Archive for July, 2011

Definition of Alcoholism

In a 1992 JAMA article, the Joint Committee of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) and the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) published this definition for alcoholism:

“Alcoholism is a primary chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. The disease is often progressive and fatal. It is characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, mostly denial. Each of these symptoms may be continuous or periodic.”

July 27th, 2011  in Alcoholism 31 Comments »

Smoking causes serious birth defects

To dispel any uncertainty about the serious harm caused by smoking to babies and pregnant women, the first-ever comprehensive systematic review of all studies over the past 50 years has established clearly that maternal smoking causes a range of serious birth defects including heart defects, missing/deformed limbs, clubfoot, gastrointestinal disorders, and facial disorders (for example, of the eyes and cleft lip/palate).

Smoking during pregnancy is also a risk factor for premature birth, says Dr. Michael Katz, senior Vice President for Research and Global Programs of the March of Dimes. He says the March of Dimes urges all women planning a pregnancy or who are pregnant to quit smoking now to reduce their chance of having a baby born prematurely or with a serious birth defect.

Serious Health Problems

Babies who survive being born prematurely and at low birthweight are at risk of other serious health problems, Dr. Katz notes, including lifelong disabilities such as cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities and learning problems. Smoking also can make it harder to get pregnant, and increases the risk of stillbirth.

About 20 percent of women in the United States reported smoking in 2009. Around the world, about 250 million women use tobacco every day and this number is increasing rapidly, according to data presented at the 2009 14th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Mumbai.

The new study, “Maternal smoking in pregnancy and birth defects: a systematic review based on 173,687 malformed cases and 11.7 million controls,” by a team led by Allan Hackshaw, Cancer Research UK & UCL Cancer Trials Centre, University College London, will be published online today in Human Reproduction Update from the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology.

Dangerous Chemicals

When women smoke during pregnancy, the unborn baby is exposed to dangerous chemicals like nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar, Dr. Katz says. These chemicals can deprive the baby of oxygen needed for healthy growth and development.

During pregnancy, smoking can cause problems for a woman’s own health, including:

  • ectopic pregnancy;
  • vaginal bleeding;
  • placental abruption, in which the placenta peels away, partially or almost completely, from the uterine wall before delivery;
  • placenta previa, a low-lying placenta that covers part or all of the opening of the uterus.

Smoking is also known to cause cancer, heart disease, stroke, gum disease and eye diseases that can lead to blindness.

July 13th, 2011  in Tobacco No Comments »

Social benefits of heavy drinking outweigh harms?

A study by University of Washington psychologists shows some people continue to drink heavily because of perceived positive effects, despite experiencing negative effects such as hangovers, fights and regrettable sexual situations.

According to participants in the study, boosts of courage, chattiness and other social benefits of drinking outweigh its harms, which they generally did not consider as strong deterrents.

‘Not Going to Happen to Me’

The findings offer a new direction for programs targeting binge drinking, which tend to limit their focus to avoiding alcohol’s ill effects rather than considering its rewards.

“This study suggest why some people can experience a lot of bad consequences of drinking but not change their behavior,” said Kevin King, co-author and UW assistant professor of psychology.

“People think, ‘It’s not going to happen to me’ or ‘I’ll never drink that much again.’ They do not seem to associate their own heavy drinking with negative consequences,” he said.

The paper was published online May 30 in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.

500 Students Surveyed

Nearly 500 college students completed an online survey measuring their drinking habits during the previous year. The survey assessed how often the participants had experienced 35 different negative consequences of drinking, such as blackouts, fights, hangovers, missed classes and work, and lost or stolen belongings, as well as 14 positive effects of drinking, including better conversational and joke-telling abilities, improved sexual encounters and more energy to stay up late partying and dancing.

The researchers also measured the participants’ beliefs about how likely all of these drinking consequences would happen again and how positive or negative they were.

Participants rated the upsides to drinking as more positive and likely to happen in the future, a finding the researchers call “rose-colored beer goggles.”

Keeps Getting Better?

“It’s as though they think that the good effects of drinking keep getting better and more likely to happen again,” said Diane Logan, lead author and a UW clinical psychology graduate student.

Respondents’ perceptions of drinking’s negative consequences differed according to how many bad experiences they had had. Those who experienced a small to moderate number of ill effects of drinking did not consider the experiences to be not so bad and did not think that they were any more likely to experience them again compared with students who hadn’t experienced them.

The researchers call this cognitive-dissonance reasoning. It leads to people, on the morning after a night of heavy partying, telling themselves “I’ll never drink that much again” or “I threw up that one time, but that’s not me; I won’t do it again.” Or, it may be that once a bad consequence of drinking happens, people think that it wasn’t really as bad as they initially thought, the researchers speculated.

But the participants reporting the most bad experiences rated the episodes as more negative and more likely to happen again. “Until high levels of negative consequences are experienced, participants aren’t deterred by the ill effects of drinking,” Logan said.

Focusing on Drinking Consequences

The findings have implications for alcohol intervention programs for college students, which tend to focus on how to avoid the negative consequences of drinking. “We should take into account how people don’t think of negative consequences as all that bad or likely to happen again,” Logan said, adding that factoring in how people view alcohol’s positive effects “might have a bigger impact” on drinking habits.

She suggests a risk reduction approach by helping people reduce their drinking such that they still get some of the positive effects while avoiding many of the negative and recommends training exercises to increase social skills in the absence of alcohol.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism funded the study. Co-authors are Teague Henry, a UW psychology undergraduate student; Matthew Vaughn, a former UW psychology undergraduate student; and Jeremy Luk, a UW psychology graduate student.

July 10th, 2011  in Alcohol No Comments »