Drug-use may hamper moral judgment

Regular cocaine and methamphetamine users can have difficulty choosing between right and wrong, perhaps because the specific parts of their brains used for moral processing and evaluating emotions are damaged by their prolonged drug habits. This is according to a study among prison inmates by Samantha Fede and Dr. Kent Kiehl’s laboratory at the University of New Mexico and the nonprofit Mind Research Network. The findings of the study, which was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, are published in Springer’s journal Psychopharmacology.

Research has shown that stimulant users often find it difficult to identify other people’s emotions, particularly fear, and to show empathy. These aspects play an important role in moral decision making. Other studies have pointed to structural and functional abnormalities in especially the frontal regions of their brains among stimulant users. These areas are engaged when moral judgments have to be made.

Drug Use and Criminal Behavior

There is strong link between drug use and criminal behavior, and up to 75 percent of inmates in the US have substance abuse problems. It is not known whether the criminal behavior is in part a result of the drugs’ effects on brain function.

Kiehl’s team is the first to examine how the neural networks and brain functioning of chronic cocaine and methamphetamine users in US jails relate to their ability to evaluate and decide about moral situations or scenarios. Poor judgment about moral situations can lead to poor decision making and subsequent antisocial behavior.

Chemical Changes in the Brain

The researchers recorded the life history of substance abuse of 131 cocaine and methamphetamine users and 80 non-users incarcerated in New Mexico and Wisconsin prisons. The participants’ brains were scanned while they completed a moral decision-making task in which they evaluated whether certain phrases were morally wrong or not.

Compared to the non-users, the regular stimulant users had abnormal neural activity in the frontal lobes and limbic regions of their brains during moral processing. Specifically, lifetime stimulant users showed less activity in the amygdala, a group of neurons in the brain that helps to regulate and understand emotions. The researchers also observed a relationship in the level of engagement of the anterior cingulate cortex: the longer people had been using stimulants, the less activity in this region. This is an area of the brain that coordinates reinforcement, effect and executive action needed in moral decision making.

Impaired Decision-Making

“This is the first study to suggest impairments in the neural systems of moral processing in both cocaine and methamphetamine users,” says lead author Fede. “Although further research into the connectivity of systems in stimulant use is needed, this provides promising initial understanding of fronto-limbic deficits in stimulant users.”

The research team acknowledges that people who are prone to regular stimulant use might already struggle with moral processing even before they begin to use drugs such as cocaine. The effects found related to use over time in the anterior cingulate cortex and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, another region implicated in moral decision making, however, indicate that methamphetamine and cocaine may have a serious impact on the brain.

July 19th, 2016  in Alcohol No Comments »

Larger wine glasses may lead people to drink more

Selling wine in larger wine glasses may encourage people to drink more, even when the amount of wine remains the same, suggests new research from the University of Cambridge. In a study published today in the journal BMC Public Health, researchers found that increasing the size of wine glasses led to an almost 10% increase in wine sales.

Alcohol consumption is one of the leading risk factors for disease and has been linked to conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cancer and liver disease. The factors that influence consumption are not clear; a recent Cochrane review published by the Behaviour and Health Research Unit (BHRU) at the University of Cambridge found that larger portion sizes and tableware increased consumption of food and non-alcoholic drinks, but found no evidence relating to consumption of alcohol.

A Change of Perception?

To examine whether the size of glass in which alcohol is served affects consumption, the team at the BHRU, together with Professor Marcus Munafo from the University of Bristol, carried out a study in The Pint Shop in Cambridge from mid-March to early July 2015. The establishment has separate bar and restaurant areas, both selling food and drink. Wine (in 125ml or 175ml servings) could be purchased by the glass, which was usually a standard 300ml size.

Over the course of a 16-week period, the owners of the establishment changed the size of the wine glasses at fortnightly intervals, alternating between the standard (300ml) size, and larger (370ml) and smaller (250 ml) glasses.

The researchers found that the volume of wine purchased daily was 9.4% higher when sold in larger glasses compared to standard-sized glasses. This effect was mainly driven by sales in the bar area, which saw an increase in sales of 14.4%, compared to an 8.2% increase in sales in the restaurant. The findings were inconclusive as to whether sales were different with smaller compared to standard-sized glasses.

Drinking Faster With Larger Glasses?

“We found that increasing the size of wine glasses, even without increasing the amount of wine, leads people to drink more,” says Dr Rachel Pechey from the BHRU at Cambridge. “It’s not obvious why this should be the case, but one reason may be that larger glasses change our perceptions of the amount of wine, leading us to drink faster and order more. But it’s interesting that we didn’t see the opposite effect when we switched to smaller wine glasses.”

Professor Theresa Marteau, Director of the Unit, adds: “This suggests that avoiding the use of larger wine glasses could reduce the amount that people drink. We need more research to confirm this effect, but if it is the case, then we will need to think how this might be implemented. For example, could it be an alcohol licensing requirements that all wine glasses have to be below a certain size?”

June 10th, 2016  in Alcohol No Comments »

Marijuana smokers more likely to develop an alcohol problem

Adults who use marijuana are five times more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder (AUD) –alcohol abuse or dependence– compared with adults who do not use the drug. And adults who already have an alcohol use disorder and use marijuana are more likely to see the problem persist.

Results of a study by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the City University of New York appear online in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Increased Risk of Alcohol Problems

“Our results suggest that cannabis use appears to be associated with an increased vulnerability to developing an alcohol use disorder, even among those without any history of this,” said Renee Goodwin, PhD, associate professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health. “Marijuana use also appears to increase the likelihood that an existing alcohol use disorder will continue over time.”

The researchers analyzed data from 27,461 adults enrolled in the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions who first used marijuana at a time when they had no lifetime history of alcohol use disorders.

The population was assessed at two time points. Adults who had used marijuana at the first assessment and again over the following three years (23 percent) were five times more likely to develop an alcohol use problem, compared with those who had not used marijuana (5 percent).

Marijuana Smokers Delay Alcohol Treatment

Adult problem drinkers who did not use cannabis were significantly more likely to be in recovery from alcohol use disorders three years later.

“From a public health standpoint we recommend that further research be conducted to understand the pathways underlying these relationships as well as the degree to which various potentially vulnerable population subgroups — youth, for example — are at increased risk,” noted Goodwin. “If future research confirms these findings, investigating whether preventing or delaying first use of marijuana might reduce the risk of developing alcohol use disorders among some segments of the population may be worthwhile.”

February 26th, 2016  in Substance Abuse No Comments »

Early Binge Drinking Can Cause Hypertension

Having an occasional drink is fine, but “binge” drinking is a known health hazard and now high blood pressure may need to be added to the list of possible consequences.

Young adults in their twenties who regularly binge drink have higher blood pressure which may increase the risk of developing hypertension, concludes a study conducted by researchers at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre (CRCHUM).

Binge drinking (i.e. consuming five or more alcoholic beverages in less than two hours), is quite prevalent: previous studies in Canada and the U.S. have shown that about four in ten young adults aged 18 to 24 are frequent binge drinkers.

Binge Drinking Affects Blood Pressure

Now researchers have demonstrated, for the first time, that binge drinking may have an effect on blood pressure, which can increase the risk of developing hypertension and chronic diseases related to hypertension.

“We found that the blood pressure of young adults aged 20 to 24 who binge drink was 2 to 4 millimetres of mercury higher than non-binge drinkers,” says Jennifer O’Loughlin, senior author of a study published today in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Data on alcohol consumption at age 20 were collected from 756 participants in the Nicotine Dependence in Teens study, which has followed 1294 young people from diverse social backgrounds in Montreal, Canada since 1999. Data were collected again at age 24, at which time participants’ systolic blood pressure was also taken.

One in Four Affected, Study Shows

Systolic blood pressure measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats (i.e., when the heart muscle contracts), and it should be below 140 millimetres of mercury. A blood pressure reading of more than 140 over 90 indicates high blood pressure. The latter number, diastolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats (i.e., when the heart muscle is resting between beats and refilling with blood).

“Our findings show that more than one in four young adults who binge drink meet the criterion for pre-hypertension (i.e., a systolic blood pressure between 120 and 139 millimetres of mercury). This is worrisome because this condition can progress to hypertension, which in turn can cause heart disease and premature death,” says O’Loughlin, a researcher at the CRCHUM and professor in the School of Public Health, University of Montreal.

Risk of Chronic Diseases

Health professionals and others may need to adopt a preventive approach, recommends O’Loughlin: “Poor diet, salt intake, and obesity are predictors of high blood pressure.

Since we know there is a link between higher blood pressure and the risk of developing chronic diseases, clinicians should ask young people about their alcohol consumption. A slight and continuous increase in systolic blood pressure may be an important warning sign.”

The study also revealed that 85% of young adults who drink heavily at age 20 maintain this behaviour at age 24. But unlike our genetic make-up, risky behaviour can be changed.

When to Intervene?

The researchers will now investigate whether this trend toward high blood pressure will continue when binge drinkers turn 30. With work and family obligations, binge drinking may become less frequent. Other questions that arise include: will the short-term effects of binge drinking disappear when binge drinking declines?

Is there a critical time period in which to intervene to prevent hypertension? While awaiting for answers to these questions, the old adage “moderation is always in good taste” may apply.

February 26th, 2016  in Alcohol No Comments »

Chronic alcohol use helps bacteria harm the liver

End-stage liver disease or liver cirrhosis is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, and approximately half of these cases are related to alcohol consumption. There’s no refuting that alcohol itself harms the liver, but new research in mice and humans published February 10 in Cell Host & Microbe reveals that chronic drinking also promotes the growth of gut bacteria that can travel to the liver and exacerbate liver disease.

Gastroenterologist Bernd Schnabl of the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and his colleagues found that chronic alcohol consumption suppresses the mouse antibacterial defense system in the intestine. It does so by blocking intestinal cells’ ability to produce natural antibiotic proteins (called REG3B and REG3G).

Gut Bacteria Reaching the Liver

“Intestinal bacteria can now not only proliferate, but also slowly migrate through the intestinal wall,” says Schnabl. “Since the liver encounters all the blood coming from the intestine, not only important nutrients but also bacteria can now reach the liver. The direct damage that is caused by alcohol to the liver is augmented by the arrival of these gut bacteria, through mechanisms that are currently unknown.”

The team also found that mice genetically engineered to lack REG3G had more of these bacteria after consuming alcohol, and they developed more severe alcoholic liver disease than their littermates. However, restoring REG3G to the intestine reduced the levels of bacteria that traveled to the liver and protected against alcohol-induced liver damage.

Finally, the researchers found that humans with alcohol dependency had elevated levels of bacteria in their small intestines. The team’s previous research showed that they also had lower levels of REG3G.

Probiotic Bacteria Needed

While it may be best for patients at risk of liver disease to stop drinking altogether, Schnabl notes that it can be difficult for some to do so. These latest findings indicate that it may be possible to help patients with alcoholic liver disease by boosting their intestinal defense against certain bacteria, for example by encouraging the growth of good (probiotic) bacteria or by stimulating the production of intestinal antibiotics such as REG3G.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that “low-risk” drinking levels for men are no more than 4 drinks on any single day and no more than 14 drinks per week. For women, “low-risk” drinking levels are no more than three drinks on any single day and no more than 7 drinks per week.

February 13th, 2016  in Alcohol No Comments »

Gambling by teens linked to other risk-taking behaviors

Gambling among young teens may be associated with increased use of alcohol, cigarettes, or marijuana according to a study that surveyed sixth- to eighth-graders in Italian schools. The research is reported in the February issue of the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, the official journal of the Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. The journal is published by Wolters Kluwer.

The high prevalence of gambling and its association with substance use “provides further evidence of the need for a greater awareness of gambling behavior in early adolescence,” according to the new research by Dr. Alessandra Buja of University of Padova, Italy, and colleagues.

Gambling Associated with ‘Risk-Taking Behavior’ in Young Teens

The study included 1,325 sixth- to eighth-graders from Italian schools participating in a program for the prevention of underage substance abuse. In surveys, the students answered questions about their experience with certain types of gambling: video poker, online betting, and “scratch-and-win” cards (such as lottery tickets).

The students were also asked about their use of alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, and energy drinks. (Use of energy drinks, which contain stimulants, has been linked to substance use and other risk-taking behaviors.) Associations between gambling and substance use were evaluated, including adjustment for a wide range of other factors.

The results suggested a high rate of gambling in this group of children and young teens. Among eighth-graders, about 46 percent of boys and 35 percent of girls said they had engaged in at least one sort of gambling. Scratch cards were the most common type of gambling.

Gambling Linked to Substance Abuse

Children who had experience with gambling were also more likely to report substance use. Gambling was reported by 60 percent of children who smoked cigarettes, 73 percent of those who used alcohol, and 63 percent of those who used marijuana.

Gambling remained significantly associated with substance use and other risk-taking behaviors, after adjustment for demographic, family, peer, personality, and behavioral characteristics previously linked to substance abuse in young people

Previous studies in older adolescents have linked gambling to substance use disorders. Dr. Buja and coauthors note, “Today’s youth are the first generation for whom gambling opportunities are as close as the neighborhood corner store and as easily accessible as the Internet.”

Parents Think It’s Harmless

The new findings are consistent with previous reports suggesting that many adolescents and even younger children are involved in gambling, despite legal age limits. Parents may see gambling as a harmless activity–rather than restricting or warning against it, they may even initiate their children into betting and gambling.

“Our data show that a history of gambling is associated with risk-taking behavior relating to the use of other substances in very young adolescents,” Dr. Buja and coauthors write. However, they note that the direction of the relationship remains open to debate: “Impulsiveness may be an important common denominator linking gambling with substance abuse in adolescence.”

The high rate of gambling and its association with substance use highlights the need for effective strategies to prevent gambling in early adolescence, according to Dr. Buja and colleagues. They conclude, “It is important for healthcare professionals, teachers, and parents to recognize this problem and take it seriously.”

February 9th, 2016  in Substance Abuse No Comments »

Phone counseling insufficient to help teen smokers

In a 14-year study involving more than 2,000 teen smokers in 50 Washington state high schools, a team of cancer prevention researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has found that one year of telephone counseling using motivational interviewing and skills training delivered during the senior year of high school is insufficient to help the smokers quit and stay quit up to six years into young adulthood.

The finding is significant because previous results from the same study had indicated that the intervention did have a beneficial effect in helping smokers quit earlier, at one year after high school. This earlier finding was a research breakthrough: It was the first-ever demonstration of effectiveness of a smoking-cessation intervention in a population-based sample of teens.

But today the researchers report that, by the time the teens became young adults, the earlier effectiveness had completely faded. Two-thirds of the teen smokers who had quit earlier had gone back to smoking. These findings, by principal investigator Dr. Arthur V. Peterson Jr., database manager Patrick Marek, and colleagues in the Public Health Sciences Division at Fred Hutch, are reported in a paper published Feb. 1 in the peer-reviewed, open-access journal PLOS ONE.

Extended Interventions Needed

This new finding means that to help teen smokers quit and stay quit after high school and beyond, new extended interventions are needed: ones that stick with them longer than just one year, and that continue into young adulthood.

Telephone counseling was used because of its special appeal to teens. It provided private, confidential, one-to-one counseling and allowed the counselors to explore and focus on issues specific to the individual smoker. Telephone counseling also gave teens control over the timing and length of the counseling sessions.

The motivational interviewing approach, first described in the early ’80s by Dr. William R. Miller, seeks to learn from each client their thoughts, attitudes, and practices about smoking and non-smoking. This approach aims to explore and resolve the participants’ ambivalence about smoking and quitting, and to mobilize their inner resources to trigger a decision to quit.

Motivational Interviewing

“Motivational interviewing is very caring, nonjudgmental and respectful,” explained Kathleen Kealey, co-investigator and intervention manager of the study. “It is non-confrontational. A counselor would never say, ‘I want you to quit smoking.’ Instead the counselor would ask what the behavior means to the participant. What do they like about it? What don’t they like about it? In the end, it is the smoker’s own reasons and desire to quit that motivate the quit attempt.”

The deferential approach of motivational interviewing is especially appropriate for high school students, because teens in particular don’t want to be told what to do. Motivational interviewing puts them in the driver’s seat.

In the beginning, this approach worked. Smokers responded in large numbers to invitations from the telephone counselors to participate in the conversations. In the experimental telephone counseling group, 65 percent of the smokers agreed, with their parents’ permission, to participate during their senior year of high school. “To get this large amount of participation by teen smokers was a terrific vote of confidence in telephone counseling that uses the motivational interviewing approach,” said Peterson, lead author of the paper.

Worked in the Short Term

The findings were based on data from the Hutchinson Study of High School Smoking, the largest and longest randomized trial of teen smoking cessation ever conducted. “This study showed that most teens are interested in sharing their views and practices about smoking. The field has encountered great obstacles in recruiting teens to smoking-cessation programs. And so, the large participation rates accomplished in this study were a big breakthrough.”

There were good reasons to think that an expanded multi-year version of telephone counseling based on motivational interviewing might work to help teen smokers quit and stay quit for the long term. First of all, this study has shown that teens like the deferential approach of motivational interviewing. Indeed, two-thirds of smokers in the study were happy to accept the study’s invitation and participate in telephone conversations.

Also, the motivational interviewing approach worked in the short term: at one year post high school it led to increased six-month abstinences, a strict measure of quitting smoking. “But it is well known that individual motivations, and pressures to smoke, change substantially in the critical period after high school,” Peterson said. “So, a sustained intervention that sticks with them during this period of change, aimed at helping them address their changing motivations and new situations to help them avoid relapse to smoking, makes good sense.”

High Level of Interest in Quitting

Fifty high schools in Washington state collaborated with Peterson and colleagues on this long-term, randomized trial. Half of the schools were randomly assigned to the experimental intervention; teens in these schools were, with their parents’ permission, proactively contacted and invited to take part in confidential, personalized telephone counseling designed to help motivate them to quit. The remaining 25 schools served as a comparison group; teen smokers from these schools did not participate in the telephone intervention.

“It was only because of the tremendous cooperation from students, parents, teachers and administrators that this study was able to rigorously address the important question of how to help interested teen smokers to quit,” Peterson said. “Without such a high level of interest and cooperation this study could not have been done.”

February 1st, 2016  in Tobacco No Comments »

Over 400 conditions co-occur with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Researchers at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) have identified 428 distinct disease conditions that co-occur in people with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), in the most comprehensive review of its kind.

The results were published today in The Lancet.

“We’ve systematically identified numerous disease conditions co-occurring with FASD, which underscores the fact that it isn’t safe to drink any amount or type of alcohol at any stage of pregnancy, despite the conflicting messages the public may hear,” says Dr. Lana Popova, Senior Scientist in Social and Epidemiological Research at CAMH, and lead author on the paper. “Alcohol can affect any organ or system in the developing fetus.”

Severity and Symptoms Vary

FASD is a broad term describing the range of disabilities that can occur in individuals as a result of alcohol exposure before birth. The severity and symptoms vary, based on how much and when alcohol was consumed, as well as other factors in the mother’s life such as stress levels, nutrition and environmental influences. The effects are also influenced by genetic factors and the body’s ability to break down alcohol, in both the mother and fetus.

Different Canadian surveys suggest that between six and 14 per cent of women drink during pregnancy.

428 Co-Occurring Conditions

The 428 co-occurring conditions were identified from 127 studies included in The Lancetreview. These disease conditions, coded in the International Classification of Disease (ICD-10), affected nearly every system of the body, including the central nervous system (brain), vision, hearing, cardiac, circulation, digestion, and musculoskeletal and respiratory systems, among others.

While some of these disorders are known to be caused by alcohol exposure – such as developmental and cognitive problems, and certain facial anomalies – for others, the association with FASD does not necessarily represent a cause-and-effect link.

Problems range from communications disorders to hearing loss

However, many disorders occurred more often among those with FASD than the general population. Based on 33 studies representing 1,728 individuals with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), the most severe form of FASD, the researchers were able to conduct a series of meta-analyses to establish the frequency with which 183 disease conditions occurred.

More than 90 per cent of those with FAS had co-occurring problems with conduct. About eight in 10 had communications disorders, related to either understanding or expressing language. Seven in 10 had developmental/cognitive disorders, and more than half had problems with attention and hyperactivity.

Cause May Be Overlooked

Because most studies were from the U.S., the frequency of certain co-occurring conditions was compared with the general U.S. population. Among people with FAS, the frequency of hearing loss was estimated to be up to 129 times higher than the general U.S. population, and blindness and low vision were 31 and 71 times higher, respectively.

“Some of these other co-occurring problems may lead people to seek professional help,” says Dr. Popova. “The issue is that the underlying cause of the problem, alcohol exposure before birth, may be overlooked by the clinician and not addressed.”

The benefits of screening and diagnosis

Improving the screening and diagnosis of FASD has numerous benefits. Earlier access to programs or resources may prevent or reduce secondary outcomes that can occur among those with FASD, such as problems with relationships, schooling, employment, mental health and addictions, or with the law.

“We can prevent these issues at many stages,” says Dr. Popova. “Eliminating alcohol consumption during pregnancy or reducing it among alcohol-dependent women is extremely important. Newborns should be screened for prenatal alcohol exposure, especially among populations at high risk. And alerting clinicians to these co-occurring conditions should trigger questions about prenatal alcohol exposure.”

Stay Away From Alcohol If Pregnant

“It is important that the public receive a consistent and clear message – if you want to have a healthy child, stay away from alcohol when you’re planning a pregnancy and throughout your whole pregnancy,” she says.

It’s estimated that FASD costs $1.8 billion annually in Canada, due largely to productivity losses, corrections and health care costs, among others.

In addition to this review, Dr. Popova has been part of an expert group of leading FASD researchers and clinicians working with the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services on its new FASD strategy. Her team is also undertaking a study to determine how common FASD is in Canada, as well as in other countries in Eastern and Central Europe and Africa.

January 13th, 2016  in Alcohol No Comments »

‘No-buy’ lists could cut kids’ exposure to alcohol ads

Young people’s exposure to alcohol advertisements on television could be greatly reduced if alcohol companies improved their use of so-called no-buy lists, according to a study in the January issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

Alcohol manufacturers are self-regulated when it comes to advertising: In 2003, the industry set guidelines that limit advertising to media that have a primarily adult audience — with at least 71.6 percent of the audience being age 21 or older.

But as far back as 1999, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had suggested that the industry use no-buy lists to guide their ad placements. Such lists would put certain television shows or other media off-limits because a large chunk of the audience is likely to be underage.

FTC Says It’s ‘Best Practice’

“It’s been cited by the FTC as a ‘best practice,'” said Craig Ross, Ph.D., the lead researcher on the new study, president of Fiorente Media, Inc., in Boston, Mass, and Research Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health. Ross is also a consultant to the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, which supported this research.

Some alcohol companies have been using no-buy lists to guide their ad placements, according to the FTC.

“Since 2005, kids have been exposed more than 15 billion times to alcohol advertisements that do not meet industry guidelines,” Ross said. “Regardless of how no-buy lists have been implemented in the past, there is clearly room for improvement.”

Non-Compliant Advertising

The goal of the new study, Ross explained, was to develop a “comprehensive” approach.

First, the researchers looked at how well the alcohol industry has been complying with its own guidelines when it comes to television ads. They found that between 2005 and 2012, approximately one of every eight alcohol advertisements seen by children under the legal drinking age was non-compliant with alcohol industry guidelines — with cable television accounting for most of it.

Next, Ross’s team tested the potential effectiveness of a set of new no-buy list criteria they’d designed. The criteria would recommend avoiding ad placements on programs that had fallen short of the industry’s own guidelines in the past year and during times of day when television audiences skew young (like late night). The criteria also recommend being more selective about ad placements on low-rated cable shows.

‘No-Buy’ Lists Should Not Be a Burden

The researchers found that, had their no-buy list been universally applied during the study period, it could have eliminated nearly all noncompliant advertising seen by children under the legal drinking age.

According to Ross, using the no-buy list should not be a burden to the industry.

“The programs that are problematic are actually small in number,” he said. “There would be still be a large universe of programs for advertisers to choose from.”

Limiting Underage Drinking

To get the no-buy list into the real world, Ross said the plan is to create quarterly reports that highlight the programs and times of day that alcohol advertisers should avoid.

The ultimate hope, of course, is to help limit underage drinking. And while restricting ads is not the whole answer, it is an important step, according to Ross — because advertising images can help set kids’ expectations regarding alcohol.

“There’s a growing body of research on the effects of alcohol advertising on underage drinking,” Ross said. “Ads can help create positive attitudes toward drinking, promoting drinking initiation and excessive drinking.”

January 13th, 2016  in Alcohol No Comments »

Which college students are likely candidates for risky sex?

A University of Illinois study suggests a significant link between instability in the lives of college-age young adults and the likelihood that they will engage in risky sex.

“Young adults experience a lot of instability caused by frequent transitions in their lives. They have probably moved out of their parents’ home (and some move back in). They experience changes in residences, roommates, friends, romantic partners, college majors, and employment. They may drop out of college, re-enroll, or transfer to another university. And some experience more transitional instability than others,” said Jill Bowers, a U of I researcher in human development and family studies.

Instability a Key Predictor

The study showed that the more instability college students experienced in their lives, the more likely they were to take sexual risks, she added.

According to Bowers, young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 have increased freedom from parents, are experimenting as a result of their new freedom, and are exploring their romantic identities.

In times of stress, emerging adults may exhaust the physical and emotional resources that buffer them from risky behaviors, lose their ability to think rationally, and engage in risky sexual behavior, she noted.

Impulsive Sexual Behavior

In the study, risky sex included (1) sex with uncommitted partners; (2) unplanned or casual sex with friends or strangers — without communicating about it first; and (3) impulsive sexual behavior.

The researchers surveyed 398 emerging adults at two U.S. universities, one in the Midwest and one in the Southwest. There were 290 female and 100 male participants (eight didn’t indicate their sex), all under the legal drinking age of 21.

The survey asked questions that elicited the frequency of risky sexual behaviors and assessed participants’ psychological well-being and motivations for drinking. Psychological distress, such as depression and loneliness, and dysfunctional drinking motivations, including drinking to gain peer acceptance or to ease emotional pain, amplified the association between instability and sexual risk taking. Family communication patterns were also examined, but they did not play a significant role in young adults’ propensity to engage in sexual risk taking.

‘Don’t Drink’ Message Alone Doesn’t Work

Bowers said that many colleges mandate completion of an online alcohol prevention program before students arrive on campus as freshmen, but she thinks their message misses the mark.

“I’d like to see these programs aim more toward teaching young adults how to manage stress and loneliness, achieve work-life balance, cope with relationship changes, and increase their self-esteem, instead of leaning so heavily on the message ‘Don’t drink,'” she said.

Dysfunctional Reasons for Drinking

Because all participants in the study were under 21 years old, there were possible legal consequences for under-age drinkers, she said.

“Yet the study showed that it wasn’t the fact that young adults drank, rather it was their dysfunctional reasons for drinking that enhanced the relationship between the instability they were experiencing and their sexual risk taking,” she said.

December 19th, 2015  in Alcohol No Comments »