North Americans born after World War II have faced greater risk of developing alcoholism and engaging in “risky drinking practices,” such as binge-drinking, a new review of multiple studies from Columbia University has found. Claiming to be among the first scientists to take a systematic look at published information about age-group effects on alcoholism across time, gender, and geographic location, researchers examined 31 peer-reviewed studies on alcohol consumption conducted across six countries. In addition to finding that people born post-WWII are at higher risk of alcohol disorders, they also found that alcoholism among women is increasing—not just because of the traditional idea that women metabolize alcohol faster than men, but also because of changes in laws and social norms, the increasing availability of alcohol, and improvements in women’s economic status. In other words, more post-WWII women earn their own money, so they can buy their own booze. “The literature on alcohol consumption indicates that younger birth cohorts, especially women, are increasingly at risk for the development of alcohol use disorders,” said Katherine M. Keyes, Ph.D., a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Epidemiology at the Mailman School and the study’s first author. “Traditionally, gender differences are explained by biological differences in the ability of the body to metabolize alcohol and other biological mechanisms. These results suggest that the magnitude of gender differences changes over time, highlighting an important role for societal factors.” The study, to be published in December's issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, emphasizes the greater likelihood of women developing long-term health problems due to alcoholism and calls for public health efforts to target heavy drinking in women.
If you were on the road in Pennsylvania last Thursday, thank your lucky stars you weren't mown down. Inebriated Ohioville resident Mark Grove was arrested after driving down the street in his lawn tractor while drunk. Police received a call reporting an "out of control male." They caught up with Grove, 44, driving his tractor along the middle of the road—in an attempt to avoid suspicion, he had filled his coffee mug full of beer and balanced it on the dash. Experiencing a moment of clarity when he was approached by an officer, Grove declared: "I'm drunk. Just take me home." But the cops decided to arrest him instead. At that point Grove allegedly kicked one of the officers. And once he'd been bundled inside a police vehicle, he then headbutted the squad car partition. The malevolent mower has been charged with drunken driving and assaulting a police officer. Pennsylvanian grass is breathing a sigh of relief.
To mark National Recovery Month, The Fix is teaming up with Phoenix House to host a mass Twitter debate today (September 21) from 3-4pm EST. The wide-ranging theme is Different Paths to Recovery and we'll cover areas as varied as therapies and fellowships, harm reduction, spirituality, and how recovery itself should be defined. We've lined up a host of experts in the field to participate and share their views—we've linked to a few of their Twitter handles below, as well as some of our own, so you can check them out and follow them. So how do you join in? It's easy, as long as you have a Twitter account—and if you don't, it's not too late to get one. Make sure you're following @_thefix and @PhoenixHouse, then tweet your responses to the questions you see appearing on your feed—please remember to write #drugchat in each tweet you send, so others can follow the conversation. This is just one of the ways in which The Fix is becoming more interactive—we want to hear your views!
- Rogue Pharmacies Banking on Oxycodone [CBS News]
- Boy, 13, Sues Livonia Over Forced Alcohol Breath-Test [Detroit Free Press]
- Charlie Sheen Roast Draws Record-Setting 6.4 Million Viewers [Reuters]
- Former Pro-Wrestler Faces Steroid and Ecstasy Charges [WRAL.com]
- 56 Colby Students Face Alcohol Charges After Wild Party [Huffington Post]
- Smuggler Had 2 Kg of Coke in His Shoes [Fox News]
- Missouri Kindergartener Brings Crack Pipe, Meth for Show-and-Tell [Reuters]
We're all familiar with the idea—or even the experience—that drunkenness causes cringeworthy coordination loss until we sober up. But more worryingly, a new study claims clumsiness and lack of balance are apparent even in alcoholics who've been sober for years. Researchers at Neurobehavioral Research in Hawaii divided 200 human guinea pigs into three groups: people with no history of alcoholism; alcoholics several weeks into sobriety; and alcoholics with an average of seven years' sober life between them. Everyone performed balance tests including standing heel-to-toe with folded arms for 60 seconds, standing on one leg, walking along a line, and repeating all this with their eyes shut. The recently-sober group fared worst—this was expected, with balance problems often observed in detox and rehab facilities. But surprisingly, the not-alcoholic group significantly outperformed the long-term-sober group, particularly in the tests performed with closed eyes. Scientists previously believed balance problems wouldn't last this long. "There's an 80 to 90 percent recovery, but there's still some residual effects," said Dr. George Fein, the study's principle investigator. Dr. Kevin P. Hill of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment Center at McLean Hospital, Mass., said the study implied "a point of no return where the brain cannot recover," while indicating damage to the cerebellum in the brain. He added that alcoholics may "permanently lose balance and coordination." Dr. Ken Thompson of Caron Treatment Centers noted that, "In the first year of recovery, generally, more minor accidents occur than in the year preceding." But more optimistically, he maintained that the balance problems for long-term recovering alcoholics "might not be clinically significant in the majority of clients." The good news is that such problems diminish with time—but they may never disappear.
Big whistle-blowing lawsuits often highlight unethical practices in the pharmaceutical industry. But a new investigation—published by The Washington Post in collaboration with the nonprofit investigative fund ProPublica—claims they rarely stop doctors mis-prescribing meds, including notoriously addictive painkillers like oxycodone. Under federal law, drug companies may not market drugs to treat conditions other than those the FDA approves—you can’t advertise antipsychotics to treat dementia in patients who don’t have signs of schizophrenia, for example. Yet that's what Eli Lilly pleaded guilty to doing last year, settling a class-action lawsuit for $1.4 billion—it turned out that nursing homes were giving antipsychotic drugs to broad swathes of their clientele. Other lawsuits target the kickbacks that drug manufacturers give to doctors for (over)prescribing their medications: last year, Alpharma paid $42.5 million to the government to dodge a lawsuit that was set to reveal such payments for its morphine-based painkiller, Kadian. These lawsuits can result in big payoffs from drug companies, but it's much harder to hit doctors who actually mis-prescribe the drugs. Although companies can't market drugs for non-FDA-approved “off-label” use, it's quite legal for docs to prescribe off-label. ProPublica found that the doctors who are named in large lawsuits usually escape unscathed. Senator Charles E. Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary committee, stated that it takes “two sides to perpetuate this fraud”—both doctors and pharma companies—and that both should be held accountable. “Otherwise, regardless of how big a civil settlement a drug company makes, the incentive to cheat the taxpayers will still be in place for those willing to take part.”