Archive for February, 2011

Alcohol’s effects on sleep more pronounced among women

Researchers have known for decades that alcohol can initially deepen sleep during the early part of the night but then disrupt sleep during the latter part of the night; this is called a “rebound effect.” A new study of the influence of gender and family history of alcoholism on sleep has found that intoxication can increase feelings of sleepiness while at the same time disrupt actual sleep measures in healthy women more than in healthy men.

Results will be published in the May 2011 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.

Alcohol Disrupts Later Sleep

“It’s clear that a substantial portion of the population uses alcohol on a regular basis to help with sleep problems,” said J. Todd Arnedt, assistant professor of psychiatry and neurology at the University of Michigan and lead author of the study. “This perception may relate to the fact that alcohol helps people fall asleep quickly and they may be less aware of the disruptive effects of alcohol on sleep later in the night.”

Arnedt said that his group decided to examine gender differences in the effects of alcohol on sleep because very few alcohol administration studies have included female participants and, since women metabolize alcohol differently than men, it seemed reasonable to expect differences by gender.

“Our decision to examine family history was based on some observational studies showing different sleep characteristics among family-history positive participants compared to family-history negative participants,” he explained. “Family-history positive individuals also seem to be more resistant to the acute intoxicating effects of alcohol than individuals without a family history of alcoholism.”

Women More Effected Than Men

Arnedt and his colleagues recruited 93 healthy adults (59 women, 34 men) in their twenties through advertisements in the Boston area, 29 of whom had a positive family history of alcoholism. Between 8:30 and 10:00 p.m., participants consumed either a placebo beverage or alcohol to the point of intoxication as determined by breath alcohol concentration (BrAC). Their sleep was then monitored with polysomnography between 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. Participants also completed questionnaires at bedtime and upon awakening.

“Alcohol increased self-reported sleepiness and disrupted sleep quality more in women than men,” said Arnedt. “Sleep quality following alcohol did not differ between family-history positive and family-history negative subjects. Morning ratings of sleep quality were worse following alcohol than placebo. Findings also confirmed results from other studies that a high dose of alcohol solidifies sleep in the first half of the night, meaning more deep sleep, but disrupts it in the second part of the night, meaning more wakefulness.”

With respect to gender differences, women objectively had fewer hours of sleep, woke more frequently and for more minutes during the night, and had more disrupted sleep than men.

Metabolism May Be Key

“These differences may be related to differences in alcohol metabolism,” explained Arnedt, “since women show a more rapid decline in BrAC following alcohol consumption than men. It is important to note that the peak BrACs were equivalent between men and women in our study so the findings are not due to higher BrACs among the female subjects. We also do not believe that the differences were due to differences in alcohol experience because the prior alcohol use was also equivalent between the men and women.”

In summary, said Arnedt, this study’s primary contribution was to demonstrate that the effects of alcohol on objectively measured sleep quality are different between men and women at equivalent BrACs.

“These findings may have implications for future studies examining the relationship between sleep quality and risk for the development of alcohol use disorders, as well as studies evaluating how sleep quality relates to relapse among recovering alcoholic individuals,” he said.

February 19th, 2011  in Alcohol No Comments »

Helping Others Helps Alcoholics Stay in Recovery

Participating in community service activities and helping others is not just good for the soul; it has a healing effect that helps alcoholics and other addicts become and stay sober, a researcher from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine reports.

In a review article published in the Volume 29 issue of Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, Maria E. Pagano, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry at the School of Medicine, sheds light on the role of helping in addiction recovery, using the program of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) as a prime example.

Service Works Helps Alcoholics

She cites a growing body of research as supporting evidence. “The research indicates that getting active in service helps alcoholics and other addicts become sober and stay sober, and suggests this approach is applicable to all treatment-seeking individuals with a desire to not drink or use drugs,” Dr. Pagano says. “Helping others in the program of AA has forged a therapy based on the kinship of common suffering and has vast potential.”

In her research, Dr. Pagano highlights the helper therapy principle (HTP), a concept embodied by AA, as a means of diminishing egocentrism or selfishness, a root cause of addiction. The HTP is based on the theory that, when a person helps another individual with a similar condition, they help themselves. The principle is reflected in the stated purpose of AA, which is to help individuals “stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety.”

Helping other alcoholics is viewed as the foundation for the alcoholic helper to stay on the path to recovery, Dr. Pagano says in her overview of the AA program. In addition to outlining the basis for AA-related helping, Dr. Pagano reviews the data to date that illustrates the health and mental health benefits derived from helping others.

Helping Others Helps You

She likewise examines several empirical studies she conducted previously which show how helping others in 12-step programs of recovery help the recovering individual to stay sober. The research includes a 2004 study by Dr. Pagano and her colleagues. Using data from Project MATCH, one of the largest clinical trials in alcohol research, the investigators determined that 40 percent of the alcoholics who helped other alcoholics during their recovery successfully avoided drinking in the 12 months following three months in chemical dependency treatment, whereas only 22 percent of those that did not help others stayed sober.

A subsequent study by Dr. Pagano and her colleagues in 2009, also involving data from Project MATCH, showed that 94 percent of alcoholics who helped other alcoholics, at any point during the 15-month study, continued to do so as part of their ongoing recovery, and experienced lower levels of depression.

Positive Effects of Helping Others

Similarly, a study of alcoholic patients with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), a condition in which a person is excessively preoccupied with a perceived physical defect, found that those who helped others were more likely to become sober and enjoy an improved self-image than non-helpers.

“These studies indicate that among alcoholics, AA-related helping and giving general help to others has positive effects on drinking outcomes and mental health variables,” Dr. Pagano says in the journal. In fact, the benefits of doing good works and helping others also extend to individuals coping with chronic conditions like depression, AIDS, and chronic pain.

Benefits to Society

“When humans help others regardless of a shared condition, they appear to live longer and happier lives,” she adds. The benefits of helping are significant because the costs of alcoholism and drug addiction to society are so great, Dr. Pagano says.

In light of recent health care reform, resources which can reduce these costs and suffering are crucial. However, the lack of consensus on what peer helping is in addiction recovery requires additional study to clarify what specific behaviors to encourage, to whom and what forms of service to recommend for individuals engaging in early and ongoing recovery.

Dr. Pagano is presently conducting a longitudinal study examining the role of service in adolescent addiction recovery. An area of new scientific discovery, she’s applying the knowledge she’s accrued with adults to adolescent populations with addition.

February 3rd, 2011  in Alcoholism No Comments »