Teen Binge Drinking Severely Affects Cognitive Skills

Drinking alcohol, is a well-engrained and long-standing social habit in many countries around the world, even though the fact that alcohol has an impact on one’s health is largely established, especially when it comes to heavy drinking.

In particular, adolescents are known to enjoy their drinking games and nights-out without worrying much about the effects alcohol can have on their health. In fact, drinking in high quantities is common during adolescence with nearly 25% of high school seniors in the US reporting that they got drunk in the last 30 days.

The effects of heavy drinking among young people on the brain have been looked at closely in a mini review published in Frontiers in Psychology by Anita Cservenka, Assistant Professor at Oregon State University et.al.

Harmful Effects of Binge Drinking

“Adolescence is a time when the brain still matures including not only biological development but also maturation of psychosocial behaviours. Given the increase of binge and heavy drinking in young people, understanding the effects of consuming large quantities of alcohol on neural development and the impact on cognitive skills is very important” says Assistant Professor Cservenka.

Binge or heavy episodic drinking means four or more standard drinks within a two-hour drinking session for females, five or more drinks for males. The review highlights existing research that examines the harmful effects of such drinking habits with a view to inform future studies.

“We looked at six areas to determine the deleterious impact of heavy drinking on brain response, namely: response inhibition, working memory, verbal learning and memory, decision making and reward processing, alcohol cue reactivity, and socio-cognitive/socio-emotional processing” explains Assistant Professor Cservenka.

Affects Memory, Learning Skills

The review establishes that binge drinking among young people is associated with a thinning or reduction of areas of the brain that play a key role in memory, attention, language, awareness and consciousness, which include cortical and subcortical structures. Taking learning and memory as an example, studies have shown that heavy drinking leads to a deficit in the ability of young people to learn novel words, which has been linked to changes in brain activity.

Looking to the future, “these brain alterations, as a result of heavy alcohol use during adolescence and young adulthood, could result in increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder later on in life. It is therefore important to continue raising awareness of the risks of binge drinking and to promote future research in this area. Our review provides a useful basis to determine the areas that require further attention.” concludes Assistant Professor Cservenka.

July 19th, 2017  in Alcohol No Comments »

ADHD Medication Linked to Lower Substance Abuse Risks

The use of medication to treat attention deficient hyperactivity disorder is linked to significantly lower risk for substance use problems in adolescents and adults with ADHD, according to a study led by researchers at Indiana University.

The risk of substance use problems during periods of medication use was 35 percent lower in men and 31 percent lower in women in the study. The results, based upon nearly 3 million people with ADHD in the United States, are reported in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

“This study contributes to growing evidence that ADHD medication is linked to lower risk for many types of harmful behavior, including substance abuse,” said Patrick D. Quinn, a postdoctoral researcher in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, who led the study. “The results also highlight the importance of careful diagnosis and compliance with treatment.”

Using ADHD Meds, Visiting the E.R.

As one of the largest analyses on the risks and benefits of ADHD medication, the study drew on anonymous health care data from 146 million people with employer-based health insurance in the United States from 2005 to 2014.

Specifically, the researchers mined the data to identify people with ADHD whose records showed periods of ADHD medication use and periods without ADHD medication use — as well as one or more visits to the emergency room due to drug or alcohol use. They then calculated the odds of the visits occurring during the person’s use of ADHD medication versus the same person’s non-use of ADHD medication.

“Many factors can influence who receives ADHD treatment, including socioeconomic factors, health care access, the strength of support networks and disorder severity,” Quinn said. “Although no single study of real-world treatment practices can definitively show whether medication use lowers risk, studying the same people at different points in their medical history helps us control for these factors and isolate the role of medication in their behavior.”

Stimulants Adderall, Ritalin

Of the nearly 3 million people with ADHD in the study’s database, about 57 percent experienced periods in which they were and were not prescribed medication to treat the disorder. About 2 percent experienced an emergency room visit due to substance abuse. The median age of the study’s participants was 21 for men and 28 for women.

The majority of the ADHD medicines used in the study were stimulants such as Adderall, an amphetamine, and Ritalin, or methylphenidate. A significantly smaller number used nonstimulant ADHD medication such as Strattera, or atomoxetine.

“While concerns about prescribing medications to treat ADHD that have the potential for abuse are understandable, this study provides further evidence that the use of these medications is not associated with increased risk of substance use problems in adolescence or adulthood,” Quinn said. “Rather, this and other recent studies find that the risk of such problems is lower during and after periods of use of these medications.”

Long-Term Benefits of ADHD Meds

Quinn is a member of the lab of Brian M. D’Onofrio, a professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. Another study from this group recently reported in JAMA Psychiatry found that the use of ADHD medication was associated with lower risk of motor vehicle accidents in men and women.

D’Onofrio is also a co-author of several studies based on patient data from Sweden that found similarly lower risk for substance abuse and transport accidents in people with ADHD who used medication.

The larger number of people in the two more recent studies — as well as the use of U.S. patients in the new analyses — strengthens this earlier evidence.

“Together, these studies provide accumulating evidence about the possible short- and long-term benefits of ADHD medications,” D’Onofrio said. “They also provide important information to medical providers who prescribe ADHD medication — as well as to adults with the disorder and parents trying to make medical decisions for children. Overall, I think people should find these results reassuring.”

July 14th, 2017  in Substance Abuse No Comments »

Prenatal Alcohol Exposure Linked to Likelihood of Later Addiction

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

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

A Change in Brain Chemicals

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

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

Neurons Become More Sensitive

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

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

Increased Addiction Risk

Specifically, in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of the brain, endocannibinoids play a significant role in weakening the excitatory synapses onto dopamine neurons. The VTA is the part of the brain implicated in addiction, attention and reward processes.

However, in a brain prenatally exposed to alcohol, the effect of the endocannabinoids is reduced due to a decreased function of endocannabinoid receptors. As a result, the excitatory synapses lose the ability to be weakened and continue to strengthen, which Shen believes is a critical brain mechanism for increased addiction risk.

July 10th, 2017  in Alcohol No Comments »

Alcohol Increases Risk of Digestive Cancers

Citizens across the EU are consuming an average of 2 alcoholic drinks per day, placing drinkers at a 21% increased risk of developing colorectal cancer, in addition to other digestive cancers, a report finds.

The report, launched today by United European Gastroenterology, revealed that the average daily intake of alcoholic drinks was ‘moderate’ (between 1 and 4 drinks per day) in all 28 EU states, placing these citizens at a heightened risk of both colorectal and oesophageal cancer.

3 Million Deaths Per Year

‘Heavy’ drinkers (people that consume more than 4 drinks per day) were found to be at an increased risk of pancreatic, liver and gastric cancer. These three cancers, coupled with colorectal and oesophageal cancer, are the five most common digestive cancers worldwide, causing almost three million deaths per year and contributing to over a third of global cancer deaths.

No countries within the EU were found to have ‘light’ alcohol consumption (on average, less than 1 alcoholic drink per day per capita).

The European Alcohol Endemic

Alcohol consumption across the European region is higher than in any other region in the world, with over one fifth of the European population over the age of 15 drinking heavily at least once a week. As a result, the continent suffers from the highest proportion of ill health and premature death directly linked to alcohol.

Despite high levels of consumption throughout Europe, research shows that as many as 90% of people are unaware on the link between alcohol and cancer.

In light of these alarming statistics, tackling the harmful use of alcohol is a main priority for the upcoming Estonian presidency of the Council of the European Union.

How to Tackle Europe’s Alcohol Crisis

Consumers are provided with mixed-messages on recommended units, glasses and volumes of alcohol. UEG are therefore calling for a pan-European approach to the provision of clear and consistent information about the health risks of drinking alcohol to help eradicate confusion on appropriate levels of consumption.

Professor Markus Peck, leading digestive health expert, comments; “One of the main challenges in addressing high drinking levels is how deeply embedded alcohol consumption is within the European society, both socially and culturally. Political action like minimum pricing and reducing access to alcohol needs to be taken now to prevent many future casualties. Research then has to follow to help generate data and allow us to fine-tune future political activity”.

Increased pressure on the alcohol industry to develop clear and responsible labeling, together with a tightening of regulations on the marketing of alcohol, are other important steps outlined within the report to help tackle the crisis. France is a country leading the way in this regard, where stricter marketing, coupled with regulations for drinking at work, has contributed to a decline in alcohol consumption and digestive cancer incidence as a result.

July 4th, 2017  in Alcohol No Comments »

Legal Cannabis Laws Affect Teen Use of Marijuana

A new study by researchers at Dartmouth has found that adolescents living in medical marijuana states with a plethora of dispensaries are more likely to have tried new methods of cannabis use, such as edibles and vaping, at a younger age than those living in states with fewer dispensaries. The study will appear in the August issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

“This study was driven by two motivations– the need to understand if and how the shifting legal landscape of cannabis may affect kids, and the potential utility of social media as an epidemiological sampling method,” says Jacob Borodovsky, a PhD candidate at The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice and the Center for Technology and Behavioral Health, and the lead author of the study. “If it is true that certain components of legalization change the way young people use cannabis, then we need to devote more resources to understanding the important consequences (good or bad) of the specific provisions included in the diverse cannabis laws that are emerging across the country.”

Potential Public Health Harm

Borodovsky and colleagues examined associations between provisions of legal cannabis laws (such as allowing dispensaries, home cultivation, etc.) and cannabis consumption patterns among youth using online surveys distributed through Facebook, which proved to be a reliable method for generating geographically diverse samples of specific subgroups of cannabis-using youth.

“Our data suggest a relationship between the degree of regulatory oversight of legal cannabis and kids’ propensity for trying new ways of using cannabis,” Borodovsky says. “I think we need to start having a broader national conversation about how best to design the production and distribution regulations for legal cannabis to mitigate potential public health harms.”

Teens Vulnerable to Adverse Effects of Marijuana

As cannabis legalization rapidly evolves, in both medical and recreational usage, understanding the laws’ effect on young people is crucial because this group is particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of marijuana and possesses an inherent elevated risk of developing a cannabis disorder.

“Using social media to disseminate web surveys is a useful epidemiological research method. It allows us to quickly collect geographically diverse data on cannabis-related questions that aren’t asked in the traditional federally-sponsored drug use surveys,” Borodovsky says. “My hope is that we can use these and other types of results to create rational legal cannabis laws that are based on data rather than anecdotes.”

June 30th, 2017  in Substance Abuse No Comments »

Marijuana Use Up Among Oregon College Students

College students attending an Oregon university are using more marijuana now that the drug is legal for recreational use, but the increase is largely among students who also report recent heavy use of alcohol, a new study has found.

Oregon State University researchers compared marijuana usage among college students before and after legalization and found that usage increased at several colleges and universities across the nation but it increased more at the Oregon university. None of the universities were identified in the study.

“It does appear that legalization is having an effect on usage, but there is some nuance to the findings that warrant further investigation,” said the study’s lead author, David Kerr, an associate professor in the School of Psychological Science in OSU’s College of Liberal Arts.

Increase Not Due to Legalization Alone

“We found that overall, at schools in different parts of the country, there’s been an increase in marijuana use among college students, so we can’t attribute that increase to legalization alone.”

The results were published today in the journal Addiction. Co-authors are Harold Bae and Sandi Phibbs of OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and Adam Kern of the University of Michigan.

The study is believed to be the first to examine marijuana usage patterns following legalization of recreational marijuana in Oregon and the first to examine the effects of any state’s legalization on college students. Voters in Oregon approved legalization in 2014 and the law took effect in 2015.

Legalization Raises More Questions

Oregon’s legalization of marijuana is part of a larger trend among U.S. states, but little research has been done so far to understand the impact. In their study, Kerr and his colleagues set out to begin addressing some of those questions.

“It’s an important current issue and even the most basic effects have not been studied yet, especially in Oregon,” he said. “There are a lot of open questions about how legalization might affect new users, existing users and use of other substances.”

Researchers used information collected in the Healthy Minds Study, a national survey of college students’ mental health and well-being – including substance use – conducted by the University of Michigan. The study is designed to give colleges and universities information to help them understand the needs of their student populations.

Binge Drinking Rates About the Same

As part of the survey, participants are asked about marijuana and cigarette use in the previous 30 days, as well as frequency of heavy alcohol use within the previous two weeks.

Using data from a large public university in Oregon and six other four-year universities around the country where recreational marijuana is not legal, researchers compared rates of marijuana use before and after the drug was legalized in Oregon. They also examined frequency of heavy alcohol use and cigarette use at those points.

The researchers found that the overall rates of marijuana use rose across the seven schools. Rates of binge drinking – where a person consumes four to five or more drinks in a period of about two hours – stayed the same and cigarette use declined in that period.

Widespread Changing Attitudes

“It’s likely that the rise in marijuana use across the country is tied in part to liberalization of attitudes about the drug as more states legalize it, for recreational or medical purposes or both,” Kerr said. “So legalization both reflects changing attitudes and may influence them even outside of states where the drug is legal.”

Researchers also found that marijuana use rates were generally higher, overall, among male students; those living in Greek or off-campus housing; those not identifying as heterosexual; and those attending smaller, private institutions.

One area where legalization had a marked impact was among college students who indicated recent binge drinking; students at the Oregon university who reported binge drinking were 73 percent more likely to also report marijuana use compared to similar peers at schools in states where marijuana remains illegal.

Underage Marijuana Use Rates Even Higher

“We think this tells us more about the people who binge drink than about the effects of alcohol itself,” Kerr said. “Those who binge drink may be more open to marijuana use if it is easy to access, whereas those who avoid alcohol for cultural or lifestyle reasons might avoid marijuana regardless of its legal status.”

The researchers also found that Oregon students under age 21 – the minimum legal age for purchasing and using marijuana – showed higher rates of marijuana use than those over 21.

“This was a big surprise to us, because legalization of use is actually having an impact on illegal use,” said Bae, the study’s primary statistician.

These initial findings about marijuana use among college students help form a picture of how legalization may be affecting people, Kerr said, but more study is needed before researchers can quantify the harms or net benefits of legalization for young people.

“Americans are conducting a big experiment with marijuana,” Kerr said. “We need science to tell us what the results of it are.”

June 17th, 2017  in Substance Abuse No Comments »

Binge Drinking Linked to Higher Blood Glucose Levels in Women

Regular high alcohol consumption and binge drinking from age 16 is associated with higher glucose concentrations in women’s blood – an important risk factor for type 2 diabetes – later in life, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Public Health.

This study is the first to assess alcohol consumption data, starting in adolescence, over a 27 year period in relation to their blood glucose levels taken when they were 43 years of age. In women, total alcohol consumption and binge drinking behavior throughout the 27 year period was significantly associated with higher blood glucose levels independent of BMI, hypertension and smoking status at age 43.

Men Affected in Other Ways

This association was not true for men, for whom only BMI and hypertension remained associated with increased blood glucose levels.

Dr Karina Nygren, lead author from Umea University, Sweden said: “Our findings show that high alcohol consumption from ages 16 to 43 is associated with higher blood glucose levels in women but not in men. Because higher blood glucose is a risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes, our data suggest that informing people about the risk of high alcohol consumption at a young age could have positive health impacts further down the line.”

Despite the association between alcohol, binge drinking and blood glucose only being significant in women, men still had higher blood glucose levels than women and consumed nearly 3 times as much alcohol between ages 16 and 43.

Alcohol Increases Insulin Resistance

Previous studies suggest possible mechanisms for the association between alcohol and elevated blood glucose. For example, human studies have shown that ethanol can increase insulin resistance, which in turn leads to accumulation of glucose in the blood. Studies in rats have also shown that binge drinking behavior alters the rat’s metabolism in a way that negatively affects insulin.

Dr Nygren commented: “Although there are some biological explanations behind why alcohol can directly lead to increased levels of glucose in the blood, the difference between men and women in our study is more difficult to explain.”

Data included in this study come from the Northern Swedish Cohort study which began in 1981. A total of 897 people from this study answered a questionnaire about alcohol consumption when they were 16, 18, 21, 30 and 43 years old. At age 43 a blood sample was taken from each person to assess blood glucose levels.

Long-Term Insight Into Drinking Behavior

The questionnaire involved eight questions about alcohol consumption including questions such as “how often do you drink alcohol?” and how much do you drink at each occasion?”. Binge drinking was defined as drinking four or more standard drinks of beer, wine or spirits per occasion for women, and five or more for men, at least once per month. One standard drink was specified to contain 12g of ethanol, which is equivalent to 330ml of a 5-6% beer.

The study shows an association between alcohol consumption and higher blood glucose but cannot show cause and effect. The data is limited by the fact that information on alcohol consumption comes from self-reported questionnaires and could be subject to bias. However, the long term nature of the study, which includes multiple follow ups, offers a unique insight into the drinking behaviors of people throughout their life.

June 13th, 2017  in Alcohol No Comments »

Alcohol’s health benefits overstated?

The benefits of light alcohol consumption, as well as the risks associated with not drinking at all, might not be as great as previously thought, according to Penn State researchers who examined the drinking habits of middle-aged adults.

The researchers analyzed information about more than 9,000 people across England, Scotland and Wales born in 1958 who are participating in the longitudinal National Child Development Study. The study, based at the University College London Centre for Longitudinal Studies, tracked changes in people’s drinking and cigarette smoking habits from age 23 to 55, and linked these changes to mental and physical health.

About one third of men and women who reported drinking at the light-to-moderate level were very unlikely to smoke. While this group of light drinkers and non-smokers enjoyed the best health and quality of life in middle age, three other groups experienced more health problems. These groups were those who drank lightly to moderately but also smoked; those who both drank more heavily and smoked; and those who refrained from drinking alcohol or reduced their drinking over time.

Other Risk Factors Not Considered

Light-to-moderate drinkers were defined as adults who consumed no more than 14 units of alcohol, which is equivalent to roughly six pints of beer or six medium-sized glasses of wine, per week. This is the current maximum recommended for men and women by the United Kingdom’s Department of Health, according to Jeremy Staff, professor of criminology and sociology at Penn State and the study’s lead author.

While the supposed benefits of moderate drinking have been widely reported in the media, many reports have failed to take into account other risk factors. For example, light-to-moderate drinkers suffered poor health in midlife if they were former smokers or still had the occasional cigarette. This may be due to a direct effect of smoking or because of other lifestyle-related risks, such as lack of exercise or obesity. Many midlife abstainers also began their adult life in poorer physical or mental health than peers who had completely abstained from alcohol.

Is There Harm in Abstaining?

“Alcohol abstainers are a diverse group. They include former heavy drinkers who quit due to problems with alcohol, as well as those who quit drinking due to poor health, and not just lifetime abstainers,” said Staff. “Medical professionals and public health officials should be wary of drawing conclusions about the so-called ‘dangers’ of never drinking without more robust evidence.”

About 1-in-5 members of 55-year-olds who said they had never drunk alcohol in their lives had previously reported drinking when they were younger. This suggests that those who drink very little may tend to misremember or under-report previous drinking habits. When studies include this group as lifetime abstainers, apparent ‘harms’ of abstaining may be overestimated, said the researchers.

Alcohol Has Many Health Risks

While modest drinking habits also have been linked with higher levels of education, those with few or no educational qualifications were also among those who did not drink or drank modestly. On the other hand, men and women with the highest educational qualifications at age 23 were more likely than their peers to drink at light-to-moderate rates throughout their adult lives, and were unlikely to smoke.

Jennifer Maggs, professor of human development and family studies at Penn State and another of the study’s authors, added, “Evidence continues to grow that alcohol has many health risks, including for cancer. Therefore, it is dangerous to report only benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. Drinking habits are also shaped by our education, health earlier in life, and related lifestyle factors including smoking. These other influences may be the real factors underlying the connection between drinking and midlife health.”

According to Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance in the UK, “This study provides yet more evidence that any benefits associated with drinking alcohol are smaller than previously thought. The most effective ways to reduce harms associated with alcohol consumption are to introduce pricing measures linked to alcohol sales, and enable more informed choices through public education efforts and mandatory labeling of alcohol products.”

June 4th, 2017  in Alcohol No Comments »

Aggression Linked to Greater Risk of Substance Abuse

angry1

People who have trouble controlling their anger are more likely to abuse alcohol and other substances. Those who display frequent aggressive behavior are at five times greater risk for abusing alcohol, tobacco and marijuana.

According to researchers at the University of Chicago Medical Center, patients with intermittent explosive disorder (IED) are much more likely to become substance abusers compared to those who do not display frequent aggressive behavior.

The study examined data from more than 9,200 subjects in the in the National Comorbidity Survey, a national survey of mental health in the United States.

Aggression Linked to Substance Abuse

The investigators found that as the severity of aggressive behavior increases so do levels of daily and weekly substance abuse. A history of frequent, aggressive behavior is a predictor of later substance abuse, they concluded.

IED is a condition marked by frequent physical or verbal outburts and affects an estimated 16 million people in the United States — more than bipolar disorder and schizophrenia combined. It is typically diagnosed in adolescents, some as young as 11, long before substance abuse problems develop.

The condition runs in families and is generally treated as a social-behavior issue rather than a true neurobiological disorder with significant genetic components, said Emil Coccaro, MD.

More Than Simply Bad Behavior

“People don’t see this as a medical problem. They think of it as simply bad behavior they have developed over the course of their lives, but it isn’t. It has significant biology and neuroscience behind it,” said Coccaro.

The Chicago study found no relationship between IED and the presences of other psychiatric disorders, as has been implied by previous research.

Although excessive alcohol use can clearly worsen aggressive behavior, Coccaro and colleagues found that IED diagnosis almost always precedes the development of chronic substance abuse. In cases where subjects were diagnosed with both disorders, IED preceded substance abuse in 92.5% of the cases.

Early Treatment Is Effective

The good news is if intermittent explosive disorder and aggression is treated early it can delay or even prevent substance abuse later in life. “Early psychological intervention, medication and cognitive therapy are the most effective treatments to prevent, or at least delay, substance abuse problems in adolescents diagnosed with IED,” Coccaro said.

Source: Coccaro EF, et al. “Intermittent Explosive Disorder and Substance Use Disorder: Analysis of the National Comorbidity Survey Replication Sample.” Journal of Clinical Psychiatry Feb. 28, 2017

March 14th, 2017  in Alcohol No Comments »

Strong Alcohol Policies Lower Drunk Driving Deaths

Stronger alcohol policies protect young people from dying in crashes caused by drunk driving according to researchers at Boston Medical Center. The study, which is published online in the journal Pediatrics, supports the importance of comprehensive alcohol control policies to reduce the number of young people who die in alcohol-related crashes.

Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death among young people in the United States. Forty percent of deadly car crashes involve a drunk driver in Massachusetts, and the state falls within the top twenty-five percent for rates of young people killed in a drunk driving crash.

“Half of all young people who die in crashes are driven by someone who has been drinking,” says lead author Scott Hadland, MD, a pediatrician at BMC and the study’s corresponding author. “But with stronger alcohol policies at the state level, we saw a significantly lower likelihood of alcohol-related deaths.”

The Alcohol Policy Environment

The study used an alcohol policy scale that assessed 29 alcohol policies across the United States, which were designed to reduce alcohol consumption or prevent impaired driving, and cross referenced them with the number of people under 21 who died in crashes involving alcohol, approximately 85,000, over the course of 13 years. States were ranked based on how restrictive their alcohol laws were, including higher alcohol taxes and zero-tolerance policies for young people drinking and driving.

“We’ve seen research that shows the relationship between specific alcohol laws and drunk driving deaths, but no one has looked at the broader picture of the policy environment in different states,” said Timothy Naimi, MD, MPH, a general internal medicine physician and alcohol epidemiologist at BMC who served as senior author of the study.

More Restrictive Laws, Fewer Deaths

Researchers found as state alcohol laws became more restrictive, the likelihood of a young person being killed in a drunk driving crash decreased and led to less alcohol consumption as a whole. Additionally, almost half of underage youth who died in alcohol-related crashes were passengers, not drivers; and about 80% of those passengers were being driven by adults aged 21 or older who had been drinking.

Most of the deadly crashes happened during the weekend, in the evening or at night. The impact of state alcohol policies on drunk driving deaths was consistent for males and females, and generally held for both drivers and passengers.

Alcohol Control Clearly Matters

“When it comes to preventing impaired driving and deaths of young people, alcohol control policies clearly matter,” says Hadland, who is also an assistant professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine. “We found that those policies don’t have to necessarily be ones that prevent drunk driving, or that specifically target young people.”

“Since most young people who died as passengers in a car were driven by an adult over 21 who had been drinking, alcohol laws that prevent adult drinking are also critical,” said Naimi who is also an associate professor of medicine and public health at Boston University School of Medicine and Public Health. “We must also focus on strategies that reduce excessive drinking, rather than focusing exclusively on interventions to prevent driving among those who are already impaired.”

February 17th, 2017  in Drunk Driving No Comments »