Archive for May, 2011

Teen alcohol consumption associated with computer use

Teenagers who drink alcohol spend more time on their computers for recreational use, including social networking and downloading and listening to music, compared with their peers who don’t drink.

Results of an anonymous survey of 264 teenagers were reported in the online edition of the journal Addictive Behaviors in a study authored by Weill Cornell Medical College public health researcher Dr. Jennifer Epstein.

Early Exposure to the Internet

“While the specific factors linking teenage drinking and computer use are not yet established, it seems likely that adolescents are experimenting with drinking and activities on the Internet. In turn, exposure to online material such as alcohol advertising or alcohol-using peers on social networking sites could reinforce teens’ drinking,” says Dr. Epstein, assistant professor of public health at Weill Cornell Medical College. “Children are being exposed to computers and the Internet at younger ages. For this reason it’s important that parents are actively involved in monitoring their children’s computer usage, as well as alcohol use.

“According to a national study conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, more than half of parents of teenagers had filters installed on the computers their child uses to block content parents find objectionable, yet many parents do not use any form of parental monitoring, particularly for older teens,” continues Dr. Epstein.

Drinking Linked to Computer Use

The Weill Cornell survey was completed by participants aged 13 to 17 and residing in the United States. Results showed that teens who reported drinking in the last month used a computer more hours per week excluding school work than those who did not; however, there was no demonstrated link between alcohol use and computer use for school work. Drinking was also linked to more frequent social networking and listening to and downloading music. There was no strong link between video games and drinking or online shopping and drinking.

“Going forward, we would like to collect more detailed and longer-term data on adolescent alcohol and computer use, including the degree and duration of their drinking habit,” says Dr. Epstein.

Teenagers typically first experiment with alcohol at age 12 or 13. Family risk factors include lax parental supervision and poor communication, family conflicts, inconsistent or harsh discipline and a family history of alcohol or drug abuse.

Impact of New Media

“Parents may also need to reinforce their family ground rules on alcohol use and computer use,” Dr. Epstein says.

“This is an innovative study that is an important first step to understanding the potential impact that the Internet and new media may have on today’s youth,” says Dr. Gil Botvin, professor of public health and chief of the Division of Prevention and Health Behavior at Weill Cornell Medical College. “The Internet offers a wealth of information and opportunities for intellectual and social enrichment. However, it is becoming clear that there may also be a downside to Internet use. More systematic research is needed to better understand to those potential dangers and how to combat them.”

May 23rd, 2011  in Alcohol No Comments »

Internet Linked to Prescription Drug Abuse Increase?

ncreasing access to rogue online pharmacies – those which dispense medications without a doctor’s prescription – may be an important factor behind the rapid increase in the abuse of prescription drugs. In a report in the journal Health Affairs, investigators from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the University of Southern California (USC) find that states with the greatest expansion in high-speed Internet access from 2000 to 2007 also had the largest increase in admissions for treatment of prescription drug abuse.

Internet Growth a Factor

“We know we face a growing problem with prescription drug abuse in the United States. One need only look at statistics for college campuses, where prescription drugs are fast replacing illegal substances, to see the magnitude of the problem,” says Dana Goldman, PhD, director of the Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics at USC, the study’s senior author. “Our findings suggest that Internet growth may partly explain the increase in prescription drug abuse, since it is well known that these drugs are easily available online.” Goldman is also the Norman Topping/National Medical Enterprises Chair in Medicine and Public Policy at USC.

In their report, Goldman and lead author Anupam B. Jena, MD, PhD, of the MGH Department of Medicine, note that the recent marked rise in the abuse of prescription narcotic painkillers – drugs like Percocet and Oxycontin – corresponds with an increase in the presence of online pharmacies, many of which do not adhere to regulations requiring a physician’s prescription. Drugs that are frequently abused – painkillers, stimulants, sedatives and tranquilizers – often can be purchased from rogue sites that may be located outside the U.S. The current study was designed to examine the potential link between online availability and prescription drug abuse, an association that has been suspected but not investigated in depth.

Increase in High-Speed Access

Using data available from the Federal Communications Commission, the researchers first compiled statistics on access to high-speed Internet service in each state during the years studied. Since actual rates of prescription drug abuse would be difficult if not impossible to calculate, they used information on admissions to substance abuse treatment facilities from a database maintained by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.

Changes in both measures over the seven years were analyzed on a per-state basis, and treatment admissions were categorized by the particular types of abused substances involved.

No Increase in Illegal Drug Use

The analysis indicated that each 10 percent increase in the availability of high-speed Internet service in a state was accompanied by an approximately 1 percent increase in admissions for prescription drug abuse. The increases were strongest for narcotic painkillers, followed by anti-anxiety drugs, stimulants and sedatives. During the same period admissions to treat abuse of alcohol, heroin or cocaine, substances not available online, showed minimal growth or actually decreased.

“The lack of an increase in abuse of drugs not available on the Internet suggests that an overall growth in drug-seeking behavior cannot explain the rise in prescription drug abuse,” Jena says. “Further studies need to better evaluate how easily commonly abused prescription drugs can be purchased online and explore the importance to the problem of foreign Internet pharmacies, which are outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. government.”

May 18th, 2011  in Prescription Drugs No Comments »

Binge drinking affects ability to learn

Binge drinking is prevalent among university students, especially in the United States. One brain structure particularly sensitive to alcohol’s neurotoxicity during development is the hippocampus, which plays a key role in learning and memory. A study of the association between binge drinking and declarative memory – a form of long-term memory – in university students has found a link between binge drinking and poorer verbal declarative memory.

“In northern European countries, there is a strong tradition of a sporadic, drunkenness-orientated, drinking style,” explained María Parada, a postdoctoral researcher at the Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, Spain and first author of the study. “In contrast, countries on the Mediterranean coast, such as Spain, have traditionally been characterized by a more regular consumption of low doses of alcohol. In recent years, the pattern of binge drinking among young people has become more widespread throughout Europe, hence the growing concern about this issue.”

Binge Drinking and Memory

“I think it´s important to examine alcohol´s effects on the hippocampus because in animal studies, particularly in rats and monkeys, this region appears sensitive to the neurotoxic effects of alcohol, and this structure plays a main role in memory and learning,” said Marina Rodríguez Álvarez, a senior researcher at the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela. “In other words, binge drinking could affect memory of young adults, which might affect their day-to day lives.”

“Our interest in studying the effects of binge drinking patterns on declarative memory results from the well-established role of the hippocampus – a small seahorse-shaped brain structure located in the medial regions of the cerebral hemispheres – in this cognitive function,” added Parada. “Both animal studies as well as some neuroimaging studies in humans have shown the hippocampus to be particularly vulnerable to the effects of alcohol, so we wondered whether hippocampus-dependent learning and memory could be affected by heavy episodic drinking.”

Parada and her colleagues examined 122 Spanish university students between 18 and 20 years of age divided into two groups: those who engaged in binge drinking (n=62; 32 men, 30 women) and those who did not (n=60; 31 men, 29 women). All were administered a neuropsychological assessment that included the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test and the Wechsler Memory Scale-3rd ed. (WMS-III) Logical Memory subtest to measure verbal declarative memory, as well as the WMS-III Family Pictures subtest to measure visual declarative memory.

College Students Affected

“Our main finding was a clear association between binge drinking and a lower ability to learn new verbal information in healthy college students, even after controlling for other possible confounding variables such as intellectual levels, history of neurological or psychopathological disorders, other drug use, or family history of alcoholism,” said Parada.

“Young adults with a binge drinking pattern of alcohol consumption who have poorer verbal declarative memory will need more neural resources to perform memory tasks and to learn new information, which probably would affect their academic performance,” observed Rodríguez Álvarez.

Parada was a little more cautious. “Although it seems reasonable to expect that these differences in declarative memory affect academic performance – because it depends on the ability to learn new information – there are many other variables that may modulate and explain this relationship, for example, student effort or class attendance,” she said. “We are currently carrying out a longitudinal study of these young people, and collecting information on their academic achievements, so we hope to be able to answer this question more definitively in the near future.”

One of the strengths of this study, added Parada, is that it controlled for confounding variables such as psychiatric comorbidity, genetic vulnerability, or other drug use, such as marijuana. “This allowed us to establish a clearer association between binge drinking patterns and poorer performance on memory tasks,” she said.

An additional strength, said Rodríguez Álvarez, was the finding that women are not more vulnerable than men to the neurotoxic effects of binge drinking.

Both Parada and Rodríguez Álvarez noted the importance of prevention programs and policies to address this issue.

Low Perception of Risk

“One of the factors that appear to be behind this pattern of consumption is the low perception of risk,” said Parada. “Whereas most attention has focused on negative consequences such as traffic accidents, violence or public disorder, society and students themselves are unaware of the damaging effects binge drinking may have on the brain. Policies and prevention programs in Europe aimed at controlling this pattern of consumption on campus are still rare.”

Yet the opposite should be occurring, added Rodríguez Álvarez. “These results should be taken into account by parents, clinicians, university administrators, and also governments because it is vital to address all that surrounds the brain’s development in our adolescents and young adults.”

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

May 17th, 2011  in Alcohol No Comments »

Teen alcohol consumption linked to computer use

Teenagers who drink alcohol spend more time on their computers for recreational use, including social networking and downloading and listening to music, compared with their peers who don’t drink.

Results of an anonymous survey of 264 teenagers were reported in the online edition of the journal Addictive Behaviors in a study authored by Weill Cornell Medical College public health researcher Dr. Jennifer Epstein.

Experimenting With Drinking

“While the specific factors linking teenage drinking and computer use are not yet established, it seems likely that adolescents are experimenting with drinking and activities on the Internet. In turn, exposure to online material such as alcohol advertising or alcohol-using peers on social networking sites could reinforce teens’ drinking,” says Dr. Epstein, assistant professor of public health at Weill Cornell Medical College. “Children are being exposed to computers and the Internet at younger ages. For this reason it’s important that parents are actively involved in monitoring their children’s computer usage, as well as alcohol use.

“According to a national study conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, more than half of parents of teenagers had filters installed on the computers their child uses to block content parents find objectionable, yet many parents do not use any form of parental monitoring, particularly for older teens,” continues Dr. Epstein.

More Computer Use

The Weill Cornell survey was completed by participants aged 13 to 17 and residing in the United States. Results showed that teens who reported drinking in the last month used a computer more hours per week excluding school work than those who did not; however, there was no demonstrated link between alcohol use and computer use for school work. Drinking was also linked to more frequent social networking and listening to and downloading music. There was no strong link between video games and drinking or online shopping and drinking.

“Going forward, we would like to collect more detailed and longer-term data on adolescent alcohol and computer use, including the degree and duration of their drinking habit,” says Dr. Epstein.

Teenagers typically first experiment with alcohol at age 12 or 13. Family risk factors include lax parental supervision and poor communication, family conflicts, inconsistent or harsh discipline and a family history of alcohol or drug abuse.

Reinforce Ground Rules

“Parents may also need to reinforce their family ground rules on alcohol use and computer use,” Dr. Epstein says.

“This is an innovative study that is an important first step to understanding the potential impact that the Internet and new media may have on today’s youth,” says Dr. Gil Botvin, professor of public health and chief of the Division of Prevention and Health Behavior at Weill Cornell Medical College. “The Internet offers a wealth of information and opportunities for intellectual and social enrichment. However, it is becoming clear that there may also be a downside to Internet use. More systematic research is needed to better understand to those potential dangers and how to combat them.”

May 11th, 2011  in Alcohol No Comments »

Parents have role in smoking prevention

Parents shouldn’t let up when it comes to discouraging their kids from smoking.

That’s the message of a study to be presented Monday, May 2, at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Denver.

Previous research has shown that parents can deter adolescents from smoking by monitoring them and enforcing anti-smoking practices at home. Researchers, led by E. Melinda Mahabee-Gittens, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, sought to determine if family factors continue to protect adolescents as they grow older and whether these factors affect youths of varying racial/ethnic backgrounds differently.

Family Factors in Smoking

Investigators studied 3,473 pairs of white, black and Hispanic parents and nonsmoking youths who participated in the National Survey of Parents and Youth in November 1999-June 2001 (Time 1) and again in July 2002-June 2003 (Time 2). They looked at whether youths remained nonsmokers throughout the study period, and they assessed changes in family factors thought to protect against smoking initiation over time.

Results showed no differences in the rate of smoking initiation between Time 1 and Time 2 by race. In addition, youths in all three racial/ethnic groups reported associating more with peers who smoked at Time 2 than at Time 1.

The levels of protective family factors decreased significantly from Time 1 to Time 2 across all racial/ethnic groups in both smokers and nonsmokers. However, levels of protective factors were consistently higher in nonsmoking youths compared to smokers. Continued, higher levels of connectedness and monitoring by parents decreased the risk of smoking initiation by as much as 30 percent in both whites and Hispanics.

Increased Risk of Smoking

Meanwhile, decreases in the following family factors from Time 1 to Time 2 were associated with an increased risk that youths would start smoking: 1) punishment: up to 43 percent increased risk in all three racial/ethnic groups; 2) monitoring: 42 percent increased risk in blacks only; and 3) connectedness: up to 26 percent increased risk in both blacks and Hispanics.

“Even though the level of protective family factors decreased as youth grew older, they remained important in continuing to protect against smoking initiation,” said Dr. Mahabee-Gittens, who is also associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati. “These findings support smoking prevention interventions that encourage parents of all three racial/ethnic groups to enforce consistent consequences of smoking behavior, and encourage continued monitoring and connectedness in minority groups.”

May 4th, 2011  in Tobacco No Comments »