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alcoholism gene

9/11/12 2:31pm

The Problem With Genetic Testing for Alcoholism

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Testing positive can make you feel negative.
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Doctors may feel they're doing patients a service by informing them if they have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism. But a new study suggests that receiving this information can have a problematic effect—causing drinkers feelings of hopelessness, sadness and a heightened sense that they can't control their drinking. This raises particular concern over direct-to-consumer genetic tests for alcoholism that might have the power to change a person's emotional state, behavior and attitudes. "We have about 1,600 genetic tests available now," says psychologist Ilan Dar-Nimrod of the University of Sydney, who led the study. "We should have better knowledge about how to communicate these results in a manner that doesn't create harm." The study tested 160 undergraduates from the University of Rochester and gave each of them a bogus genetic test result, telling them whether or not they had a gene associated with alcoholism. The findings showed that people responded with emotional positivity when told they didn't have the gene. But they were emotionally negative—as well as less in-control over their subsequent drinking—after they were informed that they did have gene. Dar-Nimrod says this information is important because with the exception of a few genetic-related diseases, having a particular gene only increases the risk of getting a condition, by a small or uncertain amount in many cases. He says the media can bolster fears about "genetic determinism" when in reality, the risks are negligible.

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By McCarton Ackerman

Drug Epidemic

9/11/12 1:01pm

Synthetic Drugs Plague India

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A set of drugs and syringes are sold for as
little as 50 rupees ($.90) Photo via

Economics have switched the drugs of choice for residents of India from heroin and cocaine to opioids and prescription drugs, resulting in an epidemic that is now the country's fastest growing problem. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates there are 160,000 injecting drug users throughout the country, roughly one-third of whom are HIV positive. According to the UNODC's recently released World Drug Report 2011, this increase in drug use is also one of the least reported in developing countries. Heroin costs more than 10 times as much as pharmaceutical drugs in India, where chemists sell a set of three drugs and two syringes and needles for as little as 50 rupees ($.90). NGO workers say that although it's illegal to sell the drugs, it's standard practice for chemists to pay off the police. "It is a very big problem here. All my friends from when I was a teenager are users or dead," says Faqir, 32, who used to run a snack shop until his own drug habit forced him to stop. The epidemic has gotten so bad that wives and parents have been known to pay up to 5,000 rupees to have a user picked up against their will in the hope that their habit will be broken. "Every day there is a fight," says 45-year-old Ramesh Kumar. "Only my wife looks after my children. We have no money. I think first of the drugs and then only I think of them, but I can't stop."

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By McCarton Ackerman

Effects of alcohol

9/11/12 11:57am

North Korean Gets Drunk, Wakes Up in South

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Pulling a geographic Photo via

"Whiskey takes you to a better world," goes the saying. "But then the world you wake up in is worse than the one that you left." One hard-drinking North Korean may have found only the first part to be true. The man, thought to be in his 20s, was discovered by South Korean authorities on Sunday morning—drunk, wearing only his underwear, and hiding in somebody's house in the coastal border town of Gangwha. "The man said he crossed to the South, holding on to a floating object to waters off the coast of Gyodong Island," says a spokesman for the South Korean military. "The floating object is seen as a wooden board that drifted due to the flood in the North." This seemingly inadvertent act of intoxicated self-smuggling has opened up new possibilities for the man's future: after questioning by the South Korean Marine Corps, he'll be able to choose between returning to the secretive land of Kim Jong-un or remaining in the thriving democracy he woke up in. And the result of his last binge may make him think twice before his next one.

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By Will Godfrey

booze brain

9/11/12 10:59am

Binge Drinkers More Prone to Early Strokes

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You may want to do your brain a favor and
moderate. Photo via

If you were looking for another reason to avoid drinking your face off, a new study has found that binge drinking raises the risk for a bleeding stroke at a younger age. Published in the journal Neurology, French researchers discovered that people who drank three or more alcoholic drinks daily were more likely to have a stroke nearly a decade and a half earlier than those who drank less. Based on 540 people (average age 71) who'd had an intracerebral hemorrhage (a less common stroke that is caused by bleeding in the brain), 25% were identified as heavy drinkers—meaning they consume three or more drinks or 1.6 ounces of pure alcohol a day. The researchers also reviewed each of the participants' medical records and required them to take brain CT scans; they found that the heavy drinkers averaged age 60 when they had a stroke—as opposed to an average age of 74 amongst the moderate or non-drinkers. “The study does add to our knowledge that excessive drinking is bad for our health in a variety of ways, including increased risk of bleeding into the brain,” says Deepak L. Bhatt, MD, MPH, a heart doctor at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. “If someone enjoys drinking, I don’t discourage them, but I will caution them even more so after this study to make sure that the amount is considered moderate.”

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By Valerie Tejeda

headlines

9/11/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: September 11, 2012

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Mark Ruffalo plays a recovering sex addict in
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By May Wilkerson

Suicide Prevention

9/10/12 5:46pm

Gov. Anti-Suicide Plan Relies on Facebook

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Can Facebook save lives?
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This week is National Suicide Prevention Week, and the US government has released a new plan to help those struggling with self-harm and self-destruction—which of course are behaviors closely tied to addiction. The new strategy will rely heavily on a new Facebook service that will allow users to report suicidal comments made by friends; the plan is to then follow up with an email urging the friend to call a prevention hotline, or speak in confidence with an online counselor. "All too often, people in crisis do not know how—or who—to ask for help," says Marne Levine, Facebook's global vice president for public policy. "We have a unique opportunity to provide the right resources to our users in distress, when and where they need them most." Suicide is a mounting problem in the US, killing over 36,000 Americans a year—that's more than double the rate of death by homicide. Over eight million adults seriously contemplated taking their own lives last year, estimates the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. But experts say that encouraging people to talk about their feelings—especially with trained professionals—can save lives.

The new suicide prevention plan will also focus on the 23 million veterans in the US; the number of suicides in this group rose from to 10,888 in 2009 to 17,754 last year, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. "Suicide is one of the most challenging issues we face," says Army Secretary John McHugh. "In the Army, suicide prevention requires soldiers to look out for fellow soldiers. We must foster an environment that encourages people in need to seek help and be supported." The plan, which also includes $55.6 million in grant funding for prevention programs, is the first new scheme in over 10 years to tackle suicide. "It takes the entire community to prevent suicides. It's not just one individual," says US Surgeon General Regina Benjamin. "We all can play a role."

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By Chrisanne Grise

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