Archive for November, 2015

High prevalence of incapacitated rape found among college women

Some 15 percent of women are raped while incapacitated from alcohol or other drug use during their freshman year at college, according to new research.

The report, published in the Nov. issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, also helps to offer a clearer idea of which college freshmen are at particular risk of what’s known as ‘incapacitated rape.’

Researchers found that freshmen women who’d been victims of such assaults before college were at substantial risk of being victimized again. Overall, nearly 18 percent of students said they’d been raped while incapacitated before college, and 41 percent of those young women were raped again while incapacitated during their freshman year.

The students’ views on alcohol also seemed to be involved. Young women who said they believed alcohol can enhance a person’s sexual experience were at increased risk of incapacitated rape during their first year of college — regardless of whether they’d been victims in the past.

Increased Risks for Rape

It’s important to get a clearer picture of the risk factors for college sexual assault to inform prevention efforts, explained lead researcher Kate Carey, Ph.D., a professor of behavioral and social sciences at Brown University School of Public Health, in Providence, R.I. No one is suggesting the victims are to blame, Carey stressed. The intoxication of a potential victim does not excuse the perpetration of sexual assault.

“We’re trying to identify modifiable factors that increase risk for incapacitated rape,” she said.

Alcohol, Drugs Are Pervasive on Campus

College programs aimed at preventing sexual assault need to be ‘universal,’ targeting all students, Carey said. But those programs can address specific attitudes or behaviors — such as students’ expectations about alcohol and sex.

Drinking and other drug use is pervasive on college campuses: Four of five college students drink alcohol, with half of these saying they sometimes binge, according to the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

At the same time, campus sexual assault is being increasingly recognized as a major problem, and many of those incidents involve alcohol or other drugs. Research has found that incapacitated rape is more common on college campuses than forcible rape, in which perpetrators use threats or physical force.

Sex Assault Education Needs to Begin Early

But the current findings, Carey said, show that many young women are victims long before college.

“The pre-college assessment went back to as early as age 14,” she said. “That suggests that sexual assault education needs to begin earlier.”

If prevention efforts are limited to university campuses, Carey noted, they’ll also miss all the young adults who do not go to college.

The findings are based on 483 female freshmen who completed several surveys over their first year of college. The students were from a single university in New York State, so it would be helpful, Carey said, for further studies to confirm the results at other schools as well.

November 21st, 2015  in Substance Abuse No Comments »

Prescription painkillers source of addiction for most women

Painkillers prescribed by doctors are the starting point for an opioid addiction for more than half of female methadone clinic patients, and they need different treatment from men with addiction, says a study led by McMaster University researchers.

The results, published in the open access journal Biology of Sex Differences today, show that more than half (52%) of women and a third (38%) of men reported doctor-prescribed painkillers as their first contact with opioid drugs, a family of drugs which include prescription medicines such OxyContin and codeine, as well as illicit drugs such as heroin.

The study of 503 patients attending Ontario methadone clinics identified significant gender differences between the men and women attending the clinics. Compared to men, women were found to have more physical and psychological health problems, more childcare responsibilities, and were more likely to have a family history of psychiatric illness.

Rising Number of Women Seeking Treatment

Men were more likely than women to be working and more likely to smoke cigarettes. Rates of cannabis use were relatively high (47%) among both men and women.

“Most methadone treatment is based on studies with few or no women at all. We found men and women who are addicted to opioids have very different demographics and health needs, and we need to better reflect this in the treatment options that are available,” said Monica Bawor, first author of the paper and a recent PhD neuroscience graduate of McMaster.

“A rising number of women are seeking treatment for opioid addiction in Canada and other countries yet, in many cases, treatment is still geared towards a patient profile that is decades out of date — predominantly young men injecting heroin, and with few family or employment responsibilities.”

Injecting Drug Use Declined

The study highlights the changing profile of people addicted to opioids. Compared to results from studies in the 1990s, the average age of patients being treated for opioid addiction is older (38 compared to 25 years), with opioid use starting at a later age (25 rather than 21 years). Injecting drug use has reduced by 60%, and there has been a 50% reduction in rates of HIV in opioid users as a result.

At the same time, there has been a 30% increase in the number of patients becoming addicted to opioids through doctor-prescribed painkillers, usually for chronic pain management. In Canada, the number of opioid painkiller prescriptions has doubled in the last two decades, and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), Canada consumes more opioid painkillers than any other country.

Women Prescribed Painkillers More Often?

Senior author Dr. Zena Samaan added that the reasons are not clear why women are disproportionately affected by opioid dependence originating from prescription painkillers.

“It may be that they are prescribed painkillers more often because of a lower pain threshold or because they are more likely to seek medical care than men,” said Samaan, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine.

“For whatever reason, this is a growing problem in Canada and in other countries, such as the U.S., and addiction treatment programs need to adapt to the changing profile of opioid addiction.”

November 11th, 2015  in Prescription Drugs No Comments »

Why many alcohol drinkers also are smokers

Alcohol and nicotine use have long been known to go hand in hand. Previous research shows that more than 85 percent of U.S. adults who are alcohol-dependent also are nicotine-dependent. Now, researchers from the University of Missouri School of Medicine have found that nicotine cancels out the sleep-inducing effects of alcohol. It’s a finding that sheds light on the reason alcohol and nicotine usage are so closely linked.

“We know that many people who drink alcohol also use nicotine, but we don’t know why exactly that is,” said Mahesh Thakkar, Ph.D., associate professor and director of research in the MU School of Medicine’s Department of Neurology and lead author of the study. “We have found that nicotine weakens the sleep-inducing effects of alcohol by stimulating a response in an area of the brain known as the basal forebrain. By identifying the reactions that take place when people smoke and drink, we may be able to use this knowledge to help curb alcohol and nicotine addiction.”

Tobacco Counteracts Sleepiness While Drinking

Thakkar has been studying the sleep-inducing effects of alcohol and nicotine for more than five years. His previous research has shown that when used in conjunction, nicotine and alcohol increase pleasurable side effects by activating an area of the brain known as the reward center, which can lead to increased alcohol consumption.

During the most recent study, rats were fitted with sleep-recording electrodes and given alcohol and nicotine. The researchers found that nicotine acts via the basal forebrain to suppress the sleep-inducing effects of alcohol.

“One of the adverse effects of drinking alcohol is sleepiness,” Thakkar said. “However, when used in conjunction with alcohol, nicotine acts as a stimulant to ward off sleep. If an individual smokes, then he or she is much more likely to consume more alcohol, and vice-versa. They feed off one another.”

Major Contributor for Alcoholism

Smoking is a major contributing factor to the development of alcoholism. According to the World Health Organization, more than 7 million deaths each year are attributed to alcohol and nicotine use.

This research has implications to improve health, not only for heavy drinkers and smokers, but also for individuals with mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, which often is associated with smoking.

November 8th, 2015  in Tobacco No Comments »