We at PGDF are always scouring the news for the latest on science, policy, opinion, and culture related to alcohol use disorder and its treatment. In this new quarterly series, we present a digest of notable news from the field.
Scientists at the University of Texas have developed a compound that successfully reduced alcohol withdrawal symptoms and cravings in worms and rats. The compound, JVW-1034, works differently than alcohol addiction medications currently on the market, which sometimes have unpleasant side effects. The researchers now plan to optimize the chemical properties of the compound so that it has a better chance of being effective, and free of side effects, in humans.
A study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that Mexican American adolescents who participated in a family-focused substance abuse prevention program during middle school were less likely than teens who did not participate in the program to develop an alcohol use disorder five years later.
Australian scientists have developed a pill that reduced cocaine urges by 90% and methamphetamine use by 85% in mice. The culmination of 10 years of research, the medication, called SOC-1, mimics the behavior of the social-bonding hormone oxytocin. Researchers hope to begin trials of the pill in humans in the next few years to treat alcohol and drug addiction.
A study that included more than half a million people worldwide found that averaging any more than five alcoholic drinks per week leads to an increased risk of health issues including stroke, heart disease, deadly high blood pressure and fatal aortic aneurysms. The data from the study suggests that the current guidelines of up to two alcoholic drinks per day for men and one for women are too high.
Scientists found that giving a single injection of human stem cells to rats who were bred to consume high levels of alcohol daily reduced their alcohol intake and binge drinking by 80 to 90 percent for up to one month. The study suggests that injections of human mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) should be further studied as an effective approach for treating AUD.
A study published in Alcohol and Alcoholism found that when people with alcohol use disorder (AUD) were shown a photo of a glass of alcohol or similar images, concentrations of the neurotransmitter glutamate decreased in their brains. This indicates that targeting this neurotransmitter, which accounts for about 50% of all synaptic activity, could lead to the development of new AUD treatments.
A non-psychoactive and non-addictive ingredient of cannabis may reduce the risk of relapse in people with substance use disorders, according to a preclinical study in rats. The study, published in Neuropsychopharmacology, found that rats exposed to Cannabidiol (CBD) had a reduction in relapse induced by stress or drug cues, even five months after treatment.
A study from the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions found that aerobic exercise may help fight alcohol and drug addiction by “normalizing” dopamine signaling, which has been altered by steady substance use, in the brain.
Researchers from the University of California, San Diego have created a prototype of a tiny chip that can be implanted under the skin to monitor alcohol consumption. The chip contains an enzyme-coated biosensor that generates a byproduct when it encounters alcohol, and then transmits a wireless signal to the wearable device (like a smart watch) that powers the chip. Data can then be sent to doctors, law enforcement officials, or others. The team plans on performing animal studies over the next few years, which they hope will lead to human trials of the chip.
Drinking during adolescence alters normal brain development, a new study shows. Participants who initiated heavy drinking between ages 12-21 showed changes in grey matter that were not observed in participants who did not drink alcohol. “These results provide evidence that initiation of heavy alcohol drinking during adolescence can disrupt normal, differential growth trajectories of specific cortical gray matter regions,” the researchers stated.
As the opioid crisis continues to garner widespread attention, officials in New Hampshire warn that the state has an even more prevalent addiction problem: alcohol. “We hear a lot about the opioid epidemic right now, but we do have to remember that alcohol kills more than any drug combined, and it is certainly a significant issue in New Hampshire,” Kate Frey, vice president of advocacy for New Futures, a nonprofit that advocates better health through policy, told New Hampshire news station WMUR. NH is often in the top five states when it comes to the highest rates of binge drinking and alcohol misuse. The state continues to look for ways to deal with addiction, such as the implementation of their Safe Station Program which allows anyone seeking help for substance use disorders to walk into a fire station to receive help.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has historically considered the use of any medication – even prescribed medications that are being used to help sustain recovery such as methadone – as an “outside issue” to be decided by the individual, but has frowned upon its use. There is now a new fellowship group, Medication-Assisted Recovery Anonymous (MARA), that recognizes there is a place for medication in recovery and wants to destigmatize MAT. The MARA Facebook page states that they welcome those who plan to use a medication-assisted treatment program to transition to complete abstinence from all opioids or who plan to be in MAT indefinitely or as long as they feel necessary.
Accidents involving people who drink and drive kill 29 people per day in the United States. A new study, published in JAMA, has found that strengthening state alcohol policies, including those that do not specifically target impaired driving, by just 10% can reduce the odds of an alcohol-impaired crash fatality by 10%, which would mean about 800 fewer DUI deaths annually. The study also found that stronger policies, especially imposing alcohol taxes and limiting outlet density, reduced deaths among drivers with alcohol blood levels below the current legal one.
People in novel treatment programs in Canada that provide about a dozen daily doses of alcohol to people struggling with alcohol addiction have been shown to have fewer hospital visits, detox episodes, and police contacts leading to custody.
In an online Forbes article, Dr. Lipi Roy discusses the importance of understanding sex differences in drug and alcohol addiction. She notes that despite the fact that men are more likely to become addicted, women tend to face more addiction-related medical or social consequences, have a harder time quitting, and are more vulnerable to relapse. Roy states that treatment programs need to provide comprehensive services, such as child care and family services, to increase women’s engagement in care.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 6 adults binge drink weekly, with the average binge drinker consuming seven drinks per binge. Thomas G. Brown, the director and principal investigator at McGill University’s Addiction Research Program, refers to binge drinking as “the hidden face of the alcohol problem”, explaining that the practice is underestimated in its severity. “When people think ‘alcohol problems’ they typically think about the extreme tail of alcohol use severity, involving dependence and complete social dysfunction. But most problems, like injury, and impaired driving crashes, and so on, come from episodic heavy or binge drinking,” said Brown. Chronic binge drinking can be an early sign of developing alcohol dependence and can lead to health issues like memory problems, cancer, liver and brain damage, as well as poor decision-making and physical injuries. For these reasons, health experts suggest sticking to recommended drinking guidelines.
The federal mental health parity law, which requires health insurers and group health plans to provide the same level of benefits for mental health and substance use treatment and services that they do for medical and surgical care, became law 10 years ago. Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz of the Chicago Tribune delves into how parity is – and is not – working.
After a decision in late 2017 to suspend the sale of ads for drug and alcohol treatment centers due to misleading information and fraud by some of the advertisers, Google will soon again be allowing substance use treatment center advertisements to appear when people search online under certain terms related to addiction treatment. Now, however, advertisers offering treatment will first be required to be assessed by LegitScript, a company that checks the validity of internet pharmacies, supplement sellers and other online merchants. They will also have to be certified by Google before they can advertise through AdWords.
Having a glass of wine (or two) has become a normalized way of dealing with the daily stresses of parenthood. New York Times writer Liz Tracy discusses the importance of developing other, potentially healthier, coping skills – and has suggestions on how to replace the vino.
Writer Emily J. Sullivan discusses her attempts to utilize the 12-Step Program for recovery, and why – and how – she ultimately abandoned a program that was not working for her and found her own way, via an addiction therapist and medication-assisted treatment.
Addiction saps the body as well as the mind, and in an effort to help people live their healthiest lives, Boston Medical Center (BMC) is offering cooking and nutrition classes for people with a variety of medical conditions, including those recovering from addictions. The class focuses on how to choose and cook food in order to create and maintain healthy eating habits. “Teaching people how to cook for themselves, and to support good nutritional habits, can have an impact on reducing cravings that are often a hallmark of people in recovery from addiction,” says Michael Botticelli, Executive Director of BMC’s Grayken Center for Addiction.