Nordic drugmaker H. Lundbeck reports that its anti-alcoholism treatment, nalmefene, hugely helps heavy drinkers to cut their alcohol consumption. The drug has been submitted to the European Medicine Agencies; if approved, it'll become the first new medicine sold to treat heavy drinking in over 15 years. Final-stage clinical trials showed that nalmefene helps curb drinking more than a placebo; Those who stayed the drug throughout the study period reported 63% fewer heavy drinking days and a 64% reduction in total consumption. Nalmefene works by blocking brain signals that make activities like drinking feel good. Patients taking the medication are physically able to continue drinking; it's just that they wish to do less of it, which may rile those who advocate abstinence. “This is a potential revolution,” says David Nutt, professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London. “Some people, like Alcoholics Anonymous, will be completely against it. But others will welcome it as a way to control their drinking.” One potential drawback of nalmefene is a drop-out rate caused by symptoms like dizziness, insomnia and nausea—just 142 of 302 patients on the drug completed the study, compared with 205 of 296 patients on the placebo. According to the World Health Organization, Europeans drink 3.2 gallons of alcohol per person per year; that's double the global average and 40% boozier than people in the Americas.
Numerous states are currently observing National Problem Gambling Awareness Week, a grassroots outreach campaign presented by the National Council on Problem Gambling to educate the public and about the issue. According to the NPGAW website, 2-3% of the US population—that's six to nine million Americans—will have a gambling problem in any given year. "With the convenience and prevalence of gambling, signs that a person may be struggling with what we refer to as a process addiction to gambling may go undetected," says Dr. Stephen Grinstead, a therapist who specializes in addiction. "It is important to identify the signs and symptoms of addiction and seek professional help if needed." According to the NCPG, even those who gamble recreationally (less than five times a year) are significantly more likely than those who don't to have mental health disorders, substance abuse problems, or both. And an estimated one in five pathological gamblers attempts suicide—a higher rate than for any other addictive disorder. The campaign also deals with the relatively new epidemic of youth gambling addiction, with 60-80 percent of high school students gambling in the last year and nearly five percent of youth ages 12-17 meeting at least one of the criteria of having a gambling problem. For online and community support, fact sheets and other resources, visit the NPGAW and NCPG websites.
Both genetics and environment play an important role in whether or not an adopted child will have substance abuse problems, according to a new study—which obviously has wider-reaching ramifications. Researchers in Sweden surveyed over 18,000 adopted kids, and found that those whose biological parents struggled with substance abuse were twice as likely to have such problems themselves. The risk was also heightened significantly for those children whose adoptive families had alcohol problems. The findings clearly indicate that both biological and environmental factors play an important role in determining whether people develop substance abuse problems. "For someone at low genetic risk, being in a bad environment conveys only a modestly increased risk of drug abuse," says Dr. Kenneth S. Kendler, professor of psychiatry and human genetics at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, the study's lead author. "But if you are at high genetic risk, this can put your risk for drug abuse much higher." Dr. Lukshmi Puttanniah, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, who wasn't involved with the study, has a slightly different take: "A child who is adopted, just like a child who is biological, does carry a certain genetic risk,” he says. “But this shows that the environment they're being raised in and how their genetic risk interacts with that is probably much more important for the potential development of any disease, including substance abuse and dependence.” Both adoptive and biological parents can minimize the risk of their kids turning to drugs by providing a secure home environment, with minimal exposure to substances.
Unknown to the hordes of foreign tourists who flock to its idyllic beaches, the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar has been ravaged by heroin imported from Asia. But now groups of recovering addicts there have joined together to help fellow addicts get clean at self-regulated "sober houses." The program was started by Suleiman Mauly, who spent four years living and using on the streets and has been clean for six years. The $100-a-month sober houses provide a cheap alternative to rehab and a safe haven from the drug-addled streets and unforgiving law enforcement. The idea that addiction is a health issue, not a criminal one, is novel in Tanzania, as is the sober house model: “It’s a new phenomenon in East Africa, whereby drug addicts take responsibility to run the system" says Mauly. "Recovering addicts are in charge, from the guard, the kitchen, running sessions, everything." Activities on offer at the houses include yoga, acupuncture and art therapy, empowering addicts to reclaim their lives, and to help themselves and others. "For someone who is doing the 12-step program, and then you give him another responsibility, he feels high self-esteem because he’s not nothing," says Mauly. "You are someone."
- Anti-Binge Drinking Drug Helps Cut Intake [Bloomberg]
- Biden Visits Mexico, Honduras Amid Calls to Debate Drug Strategy [Bloomberg]
- Mexicans Fear 'Losing' Country to Zetas Drug Cartel [CBC]
- Heroin Addiction Rising in Metro Detroit Suburbs [Detroit Free Press]
- Official War History Says Alcohol Abuse Posed Problems for Australians Fighting in Vietnam [Washington Post]
- Drunk Driving: 585 Caught in Four days [Times of India]
- Initiative to Curb Drinking, Foster Family Atmosphere at St. Patrick's Day Parade Gains Support [Boston.com]