smaller number of admits per applications and requiring impossible resumes — these young people will continue to be frenetic in pursuing those coveted spots — and many will continue to self-medicate as a result,” explained Luthar. “An alternative approach, suggested by my colleague Barry Schwartz, could be to have these highly selective universities institute a lottery system for final admittance, given all other qualifications and resumes being equal.

    A second important measure would be showing the kids there are role models of adults who did not go to an elite university, but who picked a college because it felt right for them and who were highly successful in life.

    “It shows that there is, in fact, life, wisdom, financial solvency, creativity, and yes, happiness, beyond the walls of the Ivy Leagues,” Luthar said.

    A third factor is for leaders in science, public health and social policy to take seriously the fact that youth at high-achieving schools could be a population that is at inordinately high risk for addiction. Decades ago, developmental researchers established that children growing up in chronic poverty were at high risk for maladjustment, and this led, laudably, to a plethora of studies trying to figure out how best to minimize risks, and foster resilience among these youth by addressing different aspects of their environments.

    “We now need the same dedicated research on kids who grow up in pressure- cooker, high achieving schools,” Luthar said. “Paradoxical though it may seem, these ostensibly privileged youth, many of who start experimenting early and often with drinking and drugs, could well be among the groups at highest risk for alcoholism and addiction in adulthood.”


  6. New study may pave way for treating alcohol addiction by reducing motivation to drink

    June 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Elsevier press release:

    A new study in Biological Psychiatry may pave the way for treating alcohol addiction by reducing motivation to drink, rather than by altering the effects of alcohol itself. Led by Drs. Kasia Radwanska and Leszek Kaczmarek of the Nencki Institute, Warsaw, Poland, the study reports a new mechanism behind alcohol seeking behavior.

    When people think about drugs to treat alcoholism, their first thought is usually a drug that stimulates or blocks a receptor for a chemical messenger. However, the new study highlights a process that changes brain activity by altering the network of proteins that surrounds nerve cells. This network of proteins, called the extracellular matrix, provides active support for the development and activity of nerve cells. The functions of the matrix are regulated, in part, by enzymes that break down matrix proteins; one of these enzymes is matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9).

    In the study, while mice had free access to alcohol to establish addiction-like behavior, those missing the enzyme MMP-9 (MMP-9 KO) drank just as much as normal mice. However, first author Dr. Marzena Stefaniuk and colleagues found that MMP-9 KO mice were less motivated to obtain alcohol when its access was restricted, and less persistent to seek alcohol during withdrawal — behaviors normally characteristic of addiction. The researchers were able to restore the impaired motivation by replacing MMP-9 in the central amygdala, a part of the brain’s emotional center that has also been implicated in alcohol dependence.

    “Interestingly, in human alcoholics, the MMP-9 gene polymorphism that leads to a higher MMP-9 production correlates with greater motivation to drink alcohol,” said Dr. Kaczmarek, referring to their analysis of 167 alcohol-addicted males compared with 199 control males, also included in the new study. Using a clinical assessment of alcoholism behavior, the researchers found that addicted people with a T allele in the MMP-9 gene continued to drink alcohol despite the negative consequences more frequently than patients with a C allele. The findings further support the role of MMP-9 in motivation for alcohol.

    “Matrix metalloproteinases play critical roles in brain function and disease that have only recently received intensive study,” said Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. “The exciting study by Stefaniuk and colleagues implicates them in alcohol use disorders, but they are likely to play roles quite broadly in psychiatric disorders. It will be important to determine whether these proteins may be targeted therapeutically.”

    In previous studies, MMP-9 has been demonstrated to be mandatory in the central amygdala for formation of appetitive memory traces via synaptic plasticity — the structural and physiological alteration of synapses, the connections that facilitate communication between neurons. Indeed, the loss of MMP-9 in mice impaired structural and physiological alcohol-related alterations in the central amygdala, leading the authors to suggest MMP-9-dependent synaptic plasticity in this brain region as a new mechanism behind alcohol craving.

    “In aggregate, these findings point to MMP-9 as a novel therapeutic target in fighting alcohol addiction,” said Kaczmarek.


  7. Resetting balance in reward centers may help treat alcohol addiction

    June 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Elsevier press release:

    The human brain functions on a delicate balance of reinforcing positive behaviors and suppressing negative ones, which takes place in the dorsal striatum, a brain region critical for goal-directed behavior and implicated in drug and alcohol addiction.

    According to a new study in Biological Psychiatry, two pathways in the dorsal striatum that regulate this process — the “Go” pathway, which hits the gas for rewarding behaviors, and the “No-Go” pathway, which hits the brakes — have opposite effects to control alcohol drinking behavior. Led by Dr. Jun Wang of Texas A&M Health Science Center, the study reports that alcohol-induced alterations in the signaling of these two pathways reinforce alcohol consumption, possibly leading to alcohol abuse or addiction.

    Co-first authors Dr. Yifeng Cheng, Dr. Cathy Huang, and Dr. Tengfei Ma and colleagues trained mice to become heavy drinkers by repeated cycles of consumption and withdrawal of 20% alcohol — slightly higher than the average alcohol content in a glass of wine — and measured the effects on the balance of this delicate control of reward behavior.

    “To the best of our knowledge, this article demonstrated, for the first time, that excessive alcohol consumption suppresses activity of the No-Go pathway,” said Wang. By recording the activity of cells, the researchers found substantially increased GABA signaling, the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter of the brain, which quieted the No-Go pathway. Excessive alcohol consumption had the opposite effect in the Go pathway. These cells had increased glutamate signaling, the primary excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain, ramping up the Go signal.

    The findings reveal detailed information on the mechanisms underlying control of alcohol consumption. “Both of these effects serve to reinforce alcohol consumption, leading to pathological excessive use of alcohol,” wrote the authors.

    Through manipulation of cells specific to each pathway to mimic either increased glutamatergic or GABAergic activity, Cheng and colleagues confirmed that inhibition of cells in the No-Go pathway and excitation of cells in the Go pathway promotes alcohol consumption. The findings indicate that either of these alterations is sufficient to drive alcohol drinking behavior.

    The researchers dug deeper into the mechanism and found that activation of dopamine D2 receptors, the type that mediate the No-Go pathway, also reduced GABAergic activity and alcohol consumption. The regulation in GABAergic activity was mediated by a downstream target of D2 receptors called GSK3?, which altered the expression of GABA receptors in the cells.

    “These findings identified potential therapeutic targets,” said Wang, referring to GSK3? and GABA signaling in the No-Go pathway, which the researchers hope will aid development of new ways to treat alcohol abuse.

    The study may have even broader implications, according to Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. “The balance between signaling in the [Go] and [No-Go] pathways is likely to be a critical factor influencing motivated behavior, generally. This balance might be targeted to treat alcoholism, but also other addictions, mood disorders, and perhaps OCD,” he said.


  8. Brain area involved in addiction activated earlier by cocaine consumption than thought

    June 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the McGill University press release:

    Even among non-dependent cocaine users, cues associated with consumption of the drug lead to dopamine release in an area of the brain thought to promote compulsive use, according to researchers at McGill University.

    The findings, published in Scientific Reports, suggest that people who consider themselves recreational users could be further along the road to addiction than they might have realized.

    “The study provides evidence that some of the characteristic brain signals in people who have developed addictions are also present much earlier than most of us would have imagined,” says Marco Leyton, an expert on the neurobiology of drug use and addictions and professor in McGill’s Department of Psychiatry.

    Researchers have known for many years that cocaine use triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in the brain’s reward system. In people with addictions, cues associated with drug use create the same effect. Visual cues — such as seeing someone using cocaine — are enough to trigger dopamine release and lead to craving.

    Scientists have long believed that, as addiction progresses, cue-induced release of dopamine shifts to the dorsal striatum, a structure deep inside the brain extensively studied for its role in the way we respond to rewards.

    “This area of the brain is thought to be particularly important for when people start to lose control of their reward-seeking behaviours,” Prof. Leyton says. “The dorsal part of the striatum is involved in habits — the difference, for example, between getting an ice cream because it will feel good versus being an automatic response that occurs even when it is not enjoyable or leads to consequences that you would rather avoid, such as weight gain or serious health hazards.”

    This switch from voluntary to habitual behaviour is thought to play an important role in the development of uncontrollable and compulsive drug use and the progression to addiction,” adds Sylvia Cox, a postdoctoral researcher at the McConnell Brain Imaging Center and the paper’s first author.

    To better understand how soon this effect might be seen, Professor Leyton’s team used positron emission tomography (PET) scans to look at what happens in the dorsal striatum of recreational cocaine users.

    The scientists created highly personalized cues by filming participants ingesting cocaine in the laboratory with a friend with whom they had used the drug before. During a later session, subjects underwent a PET scan while watching the video of their friend taking cocaine. Exposure to the cocaine-related cues increased both craving and dopamine release in the dorsal striatum.

    “An accumulation of these brain triggers might bring people closer to the edge than they had realized.” The findings also underscore the “importance of providing help early” to avoid the severe effects of dependency, he adds.


  9. Study links abnormal startle-reflex responses to higher risk of alcohol problems

    May 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Research Society on Alcoholism press release:

    The startle response, often recorded as an eye-blink reflex, is a defensive measure believed to reflect emotional processing. Patients with alcohol use disorders (AUDs) show abnormal startle-reflex responses to alcohol-related stimuli. This study examined startle-reflex responses to various visual stimuli among heavy drinkers, and assessed whether certain patterns predict the development of AUDs four years later.

    Researchers measured the startle-reflex responses of 287 men recruited from public health-care centers in Spain: 239 non-dependent, heavy-drinking men and 48 healthy men who comprised the control group. All participants were exposed to four types of pictures: alcohol-related, aversive, appetitive, and neutral. The participants were subsequently examined four years later to determine the predictive value of their startle response on drinking status.

    The researchers found that a reduced startle-reflex response to alcohol-related and aversive pictures predicted AUD status in previously heavy drinkers. At follow-up, among the participants who were heavy drinkers initially, 46% met DSM-IV criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence. The authors suggested that a diminished startle-reflex response to alcohol-related and aversive stimuli may reflect a greater reward motivation among vulnerable drinkers and can serve as a clinical marker to predict the future development of AUDs.


  10. Study looks at socioeconomic aspects of drinking

    May 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Washington press release:

    Neighborhoods with greater poverty and disorganization may play a greater role in problem drinking than the availability of bars and stores that sell hard liquor, a University of Washington-led study has found.

    While there is evidence for the link between neighborhood poverty and alcohol use, the new twist — that socioeconomics are more powerful environmental factors than even access to the substance itself — suggests that improving a neighborhood’s quality of life can yield a range of benefits.

    “Is there something about the neighborhood itself that can lead to problems? As we learn more about those neighborhood factors that are relevant, then this might point to population-level strategies to modify or improve the environments where people live,” said Isaac Rhew, a research assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences.

    A common way to think of such broader changes is the “broken windows” theory of maintaining neighborhoods to deter crime. In other words, implementing programs, services or clean-up efforts to improve a neighborhood could help attain another goal: reducing problem drinking.

    The UW study was published online May 8 in the Journal of Urban Health.

    In examining the combination of multiple neighborhood factors on alcohol use, UW researchers turned to an ongoing research study of adults the university’s Social Development Research Group has followed for decades. They interviewed more than 500 of the adults in the study, who were first identified as fifth-graders in Seattle elementary schools and now live throughout King County. In this neighborhood study, 48 percent of participants were women; people of color made up nearly 60 percent of respondents.

    Researchers determined the U.S. Census Block Group (a geographic area of roughly 1,000 people) of each participant’s residence, along with demographic data tied to that area and the number of locations that sold hard alcohol there. Participants also answered a series of questions about their alcohol consumption and their perceptions of their neighborhood.

    This information allowed researchers to classify neighborhoods according to poverty level, alcohol availability (location of bars and liquor stores) and “disorganization,” which included factors such as crime, drug selling and graffiti.

    The ability to consider a number of neighborhood characteristics simultaneously and to identify patterns of how these characteristics grouped together to form distinct neighborhood types made this study different from others that might focus on the impact of, say, poverty alone, Rhew said.

    And while poverty and disorganization often are assumed to go hand-in-hand, that’s not always the case, added study co-author Rick Kosterman, a research scientist in the UW School of Social Work. A socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhood might also be highly organized, with strong leaders, a sense of identity and various programs and services for residents. At the same time, a low-poverty neighborhood might be highly disorganized, with a lack of resources or sense of community, or a few streets with more trouble than others.

    In this study, researchers found that residents of neighborhoods primarily characterized by high poverty and disorganization tended to drink twice as much in a typical week as those in other types of neighborhoods. Binge-drinking — generally defined as more than four drinks at a time for women, five for men — occurred in these high-poverty, highly disorganized communities about four times as frequently as in other types of neighborhoods. These findings are consistent with previous research indicating that people in lower income neighborhoods may be at greater risk for alcohol-related problems, Rhew said.

    What’s different, Rhew and Kosterman agreed, is the fact that neighborhoods characterized by greater alcohol availability showed no increased alcohol use among residents — suggesting that socioeconomic factors may pose a greater risk for substance abuse.

    “On its face, the connection between poverty and disorganization and alcohol use may not be all that surprising, but when you find that this connection may be even more important than the location of bars and liquor stores, then it’s those characteristics of a neighborhood that we want to pay attention to,” Kosterman said.

    Researchers pointed to an important change that has occurred since their original data was collected: the passage of a state law in 2011 privatizing liquor sales. The availability of liquor went from a little more than 300 state-run stores to some 1,500 pharmacies, grocery stores and warehouse clubs.

    “Prior to privatization, locations of stores that sold hard liquor were more controlled by the state, so now a neighborhood that had one store that sold liquor could have several,” said Rhew. But the evidence is mixed in terms of the impact that nearby alcohol outlets have on alcohol use, he added. People who purchase alcohol in one location, for instance, may live in another.

    “People who utilize the outlets aren’t just people from the neighborhood. We see stronger evidence of the link between where alcohol is sold and other problems such as violence, crime, and drinking and driving, but not necessarily consumption,” he added.

    The ability, thanks to recent funding, to overlay neighborhood data with the longitudinal Seattle Social Development Project — the study of 808 individuals begun in 1985 — presents opportunities for future analyses of a variety of behaviors and circumstances, the researchers said.