1. Study suggests different types of alcohol elicit different emotional responses

    December 2, 2017 by Ashley

    From the BMJ press release:

    Different types of alcohol elicit different emotional responses, but spirits are most frequently associated with feelings of aggression, suggests research published in the online journal BMJ Open.

    To explore the potential emotional factors underpinning alcohol preference the researchers drew on anonymised responses to the world’s largest online survey of legal and illicit drug and alcohol use among adults (Global Drug Survey or GDS).

    The GDS, which is provided in 11 languages, includes specific questions on alcohol consumption and the feelings associated with drinking beer, spirits, and red or white wine when at home or when out.

    The emotions included are energised, relaxed, sexy, confident and tired, aggressive, ill, restless, and tearful.

    The final analysis included the responses of just under 30,000 18 to 34 year olds from 21 countries who had drunk each of the specified types of alcohol within the past year, and who had filled in all the relevant sections of the questionnaire.

    Their answers showed that they attributed different emotions to different types of alcohol.

    Spirits were the least likely to be associated with feeling relaxed (20%); red wine was the most likely to elicit this feeling (just under 53%) followed by beer (around 50%).

    Drinking spirits was also more likely to draw out negative feelings than all the other types of alcohol. Nearly a third (30%) of spirit drinkers associated this tipple with feelings of aggression compared with around 2.5 per cent of red wine drinkers.

    But spirits were more likely to elicit some positive feelings than either beer or wine. Over half (around 59%) of respondents associated these drinks with feelings of energy and confidence. And more than four out of 10 (42.5%) associated them with feeling sexy.

    Responses differed by educational attainment, country of origin, and age, with the youngest age group (18-24) the most likely to associate any type of alcohol with feelings of confidence, energy and sexiness when drinking away from home.

    The responses also differed by gender and category of alcohol dependency. Women were significantly more likely than men to associate each feeling–except for aggression–with all types of alcohol.

    But men were significantly more likely to associate feelings of aggression with all types of alcohol, as were those categorised as heavy/dependent drinkers, who were six times more likely to do so than low risk drinkers.

    And heavy drinkers were more likely to select any drink that was associated for them with feelings of aggression and tearfulness when at home or when out.

    These findings suggest that dependent drinkers may rely on alcohol to generate the positive emotions they associate with drinking, as they were five times more likely to feel energised than low risk drinkers, say the researchers.

    This is an observational study so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect. And the researchers emphasise that there are likely to be many factors involved in the feelings elicited by alcohol, including advertising, when and where alcohol is drunk, and the alcohol content of different drinks.

    But they conclude: “Understanding emotions associated with alcohol consumption is imperative to addressing alcohol misuse, providing insight into what emotions influence drink choice between different groups in the population.”

    Around 3.3 million deaths and around one in 20 cases of ill health and injury around the globe are directly attributable to alcohol.

    *And co-author Professor Mark Bellis comments: “For centuries, the history of rum, gin, vodka and other spirits has been laced with violence. This global study suggests even today consuming spirits is more likely to result in feelings of aggression than other drinks.

    “In the UK, a litre of off-licence spirits can easily be bought for £15 or less, making a double shot only 75 pence. Such prices can encourage consumption at levels harmful to the health of the drinker and through violence and injuries also represent a risk to the people around them.”


  2. Study suggests cultural values can be a strong predictor of alcohol consumption

    November 29, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Countries with populations that value autonomy and harmony tend to have higher average levels of alcohol consumption than countries with more traditional values, such as hierarchy and being part of a collective. This new research finding, published today in open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology, may have important implications for international public health organizations aiming to tackle problems associated with alcohol consumption.

    Understanding why people drink alcohol excessively is of enormous importance to health authorities around the globe. According to the World Health organization, harmful alcohol consumption caused more than 3.3 million deaths in 2012, 6% of all deaths in that year. It is strongly associated with high blood pressure, liver cirrhosis and chronic pancreatitis, and has a huge social and economic burden.

    Many previous studies focused on why, at an individual level, people drink excessively. For the first time, researchers in Portugal and the UK attempted to pinpoint broader societal and cultural predictors of alcohol consumption.

    Using alcohol consumption and cultural value orientation data for 74 countries, the researchers modeled whether a country’s average level of alcohol consumption could be associated with various societal values such as autonomy, hierarchy, harmony and collectivism.

    Although the results were slightly different between men and women, the research found that values of autonomy and harmony are positively associated with alcohol consumption while hierarchy and embeddedness are negatively associated.

    One of the study’s authors, Dr Richard Inman, at the University of Lusíada in Porto, hopes that the findings may help to inform policy. “Our results suggest that bodies like World Health Organization should prioritize tackling alcohol consumption in countries that are more autonomous and less traditional, and future research should be directed at further understanding the relationship between cultural values and alcohol,” he says.

    Co-author, Bath University’s Dr Paul Hanel says that there is also an obvious next step: “Researchers could create similar profiles and models to help understand the cultural underpinnings for other risky behaviors such as smoking and drug taking, or health issues such as obesity.”

    Smoking, inactivity and diet, along with excessive alcohol consumption, are the noncommunicable diseases that cause 70% of deaths worldwide.


  3. Study examines relationship between traumatic brain injury and alcohol use

    November 27, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Elsevier press release:

    Head injury, which often damages brain regions overlapping with those involved in addictive behaviors, does not worsen drinking behavior in people with heavy alcohol use, according to a new study published in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging. The study, led by Dr. Andrew Mayer of the Mind Research Network and University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico, also found that combining head injury with heavy alcohol use did not further alter the structure or function of the brain.

    “Individuals who consume too much alcohol are prone to experience more accidents as a result of their intoxication,” said Dr. Mayer. Importantly, he added, heavy alcohol use and traumatic brain injury (TBI) affect similar regions of the brain. This has led researchers to think that the common combination of head injury and heavy drinking may interact to worsen the brain damage already caused by chronic alcohol exposure.

    The study compared people with a recent history of heavy alcohol use and TBI with a control group carefully matched on lifetime history of alcohol exposure. Mayer and colleagues found the opposite of what they expected — heavy drinkers with a history of a TBI did not have worse drinking behavior, such as how often and how much they drank, compared with drinkers without a history of TBI.

    The researchers also used imaging techniques to measure the structure of the brain and its activity when the participants were given a taste of their favorite drink. “On average, the brains of the two groups were similar both in terms of the amount of lost tissue, as well as how each person’s brain responded to their favorite drink,” said Dr. Mayer, suggesting that TBI does not further damage brain circuitry in heavy drinkers.

    “The observation that the participants with TBI did not have greater neurocircuitry dysfunction than those without TBI might translate into greater therapeutic optimism for the treatment of individuals with a combination of TBI plus heavy drinking histories,” said Dr. Cameron Carter, Editor of Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging.


  4. Higher estrogen levels linked to increased alcohol sensitivity in brain’s ‘reward center’

    November 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois at Chicago press release:

    The reward center of the brain is much more attuned to the pleasurable effects of alcohol when estrogen levels are elevated, an effect that may underlie the development of addiction in women, according to a study on mice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

    Led by Amy Lasek, assistant professor of psychiatry in the UIC College of Medicine, researchers found that neurons in a region of the brain called the ventral tegmental area, or VTA (also known as the “reward center”), fired most rapidly in response to alcohol when their estrogen levels were high. This response, according to their findings published online in the journal PLOS ONE, is mediated through receptors on dopamine-emitting neurons in the VTA.

    “When estrogen levels are higher, alcohol is much more rewarding,” said Lasek, who is the corresponding author on the paper and a researcher in the UIC Center for Alcohol Research in Epigenetics. “Women may be more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol or more likely to overindulge during certain stages of their cycle when estrogen levels are higher, or may be more likely to seek out alcohol during those stages.”

    Studies indicate that gender differences in psychiatric disorders, including addiction, are influenced by estrogen, one of the primary female sex hormones. Women are more likely to exhibit greater escalation of abuse of alcohol and other drugs, and are more prone to relapse in response to stress and anxiety.

    The VTA helps evaluate whether something is valuable or good. When neurons in this area of the brain are stimulated, they release dopamine — a powerful neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of wellness — and, in large doses, euphoria. When something good is encountered — for example, chocolate — the neurons in the VTA fire more rapidly, enforcing reward circuitry that encodes the idea that chocolate is enjoyable and something to be sought out. Over time, the VTA neurons fire more quickly at the sight, or even thought of, chocolate, explained Lasek. In addiction, VTA neurons are tuned into drugs of abuse, and fire more quickly in relation to consuming or even thinking about drugs, driving the person to seek them out — often at the expense of their own health, family, friends and jobs.

    Many animal studies have shown that alcohol increases the firing of dopamine-sensitive neurons in the VTA, but little is known about exactly why this occurs.

    Lasek and her colleagues examined the relationship between estrogen, alcohol and the VTA in female mice. They used naturally cycling mice that were allowed to go through their normal estrous cycles, akin to the menstrual cycle in women.

    Mice were evaluated to determine when they entered diestrus — the phase in the estrous cycle when estrogen levels are close to their peak.

    “In mice in diestrus, estrogen levels increase to about 10 times higher than they are in estrus, the phase in which ovulation occurs and estrogen levels drop,” Lasek said.

    VTAs were taken from mice in both estrus and diestrus and kept alive in special chambers. Electrodes recorded the activity of individual dopamine-sensitive neurons in the VTA. Next, the researchers added alcohol to the chamber. Activity increased twice as much in neurons from mice in diestrus compared to the response of neurons from mice in estrus.

    Lasek and her colleagues then blocked estrogen receptors on dopamine-sensitive neurons in VTA in mice in estrus and diestrus. With the blocker present, the response to alcohol in neurons from mice in diestrus was significantly lower compared with neurons where estrogen receptors remained functional. The estrogen receptor blocker reduced the alcohol response to levels seen in mice in estrus. The responses to alcohol in neurons from mice in estrus were unaffected by the estrogen receptor blocker.

    “The increased reward response to alcohol we see when estrogen levels are high is mediated through receptors for estrogen in the VTA,” said Mark Brodie, professor of physiology and biophysics in the UIC College of Medicine and a co-author on the paper.

    Lasek believes that the increased sensitivity to alcohol in the VTA when estrogen levels peak may play a significant role in the development of addiction in women.

    “We already know that binge drinking can lead to lasting changes in the brain, and in women, those changes may be faster and more significant due to the interaction we see between alcohol, the VTA and estrogen,” Lasek said. “Binge drinking can increase the risk of developing alcoholism, so women need to be careful about how much alcohol they drink. They should be aware that they may sometimes inadvertently over-consume alcohol because the area of the brain involved in alcohol reward is responding very strongly.”


  5. Study suggests frequent alcohol drinking kills new brain cells in adults, females are more vulnerable

    November 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston  press release:

    Researchers from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston recently discovered that alcohol killed the stem cells residing in adult mouse brains. Because the brain stems cells create new nerve cells and are important to maintaining normal cognitive function, this study possibly opens a door to combating chronic alcoholism.

    The researchers also found that brain stem cells in key brain regions of adult mice respond differently to alcohol exposure, and they show for the first time that these changes are different for females and males. The findings are available in Stem Cell Reports.

    Chronic alcohol abuse can cause severe brain damage and neurodegeneration. Scientists once believed that the number of nerve cells in the adult brain was fixed early in life and the best way to treat alcohol-induced brain damage was to protect the remaining nerve cells.

    “The discovery that the adult brain produces stem cells that create new nerve cells provides a new way of approaching the problem of alcohol-related changes in the brain,” said Dr. Ping Wu, UTMB professor in the department of neuroscience and cell biology. “However, before the new approaches can be developed, we need to understand how alcohol impacts the brain stem cells at different stages in their growth, in different brain regions and in the brains of both males and females.”

    In the study, Wu and her colleagues used a cutting-edge technique that allows them to tag brain stem cells and observe how they migrate and develop into specialized nerve cells over time to study the impact of long-term alcohol consumption on them.

    Wu said that chronic alcohol drinking killed most brain stem cells and reduced the production and development of new nerve cells.

    The researchers found that the effects of repeated alcohol consumption differed across brain regions. The brain region most susceptible to the effects of alcohol was one of two brain regions where new brain cells are created in adults.

    They also noted that female mice showed more severe deficits than males. The females displayed more severe intoxication behaviors and more greatly reduced the pool of stem cells in the subventricular zone.

    Using this model, scientists expect to learn more about how alcohol interacts with brain stem cells, which will ultimately lead to a clearer understanding of how best to treat and cure alcoholism.

    Other authors include UTMB’s Erica McGrath, Junling Gao, Yong Fang Kuo, Tiffany Dunn, Moniqua Ray, Kelly Dineley, Kathryn Cunningham and Bhupendra Kaphalia.


  6. Study suggests genetic influences on the brain’s reward, stress systems underlie co-occurring alcohol use disorder, chronic pain

    October 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Research Society on Alcoholism press release:

    Alcohol use disorder (AUD) often co-occurs with chronic pain (CP), yet the relationship between the two is complex — involving genetic, neurophysiological, and behavioral elements — and is poorly understood. This review addressed the genetic influences on brain reward and stress systems that neurological research suggests may contribute to the co-occurrence of AUD and CP.

    Candidate gene association studies (CGAS) and genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have provided initial evidence suggesting that a similar dysregulation of reward and stress pathways contribute to AUD and CP, and that genetic influences on these pathways may contribute to both conditions. More specifically, genetic association studies that have looked at AUD and CP independently have identified a number of single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) — DNA sequence variations — suggestively associated with AUD and CP, with several of these SNPs being located in or near a common set of genes. These common genes are either directly or indirectly related to the reward and stress systems, and are also more broadly involved with the central nervous system (CNS).

    The authors suggested that these results must be interpreted with caution until studies with sufficient statistical power are conducted and replicated. Further, the co-occurrence of AUD and CP reflect a common genetic basis that will likely involve CNS processes other than reward and stress mechanisms in AUD-CP co-occurrence. As the field of molecular genetics continues to advance, if such shared genetic contributions to AUD and CP may be identified, this knowledge can help inform understanding of the underlying mechanisms that contribute to the etiologies of each disorder and their co-occurrence. This would refine and improve the diagnosis and treatment of AUD and CP.


  7. Study suggests having a parent with an alcohol use disorder increases risk for teenage dating violence

    October 18, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University at Buffalo press release:

    Having a parent with an alcohol use disorder increases the risk for dating violence among teenagers, according to a study from the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions.

    In addition, researchers found that the root causes of teen dating violence can be seen as early as infancy.

    “Although teen dating violence is typically viewed as a problem related specifically to adolescent development, our findings indicate that the risk for aggressive behavior and involvement in dating violence are related to stressors experienced much earlier in life,” says Jennifer A. Livingston, PhD, senior research scientist at RIA and lead author of the study.

    Livingston evaluated 144 teenagers who had fathers with an alcohol use disorder and who had been initially recruited for study at 12 months of age. By analyzing data that was collected regularly over the course of their lifespan, Livingston was able to identify factors that led to some of the teenagers to be involved in abusive dating relationships.

    “It appears that family dynamics occurring in the preschool years and in middle childhood are critical in the development of aggression and dating violence in the teenage years,” she says.

    Mothers living with partners who have alcohol use disorder tended to be more depressed and, as a result, were less warm and sensitive in their interactions with their children, beginning in infancy. “This is significant because children with warm and sensitive mothers are better able to regulate their emotions and behavior,” Livingston says. “In addition, there is more marital conflict when there is alcohol addiction.”

    These conditions can interfere with children’s abilities to control their own behavior, resulting in higher levels of aggression in early and middle childhood. Children who are more aggressive in childhood, particularly with their siblings, are more likely to be aggressive with their romantic partners during their teen years.

    “Our findings underscore the critical need for early intervention and prevention with families who are at-risk due to alcohol problems. Mothers with alcoholic partners are especially in need of support,” Livingston says. “Our research suggests the risk for violence can be lessened when parents are able to be more warm and sensitive in their interactions with their children during the toddler years. This in turn can reduce marital conflict and increase the children’s self-control, and ultimately reduce involvement in aggressive behavior.”


  8. What makes alcoholics drink? Research shows it’s more complex than supposed

    September 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology press release:

    What makes alcoholics drink? New research has found that in both men and women with alcohol dependence, the major factor predicting the amount of drinking seems to be a question of immediate mood. They found that suffering from long-term mental health problems did not affect alcohol consumption, with one important exception: men with a history of depression had a different drinking pattern than men without a history of depression; surprisingly those men were drinking less often than men who were not depressed.

    “This work once again shows that alcoholism is not a one-size-fits-all condition,” said lead researcher, Victor Karpyak (Mayo Clinic, MN, USA). “So the answer to the question of why alcoholics drink is probably that there is no single answer; this will probably have implications for how we diagnose and treat alcoholism.”

    The work, presented at the ECNP congress by researchers from the Mayo Clinic*, determined the alcohol consumption of 287 males and 156 females with alcohol dependence over the previous 90 days, using the accepted Time Line Follow Back method and standardized diagnostic assessment for life time presence of psychiatric disorders (PRISM); they were then able to associate this with whether the drinking coincided with a positive or negative emotional state (feeling “up” or “down”), and whether the individual had a history of anxiety, depression (MDD) or substance abuse.

    The results showed that alcohol dependent men tended to drink more alcohol per day than alcohol dependent women. As expected, alcohol consumption in both men and women was associated with feeling either up or down on a particular day, with no significant association with anxiety or substance use disorders. However, men with a history of major depressive disorder had fewer drinking days (p=0.0084), and fewer heavy drinking days (p=0.0214) than men who never a major depressive disorder.

    Victor Karpyak continued: “Research indicates that many people drink to enhance pleasant feelings, while other people drink to suppress negative moods, such as depression or anxiety. However, previous studies did not differentiate between state-dependent mood changes and the presence of clinically diagnosed anxiety or depressive disorders. The lack of such differentiation was likely among the reasons for controversial findings about the usefulness of antidepressants in treatment of alcoholics with comorbid depression.

    This work will need to be replicated and confirmed, but from what we see here, it means that the reasons why alcoholics drink depend on their background as well as the immediate circumstances. There is no single reason. And this means that there is probably no single treatment, so we will have to refine our diagnostic methods and tailor treatment to the individual. It also means that our treatment approach may differ depending on targeting different aspects of alcoholism (craving or consumption) and the alcoholic patient (i.e. man or a woman) with or without depression or anxiety history to allow really effective treatment.”

    Commenting, Professor Wim van den Brink (Professor of Psychiatry and Addiction at the Academic Medical Centre, University of Amsterdam) said:

    “This is indeed a very important issue. Patients with an alcohol use disorder often show a history of other disorders, including mood and anxiety disorders, they also often present with alcohol induced anxiety and mood disorders and finally the may report mood symptoms that do not meet criteria for a mood or anxiety disorder (due to a failure to meet the minimal number of criteria or a duration of less than two weeks). All these different conditions may influence current levels or patterns of drinking.

    The current study seems to show that the current presence of mood/anxiety symptoms is associated with more drinking in both male and female alcoholics, whereas a clinical history of major depression in male alcoholics is associated with lower current dinking levels. Although, the study does not provide a clear reason for this difference, it may have consequences for treatment. For example, antidepressant treatment of males with a history major depression may have no effect on drinking levels. However, these findings may also result from residual confounding, e.g. patients with a history of major depression might also be patients with a late age of onset of their alcohol use disorder and this type of alcohol use disorder is associated with a different pattern of drinking with more daily drinking and less heavy drinking days and less binging. More prospective studies are needed to resolve this important but complex clinical issue.”


  9. 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.”


  10. 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.