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international spirits

6/18/13 5:12pm

What Is the World Getting Drunk On?

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A lot of vodka goes down in Russia.
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Vodka, rum, Scotch whisky, gin and tequila are the world's most imbibed spirits. And The Economist has compiled a handy series of graphs to show who's getting drunk on what, where. During 2012, the world drank 4.44 billion liters of vodka, 1.47 billion liters of rum, 860 million liters of Scotch, 440 million liters of gin and 230 million liters of tequila. The United States seems to hit the bottle pretty hard—coming in second in total (though not per-capita) consumption of the first four of these spirits. And more tequila is consumed in the US than any other country, even beating out Mexico, where the agave-based spirit was born—although Mexicans still drink comfortably more of it per person: .63 liters in 2012. You may not have heard that gin is hugely popular in the Philippines, where the average person drinks more of it than anywhere else on this list. Meanwhile, the French turn out to be big Scotch drinkers. But you'll be less surprised to hear that per-capita rum consumption in Cuba is ahead of the pack, at 4.9 liters per person in 2012. And you probably already knew that the world's top consumer of vodka is Russia—Russians drank vodka at a staggering average rate of 13.9 liters per citizen in 2012, accounting for not far off half of total global consumption. Despite its massive alcohol market, China is notably missing from these charts, because its national liquor, baijiu, accounts for 99.5% of sales there. Click the graph below to see the bigger picture:

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By Bryan Le

caffeine addiction

6/18/13 4:23pm

Coffee's Energy Boost Is a Sign That You're Addicted

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Are you a coffee junkie? Photo via

Those who swear by coffee in the morning may not be getting as much of a caffeine "perk" as they think. New research shows that the morning ritual could be a mild form of drug dependency and that the feeling of boosted energy could be the body fighting caffeine withdrawal symptoms like fatigue and mental fogginess. A key study involved a group of 300 volunteers—half who identified as moderate to high caffeine drinkers, while the other half had a low caffeine intake. They were then split into two random groups and given either a placebo or coffee. While the regular coffee drinkers showed an increased alertness after the coffee intake, they were no more alert than the non-coffee drinkers who had the placebo. "People who consume caffeine regularly will become dependent on it. If you take caffeine away from them, they will function below par," says Peter Rogers, professor of biological psychology at Bristol University and a leading caffeine expert. "They just don't function normally without the drug on board. If it's your first tea or coffee of the day, it gets you back to normal, but beyond that you don't get much more of a kick."

Caffeine stops a brain chemical known as adenosine from having an effect, which leads to caffeine withdrawal effects after a few hours. Rogers says this is due to caffeine narrowing blood vessels in the brain, which leads to an increase in blood flow and triggers a headache once it's no longer consumed. Another study by Rogers involving 300 volunteers found that while coffee will keep users awake, it doesn't do anything to improve their alertness or reaction time. A paper by Jack James, professor of psychology at Reykjavik University, even argued that regular caffeine intake is responsible for 14% of premature deaths to coronary heart disease and 20% of premature deaths due to stroke. However, coffee consumption has also been linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer, while a study by Harvard researchers last year suggested that moderate coffee intake (four cups per day) reduced the risk of heart failure.

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By McCarton Ackerman

boozy politics

6/18/13 3:01pm

"Drunk" Minister Halts Ukraine Parliament Meeting

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Did the minister hit the sauce? Photo via

A Ukraine parliament budget hearing was disrupted earlier today when a deputy finance minister was accused of being drunk. After Anatoly Myarkovsky's presentation of the government's 2012 budget performance, deputies from Ukraine's "rowdy opposition" interrupted a Q&A session calling out: "He's drunk." And another shouted: "Anyone within five meters can tell he reeks like someone who has been drinking vodka. Mr Speaker, go and sniff yourself." Speaker Volodymyr Rybak declined, saying it was not his responsibility to check on the behavior of officials or deputies. But he suspended the budget hearing to determine whether or not Myarkovsky was intoxicated. By this time, the accused "drunk" had reportedly left the chamber, and was absent when the hearing resumed several hours later. Finance Minister Yuri Kolobov told deputies that Myarkovsky was in the hospital undergoing medical examination. A deputy from the ruling Regions party said the claims were false. "There wasn't any smell of alcohol coming from the deputy minister," Volodymyr Makeyenko told reporters, "I have known him for 20 years and he's a responsible person. These allegations are just an attempt by the opposition to undermine (parliamentary) proceedings." Ukraine's parliament chamber is known to house a range of antics, which have in the past included egg hurling, punching, bloody faces, torn suits, and deputies carried out on stretchers.

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By Victoria Kim

opioid addiction

6/18/13 1:52pm

Why Do Certain People Get Hooked on Painkillers?

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Why do some get hooked? Photo via

A missing brain enzyme could be responsible for painkiller addiction, according to a new study. With prescription drug abuse reaching epidemic levels, researchers at the University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles examined why some people are more vulnerable to opioid addiction than others. Opioids are produced naturally in the body, but addiction occurs when synthetic opioids—found in heroin and prescription medications like morphine and codeine—alter brain chemical balance. The researchers used mice and eliminated an enzyme called prohormone convertase 2 (PC2)—which converts pre-hormonal substances into active hormones in certain parts of the brain. Past research by the same team found that PC2 levels increase after long-term morphine treatment. “This raises the possibility that PC2-derived peptides may be involved in some of the addiction parameters related to morphine," says Theodore C. Friedman, MD, PhD, chairman of the internal medicine department at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles. After knocking out the PC2 enzyme in mice, Friedman and his team analyzed the effects of morphine on the brain. Their results show that concentrations of MOR—the mu opioid receptor that morphine normally binds to—were higher in mice lacking PC2. "In this study, we found that PC2 knockout mice have higher levels of MOR in brain regions related to drug addiction," Friedman says. "We conclude that PC2 regulates endogenous opioids involved in the addiction response and in its absence, up-regulation of MOR expression occurs in key brain areas related to drug addiction." The researchers see these results as promising, and are expected to conduct more studies of this nature in the near future.

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By Valerie Tejeda

liquor ads

6/18/13 1:09pm

Las Vegas Liquor Store Removes "Offensive" Billboard

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Funny? Photo via

A Las Vegas liquor store is removing a billboard that reads: "Alcohol: It's cheaper than therapy" after it pissed off passers by and sparked a Change.org petition. The owner of Lee's Discount Liquor, Kenny Lee, says the billboard was meant to complement the business's comedic TV ads, one which featured a celebrity cameo by NFL legend Mike Ditka. But locals didn't find the message so funny. Some petitioned for the billboard to be removed, claiming it was insensitive to alcohol's dangers including "broken families" and fatal DUI accidents. "With the alcohol problems Las Vegas residents and others have, the billboard encouraging alcohol consumption versus seeking therapy is a socially irresponsible message to everyone—children, teens, adults, and the victims of alcohol misuse," reads the petition. Lee wrote to the Las Vegas Sun to say that he would take down the controversial ad, which his father, who founded the liquor store, also did not find amusing. "Trust me, I heard an earful from my dad," Lee wrote. But not everyone was offended: an online poll provided by a local music radio station asked people if they were offended by Lee's billboard: 81% responded "It's a joke. Take it easy." While 18% said "Alcohol is nothing to joke about."

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By Victoria Kim

love addiction

6/18/13 11:00am

Rihanna Is "Going to Rehab for Love Addiction"

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Brown and Rihanna at the 2013 Grammys
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Pop star Rihanna is reportedly checking into The Ranch clinic in Tennessee for a "heartbreak therapy course" to help her move on from her turbulent on-again, off-again romance with singer Chris Brown. The Ranch's "Women's Love and Sex Addiction Treatment Program" is a 12-step style inpatient program that helps women who struggle with "attracting troubled, addicted, abusive or otherwise emotionally unavailable partners" by using a variety of treatments ranging from counseling to equine therapy. "Rihanna is still desperately in love with Chris. It's like she's obsessed with him and, although he's told her it's over, she just can't get over him," a source told the UK's Grazia magazine. "After talking it through with a psychotherapist, Rihanna is now considering doing a 12-step programme to get rid of her demons." Rihanna would not be the first celebrity to seek treatment for this condition: Tiger Woods' mistress Rachel Uchitel was coping with a sex and love addiction during the 2010 season of Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. Rihanna, 25, and Brown, 24, began dating in 2006, but split in 2009 when he infamously assaulted her after a pre-Grammy party. They became romantically involved again last January, but reportedly split in April after Brown continued to spend time with his ex-girlfriend and declared that he was in love with "two women." The tumultuous relationship may also be taking a toll on her career; Rihanna reportedly took the stage two hours late for a recent UK show in Birmingham after partying until 3 am the night before. Last month, she was booed by fans in Boston for keeping them waiting three hours for a rescheduled show and not providing an opening act.

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By McCarton Ackerman

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