Partying hard this holiday season? You may want to slow down: for every day of holiday overindulgence, you lose at least 30 minutes of your life, researchers estimate. Too much TV, alcohol, red meat and smoking are all responsible for shortening lifespans—and the holidays see an increase in all of those activities. A new study published in the British Medical Journal attempts to illustrate the impact. Lead researcher David Spiegelhalter, Professor of Biostatistics at Cambridge University, England, explains habits like this in terms of "microlives"—30-minute periods of life expectancy. Using a wealth of stats and previous studies, he calculated that one microlife is lost when a lifelong smoker smokes two cigarettes, for example. Activities like drinking a second or third alcoholic drink in one day, watching large amounts of television, or eating fatty foods also shorten your expected lifespan. In contract, time spent exercising, eating healthily, and having just a single alcoholic drink in one day—but not a drop more—add to your life expectancy. (Factors like being female or being born in a healthy country like Sweden also help—but are unfortunately less voluntary.) Spiegelhalter acknowledges that his calculations aren't an exact science and don't apply to everyone, as they don't take into account genetics and other lifestyle factors. But he hopes his research will encourage people to look at how their choices today impact their future prospects. "[The assessments] bring long-term effects into the present and help counter temporal discounting, in which future events are considered of diminishing importance," he says.
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"Whoonga" consists of antiretroviral medications mixed with street drugs for recreational use—and its popularity is undermining HIV treatment in South Africa, according to a new report. HIV meds are commonly crushed, combined with illegal drugs and smoked, and this practice causes users to build up an immunity that prevents the drugs from effectively treating HIV. "One large study showed 7 or 8% of people with HIV were coming in with pre-treatment resistance" to antiretroviral drugs, writes Harvard School of Public Health researcher Dr. David Grelotti in the report. Whoonga typically involves drugs like heroin or marijuana along with common HIV medications like efavirenz (sold in the US as Sustiva), which is known to cause vivid and colorful dreams. Another commonly abused antiretroviral drug is ritonavir (brand name Norvir), which is thought to prolong the effects MDMA or ecstasy. Whoonga seems to have become widespread in parts of South Africa around 2010, although recreational use of HIV medications has been documented elsewhere in the world for years. Grelotti hopes that drawing attention to the issue may encourage doctors to consider exploring alternative HIV medications that are less easily abused. In addition to building an immunity, the recreational use of antiretroviral meds represents a waste for patients in poorer countries like South Africa, where these drugs are already in short supply. As Grelotti points out, "each time a medication is misused, you assume somebody else is not getting it for appropriate use."
The holidays may become an excuse to indulge for many—but for compulsive shoplifters, a very different kind of temptation can become almost impossible to resist. Estimates suggest that approximately one-third of shoplifting in any given year takes place between Thanksgiving and the beginning of January, with the heightened commercialism of the season a key aspect. “There are people who have already been shoplifting who find this to be a very tempting time because there’s a lot of pressure to buy or to give,” Terrence Shulman tells The Fix. He's the founder and director of The Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft, Spending and Hoarding, and a recovering shoplifter himself of 22 years' standing. Increased financial, relational and emotional stress during this time—along with “winter blahs” creeping in—make people more likely to steal, he says. But it’s not just experienced thieves fighting the urge; many people will also shoplift for the first time during the holidays. “Because the stores are very crowded and the lines are longer, people are waiting in lines and they’re impatient and they maybe are thinking they can’t afford to get all these gifts,” says Shulman. “And they make an excuse like ‘I’m buying all this stuff, so what’s the harm if I take this one thing?’”
For anyone dealing with compulsive stealing issues during the holidays, Shulman recommends avoiding stores as much as possible; shop online, or order gift cards if possible. And if you must go to a physical store, bring someone else along with you. “I would also encourage people to remember the true spirit of the holidays,” he adds. “It may be about giving, but that doesn’t mean giving gifts, per se. You can give your time. You can give your love. You can create a gift. You can go out to dinner or a movie or a concert. There are a lot of ways you can give a gift without having to go into a store and buy a thing.” If you have children or family members expecting lots of physical gifts, have a talk with them ahead of time to explain that this holiday is going to be different: “Reassure kids that this has nothing to do with anything they did. Say ‘I don’t love you less, I’m not punishing you, but money is a little tight and I realize in the past I’ve gone a little overboard,’” he says. Instead, he suggests doing activities together as a family to make lasting memories. And of course, there are always support groups to help you out. “You’re basically in charge of how your holidays go,” says Shulman. “A lot of people are afraid to be assertive and take care of themselves, and there’s this pressure to give, give, give. But what about giving to ourselves in a healthy way?”
Forking out for addiction treatment early to avoid further costs down the line is paying off in the state of Oregon. National research shows that treatment leads to long-term savings in the areas of crime, employment and medical costs—an estimated $7 saved for each dollar invested. "There's absolutely solid, irrefutable evidence that there is a savings—always—in funding addiction treatment and prevention," says Karen Wheeler, addiction programs administrator for the Oregon Health Authority. "You pay one way or the other." With this attitude, Oregon has established one of the most progressive programs in the country in recent years: Oregon Health Authority spends $51 million a year on substance abuse treatment, up $11 million from six years ago, and the state's Medicaid program covers outpatient, detox and residential care for the poor and disabled.
By way of contrast, Kentucky—a state with a similar population of about 4 million people—spends only $29 million a year on treatment, and substance-abuse issues generally aren't covered there by Medicaid. Oregon admits twice as many addicts for treatment as Kentucky—48,833 compared with 21,474, according to the latest federal data from 2009—and provides more of them with treatment in long-term, residential facilities (10% vs. 1.1%). So perhaps it's unsurprising that fatal overdose rates are much lower in Oregon: 11.7 per 100,000 people in 2008 (the most recent year available), compared with 17.9 in Kentucky, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We look at addiction as a chronic, relapsing brain disease," says Therese Hutchinson of the Oregon Health Authority. "It is a physical health issue, and you treat it like a physical health issue." While Oregon still has waiting lists of two to four weeks for some of its residential care centers (compared to upwards of three months in Kentucky), the state proactively seeks alternative options for patients, placing them in other available programs and support groups. Oregon's state, county and municipal governments, and its treatment providers, have created a coordinated network of support to help get people into treatment. Hutchinson adds, "When you have a system that values cooperation, you're able to work toward a common vision and common goals." Even outside of the system, Oregonians are known for supporting addiction causes through non-profit organizations and community events—including Portland's Potluck in the Park, which serves 400-600 hot meals every weekend to addicts and others in need.
A 22-year-old Chinese man faces serious repercussions after breaking into a mausoleum in search of valuables to fund his addiction to online gaming. The man, known until his trial as Xiao Hai, is so addicted to video games that he often can't distinguish between fiction and reality, sources claim. After moving from his home village to Fujian province, Hai's failed search for employment caused him to start begging and stealing. Eventually, he took up the potentially lucrative practice of robbing graves, which led him to the local village mausoleum, where he broke into funeral urn boxes, stealing jewelry and other valuables. According to police, he caused at least $10,000-worth of damage and left people's ashes scattered throughout the mausoleum. After his arrest, Hai told authorities that he had no remorse, because he’d do whatever he needed to get money for video games. Although the Chinese government has made attempts to limit gaming time and access for its citizens, online gaming addiction remains a serious problem throughout the country.