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8/29/14 7:00am

Morning Roundup: Aug. 29, 2014

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By Shawn Dwyer

alcohol and depression

8/28/14 7:30pm

What We Know, and Don’t Know, About Depression and Alcoholism

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At the time of his death, Robin Williams had been reportedly struggling with both severe depression and had completed several weeks of rehabilitation at Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center in Minnesota.

But Williams’ situation was not unusual. Nearly 28% of Americans with alcohol dependence also have a major depressive disorder, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Individuals with alcohol dependency are 3.9 times more likely to have a major depressive disorder than someone without the latter condition, and some studies have claimed that there is a genetic link between susceptibility to alcoholism and depression.

Despite this, treatment for individuals with both alcohol dependency and depression has not progressed much beyond the speculative phase. A Huffington Post feature on the subject outlined the central quandary of comorbidity with the two conditions: alcohol is a depressant, but also produces initial euphoric qualities. Scientists are unsure whether people drink to alleviate preexisting depressive feelings, or whether the depression causes them to drink. Unfortunately, the current approach for both the medical and scientific communities is to treat the conditions as separate entities and not part of an entropic cycle.

However, strides are being made to treat the combined conditions through a combination of different therapies and/or medications. Stephanie Gamble, Ph.D, an assistant psychiatry professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center, has launched pilot studies to determine if individuals with both alcohol dependency and depression will respond to both traditional substance abuse therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy. An uncontrolled study she conducted in 2013 found that the 14 test subjects—all women—showed significant improvement in their alcohol intake, depression, and interpersonal behavior over the course of a 32-week course.

Addiction psychiatrist Charles O’Brien, M.D of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, approached the situation through pharmacology. In a double blind controlled study conducted in 2010, he treated 170 participants in one of the following manners: by administering them with naltrexone (which reduces alcohol cravings), sertraline (which treats anxiety or depression), a combination of both drugs, and neither medication at all.

Of the four groups, the individuals who received both drugs had longer alcohol abstinence rates. O’Brien hopes that other research groups will follow his lead and conduct similar tests over longer periods of time. “The brain is the cause of all of this,” he noted. “Addiction is a brain disease. Depression is a brain disease. [And] not many doctors know about the brain.”

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By Paul Gaita

not guilty

8/28/14 5:30pm

Father Accused of Executing Drunk Driver Acquitted

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A Texas jury has acquitted a father who allegedly executed the drunk driver who killed his two young sons. 

As earlier reported, David Barajas and his two children, aged 11 and 12, were pushing a truck that had run out of gas when Jose Banda, driving drunk at the time, plowed into the children back in 2012. Texas prosecutors alleged that Barajas, "in a fit of rage" over his sons, went to his home and returned to the scene of the crash with a gun and shot Banda dead.

The prosecution had faced an uphill battle from the beginning. Not only did they face the sympathy the jury felt for a father who watched his two sons killed in front of him, authorities never found the murder weapon. Little physical evidence linked Barajas to Banda's shooting death—the most compelling of which was that Banda was likely killed by a .357 caliber gun and a box of such ammunition was found in Barajas' home.

Barajas' defense claimed that at the time, Barajas was only focused on one thing: saving his sons. There was also no gunpowder residue found on Barajas as there should have been if he fired a weapon.

The jury deliberated for three hours before returning with their decision to acquit Barajas.

“What the state’s perspective is and will always be is that if you or I or anyone we know had a horrible collision and killed another human being, that you get the fair review of the criminal justice system, not a roadside execution,” Brazoria County District Attorney Jeri Yenne says. "Three sons were lost that day. The state has compassion for every single one of them, the Barajas children and the Banda son."

Barajas, despite the crimes he was accused of, says he seeks closure and prays for Banda's family.

"They lost a son, too," Barajas says.

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By Bryan Le

in the genes

8/28/14 3:30pm

Sick of Hangovers? Consider Changing Your DNA

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A new study suggests that part of the reason why people experience hangovers after a night of drinking may be genetic.

Using telephone survey data of self-reported experiences with hangovers and alcohol consumption of about 4,000 middle-aged individuals from the Australian Twin Registry, the researchers searched for links between the study participants’ genetic makeups and the number of hangovers they reported experiencing in the past year.

Participants recounted the number of times they had been intoxicated in the past year in addition to their “hangover frequency” which is the number of days in the previous year they felt sick the morning after a night of drinking.

The results indicated that genetic factors account for 45% of the difference in hangover frequency in women and 40% in men. This means the individuals’ genetic makeups account for almost half of the reason why one individual has a hangover while another person doesn’t after consuming the same amount of alcohol.

The other half of the reason is likely influenced by factors unrelated to DNA such as the pace at which a person drinks, whether they eat while drinking, and their general alcohol tolerance.

The study’s findings could contribute to future research on alcohol addiction. “We have demonstrated that susceptibility to hangovers has a genetic underpinning,” said study leader Wendy Slutske, a psychology professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia told Live Science. “This may be another clue to the genetics of alcoholism.”

This research requires further and more in-depth examination, as it is limited by such shortcomings as its dependence on people’s memories of their drinking and hangovers that are more than likely unreliable, Slutske noted.

She explained that the next steps will be to identify the specific genes that contribute to hangover susceptibility. And if the genes associated with alcoholism also cause hangovers, identifying these genetic factors could help prevent alcohol addiction.

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By Victoria Kim

happy wife, happy life

8/28/14 1:00pm

Weed Can Reduce Domestic Violence in Married Couples

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A recent study has determined that married couples that use marijuana on a frequent basis appear to have a lower risk of domestic violence.

Researchers from Yale University, the University of Buffalo, and Rutgers University recruited 634 couples that had applied for marriage licenses in New York State between 1996 and 1999. The couples were then surveyed for the next nine years about their marijuana use over the course of a single year, as well as any incidents of what the study called intimate partner violence (IPV), which was defined as acts of physical aggression, such as slapping, hitting, or choking. Participants were also asked to detail any other drug use, including alcohol.

Researchers initially thought that marijuana use among married couples would contribute to a higher rate of IPV, based on studies that have connected alcohol or other substance abuse with domestic abuse. However, the results showed that incidents of IPV were significantly lower for both men and women who used marijuana more frequently over the course of the study period. Couples who both used marijuana on a frequent basis appeared to have the lowest risk for partner violence.

Researchers concluded that the decrease in violent events might be due in part to the dulling effect of marijuana on emotional responses, including aggressive or violent behavior. Whether this can be described as a positive effect of marijuana remains a subject of further research.

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By Paul Gaita

electronic cigarettes

8/28/14 10:30am

WHO Calls for Stronger Electronic Cigarette Regulation

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A report by the World Health Organization (WHO) has proposed an array of restrictions for electronic cigarettes aimed at reducing both their use among young people and efforts by the tobacco industry to find a greater foothold in the multi-billion dollar industry.

The report, released on August 26 and prepared for presentation by WHO at the United Nations Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, called for a ban on indoor use of e-cigarettes until concrete proof has been established that “exhaled vapor is proven to be not harmful to bystanders.” The report’s authors also called for stronger regulation to make sure that the products contain the same amount of nicotine, and that e-cigarettes sales to minors and candy-type flavors be prohibited.

The report also expressed concern over the involvement of major tobacco companies in the e-cigarette industry, citing Philip Morris International’s purchase of the UK’s Nicocigs as evidence of Big Tobacco’s “increasingly aggressive” interest in this new and lucrative market, which is currently estimated at $3 billion.

The e-cigarette lobby has already proven a potent force in legislative decisions regarding tobacco regulations, having already thwarted a European Commission proposal to regard their product as medicine. A similar proposal by the European Parliament to ban advertising, among other measures, is expected to go into effect without much of its original measures in 2016, due largely to lobbying by the industry.

The WHO report was hailed by many health experts, which hope that the findings will inform policy makers on how to properly legislate e-cigarettes. But others expressed concern that such restrictions will place e-cigarettes in the same category as regular cigarettes without addressing the devices’ potential to reduce exposure to harmful chemicals in tobacco or even reduce the number of smokers. But even if one or more legislative bodies take up the report’s proposals, there is no assurance that they will be signed into law in the near future.

The United Nations tobacco treaty, adopted in 2003 and designed to reduce the vast number of illnesses and deaths caused worldwide by tobacco use, was signed by President George W. Bush in 2004, but has yet to be ratified by the Senate. The Food and Drug Administration also proposed to extend its regulation of tobacco products to include e-cigarettes in April 2014, but also remains stalled. Meanwhile, more than a quarter of a million young people tried e-cigarettes between 2011 and 2013 after nearly a decade of declining smoking rates.

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By Paul Gaita

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