National data says substance abuse is on the decline. These charts tell a different story.

In a country as large as the United States, national averages can quickly lose all meaning. Deaths from alcohol use disorders, for example, have dropped nationally by 8.1 percent since 1980. But in some counties, deaths have doubled in that same timeframe.

The question of why isn’t an easy one to answer. Health data on suicides, drug overdoses, and alcohol abuse are severely lacking. Most studies trying to look at county-level data are from the ‘80s and ‘90s, so even if policy makers want to figure out where the problem areas are, they don’t have access to sufficiently detailed information. That’s exactly what a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association aims to fix.

“Progress overall doesn’t mean progress for everyone,” explains Laura Dwyer-Lindgren, an Assistant Professor of Global Health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and lead author of the study. “We hope that this research can be used to identify communities that are struggling and highlight where there are opportunities for improving health.”

Full story at Popular Science 

Neurotransmitter may play a role in alcohol relapse, addiction

A study led by Indiana University on neurochemical changes associated with alcohol addiction found that the neurotransmitter glutamate plays a role in some alcohol cravings.

Alcohol dependence and alcohol use disorders occur in about 30 percent of all Americans, taking a severe toll on people’s lives, as well as on the health care system and economy. Ninety percent of all attempts to cure the dependence or abuse of alcohol result in relapse within four years. These relapses are primarily triggered by sights, sounds and situations associated with past drinking experiences.

“This is the first study to document changes in glutamate levels during exposure to alcohol cues in people with alcohol use disorders and shines a spotlight on glutamate levels as an important target for new therapies to treat the condition,” said Sharlene Newman, a professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

Full story at Science Daily

Parental provision of alcohol to teenagers does not reduce risks, compared to no supply, Australian study finds

There is no evidence to support the practice of parents providing alcohol to their teenagers to protect them from alcohol-related risks during early adolescence, according to a prospective cohort study in Australia published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

The six year study of 1927 teenagers aged 12 to 18 and their parents found that there were no benefits or protective effects associated with giving teenagers alcohol when compared to teenagers who were not given alcohol. Instead, parental provision of alcohol was associated with increased likelihood of teenagers accessing alcohol through other sources, compared to teenagers not given any alcohol.

Alcohol consumption is the leading risk factor for death and disability in 15-24 year olds globally. Drinking during adolescence is of concern as this is when alcohol use disorders (ie, dependence on or abuse of alcohol) are most likely to develop.

Full story at Science Daily

How do people decide: Should I go, stay, drink?

Many studies of alcohol use disorders (AUDs) use tasks that involve monetary rewards or losses to examine individual decision-making vis-à-vis alcohol and other substance use. Yet drinking typically occurs in specific social and incentive contexts that do not involve economic decision-making. This study examined decisions about attending, and drinking in, hypothetical drinking/social contexts wherein several different incentive and disincentive options were provided to the individual.

Researchers used community advertisements to recruit 434 adults (240 men, 194 women), between 18 and 30 years of age, who varied widely in lifetime alcohol use as well as antisocial problems. Using a computer screen, all participants were presented with six different hypothetical scenarios of drinking at a party; incentives involved party-time fun activities and disincentives involved next-day responsibilities.

Full story at Science Daily

The blink of an eye may predict risk for alcohol problems

The startle response, often recorded as an eye-blink reflex, is a defensive measure believed to reflect emotional processing. Patients with alcohol use disorders (AUDs) show abnormal startle-reflex responses to alcohol-related stimuli. This study examined startle-reflex responses to various visual stimuli among heavy drinkers, and assessed whether certain patterns predict the development of AUDs four years later.

Researchers measured the startle-reflex responses of 287 men recruited from public health-care centers in Spain: 239 non-dependent, heavy-drinking men and 48 healthy men who comprised the control group. All participants were exposed to four types of pictures: alcohol-related, aversive, appetitive, and neutral. The participants were subsequently examined four years later to determine the predictive value of their startle response on drinking status.

Full story of eye-blink reflex and AUDs at Science Daily