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overage drinking

7/19/12 12:11pm

Senior Binge Drinkers Risk Cognitive Decline

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One is the smartest number. Photo via

If you're getting up there in years, you may want to adhere to a daily two-drink maximum, or risk losing some marbles. Older adults who drink heavily may be at a higher risk for cognitive declines that could lead to dementia, according to new research. A study recently presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Vancouver followed 5,075 U.S. adults (ages 65 and older) for eight years, tracking their memory and cognitive function via telephone survey. Results showed that the participants who were binge drinking (consuming four or more drinks on one occasion) at least twice a month, were two and a half times more likely to experience memory loss and cognitive decline. "It's not just how much you drink but the pattern of your drinking," says lead study author Dr. Ian Lang. "Older people need to be aware, if they do binge-drink, of the risks and they should change their behaviors." An earlier report conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January found that one in six adults in the US are binge drinkers, and surprisingly, adults aged 65-and-over were the most likely group to binge drink. "Policymakers and public health specialists should know that binge drinking is not just a problem among adolescents and younger adults; we have to start thinking about older people when we are planning interventions to reduce binge drinking," says Lang. However, alcohol in smaller quantities may not be so bad—previous studies have shown that drinking moderate amounts (up to two drinks for men, and one for women) may actually reduce the risk of dementia.

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By Valerie Tejeda

Legalization of Marijuana

7/19/12 10:52am

Morgan Freeman Slams Pot Prohibition

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Could you argue with this man? Photo via

Morgan Freeman has been a long-standing supporter of marijuana. He once referred to ganja as "God's own weed" in an interview, so it may come as little surprise that the actor has spoken out, vociferously, against the criminalization of pot. "It’s just the stupidest law possible, given history," he said. "You don’t stop people from doing what they want to do, so forget about making it unlawful. You’re just making criminals out of people who aren’t engaged in criminal activity. And we’re spending zillions of dollars trying to fight a war we can’t win! We could make zillions, just legalize it and tax it like we do liquor." Freeman has rarely held back during interviews in recent years. The actor told CNN's Piers Morgan last year that the Tea Party "is a racist thing" and gave a separate interview last June in which he claims that "we invented God."   

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By McCarton Ackerman

Headlines

7/19/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: July 19, 2012

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Dangerous in the wrong hands
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By Chrisanne Grise

Sober stars

7/18/12 5:36pm

Sober MasterChef Contestant Turns in Her Apron

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Stacey Amagrande, MasterChef competitor.
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Last night ended the deep run of sober-and-proud Stacey Amagrande in the third season of FOX’s MasterChef. The 29-year-old “home cook” worked as a farmer’s market manager prior to landing her spot as one of 18 amateurs competing for the MasterChef title. Viewers were introduced to Amagrande during an early “audition” episode, in which the judges initially voted her down—until judge Joe Bastianich changed his mind and headed out into the audition anteroom to offer her a MasterChef apron after all.

It was an outcome that Amagrande could never have imagined when she was a kid in Apple Valley, Calif. “They always had a saying growing up in the High Desert that you were either stuck-up, fucked-up or knocked-up—and I fell under that fucked-up category, unfortunately,” said the spirited, tattooed chef during the audition show, copping to a liter-of-vodka-a-day habit. But no longer. Amagrande got sober, and attributes her new-found confidence to that change. “My sobriety means more to me than anything now, because I’m not afraid to do anything.”

Speaking with The Fix, Amagrande says she started smoking pot at 12 years old, drinking at 14 and doing speed at 15. Although she managed to drop the drugs, she later became a full-blown alcoholic, with a serious physical dependence on liquor. A little over two years ago, after a particularly bad six- to nine-month period of vowing on a daily basis to quit “tomorrow,” Amagrande says she “looked in the mirror and saw my soul was depleted.” She adds, “It was in that moment when I said, ‘Is it going to be tomorrow or is it going to be today?’”

That was one Friday in May 2010. The following Monday, she checked into Cedar House Life Change Center, in Bloomington, Calif. (Funnily enough, Amagrande is of the mind that certain aspects of life in rehab were good prep work for starring in a reality-TV show.) When she left Cedar House three months later, clean and sober—and with a rediscovered love for yoga, Pilates and running—she also threw herself into cooking. “It was the only thing I could think of that made me dizzy with every part of me,” she explains. “When I’m cooking, all of my senses are actively working and enlightened. I’m using my creativity and I’m instantly gratified.”

Two years sober today, and waiting to hear back regarding an executive chef job on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, Amagrande feels it's her responsibility to be open about her journey from active alcoholism to sobriety. “I think it’s kind of my duty not only to not be ashamed, because I’ve moved forward in my life, but to be an example,” she says. Although she doesn’t participate in AA—“It really just wasn’t for me,” she explains, preferring instead high daily doses of exercise—she doesn’t judge those who do: “I feel like everyone needs to follow their own path.”

The next new episode of MasterChef airs Monday, July 23, on FOX, at 9pm Eastern/8pm Central.

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By Hunter R. Slaton

Mexican drug cartels

7/18/12 4:50pm

Mexican Cartel Becomes a Bizarre Cult

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An altar for Saint Nazario. Photo via

Mexico’s drug war has brought pain and suffering upon countless thousands. It's also helped a few hundred participants find a new spiritual path. The death of one of the country’s most feared drug traffickers, Nazario Moreno—known as “El Mas Loco” or “The Craziest One”—has led to the creation of a strange cult-like group known as the "Knights Templar." Moreno’s cartel, formerly called “La Familia Michoacana,” is one of the biggest traffickers of crystal meth to the US, and boasts an army of around 1,200 gunmen. But its late leader still considered himself an evangelical Christian and was known for spreading the gospel. When he was shot dead by police in December 2010, he had been handing out washing machines and cars as Christmas presents at a festival.

His legacy lives on now through the Knights Templar. While the group’s exact religious beliefs are unclear, police have found plastic helmets used in initiation ceremonies as well as altars topped with three-foot high statues of Moreno, shown in golden medieval armor and carrying a sword. Meanwhile, the local “Prayer to Saint Nazario” portrays Moreno as a holy being: "Give me holy protection, through Saint Nazario, Protector of the poorest, Knights of the people, Saint Nazario, give us life," it goes. And members continue their idol's generous giving: "They help people out by giving them presents like bags of cement,” says an anonymous undercover military intelligence officer. Nevertheless, the Knights Templar are believed to be behind the majority of the 480 drug-related murders in Michoacan in the last year and a half—including dozens of decapitations and dismemberments.

After Moreno's death, Servando Gomez—one of the top lieutenants and a former rural school teacher—took over the gang and renamed it the Knights Templar, after the medieval military that protected Christians during the Crusades. But some members chose to stick with La Familia Michoacana and have now become the Knights’ rivals—10 people were killed this month in a shoot-out between them. The Knights apparently follow a strict code of 53 commandments, including instructions like: "The Knights Templar will establish an ideological battle and defend the values of a society based on ethics” and "Any knight who betrays the Templars will receive the maximum punishment, their properties will be taken and the same fate will befall their family.” Looks like president-elect Enrique Pena Nieto will be needing that new drug war plan when he takes office in December.

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By Chrisanne Grise

Social Smoking

7/18/12 4:01pm

Do Cigarette Taxes Drive Us to Drink?

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Chasing the buzz, one way or another.
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For those who smoke "socially" only while drinking, a cigarette is the cherry on top of the sundae of inebriation—giving just the right combo of stimulants and downers to hit that "sweet spot." But as cigarette taxes mount, rates of smoking have fallen—and a new study suggests that people may be drinking more booze to compensate. The study, published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, shows that higher cigarette taxes correlate with higher rates of alcohol consumption—especially among adults aged 21-29, who are increasingly likely to binge drink when cigarette prices rise. The same association was seen in people older than 65, although this demographic is far less likely to binge. However, the study also tracked smoking rates and found that while overall rates have dropped, the twenty-something category is not actually smoking lessjust drinking more. Perhaps it's "to ease the lamentation of dropping $11 on a pack of cigarettes," as one source suggests. The report concludes: "Researchers, practitioners, advocates, and policymakers should work together to understand and prepare for these unintended consequences of tobacco taxation policy."

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By Gabrielle Wuhl

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