1. 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.


  2. 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.”


  3. 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.


  4. Bullying’s lasting impact

    May 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Delaware press release:

    A new study led by the University of Delaware found that kids who are bullied in fifth grade often suffer from depression and begin using alcohol and other substances a few years after the incidents.

    “Students who experienced more frequent peer victimization in fifth grade were more likely to have greater symptoms of depression in seventh grade, and a greater likelihood of using alcohol, marijuana or tobacco in tenth grade,” said the study’s leader, Valerie Earnshaw, a social psychologist and assistant professor in UD’s College of Education and Human Development.

    The study involved researchers from universities and hospitals in six states, who analyzed data collected between 2004 and 2011 from 4,297 students on their journey from fifth through tenth grade. The findings were published online in the medical journal Pediatrics.

    The students were from Birmingham, Alabama; Houston, Texas; and Los Angeles County, California. Forty-four percent were Latino, 29 percent were African American and 22 percent were white.

    Although peer victimization is common during late childhood and early adolescence and appears to be associated with increased substance use, few studies have examined these associations longitudinally — meaning that data is gathered from the same subjects repeatedly over several years — or point to the psychological processes whereby peer victimization leads to substance use.

    “We show that peer victimization in fifth grade has lasting effects on substance use five years later. We also show that depressive symptoms help to explain why peer victimization is associated with substance use, suggesting that youth may be self-medicating by using substances to relieve these negative emotions,” Earnshaw said.

    Impacts and interventions

    Peer victimization leads to substance use, and substance use can harm adolescent development with implications for health throughout the lifespan, Earnshaw said. Alcohol and marijuana use may interfere with brain development and can lead to injuries. Tobacco use may lead to respiratory illness, cancer and early death.

    “Youth who develop substance use disorders are at risk of many mental and physical illnesses throughout life,” Earnshaw said. “So, the substance use that results from peer victimization can affect young people throughout their lives.”

    Among the study’s findings, boys, sexual minority youth and youth living with chronic illness reported more frequent peer victimization in fifth grade. Age, obesity, race/ethnicity, household educational achievement and family income were not related to more frequent peer victimization.

    Twenty-four percent of tenth graders in the study reported recent alcohol use, 15.2 percent reported marijuana use, and 11.7 percent reported tobacco use. Sexual minority status was more strongly related to alcohol use among girls than boys; it was also related to marijuana and tobacco use among girls but not boys.

    Earnshaw used structural equation modeling — a form of statistical analysis — to examine the multiple variables across time and to test if there were relationships among them. She started working with the data in summer 2015 and finalized the model in fall 2016 in her office in UD’s Alison Hall.

    An expert in stigma research, Earnshaw wants to understand why people treat other people poorly and how this poor treatment leads to poor health, including through substance use behaviors. She hopes this latest study will enlighten pediatricians, teachers, parents — anyone in a position to help students facing peer aggression.

    “We urge pediatricians to screen youth for peer victimization, symptoms of depression and substance use,” says Earnshaw. “These doctors can offer counsel to youth and recommendations to parents and youth for approaching teachers and school staff for support. Moreover, youth experiencing depressive symptoms and substance use should be offered treatment when needed.”

    The research team’s messages also extend to teachers.

    Peer victimization really matters, and we need to take it seriously — this echoes the messages educators already have been receiving,” Earnshaw says. “This study gives some additional evidence as to why it’s important to intervene. It also may give teachers insight into why students are depressed or using substances in middle and high school.”


  5. Study examines neuroscience of craving in addiction and binge eating

    May 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Center for BrainHealth press release:

    A new article in JAMA Psychiatry details the first step in revealing how craving works in the brain. Scientists at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas are the first to propose a systematic and quantitative model for drug addiction research. The model focuses on craving: the intense, urgent feeling of needing or wanting drugs. Their ongoing research and subsequent findings have the potential to open a new frontier of alcohol and substance abuse treatment that may also apply to binge-eating disorders.

    Craving is considered one of the strongest predictors of relapse,” said Dr. Xiaosi Gu, who runs the Computational Psychiatry Unit at the Center for BrainHealth. “Even after an individual has broken the cycle of compulsive drug taking, craving can still persist. Although current treatment can handle a lot of the behavioral aspects of addiction, especially physical symptoms, craving is difficult to treat because it is a subject state. For example, when you are hungry, you have the urge to eat, but it is difficult to measure how compelling your urge to eat is in a quantitative way. However, if we could visualize craving activation in the brain, we would be better able to quantify and target it. We aim, with this new framework, to begin to separate craving from reward- or drug-seeking behavior.”

    Research on drug craving has traditionally centered on studying cue response. For example, a marijuana study participant typically undergoes a brain scan while being shown a picture of a bong, and researchers analyze the brain activation in response to the cue. In this scenario, the bong is a valuable item to someone who uses marijuana. However, as Dr. Gu points out, there is no way to know whether the brain activation occurs in response to the reward (an item associated with smoking marijuana) or the craving (the bong image triggers craving for marijuana).

    Dr. Gu and Dr. Francesca Filbey, also of the Center for BrainHealth and Bert Moore Chair at BrainHealth, are collaborating to identify — using a new computational model — the exact regions of the brain that encode craving. They plan to reanalyze brain scans from previous research to lay the groundwork for quantifying craving, its effects and ways to target treatments to counteract it.

    Initial results are promising, but it will take a few years and additional funding to complete reanalysis of the thousands of brain scans previously compiled through Dr. Filbey’s research as well as data from consortia to which Dr. Filbey belongs.


  6. Study suggests gender differences in effects of alcoholism on the brain’s reward system

    April 25, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Massachusetts General Hospital press release:

    A collaborative study between researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) has found evidence implying that alcoholism may have different effects on the reward system in the brains of women than it does in men.

    In their paper published in Psychiatry Research Neuroimaging, the team reports that reward system structures are larger in alcoholic women than in nonalcoholic women, and their report confirmed earlier studies that found the same structures were smaller in alcoholic men than in nonalcoholic men. The study, which enrolled currently abstinent individuals with a history of long-term alcohol use disorder, also found a negative association between the length of sobriety and the size of the fluid-filled ventricles in the center of the brain, suggesting possible recovery of the overall brain from the effects of alcoholism.

    “Until now, little has been known about the volume of the reward regions in alcoholic women, since all previous studies have been done in men,” says co-author Gordon Harris, PhD, of the 3D Imaging Service and the Center for Morphometric Analysis in the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at MGH. “Our findings suggest that it might be helpful to consider gender-specific approaches to treatment for alcoholism.”

    The brain’s reward system is a group of structures – including the amygdala and the hippocampus – that reinforce beneficial experiences, are involved in memory and complex decision-making and have been implicated in the development of substance use disorders. Since there are known difference between the psychological and behavioral profiles of women and men with alcoholism – women tend toward having higher levels of anxiety, while men are more likely to exhibit anti-social characteristics – the current study was designed to investigate whether the alcoholism-associated reward system differences previously observed in men would also be seen in women.

    The study enrolled 60 participants with histories of long-term alcoholism – 30 women and 30 men – and an equivalent group of nonalcoholic volunteers. The alcoholic participants had been abstinent for time periods ranging from four weeks to 38 years. Participants completed detailed medical histories and neuropsychological assessments with the BUSM researchers before having MRI brain scans at the Martinos Center that were analyzed both in terms of the total brain and of the structures in the reward network.

    Replicating the results of earlier studies, the average sizes of reward region structures of alcoholic men were 4.1 percent smaller than those of nonalcoholic men, but the average sizes of the same structures were 4.4 percent larger in alcoholic than in nonalcoholic women. While factors such as the duration and intensity of heavy drinking appeared to reinforce these gender-specific effects, the research team notes that the current study cannot determine whether these differences preceded or resulted from the development of alcoholism. Among participants with alcoholism – both women and men – each year of sobriety was associated with a 1.8 percent decrease in the size of the ventricles, suggesting recovery from the damaging effects of alcoholism on the brain.

    “We’re planning to take a more detailed look at the impact of factors such as the severity of drinking and the length of sobriety on specific brain structure, and hope to investigate whether the imaging differences seen in this and previous studies are associated with gender-based differences in motivational and emotional functions,” says co-author Marlene Oscar-Berman, PhD, a professor of Psychiatry, Neurology, and Anatomy & Neurobiology at BUSM.


  7. Study suggests heavy drinking impacts performance over time

    April 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Veterans Affairs Research Communications press release:

    Heavy drinkers develop behavioral tolerance to alcohol over time on some fine motor tasks, but not on more complex tasks, according to a study led by a Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System researcher. While heavy drinkers showed less impairment than light drinkers on a rote fine motor test over time, they did not perform better on a test involving more short-term memory, motor speed, and more complex cognitive processing.

    The study offers new insight into the changes and problems that accompany excessive drinking. As the researchers explain, “The results have implications for our understanding of alcohol-induced impairments across neurobehavioral processes in heavy drinkers and their ongoing risks for alcohol-related consequences over time.”

    Lead researcher Dr. Ty Brumback adds, “The most important thing about the study is that despite heavy drinkers’ extensive experience with alcohol, increased speed of metabolism, and lower self-perceived impairment, we show that on a more demanding task they are just as impaired as light drinkers.”

    Brumback is a postdoctoral fellow in addiction treatment with VA and the University of California, San Diego.

    The study results were published in a March 2017 issue of the journal Psychopharmacology.

    Many studies have measured how consuming alcohol impairs both cognitive function and motor coordination. Researchers have also observed that people with histories of heavier prolonged drinking often show greater tolerance to alcohol than lighter drinkers. While research has shown that more experienced drinkers are less impaired by alcohol on some performance measures, the degree to which this tolerance changes over time has not been clearly shown.

    This study sought to answer this question as part of the Chicago Social Drinking Project, led by Dr. Andrea King at the University of Chicago. One-hundred fifty-five young adult volunteers were tested on two cognitive and motor coordination tests at the beginning of the study and again five years later.

    The study defined a heavy drinker as a person who drank between 10 and 40 alcoholic drinks per week for at least the past two years at the initial testing. This involved consuming more than five drinks at one time for men and more than four for women. Light drinkers were those who had fewer than six drinks per week. Participants maintained these drinking habits across the five years between initial testing and follow-up.

    Participants completed two psychomotor tasks. In the Grooved Pegboard Test, they were timed moving, inserting, and rotating pegs into slotted holes on a board. This test measures fine motor skills. In the Digit Symbol Substitution Test (DSST), participants were given a legend with different symbols corresponding to numbers. They then had 90 seconds to fill in the correct symbols on a sheet with numbers. The test is designed to assess not only fine motor skills, but also short-term memory and cognitive processing.

    Brumback explains that a real-world activity such as using keys to unlock a door is similar to manipulating a peg on the Pegboard Test. The DSST is akin to more complex tasks such as remembering directions to a novel location or driving a car.

    Before each test, participants were given a dose of alcohol that was calculated based on their body weight to bring them to a specific breath alcohol concentration. They were then tested at 30, 60, 120, and 180 minutes after the drink.

    As expected, all the participants performed worse on both tests when impaired by alcohol. In a prior report, the authors showed that light and heavy drinkers showed similar levels of impairment on both tasks during the initial testing. At the five-year follow-up, both groups showed improvement on both tasks compared with how they had done when tested years earlier, which the authors attribute primarily to practice effects.

    Heavy drinkers also showed evidence of chemical tolerance to alcohol. Their breath alcohol concentrations decreased faster after drinking at the five-year retest versus the initial test. The result lends support to the idea that heavy drinkers absorb and metabolize alcohol faster than light drinkers.

    While both groups did better at the follow-up, heavy drinkers showed less impairment on the pegboard than light drinkers relative to their initial testing scores. This did not hold true on the DSST, however. Both heavy and light drinkers showed similar levels of impairment during the follow-up testing.

    All in all, the results show that sustained heavier drinking may lead to less impairment in simpler fine motor skills relative to lighter drinking, but this tolerance does not help performance on tasks involving more complex motor processing and short-term memory. Thus, faster metabolization of alcohol in heavy drinkers did not lead to better performance on the more complex task.

    Heavier drinkers may develop behavioral tolerance for several reasons, say the researchers. Repeatedly drinking to intoxication leads to cellular adaptation within the brain, changing the sensitivity to alcohol. Contextual factors also play a part: When people learn a task while drunk, they adapt to performing that task while under the influence.

    A key point the researchers highlight is that heavy drinkers reported lower self-perceived impairment than light drinkers. They suggest that, for heavy drinkers, lower perceived impairment and higher sensitivity to the stimulating and rewarding effects of alcohol could make the habit more dangerous for them. They may engage in more potentially risky behaviors while drunk because they see their impairment level as lower.

    Brumback provides an example of how this could play out in the real world, “Say a heavy drinker is out at a restaurant and becomes intoxicated. When it comes time to leave, this person has only internal and external cues to help make the decision whether to drive home or call a cab. So, if this person tends to perceive herself as less impaired, she gets up from the table and walks to the door, pushes the door open, and walks to her car. These simple motor functions may not provide sufficient feedback for her to decide she is too drunk to drive. Furthermore, when she gets to her car and unlocks the door and even puts the car in gear, she may not be perceiving impairment in these simple tasks. However, once she begins to drive, the cognitive and psychomotor demands increase significantly but the decision to drive has already been made based on the earlier simple tasks.”

    In scenarios such as this, alcohol tolerance may in fact lead heavy drinkers to judge that they are not impaired and attempt more difficult tasks.

    “Overall, there is a common belief among heavy drinkers that they can ‘handle their alcohol’ and that many common daily tasks may not be affected by their alcohol use,” says Brumback. “The take-home message here is that tolerance to alcohol is not equal across all tasks and is not ‘protective’ against accidents or injuries while intoxicated, because it may in fact lead the heavy drinker to judge that they are not impaired and attempt more difficult tasks. Making such decisions in the moment is highly risky, because it is based on faulty information.”


  8. Study suggests oxytocin may help prevent drug addiction relapse

    April 18, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of St George’s London press release:

    Experts say oxytocin, a key hormone made naturally by the brain, could hold the key to treating drug addicts and help them avoid relapse.

    Oxytocin is most usually associated with childbirth and breast feeding, but has multiple psychological effects, influencing social behaviour and emotion.

    Sometimes called the ‘love hormone’, it has an anti-anxiety effect, and many studies have examined the role of oxytocin in addiction.

    Researchers at St George’s, University of London, after reviewing all the published evidence on oxytocin, have now found that the oxytocin system is profoundly affected by opioid use and abstinence.

    The review, which includes seminal studies conducted by Dr. Alexis Bailey’s group, suggests the oxytocin system can be an important target for developing new medicines for the treatment of opioid addiction and prevention of relapse among addicts.

    Taking drugs activates pathways in the brain that induce pleasurable effects, which make the user want to repeat the experience, but as drug use continues, brain tolerance to the effects of the drug increases and a greater dose is needed to achieve the same effects.

    Dr Alexis Bailey, senior author of the review, said: “Given the benefits that social support programmes like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous have in keeping addicts abstinent, our findings in the review suggest the use of oxytocin, the pro-social hormone, could be an effective therapy for the prevention of relapse to drug use in drug-dependent individuals.

    “Since the evidence is so clear, the need for clinical studies looking into this is obvious.”

    The study “Oxytocin and opioid addiction revisited: Old drug, new applications” was published in British Journal of Pharmacology.


  9. Study suggests surprising brain change may drive alcohol dependence

    April 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Scripps Research Institute press release:

    A new study led by scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) could help researchers develop personalized treatments for alcoholism and alcohol use disorder.

    The research reveals a key difference between the brains of alcohol-dependent versus nondependent rats. When given alcohol, both groups showed increased activity in a region of the brain called the central amygdala (CeA) — but this activity was due to two completely different brain signaling pathways.

    TSRI Professor Marisa Roberto, senior author of the new study, said the findings could help researchers develop more personalized treatments for alcohol dependence, as they evaluate how a person’s brain responds to different therapeutics.

    The findings were published recently online ahead of print in The Journal of Neuroscience.

    Researchers Find Brain’s Alcohol Response ‘Switch’

    The new research builds on the Roberto lab’s previous discovery that alcohol increases neuronal activity in the CeA. The researchers found increased activity both nondependent, or naïve, and alcohol-dependent rats.

    As they investigated this phenomenon in the new study, Roberto and her colleagues were surprised to find that the mechanisms underlying this increased activity differed between the two groups.

    By giving naïve rats a dose of alcohol, the researchers engaged proteins called calcium channels and increased neuronal activity. Neurons fired as the specific calcium channels at play, called L-type voltage-gated calcium channels (LTCCs), boosted the release of a neurotransmitter called GABA. Blocking these LTCCs reduced voluntary alcohol consumption in naïve rats.

    But in alcohol-dependent rats, the researchers found decreased abundance of LTCCs on neuronal cell membranes, disrupting their normal ability to drive a dose of alcohol’s effects on CeA activity. Instead, increased neuronal activity was driven by a stress hormone called corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) and its type 1 receptor (CRF1). The researchers found that blocking CeA CRF1s reduced voluntary alcohol consumption in the dependent rats.

    Studying these two groups shed light on how alcohol functionally alters the brain, Roberto explained.

    “There is a switch in the molecular mechanisms underlying the CeA’s response to alcohol (from LTCC- to CRF1-driven) as the individual transitions to the alcohol-dependent state,” she said.

    The cellular and molecular experiments were led by TSRI Research Associate and study first author Florence Varodayan. The behavioral tests were conducted by TSRI Research Associate Giordano de Guglielmo in the lab of TSRI Associate Professor Olivier George.

    Roberto hopes the findings lead to better ways to treat alcohol dependence. Alcohol use disorder appears to have many different root causes, but the new findings suggest doctors could analyze certain symptoms or genetic markers to determine which patients are likely to have CRF-CRF1 hyperactivation and benefit from the development of a novel drug that blocks that activity.


  10. New study links opioid epidemic to childhood emotional abuse

    March 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Vermont press release:

    A study by researchers at the University of Vermont has revealed a link between adult opioid misuse and childhood emotional abuse, a new finding that suggests a rethinking of treatment approaches for opioid abusers.

    To uncover the link to emotional abuse, the study, published in the current issue of Addictive Behaviors, analysed and cross referenced the results of a series of psychological tests administered to a sample of 84 individuals with a history of problem opioid use who had also suffered childhood trauma.

    Earlier research has found that a high percentage of adults who abuse substances were maltreated in a variety of ways as children. But few previous studies have investigated the causes of opioid addiction specifically, and no earlier ones narrowed the link among opioid users to emotional abuse.

    Emotional abuse was much more strongly correlated with survey participants’ problem opioid use than childhood sexual and physical abuse or other kinds of maltreatment such as neglect.

    The study found that children who had been emotionally abused were more likely to engage in rash, risky behavior in adolescence and to suffer posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as adults. Opioid use offered a refuge from PTSD for this group — while causing a host of new problems. The severity of the PTSD was directly linked to the severity of their opioid-related problems.

    “If a person is being physically or sexually abused, it’s easier to put the blame on the person doing the abuse,” said Matthew Price, assistant professor in Department of Psychological Science at the University of Vermont, and the paper’s senior author.

    “With emotional abuse, the abuser is saying ‘You are the problem.’ Being called names, being told you’re not good enough, being told no one cares about you undermines your ability to cope with difficult emotions. To protect themselves from strong emotions and from trauma cues that can bring on PTSD symptoms, people with this kind of childhood experience frequently adopt a strategy of avoidance, which can include opioid use.”

    New treatment approaches

    The findings suggest why some opioid abusers don’t respond to substance abuse counseling or PTSD treatment and point the way toward potentially more productive therapies. Drug addiction and mental health issues are often treated separately by different kinds of specialists, Price said. “Mental health counselors will frequently say, ‘Deal with your drug issues first, then come to see me.'”

    The study suggests “we should really start to explore more integrated treatment,” Price said. “If a patient has had severe emotional abuse and they have a tendency to act out when they’re feeling upset, and then they turn to opioids to deal with the resulting PTSD, it makes sense to address the emotional component and the drug problems at the same time.”

    In the study, participants were interviewed about their childhood experiences and then given a battery of psychological tests that measured the type and extent of any maltreatment they had experienced as children, the extent to which their opioid use was causing life problems, the severity of their addiction, the extent of their impulsive behavior, and the extent and severity of their PTSD.

    The researchers used a sophisticated statistical method known as structural equation modeling, or SEM, to make connections between the data sets each of the individual tests brought to light, which illuminated the pathway from childhood emotional abuse to rash adolescent behavior to PTSD to opioid abuse.