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alcoholic brains

9/05/12 1:13pm

Heavy Drinking Could Slow Trauma Recovery


Heavy drinking can help you forget, but not
recover. Photo via

Some may use alcohol as a coping mechanism, but a new study shows that heavy drinking could actually make it harder for alcoholics to recover psychologically from traumatic experiences. In fact, impairing the mechanism for recovering from a trauma could actually lead to a greater risk for PTSD, says NIAAA scientist and senior study author Andrew Holmes, Ph.D. The findings were discovered on mice models, half of which were given alcohol equivalent to double the legal driving limit in humans, while the other half were given no alcohol. The team then used mild electric shocks to train all the mice to fear the sound of a brief tone. When the tone was played without the electric shocks, the mice who were not given alcohol gradually stopped fearing it, while those given alcohol continued to freeze in place long after the electric shocks were removed. The findings are similar to what has been seen in patients with PTSD, who often have trouble overcoming fear even when they are no longer in a dangerous situation. “There’s a whole spectrum to how people react to a traumatic event,” said study author Thomas Kash, Ph.D., a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. “Basically, our research shows that chronic exposure to alcohol can cause a deficit with regard to how our cognitive brain centers control our emotional brain centers.” The researchers said that the next step is to determine whether their preclinical findings translate to patients suffering from comorbid PTSD and alcohol abuse.

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By McCarton Ackerman

drug war

9/05/12 12:01pm

Former Child Actor Makes Amends For The Drug War


John Whitaker is taking responsibility.
Photo via

A former child actor turned recovering addict has made a public amends for his contribution to Mexico's drug war. Speaking at a rally yesterday to raise awareness of cartel violence in Mexico, John Whitaker apologized to the Mexican mothers who gave speeches about losing their children to the drug war and said he was there to ask forgiveness "if any of the drugs I used had anything to do" with any of their family members or anyone else being killed or kidnapped. "I believe I am an accomplice in the murder of some people. Absolutely," said Whitaker. "Sometime during that period of my using, especially when it was cocaine, I'm sure there are a few murdered people I am responsible for... We people in recovery, and in the consumer world, are to blame for some of it, and we've got to take responsibility." A former child actor who played the role of Jody on Family Affair, which aired on CBS from 1966-1971, Whitaker was ultimately devastated by the decline of his career that led to him working as a word processor, as well as the breakup of a later marriage. He developed an addiction to crack, cocaine and meth that lasted for 12 years. "I started on a downward spiral into alcohol and drug addiction (and rejected) God, the church, everything," said Whitaker, who was raised Mormon. "Nothing turned out the way I wanted it to." His family ultimately held an intervention and threatened to excommunicate him from the family, prompting him to enter rehab in November 1997. Since then, he's been fully clean and sober. These days, Whitaker heads the L.A. chapter of Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing.

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By McCarton Ackerman

booze clues

9/05/12 11:11am

Thermal Cameras Could Be Used to Spot Drunks


Drinking causes "hot spots" in the face.
Photo via

In the not-too-distant future, police may be able to spot a drunk just by looking at his or her face. Researchers from the University of Patras in Greece are currently developing software that uses thermal imaging to help authorities identify higher levels of intoxication. Drinking alcohol causes the blood vessels to dilate on the skin’s surface which leads to “hot spots” on the face—and research reveals these hot spots are detectable via thermal imaging scans. According to findings published in the International Journal Electronic Security and Digital Forensics, researchers are working on developing two different algorithms to spot drunkenness. The first method involves measuring pixel values of a person’s face and them comparing the images to that of sober and intoxicated individuals. Similar technology has been used to determine whether a person was infected with a virus such SARS or the flu. The second approach assesses the thermal differences from different regions of the face (such as the nose and forehead) to identify intoxication. While both methods could be effective, the team suggests that the two methods combined would provide the most accurate measurement. The scans could also be used to identify drunk people in public before they purchase more booze. Researchers hope the new software will help do away with preconceived notions about drunkenness, and instead focus purely on evidence.

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By Valerie Tejeda


9/05/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: September 5, 2012


Lady Gaga only has "one glass of wine every
now and then." Photo via

By Chrisanne Grise

Drug Policy

9/04/12 5:13pm

Video: Harold and Kumar Endorse Obama


From Whitecastle to the White House.
Photo via

President Obama seems to be touting the "stoner vote," despite otherwise balking on the issue of drug policy. A new video promoting the Democratic convention to younger voters features John Cho and Kal Penn—the actors who play the iconic stoner duo in the famed Harold and Kumar film series—surrounded by mountains of munchies, and acting extremely mellow, while receiving an important phone call from POTUS. "There's a lot at stake here," Obama tells Penn in the video. Despite its seemingly light-hearted intentions, the video draws attention to the glaring absence of drug policy on either side of the Presidential debate leading up to the November elections. Recently, Obama sidestepped a slew of questions about drugs while taking the public's questions on Reddit. And in the Democratic Party Platform released this morning, there are only two paragraphs referring to illegal drugs—and no mention of the Mexican drug war or legalization of drugs, including medical marijuana. Some have argued that the video is hypocritical, since it seems to suggest a misleadingly "soft" approach towards marijuana use. “The fact Obama uses these characters to joke about this issue while on the other hand continuing to arrest people he’s appealing to is really disingenuous,” says Morgan Fox, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “As president he conducts more raids on medical marijuana facilities than Bush.”

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By May Wilkerson

Methadone moms

9/04/12 4:13pm

Methadone Moms Face Catch-22


A lose-lose situation. Photo via

Doctors often prescribe recovering addicts methadone to help wean them off of opiates, but as painkiller abuse rates skyrocket, this treatment is increasingly causing problems for pregnant women. More and more parents are being charged with child abuse or are having their children taken away, even when the mother was following her doctor’s orders. In fact, the methadone may actually save a fetus’s life, as going cold turkey can cause premature birth or even a miscarriage. “Mothers on methadone maintenance stop getting high, they tend to lead more stable lives, get better prenatal care, and are rarely born premature,” says Barry Lester, the director of the Center for the Study of Children at Risk at Brown Alpert Medical School's Women and Infants Hospital. But because methadone is an opiate, many child welfare workers and judges view it as an addiction. Lester explains that there is little research on the long-term risks to children exposed to methadone in utero, and methadone has never been approved by the Federal Drug Administration. In addition, exposed babies often experience symptoms of withdrawal for up to several weeks after birth, giving child-protective workers a reason to take the infants from their mothers.

Despite the lack of research, advocates say scaring pregnant women away from methadone treatment is not the solution. “There are definitely situations where reporting is appropriate in order to keep children safe,” says Maureen Phipps, immediate past chair of American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ Committee on Health Care for Underserved Women. “But whenever possible, that ought to be done after doctors have been able to establish a relationship with their patients. When women are too afraid of the consequences of being honest with their doctors, that can be a very risky situation for the mother and for the fetus.” Experts suggest there is also a double standard, as caseworkers do not remove children from mothers who smoke, despite the fact that much more is known about the negative effects of tobacco exposure, making it seem as though these parents are being punished for seeking treatment. “These are not pregnant women using methadone,” says Robert Newman, a doctor who established some of the first methadone-maintenance clinics in the country. “These are pregnant women receiving medical treatment from licensed trained physicians, approved by the federal government and by state governments. To penalize them because they are compliant with a medical regimen is hard to understand.”


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By Chrisanne Grise


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