Archive for July, 2010

Drinking trends increase for whites, blacks and Hispanics

Given that Whites are the majority population in the United States, drinking trends for this group tend to determine overall trends in drinking for the country and simultaneously minimize trends and possible risks among Black and Hispanic populations. A study of trends in drinking patterns and amounts drank among Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics from 1992 to 2002 has found a rise in the proportion of drinkers across all three ethnic groups and both genders.

Results will be published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

Drinking Trends in Ethnic Groups

“Trend analysis is an important part of epidemiological monitoring of drinking and problems in the general population,” said Raul Caetano, professor of epidemiology and regional dean (Dallas) at The University of Texas School of Public Health, as well as the study’s corresponding author. “However, different population groups, such as ethnic groups, can present different trends in drinking and problems and so it is important to investigate trends in different groups and not only in the U.S. general population as a whole.”

“This is the first cross-ethnic alcohol trend analysis to … examine whether alcohol consumption – such as use and heavy drinking – has increased, decreased, or remained stable among Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics in the U.S. from 1992 to 2002,” noted Rhonda Jones-Webb, associate professor in the division of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

“Alcohol studies on racial/ethnic minorities such as this are much needed,” Jones-Webb added. “Blacks and Hispanics live in communities where alcohol availability is higher, where there is more exposure to outdoor alcohol advertising, where they have been targeted by special advertising of higher alcohol content beverages – all with fewer personal and community resources to respond to these challenges. Additionally, Blacks and Hispanics are at greater risk for alcohol-related problems such as homicide, which is on the rise in some cities.”

Researchers used data from the 1991-1992 National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey (n=42,862) and the 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions (n=43,093); both surveys selected respondents 18 years of age and older from the U.S. household population.

Increase in Binge Drinking

“Whites increased their mean number of drinks while Blacks and Hispanics did not,” said Caetano. “There was also a rise in drinking five or more drinks in a day across all three ethnic groups and drinking to intoxication among Whites and Blacks, but this was limited to those reporting such drinking at least once a month. This suggests a polarization in drinking between the two surveys, with those who drank more in 1992 reporting an increase in their drinking in 2002.”

“The results also suggest that while the proportion of Black and Hispanic drinkers increased, the amount of alcohol consumed did not increase among Blacks and Hispanics across the 10-year period,” added Jones-Webb.

“Trends in drinking are linked to a complex web of factors that include how individual drinking is influenced by the drinking of the group to which the individual belongs, as well as personal and other societal changes,” said Caetano. “Changes in the sociodemographic composition of the population such as aging, the influx of immigrant groups, and a decline in mean income level because of economic recessions can all influence trends in drinking and problems.”

In addition, said Jones-Webb, norms regarding drinking seemed to have become more liberal during the 10-year period examined. “This might explain why groups that traditionally do not drink – for example, women and African Americans – may have started to do so.”

Changes in Drinking Trends

“The results in the paper provide a detailed view of how drinking and binge drinking changed in the U.S. between 1992 and 2002,” said Caetano. “National studies such as this are important because they provide information that serves as a backdrop against which the results of other national or local studies can be compared, aiding in the interpretation of findings from these other studies. Trend analyses at the national level can also alert health professionals at the federal level to trends developing in the country, providing a ‘broad-stroke’ national level picture against which many other trends … can be viewed and understood.”

“While there are more drinkers in the population, the rise in the proportion of drinkers does not seem to be triggering a rise in the mean number of drinks consumed per month, at least among Blacks and Hispanics,” added Jones-Webb. “This finding suggests that a diversity of public-health policies are needed to reduce alcohol-related problems among Blacks and Hispanics, including restrictions on alcohol advertising, limiting the overconcentration of liquor stores in poor and minority neighborhoods, regulating high alcohol content beverages, increasing taxes on alcohol, as well as treatment and brief interventions.”

July 27th, 2010  in Alcohol No Comments »

Colleges Ignoring NIAAA Binge Drinking Recommendations

Few colleges and college communities have taken steps to implement recommendations to reduce college student drinking, according to a new study released by researchers from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. Alcohol consumption by U.S. college students remains a major issue despite a report by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) that detailed the problems associated with student drinking. That report, released in 2002, also outlined strategic recommendations based on the best available science that were designed to help colleges curtail the problem.

Few Colleges Offer Intervention

Toben Nelson, Sc.D., lead author of the study, said the latest research found that only half of the 351 colleges surveyed offered brief intervention programs with documented evidence of effectiveness for students at high risk for alcohol problems. Only a small number (33 percent) of colleges reported that they collaborated with their community on effective alcohol control strategies such as compliance checks to monitor illegal sales, responsible beverage service training, restrictions on alcohol outlets or interventions to address access to low-cost alcohol.

Nearly all colleges offered educational programs, even though the NIAAA report found that by themselves these efforts are ineffective. More than one in five college administrators said they were not familiar with the 2002 NIAAA recommendations.

Curbing Binge Drinking

The latest research – funded by the Substance Abuse Policy Research Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation – in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, and comes less than 12 months after University of Minnesota researchers published findings that showed colleges previously identified as “heavy-drinking” have shown little improvement in curbing the binge drinking habits of their students.

“In 2002, there was a great deal of research available to show that heavy drinking was a problem on college campuses. The NIAAA recommendations were designed to help colleges and college communities address that problem,” Nelson said. “Unfortunately, what we’ve found is that little progress in the implementation of the recommendations has been made since they were released.”

Nelson identified a number of possible reasons for the lack of implementation, including strained relationships between communities and college campuses over student drinking, a lack of resources, and staff who are either untrained in the development of community partnerships, or who lack the authority to take meaningful steps forward.

Difficulties Due to Drinking

According to co-author Traci Toomey, Ph.D., a contributor to the development of the 2002 NIAAA recommendations, the latest findings are a source of frustration. “We certainly would have hoped to see more progress among colleges, considering that the NIAAA identified strategies and actions that could lower drinking on college campuses more than six years prior to this study.”

Binge drinking across college campuses remains a problem with a host of associated risks. According to the NIAAA, nearly 600,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are unintentionally injured while under the influence of alcohol each year, and 97,000 students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape. Nearly one in four college students report academic difficulties that result from their drinking.

July 27th, 2010  in Alcohol No Comments »

Smoking influences gene function, scientists say

In the largest study of its kind, researchers at the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research (SFBR) have found that exposure to cigarette smoke can alter gene expression — the process by which a gene’s information is converted into the structures and functions of a cell. These alterations in response to smoking appear to have a wide-ranging negative influence on the immune system, and a strong involvement in processes related to cancer, cell death and metabolism.

Smoking Influences Genes

The scientists indentified 323 unique genes whose expression levels were significantly correlated with smoking behavior in their study of 1,240 people. The changes were detected by studying the activity of genes within white blood cells of study participants.

“Our results indicate that not only individual genes but entire networks of gene interaction are influenced by cigarette smoking,” wrote lead author Jac Charlesworth, Ph.D., in the July 15 issue of the open access journal BMC Medical Genomics. Charlesworth, formerly at SFBR, is now a research fellow at the Menzies Research Institute at the University of Tasmania in Australia.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Azar and Shepperd families of San Antonio, ChemGenex Pharmaceuticals and the AT&T Foundation. The study is part of SFBR’s San Antonio Family Heart Study (SAFHS) which includes 40 families in the Mexican American community.

Smoking and Transcriptomics

“Previous studies of gene expression as influenced by smoking have been seriously limited in size with the largest of the in vivo studies including only 42 smokers and 43 non-smokers. We studied 1,240 individuals, including 297 current smokers” Charlesworth said. “Never before has such a clear link between smoking and transcriptomics been revealed, and the scale at which exposure to cigarette smoke appears to influence the expression levels of our genes is sobering”.

“Our results indicate that not only individual genes but entire networks of gene interaction are influenced by cigarette smoking. It is likely that this observed effect of smoking on transcription has larger implications for human disease risk, especially in relation to the increased risk of a wide variety of cancers throughout the body as a result of cigarette smoke exposure,” Charlesworth said.

July 16th, 2010  in Tobacco No Comments »

Drinking rates drop among Native Americans

A new national study reveals that the rate of past month alcohol use (i.e., at least one drink in the past 30 days) among American Indian or Alaska Native adults is significantly lower than the national average for adults (43.9 percent versus 55.2 percent). The study, sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), also shows that American Indian or Native Alaska adults have a rate of past month binge alcohol drinking (i.e., five or more drinks on the same occasion – on at least one day in the past 30 days) well above the national average (30.6 percent versus 24.5 percent). The level of past month illicit drug use was also found to be higher among American Indian or Alaska Native adults than the overall adult population (11.2 percent versus 7.9 percent).

Alcohol Treatment Needed

Among the study’s other significant findings:

  • Eighteen percent of American Indian or Alaska Native adults needed treatment for an alcohol or illicit drug use problem in the past year, nearly twice the national average (9.6 percent).
  • 1 in 8 (12.6 percent) American Indian or Alaska Native adults who were in need of alcohol or illicit drug treatment in the past year received it at a specialty facility – about the same as the national average (10.4 percent).
  • American Indian or Alaska Native adults’ past month substance use rates drop significantly in older age groups – for example, illicit drug use levels drop from 25.4 percent in the 18 to 25 age group to 4.1 percent in those 50 and older. This pattern is also seen in the general adult population.

The study was developed as part of the agency’s strategic initiative on data, outcomes, and quality – an effort to create an integrated data strategy that informs policy makers and service providers on the nature and scope of behavioral health issues. It is one in a series of studies designed to provide more detailed information on substance abuse patterns and treatment needs existing within a wide range of population groups.

Support Services Needed

“Patterns of substance abuse vary somewhat among different segments of our society,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D. “Prevention, treatment and recovery support services are vitally needed within every community. We are using these studies along with on the ground experience to design and provide these services in a way that is accepted by the community and appropriate for individual needs.”

“We appreciate SAMHSA’s support of this study, which provides valuable findings that can be used for more targeted treatment programs and patient screening,” said Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, the Director of the Indian Health Service.

July 12th, 2010  in Alcoholism No Comments »

Teens drink more during summer before college

Summertime and the living is easy. But not too easy for parents whose children will head to college in the fall.

University of Rhode Island Psychology Professor Mark Wood, a nationally recognized alcohol researcher, wants parents to be aware that this is a time when teens tend to increase their alcohol consumption.

The URI expert advises parents to monitor their children–know where they are, whom they are with and what they are doing.

Monitoring Means Less Drinking

“This type of monitoring, particularly in combination with an emotionally supportive parenting style, is associated with less drinking and fewer alcohol-related problems across numerous studies,” Wood said.

“It is also important for parents to express clear disapproval of alcohol use and to provide clear and fair consequences associated with breaking the rules. Research shows this combination of factors decreases alcohol use and problems through adolescence and into college,” continued Wood who helps create interventions to reduce alcohol related-harm, particularly among college-age students. Results of his recent study bear this out.

Is Wood advocating that parents become helicopter parents–ones who hover over their children and their problems or experiences, especially when they are in college?

“We live in a era when students are texting and talking to parents, sometimes many times a day. Although the term helicopter parent does have a negative connotation, I think conversations about drinking are good whenever and wherever they occur,” said the researcher.

But is it too late for parents to begin monitoring teenagers after they have already graduated from high school?

“Most American teenagers begin to drink by age 15. By the time they go off to college, most have considerable drinking experience,” explained Wood. “Ideally, parents should be having conversations about alcohol throughout high school. But it’s never too late to begin an ongoing dialogue about drinking with teens.”

There is good reason to be concerned. It’s estimated that more than 1,800 college students die each year in car accidents and more than 750,000 are involved in alcohol related physical or sexual assaults.

Adolescents tend to increase their alcohol use the summer before entering college and during their first semester at college. This is also true of children who have been consistently monitored and emotionally supported. However, these children don’t increase consumption to the levels of kids who didn’t have that kind of parental involvement in high school.

Values, Attitudes and Expectations

“The protective effects that parents exert in high school continue to be influential into college even at a time when the kids have left the home. It’s the internalization of those values, attitudes, expectations that seem to continue to exert an effect,” said Wood.

Wood and his team applied some of their research findings to an intervention to reduce the increases in drinking and the negative consequences that typically occur during matriculation and into college. Results of the study were published in the June 2010 issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

In this study, which began in 2004, they recruited and randomly assigned 1,000 incoming freshmen to receive either a Brief Motivational Intervention (BMI) or a parent-based intervention, both, or an assessment-only control. The motivational intervention is considered to be the most effective individual alcohol prevention approach with college students.

In contrast to other BMI studies that have focused on heavier drinkers, the URI study recruited students whether they drank or not. In fact, about 28 percent of the 1,000 students in the study didn’t drink when they came to college.

Students met with an intervention provider who went over a tailored report compiled from information provided by the students about a range of factors, including their alcohol use patterns, consequences associated with use, and family history of alcohol problems. Students were recognized as responsible adults, and weren’t preached to or told not to drink.

Among other things, the report showed the student how his or her drinking compared to others of the same age and gender, correcting misperceptions students have about how much other students are drinking. For example, students often overestimate how much their peers are drinking, and correcting these misconceptions as part of motivational interventions has resulted in lower levels of alcohol use and problems.

Family History of Alcoholism

“A message that we would give a student who told us her father was an alcoholic is that we know that alcohol problems run in families. But it’s also important for you to know that this doesn’t mean that you’re destined to become an alcoholic. It just means that you have an increased risk of drinking problems based on family history,” says Wood.

The message is different with non-drinkers: “Congratulations, you’ve made the safest choice in terms of alcohol use at this point. One of the things we want to tell you is that there are more students like you than you think. We’d like to talk to you about ways that you can continue to make the safe choice around drinking now that you’re in an environment where there is more drinking.”

URI researchers followed up with the students in the spring of their freshman and sophomore years. The team found the intervention was successful for non-drinkers and drinkers. Students who received the BMI were significantly less likely to transition into heavy drinking or begin experiencing alcohol-related problems. For those who were already drinking, the BMI reduced heavy drinking and alcohol problems indirectly by altering students’ misperceptions about alcohol use.

July 8th, 2010  in Alcohol, Alcoholism No Comments »

Difficult childhoods lead to teenage drinking

An African study has found a link between a difficult childhood and alcohol consumption as a teenager. Researchers writing in BioMed Central’s open access journal Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health studied the association between adverse childhood experiences and drunkenness among 9,189 adolescents aged 12-19 years living in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Malawi, and Uganda.

Dr. Caroline Kabiru and a team of researcher from the African Population and Health Research Center , Nairobi, Kenya conducted the study.

Childhood Drinkers

They noted, “Overall, 9% of adolescents reported that they had been drunk in the 12 months preceding the survey. In general, respondents who had lived in a food-insecure household, lived with a problem drinker, been physically abused, or been coerced into having sex were more likely to report drunkenness”.

There has previously been little research into the determinants of alcohol use among adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa. The researchers’ work is supported by similar studies in other parts of the world, which also draw a link between adverse childhood experiences and future drinking. Speaking about the findings, Dr. Kabiru said, “Early treatment for traumatic childhood experiences may be an essential component of interventions designed to prevent alcohol abuse among adolescents”.

July 6th, 2010  in Alcohol No Comments »

Secondhand smoke exposure in the womb has lifelong impact

Newborns of non-smoking moms exposed to secondhand smoke during pregnancy have genetic mutations that may affect long-term health, according to a University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health study published online in the Open Pediatric Medicine Journal. The abnormalities, which were indistinguishable from those found in newborns of mothers who were active smokers, may affect survival, birth weight and lifelong susceptibility to diseases like cancer.

Secondhand Smoke Dangers

The study confirms previous research in which study author Stephen G. Grant, Ph.D., associate professor of environmental and occupational health at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health, discovered evidence of abnormalities in the HPRT gene located on the X chromosome in cord blood from newborns of non-smokers exposed to environmental tobacco smoke.

In the current study, Dr. Grant confirmed smoke-induced mutation in another gene called glycophorin A, or GPA, that is representative of oncogenes – genes that transform normal cells into cancer cells and cause solid tumors. The GPA mutation was the same level and type in newborns of mothers who were active smokers and of non-smoking mothers exposed to tobacco smoke. Likewise, the mutations were discernable in newborns of women who had stopped smoking during their pregnancies, but who did not actively avoid secondhand smoke.

Permanent Genetic Damage

“These findings back up our previous conclusion that passive, or secondary, smoke causes permanent genetic damage in newborns that is very similar to the damage caused by active smoking,” said Dr. Grant. “By using a different assay, we were able to pick up a completely distinct yet equally important type of genetic mutation that is likely to persist throughout a child’s lifetime. Pregnant women should not only stop smoking, but be aware of their exposure to tobacco smoke from other family members, work and social situations.”

July 1st, 2010  in Tobacco No Comments »