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.
A meta-analysis published in the journal Addiction found that although treating alcohol use disorders (AUD) with baclofen was linked to higher rates of abstinence than placebo, it was not associated with an increase in the number of days abstinent, nor did it decrease heavy drinking, alcohol craving, anxiety or depression. Study researcher Dr. Andy Jones said this suggests that “the current increasing use of baclofen as a treatment for alcohol use disorders is premature.”
People with an alcohol use disorder who participated in alternative mutual help groups, like LifeRing, Women for Sobriety, and SMART Recovery, fared as well at maintaining their sobriety as those who attended traditional 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, according to a study recently published in the Journal of Substance Use Treatment. The researchers also found that people in these groups had the best odds of successfully combating AUD when committing to abstinence rather than moderation as their goal.
Researchers trying to determine how to help patients adhere to medications like naltrexone for the treatment of alcohol use disorder found that some sort of daily contact – whether human or electronic – increased the odds of patients taking their medication.
The Scripps Research Institute has been awarded a $10 million grant by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) to study how long-term alcohol use changes the basic mechanisms of brain function, with the goal of using their findings to work to reverse those changes as a way to prevent relapse.
While some parents may think they are helping their teens to learn to drink responsibly by letting them drink alcohol under their supervision, a recent study found the opposite: that providing alcohol to children increases their risk of binge-drinking and other alcohol-related problems.
A recent longitudinal study, published in JAMA, found that being married to a partner with AUD directly increases the chances that the other partner will also develop AUD. Conversely, marrying a person without AUD has a protective effect against developing AUD. The study authors stated that their findings demonstrate how “close social bonds such as marriage can also powerfully influence, for better or worse, the risk for AUD.”
Alcohol has been found to play a larger part than previously thought in the risk of developing dementia, especially early-onset dementia. A study published in The Lancet Public Health found that alcohol use disorders were associated with a three-fold increase in the risk of developing all types of dementia. The authors stated that AUDs are a modifiable risk factor and therefore, screening for heavy drinking should be part of regular medical care, with intervention or treatment being offered when necessary.
While exercise alone did not directly help to diminish drinking levels of participants with AUD in a Danish study, the researchers did find that the more days the participants exercised, the less alcohol they drank at a six-month follow-up, suggesting exercise can play a role in AUD treatment.
Craving Scores, Early-Age Drinking Predict Relapse Risk (requires Medscape login)
Study finds scores on an alcohol craving assessment scale, combined with early-age drinking, were found to be reliable predictors of long-term relapse risk following discharge from a residential alcohol addiction treatment program.
Varenicline, a medication used to help people quit smoking, may reduce both alcohol and tobacco use in men with alcohol use disorder, although the same effect was not found in women.
In an effort to ensure that recovery homes are held to the same standards as other treatment facilities, Pennsylvania legislators passed a bill to allow state authorities to oversee licensing and certification of publicly funded recovery homes, which were previously subject only to local ordinances.
A new American Psychiatric Association (APA) guideline recommends the use of the medications naltrexone and acamprosate for the treatment of moderate to severe AUD and the possible use of topiramate and gabapentin if the other medications prove ineffective.
New York has created an advertising campaign to warn those seeking treatment for AUD to be on the lookout for false advertising and patient brokering referral schemes, informing people that referral fees are prohibited and only state certified professionals should make referrals to treatment centers.
Between 2006 and 2014, the number of visits to the emergency room for alcohol-related issues climbed over 60 percent, from 3.1 million to 5 million, with visits by women aged 45-64 years showing the largest increases, according to a study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. “We suspect the increase in [ER] visits is related to an increase in the intensity of alcohol use among a subset of drinkers,” said lead researcher Aaron White. “This trend is concerning given that females appear to be more susceptible to some of the detrimental health effects of alcohol.”
Two devices that now offer mobile verifiable alcohol testing services do so by wirelessly connecting professional-grade breathalyzers to a cloud-based web portal which receives a person’s blood alcohol concentration data and then can send that information on. “The ability to establish your blood alcohol concentration and send this information to a spouse, employer, literally anyone anywhere, proved the old saying that ‘Necessity is the mother of invention,” Stacey Sachs. V.P. of Marketing at BACtrack told The Sentinel. The companies offering the devices, BACtrack and Soberlink, offer monthly subscription services with different features and at various prices to the user.
Georgia-based company Hayver states that the most effective path to recovery is with daily check-ins, and the company has developed a real-time digital behavior-change platform to help people stay drug and alcohol-free. Their app tracks member’s activity to provide data that helps individuals to monitor themselves in order to prevent relapse. Havyer features daily check-ins, random urine screens, digital education tools, social support and accountability groups. It plans to add cryptocurrency rewards soon to motivate healthy behaviors and keep people on the path to recovery.
As binge drinking rates in America have increased over the past decades, so have the associated complications. In a NY Times opinion piece, Gabrielle Glaser discusses the implications of increased consumption, and solutions for getting drinking under control.
Prominent addiction expert and writer William White and Jason Schwartz, Clinical Director of Dawn Farm, discuss the importance of counselors having a deep, non-possessive love as the foundation of their addiction counseling relationships. They address a potential pitfall of the focus on evidence-based counseling practices: the loss of love. As they define it, this is the ability to not just accept and respect those with whom they work, but to love the person beneath this unlovable veneer. They state, “The guiding mantra of the best counselors is a very simple one: hate the disease, love the person.”
While about three-quarters of Americans drink at least on occasion, a recent international survey found that almost a third of the 72,000 people who responded reported that they would like to drink less alcohol over the next 12 months, and a third thought their doctor would tell them to cut down if they were honest about their drinking. Time explores the reasons some people want to cut back and how they are doing it.
In a Vox article, journalist German Lopez attempts to break down some of the reasons Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) works for some, but not others. His answer: It’s complicated. One of the main things he learns from talking to experts who have researched 12-step programs and AA is that one of the biggest factors in play for those for whom it does work is that the programs help foster changes in a person’s social network. Doing so allows them to connect with others who want to stop using drugs and alcohol and provides support for sobriety and a means to socialize without involving alcohol or drugs.