The Fix's Week in Science

By Walter Armstrong 12/20/11

Trouble for female alcoholics, new anti-craving drugs, a rise in caffeine addiction, and other medical news.

New alcoholic lab mice should make
research cheaper, faster.
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Why Alcoholism Is Worse—and Develops Faster—in Women [Science Daily]
Alcoholism damages the female brain about three times faster than the male brain, according to a large new Swedish study. Women who had been drinking excessively for four years saw the same decrease in the “good mood” neurotransmitter called serotonin as men boozing for twelve. This discovery may help explain why the onset of alcoholism occurs later in women, but its negative effects hit them far earlier. 

Cravings for Coke, Booze Cut by Two Old Drugs
Two drugs that are already on the market to treat other diseases are showing powerful anti-craving effects in recovery form addiction. The Parkinson’s drug Comtan (entacapone) and the atypical antipsychotic Abilify (aripiprazole) both increase levels of dopamine, lending support to the theory that the relapse-triggering event may be caused by too little of this brain chemical. In a U.S. study, Comtan cut cravings in alcoholics; in a Spanish study, Abilify did the same in coke addicts. If larger studies confirm these results, both drugs may soon be added to the growing list of addiction treatments.

Could More Hugs Really Lead to Fewer Drugs? [Duke Institute for Brain Sciences]
High-touch mothering in early childhood may offer some bulwark against addiction later on, according to a new rat study. Rats that got more of momma’s love were much better able to resist the temptations of morphine, perhaps because intimate contact releases an immune-system molecule called interleukin-10, which counters the inflammatory effects of the opiate. The more IL-10 in the rats' system, the less craving they experienced.

In a First, Lab Mice Succeed at Getting Drunk [Science Daily]
One limitation to the development of drugs against alcoholism has been overcome. Testing experimental compounds in mice—the cheapest animal model—was never possible because mice simply do not get drunk. Now a U.S. researcher has developed a new line of lab mice that, for the first time, consistently choose alcohol over water, leading them to binge and act every bit as sloshed as people.

Pharmacists May Lose Addictions, Not Licenses [Medscape]
With one in eight hooked at least once during their careers, pharmacists have one of the highest rates of addiction of any professional. But a new U.S. study of pharmacist-focused treatment, including 12-step meetings, naltrexone maintenance and behavioral therapy to deal with ever-present workplace triggers, found that 88% were able to achieve two years of abstinence—the length of the study. This unprecedented success rate suggests that for health-care professionals, job-specific recovery programs may be the next big thing.

The New DSM-V: Caffeine Withdrawal In, Legal Problems Out [Medscape]
At last week’s annual meeting of addiction psychiatrists, the decade-in-the-making revision of the DSM-V—the “doctor’s bible” that determines diagnoses, treatments and insurance reimbursements—was the subject of considerable debate. The specialists proposed adding “caffeine withdrawal” to the list of symptoms in the chapter on addiction (which is officially called “substance use disorders”), given the surge in the number of ER visits related to the consumption of energy drinks and other carbonated soft drinks. Other proposed tweaks: adding “cannabis withdrawal,” increasing “tobacco disorder” criteria, including “craving” as a symptom, and removing “legal problems” from the criteria for alcoholism and addiction. 

Hepatitis C Exempted from Chimp Research Ban [New York Times]
Last week the U.S. government announced that it will no longer support medical research using chimpanzees because as human’s closest relatives, chimps deserve “special consideration and respect.” Other mammals serve equally well, according to a new study, in all but a few exceptional cases where chimp use will remain necessary. One such case is in the development of a vaccine to prevent hepatitis C, a blood-borne virus epidemic among people who use needle to shoot heroin and other drugs. 



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Walter Armstrong is the Medical Editor at  Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness and the former deputy editor of The Fix. You can find him on Linkedin.