Saturday, January 30, 2010

Stress Hormone Could Be Key to Alcohol Addiction

Business Week

Researchers are linking a stress hormone to alcoholism in animals, and they report that blocking it could become a strategy to help stop the addiction in people.

The research "represents an important step in understanding how the brain changes when it moves from a normal to an alcohol-dependent state," lead researcher Marisa Roberto, an associate professor at the Scripps Research Institute, said in a Scripps news release.

"Our study explored what we call in the field 'the dark side' of alcohol addiction," Roberto said. "That's the compulsion to drink, not because it is pleasurable -- which has been the focus of much previous research -- but because it relieves the anxiety generated by abstinence and the stressful effects of withdrawal."

The hormone, known as corticotropin-releasing factor, plays a role in the body's response to stress and is found in the brain.

Romero said it's possible that blocking the hormone "may prevent excessive alcohol consumption under a variety of behavioral and physiological conditions."

The researchers also found that rats exposed to the hormone-suppressing chemical didn't become immune to the chemical's effects over time. That suggests that people might be able to take it repeatedly without facing a loss of effectiveness. This could greatly enhance behavioral treatment such as that offered by alcoholics anonymous.

Still, rats aren't people, and it's possible that humans won't act the same way when exposed to the chemical.

The findings will appear in an upcoming print edition of the journal Biological Psychiatry.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Alcohol Affects Baby's Pain Regulation

Business Week

Exposure in womb caused blunted response to needle prick, researchers say
Exposure to alcohol in the womb can alter a child's developing pain regulatory system, a new Canadian study suggests.

Researchers assessed 28 newborns -- 14 whose mothers drank heavily during pregnancy and 14 whose mothers were light drinkers or abstainers. The children exposed to alcohol in the womb showed a "blunted response" to painful heel-lance blood collection.

"Our study had three key findings," Tim F. Oberlander, a professor in the developmental pediatrics division at the BC Children's Hospital, the Child and Family Research Institute and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, said in a news release.

"First, in alcohol-exposed newborns, physiological responses to the heel lance, such as heart rate and parts of the nervous system that controls heart rate, were blunted or dampened compared to infants with little or no alcohol exposure," Oberlander said.

"Second, we observed that, in response to this painful event, the stress hormone cortisol decreased in exposed infants while [remaining] almost unchanged in our control group. Finally, we looked at behavioral responses. Using very specific measures of facial expressions ... we found no differences between the two groups. However, using a measure of behavioral responsiveness ... we found that the exposed infants were less aroused."

It's believed the blunted response seen in alcohol-exposed infants may result from the effects of alcohol on a child's developing pain regulatory system. The study emphasizes the question of why a pregnant woman would expose their developing baby to alcohol at all, and for those with a chronic problem to seek help from a treatment center or group such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

"What these findings mean for long-term development and behavior [of children] is unknown at this point," Oberlander said. "However, we do know that altered stress regulation early in life can set up risk and vulnerability for poor mental and physical health and social and academic failure across the life span. In this sense, we think our findings may reflect a first glimpse at how prenatal alcohol exposure might 'calibrate' or 'program' emerging stress systems in early life."

The study was published online in advance of print publication in April in the journal "Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research".

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Rolling Stone Keith Richards Gives Up Alcohol

Telegraph UK
Keith Richards, the Rolling Stones guitarist and wild man of rock-and-roll, has given up alcohol, it has been reported.

The 66-year-old finally quit after getting strict orders from his doctor and watching fellow Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood's life unravel through alcoholism, it has been reported. Richards has apparently not touched a drop in four months.

Doctors have been telling Richards to stop drinking for years. He once famously claimed that he would never stop because he had outlived several doctors who advised him to give up.

But four years ago he suffered a brain haemorrhage after falling out of a palm tree during an alcohol-fuelled trip to Fiji with Wood. And he has been told that his hedonistic lifestyle is finally taking its toll.

A source close to the guitarist told The Sun: "He has always quite enjoyed the fact that he seemed to be able to carry on drinking as much as he liked with no real negative impact on his health.

"But he has watched Ronnie fall well and truly off the wagon last year and he doesn't like what he sees. Plus he has started to feel for the first time like it might do him some good to give up the booze for a while."

It was not known as of press time if Richards had enrolled in a treatment program such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

'Our Mother's Drinking Was Wrecking Us'

Times Online
Children of alcoholics can escape the emotional chaos at home with the right support. Here, three young people explain how their lives have been changed

Katelin doesn’t say a lot but what she does volunteer is pin-sharp. What’s her dad like? “Nice. Hard to trust.” Why does she think he drinks? “ ’Cos he’s lonely. To take his problems away.” She’s just done her nails and can’t stop looking at them. To be fair, when you’re 15, shy and don’t know how pretty you are, that is infinitely easier than confronting painful questions.

Fortunately Katelin lives in Sheffield, one of the few British cities where specialist support is available to the children of alcoholics. If your parents are drug users you have a reasonable chance of finding support because the association between drugs and crime means that drug dependency attracts funding. If your parent’s dependency is alcohol, help is harder to find. While the Government focuses attention on binge drinking by proposing to ban pub and club promotions, the forgotten victims of alcohol misuse are the 1.3 million children whose parents depend on it.

When Katelin’s mum died five years ago, Katelin’s instinct was to stay with her father, but it was tough as he sometimes left her on her own. She is happier now that she is settled in foster care. Two years ago a family worker referred her to SHED, the support service for the children of alcoholics, run for ten years by Turning Point in Sheffield. Since then she has learnt to speak about her feelings and, an even bigger shift, to accept that she isn’t responsible for her dad. She has stopped skipping lessons at school, is making progress, and has become a mentor there. “I like it when people talk about me in a good way,” she says. “I like SHED because it’s given me someone to talk to.”

SHED’s main tool is one-on-one counselling, which may not sound revolutionary but which can be transforming for isolated children such as Katelin, and for others such as Sam, whose life was chaotic until, remarkably, at the age of 10, he wrote to his headteacher saying that his family needed help. As a result, Sam and his older sister, Cheryl, were introduced to SHED.

Sam is now 13, confident, funny and highly practical, though when he talks about his mum his poise falters. “My mum drinks,” he says. “It was wrecking everyone’s life. Didn’t know what was happening. Didn’t know what you were coming home to. Nobody knew what anyone else was doing, there was no communication.

“ I didn’t have friends, didn’t want to have people back at my house, didn’t go to their houses. Had to keep an eye out for my mum. See she didn’t drive. But she did lose her licence. We were really, really hungry and she was going to get food. Five minutes later my dad would have been home. I don’t know, she was always breaking promises.”

How did that make you feel? He looks away, drops his voice because he likes to be loyal to his mum: “Rubbish, that we were both rubbish.”

Sam no longer feels quite so rubbish now that his parents have separated and he lives with his dad and sister. “Everyone’s calm and relaxed, there’s not that raw feeling in the air,” he explains. “You walk into the house, no one snaps, ‘What do you want for tea?’. It’s said in a nicer way: ‘Have a look and see what you’d like.’ There’s more routine. In the past I didn’t want to go to school because I wanted to look after my mum. Now I want to get to school, there’s nothing holding me back.”

The key breakthrough has been the understanding that his mum’s choices about the way she lives are her own, that she is not Sam’s responsibility. This is a major step for a 13-year-old and one that many adults struggle to make when they live with an alcoholic, says his support worker at SHED, Imogen Powell.

“We try to get children to understand what’s happening in their family without them being drawn into it, or hating their parent,” she says. “Without this kind of intervention it can take 10 or 20 years for someone to learn this.”

Sam is an instinctive problem-solver who pours his energy into a church youth group where he designs the website and leaflets. He has also been looking at setting up a youth peer-mentoring scheme.

“It’s all well and good talking to Imogen but sometimes it might be better talking to someone my own age. I’ve been through it, now I can help someone else to get through it. This kind of youth provision wouldn’t cost a lot but there isn’t the money for it.”

At 17, Sam’s older sister, Cheryl, is also mature for her age. She was 11 when her mum’s drinking got out of control after the collapse of a business she ran. “I became accustomed to the arguing,” she says. “It became normal and that was strange because it was like she wasn’t my mum.

“I’ve had to grow up quickly, look after my brother, make sure it didn’t affect my school life. I pushed myself and probably pushed Sam more than I should have. I became the mother doing the cleaning, the cooking. I didn’t want people to know what was happening and I became ashamed. Mum was a smart, nice woman, now she can be violent, prone to being nasty.”

Cheryl says that going to SHED helped her to get away from what was happening. “I wouldn’t have opened up otherwise, but knowing there was someone who would listen to me released everything so that I didn’t feel under so much pressure at home. That made me more confident.

“Having to be a mum at 15 to your brother, who doesn’t want you to be his mum, he wants his mum, is hard and stressful. But you can’t take out your frustrations in front of him. That wouldn’t be fair and would make him feel even worse. Through the one-to-one support I learnt how I could get away from the situation if it escalated. Then, when I talked within a group of other young people, I realised it’s not just me on my own. I made friends here.”

Sam and Cheryl want to use their experiences to help others, Sam as a youth worker, Cheryl as a drugs and alcohol counsellor, and she is already working as a support worker in a day centre.

“Mum has good days and bad days but she isn’t my problem any more,” says Cheryl. “I’m proud of dad for putting us before his marriage and it means we’re in a stable home. It’s upsetting to think that mum puts drinking before Sam and me. Doesn’t mean I don’t love her, I do. I can’t make her change, she has to do it for herself.”

SHED sees between 50 and 70 young people a year and is familiar with the themes: social isolation, conflict, violence, neglect, parental separation, financial problems and children taking on parental responsibility. There is also plenty of literature that suggests that the children of alcoholics are likely to have problems with alcohol themselves. But thinking is changing on this as researchers become aware of children such as Sam and Cheryl, who react to their circumstances with extraordinary resilience.

Lorna Templeton is research manager at the Mental Health Research and Development Unit in Bath and has evaluated some of Turning Point’s work. She is also the co-author of a 2007 study on the impact of parental substance abuse on children. “Services like SHED and Alcoholics Anonymous allow these children to be heard, and to understand that the problems aren’t their fault. That’s vital,” she says. Historically, services to support children have focused on intervention to reduce the risk of neglect or abuse. Lorna values Turning Point’s work because it helps to build resilience.

“We need to know more about the protective factors that help some children to come out of this situation with such strength,” she says. “Some children come through this on their own because they have the determination not to be like their parents, some are lucky to have a supportive parent. There is growing evidence that if a supportive, consistent adult is present, whether a parent, a SHED worker or a teacher, then the risks the child faces are more likely to diminish.

“Early intervention is essential and the key is to focus on the needs and circumstances of each child rather than soley on the parent’s problems.”

Monday, January 25, 2010

Drink, Drive, Arrest, Repeat

Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune
In Minnesota, 46,748 drivers have at least 4 DWI arrests. They form a dangerous group that's hard to treat or punish.

Danny Lee Bettcher was back in an Otter Tail County courtroom this month, again for driving drunk. This time, he was facing his 27th DWI conviction -- a Minnesota record.

Bettcher, who spent more than four years behind bars for a prior drunken driving offense, was arrested after downing a few rounds of beer and Jagermeister and sailing his motorcycle through a four-way stop. He was released from prison nine months earlier. "I drink to get drunk,'' said Bettcher, 57.

Though his lawyer pleaded for leniency, Judge Mark Hansen decided the roads would be safer with Bettcher locked up. Hansen sentenced him to four years in prison, the recommended penalty in Bettcher's case. "I don't want you to kill somebody," the judge said.

State officials say Bettcher is one of 139 people who have been charged with at least 15 DWIs. Altogether, 46,748 drivers have been arrested at least four times for driving while intoxicated. Minnesota legislators took aim at this group in 2001, when they passed a felony DWI law creating stiff penalties for those with four DWI convictions in 10 years. Since then, at least 4,400 drivers have been sentenced under the statute, which carries a minimum of three years in prison, typically converted to probation with some jail time for first-time felons.

But the prospect of prison might not be much of a deterrent. The number of people with a second felony DWI has increased each year, reaching 156 in 2008, or 20 percent of all felony DWI convictions.

For many chronic offenders, the issue isn't whether they're going to drink and drive again. It's how to get away with it. Experts say repeat offenders are often alcoholics who simply don't respond to treatment or tough punishment. They drive without licenses. If their vehicle is taken away, they drive someone else's car. They've driven drunk so many times they mistakenly believe they're in control of their vehicles, even if they can't walk a straight line.

"There's the offender that gets one or two DWIs, and then there's the offender that just continues," said Lisa Portinga, a treatment consultant with Ramsey County DWI Court.

How do you stop them? "Well," Portinga said, "you'd literally have to sit on them, because if they're going to drink, chances are that particular kind of offender is then going to go drive."

Drivers with at least four DWIs were involved in 24 traffic fatalities between 2005 and 2007, or about 5 percent of all alcohol-related crashes, according to the state Department of Public Safety.

Some say the state should probably focus its limited resources on dealing with first-time offenders, who are linked to 60 percent of alcohol-related traffic fatalities.

"You wouldn't save a huge amount of lives if you focused all your energy on [chronic offenders]," said Jean Ryan, alcohol programs coordinator at the state's Office of Traffic Safety. "I'm not saying they're not a problem, but the number of lives possibly saved would not be as significant as possibly some other direction."

Victim advocates say the threat posed by chronic offenders can't be understated. Bettcher and other repeat offenders are a "time bomb," said Sharon Gehrman-Driscoll, director of Minnesotans for Safe Driving. "It's a terrible frustration," she said. "Nobody knows what to do with them."

A lethal mix

Gerald D. Beaulieu had five DWIs and a canceled driver's license in March 2007 when he got on his snowmobile after a night of drinking at a bar in Mille Lacs County. A witness told police that he found Beaulieu's damaged snowmobile near the body of Timothy J. Kasper, who was struck while walking home from a house where bar patrons had gathered. Beaulieu pleaded guilty to criminal vehicular homicide.

He was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison but spent just one year in jail as part of a plea deal that required him to refrain from drinking for 10 years, complete 120 hours of community service and get evaluated for chemical dependency, according to court records.

Prosecutors agreed to the plea because hard evidence was scarce.

"A lot of the witnesses were very intoxicated," Assistant County Attorney Tara Lopez said.

For Richard P. Papenfuss, who was convicted of his 20th DWI in 2005, drinking and driving have always gone together. He liked to grab a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon before heading out on a weekend road trip or an evening cruise. Drinking, he said, made driving more fun.

Papenfuss said he would be careful if he saw a squad car, but a swerve or other mistake always gave him away. He hasn't had a driver's license since 1980.

Experts say some drivers go to great lengths to avoid detection, including driving used cars without changing the registration so police won't see their records when checking license plates. Chronic offenders never think they'll be caught, Portinga said.

Papenfuss was using his brother's van to show a friend around Otter Tail County in 2005 when he stopped at a bar for popcorn chicken and ordered beers. The probation paperwork from his previous DWI hadn't been transferred yet, Papenfuss figured, so he thought he could risk a couple of drinks. The beer tasted so good he swung by a liquor store and picked up a 12-pack for the road.

When he spotted a police car outside the small town of Battle Lake, Papenfuss slowed sharply because he didn't know how fast he was going. The 11-year-old van's dashboard lights were broken and he couldn't read the speedometer. Suspicious, the officer followed and pulled him over. A breath test showed Papenfuss was legally drunk with 0.117 blood alcohol concentration, over the legal limit at the time, 0.10 (the legal limit is now .08).

It was yet another DWI but his second felony DWI, which carries enhanced penalties. Papenfuss, 60, served about five years in prison.

Since leaving prison in July, Papenfuss has been living in a Fergus Falls sober house. By most accounts, he's working hard to make new friends and find new interests. A former farm laborer, he now volunteers at a local truck repair shop. He has many regrets: two divorces and other ruined relationships, a handful of alcohol-fueled burglaries and thefts. He knows he's lucky he hasn't killed somebody.

Papenfuss said he has been through substance abuse treatment six or seven times. He swears he's going to remain sober this time.

"Really the bottom line is two things," Papenfuss said. "One is that I don't want to drink again, OK? And number two? I don't want to go back to jail anymore. They got my attention."

'Very hard to treat'

In some ways, Papenfuss is a living reminder of how easy it was to rack up a slew of drunken driving convictions in the 1970s and early 1980s, back when society forgave such crimes more easily and there were few substantial penalties for repeat offenders. Experts say there shouldn't be as many drivers like this in the future, in part because repeat offenders will spend more time behind bars and ordered to treatments such as those offered through Alcoholics Anonymous.

In 2008, about a quarter of the 779 people sentenced for felony DWI went to prison, with an average sentence of 51 months, according to the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission. A majority of offenders were locked up in local jails, where the average sentence was 202 days as a condition of probation.

Treatment is usually required for multiple DWI offenders, but Portinga said the typical recovering alcoholic goes through treatment seven times before kicking the habit.

Steve Allen, director of behavioral health services at the state Department of Corrections, said individuals with high numbers of DWI convictions often suffer from multiple problems and are "very hard to treat."

"At a certain point you can think about acquired brain injury because the person has consumed so much alcohol and/or drugs that they've actually done neurological damage," Allen said.

Otter Tail Assistant County Attorney Heather Brandborg said Bettcher was ordered to treatment at least a dozen times. Bettcher didn't complete treatment in prison, according to his fiancée, because he didn't want to show weakness to other inmates.

Bettcher said he was doing well in treatment when he got his most recent DWI. He can't explain why he decided to throw it all away by drinking and crawling onto his motorcycle last May.

He said he never considered the threat he posed when driving drunk.

"You just go blank more or less,'' said Bettcher, who has mostly worked at construction or handyman jobs that didn't require a license. "You're out to have a good time and you're not thinking of nothing else."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

TV Anchorwoman Admits Drinking Problem

Chicago Sun-Times

Veteran WGN-Channel 9 anchor Allison Payne is publicly acknowledging a 20-year battle with alcohol addiction, but she says that's not what kept her off the air for part of 2008.

During a live interview Thursday with former Blackhawks star Theo Fleury, Payne mentioned that she and Fleury shared an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor.

On Friday, she told the Chicago Tribune, which is owned by the same parent company as WGN, that she mentioned her now late sponsor to let go "of some of my shame that I've held on to."

"There is no shame in all of this. That's why I was so happy to talk to Theo," Payne told the Tribune. "Because he was coming clean and he was letting go of his shame. In saying to Theo that [this person] was my sponsor too, I was letting go of some of my shame that I've held on to."

Payne, 45, has said on-air instances of slurred speech and occasionally erratic behavior stemmed from a series of mini-strokes. On Friday, she said those on-air problems were not from drinking.

"No way I was drunk on the air," she told the Tribune.

And she said her prolonged absences from newcasts in 2008 were tied to the mini-strokes, not drinking.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Alcohol Industry Targeting Young People

The Guardian UK
Market research data on 15- and 16-year-olds used to inform campaigns, says research paper

The alcohol industry is sidestepping advertising rules by targeting young people, implying that drinking will bring friends and fun, and making light of drunkenness, according to an analysis for the British Medical Journal published today.

Documents obtained by the Commons health select committee from drinks firms reveal that market research data on 15- and 16-year-olds is being used to inform campaigns and that there is a focus on promoting drinking to those just turning 18.

"Upcoming generations represent a key target for alcohol advertisers," says the paper, published online by the BMJ. "Although the documents mainly refer to this group as starting at the legal drinking age (18 years), this distinction is sometimes lost. Thus market research data on 15- and 16-year-olds is used to guide campaign development and deployment, and it is clearly acknowledged that particular products appeal to children (Lambrini, for instance, is referred to as a 'kids' drink').

"Many references are made to the need to recruit new drinkers and establish their loyalty to a particular brand; WKD, for instance, wants to attract 'new 18-year-olds', and Carling takes a particular interest in the fact that the Carling Weekend is 'the first choice for the festival virgin', offering free branded tents and a breakfast can of beer."

The industry code says that advertising must not appeal strongly to people under 18 or be associated with, or reflect, youth culture.

The documents were obtained by the select committee in the course of its recent inquiry into alcohol. It commissioned the analysis from Prof Gerard Hastings and colleagues of the institute for social marketing at the University of Stirling. Because alcohol advertising is such big business, worth £800m a year, the committee focused on just four manufacturers, yet it obtained thousands of pages of paper and electronic documentation from companies and their communications agencies. They included notes of meetings, client briefs, creative briefs, media briefs, advertising budgets and market research reports.

Campaigns aspire to be associated with youth, say Hastings and colleagues. "Smirnoff Ice wants to 'become the most respected youth brand (overtaking Lynx [deodorant])'," they write. New media channels, such as Facebook and other social networking sites, are used because of their youth audience. "Lambrini's 2007 television campaign set out to be 'a cross between Myspace and High School the [sic] Musical'."

Other documents showed that marketing campaigns aimed to suggest drinks were potent and that they would enhance the drinker's social success, both of which contravene the self-regulated code of practice. Lambrini is described as a "social lubricant", while WKD's message is that it "is all about having a laugh with your mates".

The analysis drew a furious response from the industry. Alcohol company Diageo GB claimed the article was a gross misrepresentation and a distortion of the evidence it provided to the inquiry. Its managing director, Simon Litherland, argued that "inappropriate consumer views and early proposals" pitched in the marketing process were rejected at an early stage.

"We are extremely disappointed that the confidential and commercially sensitive information shared with the committee, in good faith, has been made available for Prof Hastings's use in pursuing his own public agenda," he said.

While £600–£800m a year is spent on alcohol advertising, something like 40,000 people a year in England and Wales die of alcohol misuse.

Research Sheds Light On Binge Drinking

Medill Reports: Chicago

One drink… Two drink… Three drink… Floor.

For many Chicago residents, a typical night out can turn into a nightmare as one drink turns into four or five and eventually we lose track of how much we have had, only to be reminded the next morning.

According to a study done in 2007 by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Chicago topped the list for binge drinking among the 15 largest cities in the country. The study said 25.7 percent of Chicagoans are binge drinkers, well over the national average of 22.7 percent.

University of Chicago researchers are studying social drinking and specifically why some drinkers are more prone to binging than others and how binging on alcohol at a younger age affects drinking habits later in life.

The Chicago Social Drinking Project began in 2004 and has studied over 200 subjects since then. The laboratory does not resemble the standard scientific research facility. There are leather couches, a TV and lab assistants bringing participants snacks and alcoholic beverages, while monitoring their consumption and behavior.

Patrick McNamara, project coordinator, said the main goal of the study is to predict a pattern. “We are looking at different models of why people actually progress into alcoholism later in life,” he said. “The overall goal here is to ask: Can the subjective response during the rise and decline of the blood alcohol curve be predictive of future drinking patterns?”

Participants must meet the eligibility criteria, including being between the ages of 21 and 29, weighing between 110 and 210 pounds and consuming alcohol at least once a week. Once selected, candidates must attend two separate four-hour experimental sessions in which they are provided drinks and monitored. They will be asked to complete several performance tests and submit breath and saliva samples. Quarterly and annual follow-up interviews are then conducted to evaluate progress and how their drinking habits change.

McNamara said the point of the project is to study the long-term effects of alcohol and determine how a person’s drinking history can affect their subjective response to alcohol throughout their lifetime. Several specific tests such as how drinking affects the need for cigarette smoking, the affects of alcohol on blood pressure and even the changes in general motor functions are evaluated.

Many experts, including the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism,  and alcoholics anonymous define binge drinking as “a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 or above.” This typically happens when men consume five or more drinks and when women consume four or more, in a span of several hours. Several factors can influence the affect of alcohol on an individual however, such as body weight and food consumption, so the number of drinks can vary.

Researchers are unsure as to why Chicago tops the chart of binge drinking cities.

But Jake Colton, a therapist with Open Avenue Therapy, a downtown Chicago clinic, said cold weather can take a toll on those who might not be used to the dreary winter. He treats patients dealing with alcohol abuse and said factors such as difficulty dealing with emotions, anxiety, childhood trauma, or even just the need for control and escape can contribute to overconsumption.

“Many people choose Chicago as a place to start their lives over,” Colton said. “Some leave the East or West Coast and head here to start fresh. Often they find themselves alone and have a hard time dealing with the depression that can come with the cold weather.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that approximately 70 percent of binge drinking episodes involve adults over the age of 25. Over 75 percent of the alcohol consumed by adults in the U.S. is in the form of binge drinks. According to this 2008 national survey, men are twice as likely to binge drink than women.

Colton said, generally, men tend to use alcohol as an outlet for their emotions. “A lot of men who come to therapy, it’s just so foreign for them to share feelings of sadness or fear or anxiety,” he said. “To them these are feelings of weakness and that gets built up and breaks them down. Alcohol is a release. They decide to drown themselves instead of opening up and being vulnerable.”

Elizabeth Thomas, 27, a business analyst and occasional social drinker, said she considers binge drinking as an extreme. “Binging to me is if you’re drinking to the point of throwing up or blacking out,” she said. “But if I’m still able to function in society and hold a conversation, than I don’t consider that binging.”

Thomas said that a night out involves drinking throughout the evening, but she does not feel like she is overdoing it or will continue to, as she gets older. “If I have a big night, I know I won’t have a productive day the next day. If I have more responsibilities in my life, like kids or something, then I won’t be doing that anymore.”

The Chicago Social Drinking Project recently received a grant to continue its research and is enrolling new participants, obtaining follow-up data via quarterly interviews and conducting five-year retest experimental sessions with the original subject groups. The project is working on a comprehensive paper on the trends discovered in the test subjects who have enrolled since the start of the study six years ago. Many of the finds have been published and McNamara says there are many more to come.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

UK Restricts Drinking Contests at Bars

The Canadian Press

LONDON — Officials will ban drinking contests in bars and force pub owners to offer patrons tap water in a bid to help tackle Britain's boozy culture, the government said Tuesday.

Doctors and health lobbyists said, however, that the government had failed to wield its most effective weapon - the imposition of minimum price controls on alcohol.

The raft of new measures is "better than nothing," according to Carys Davis, spokeswoman for the Alcohol Concern charity. She said "it does seem tame," although she acknowledged that the ban on drinking contests and other promotions could help control bingeing.

Alcohol consumption has emerged as a political issue in recent years in Britain. Weekends see many town centres awash with young people staggering from one bar to the next, and government statistics suggest the country's alcohol-related death rate has doubled since 1991.

Last year Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson suggested price controls could lead to nearly 100,000 fewer hospital admissions and 45,000 fewer crimes a year.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson told BBC radio Tuesday that he hadn't ruled out minimum pricing, but he didn't want to penalize "responsible drinkers on low incomes."

The new rules - expected to come into affect this year after being approved by Parliament - would ban speed-drinking competitions and all-you-can-drink offers. Bars would be required to offer drinks in smaller measures and tap water for free.

The rules are similar to a voluntary code drawn up by the Beer and Pub Association and adopted by much of Britain's alcohol industry in 2005. The code called for ending "irresponsible promotions," including all-you-can-drink offers, but a 2008 government-ordered report said the standards were being widely ignored.

"The industry has so far proved that it isn't able to regulate itself," Davis said.

The Beer and Pub Association said it supported measures by the government and alcoholics anonymous to deal with problem drinking, but said the government was unfairly targeting bars because most of Britain's booze was now being sold through supermarkets.

"Pubs are struggling, and the country is in recession. This is not the time for the Home Office to be burying business in yet more unnecessary red tape," association chief executive Brigid Simmonds said.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Brewers Sue State Official For Slander

The Moscow Times

Brewers in Russia including Carlsberg and Heineken filed a defamation suit against the government’s top substance abuse official for claiming that they spike their beer with pure alcohol to boost sales.

The Russian Beer Producers Union filed the suit in the Moscow Arbitration Court in a bid to compel a public apology from the Health and Social Development Ministry’s Yevgeny Bryun for “demonizing” beer, the union said in a statement Monday.

Bryun said in an interview with Interfax last month that brewers cut production costs and increase the alcohol levels of their products by using spirits to speed up the fermentation process. Bryun couldn’t be reached on his mobile phone, and the ministry declined comment.

Such remarks “distract people’s attention away from the real causes of alcoholism — poor quality of life, corruption and bootleg liquor,” the union said in the statement.

The government tripled its excise tax on beer this year to 9 rubles (30 cents) a liter from 3 rubles as part of President Dmitry Medvedev’s campaign to end what he has called “colossal drinking” by Russians., according to alcoholics anonymous. Regulators are also considering limiting retail sales of alcohol by time and location, as well as increasing restrictions on advertising.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Monday instructed the Health and Social Development Ministry to spend 350 million rubles ($11.8 million) on ads promoting a healthy lifestyle, including warnings against alcohol and cigarette use, RIA-Novosti reported.

British Government Sets Minimum Alcohol Prices

All Headline News

London, England, United Kingdom (AHN) - To curb binge drinking among Britons, the British government will soon set minimum prices for alcoholic drinks. Health authorities have blamed cheap prices of beer, wine and spirit in supermarkets, pubs and similar night establishments for the rise in alcoholism among residents.

Under the new pricing guidelines, a six-pack of large would rise to $9.77 (6 pounds), a bottle of wine would increase to $7.33 (4.50 pounds), while cider would cost four times more current prices.

Hiking the prices of alcoholic drinks is the brainchild of Health Secretary Andy Burnham in a bid to reduce alcohol-related deaths and hospital admissions across the country and assist organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous. It is a turnaround from the previous Labor party stand to ease alcohol laws by permitting 24-hour drinking.

The rival Conservative party is considering putting precise and more specific contents on the labels of alcoholic drinks to replace the current units of measurement, which is misunderstood by many Britons.

Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said more clarity on food and drink labels would help Britons pursue a healthier lifestyle and battle obesity, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse and binge drinking.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Russia Turns Up The Heat On Campaign To End Country's Rampant Alcoholism

United Press International

Russia, calling it a national disaster, has opened a campaign against alcohol abuse, the government said on its official Web site.

In a plan approved by Prime Minister Vladamir Putin, the aim is to cut consumption of alcohol in half by 2020 and attack illegal production and sales through criminal prosecution, officials say.

Authorities also are considering drastic cuts and possibly a total ban on alcohol advertising, especially ads that target young people, the RIA Novosti news agency said. The health ministry was reported to be mulling a ban on movie scenes involving alcohol.

Official statistics in Russia show more than 23,000 people die of alcohol poisoning annually.

The World Health Organization, in a report, said men in Russia have an average life expectancy of just 60 years, well below that of Western European countries where men have an average life span of 77.

Alcohol consumption per capita is currently about 18 liters, nearly 5 gallons, a year, double the normal amount as set by WHO. Clearly, Russian chapters of Alcoholics Anonymous have their hands full.

The report said further that much of the alcohol consumed was either homemade or non-beverage alcohols, such as perfume.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

UK Comedians Unite Against Alcohol Abuse

UK Press Association

Russell Kane

Comedian and musician Bill Bailey will feature in a new Government advertising campaign warning parents and young people about the dangers of alcohol.

The 'why let drink decide?' campaign is being launched by Children's Secretary Ed Balls and Bailey highlights the role played by alcohol in fuelling problems such as unwanted teen pregnancies, road accidents and poor marks at school.

His fellow comedians Jo Brand, Josie Long and Russell Kane have already given their support to a related online video campaign, viewed so far by more than 58,000 people.

The television, radio and cinema advertisements will be accompanied by leaflets distributed in GPs surgeries and a new website for parents to obtain tips on how best to advise their child about the dangers of drink. The UK chapters of alcoholics anonymous continue to campaign for awareness of the dangers of alcohol abuse.

Bailey said: "Comedy is a great way to get information across and if people are laughing and enjoying it, you can slip messages or something more serious in under the radar and I think it has more of an impact.

"Parents tend to be hung-up on the other problems that kids can get into like unprotected sex or drugs. Alcohol tends to be put on the back burner a bit but the reality is that these problems are more than likely to be fuelled by alcohol anyway."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Price Rises Key To Tackling Alcohol Abuse: WHO

Binge drinking and other growing forms of harmful use of alcohol should be tackled through higher taxes on alcoholic drinks and tighter marketing regulations, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended.

The U.N. agency unveiled its draft global strategy to curb risks linked to alcohol which it estimates causes 2.5 million deaths a year from heart and liver disease, road accidents, suicides and various cancers -- 3.8 percent of all mortality.

"Consumers, including heavy drinkers and young people, are sensitive to changes in the price of drinks... Increasing the price of alcoholic beverages is one of the most effective interventions to reduce harmful use of alcohol," the WHO said.

But a key factor for success in controlling beer, wine and spirits consumption is an effective taxation system, said a report by the WHO, whose campaigning led to a global health treaty controlling tobacco in 2003.

WHO's executive board will examine the draft strategy at its semi-annual meeting next week. The 34-member state body ordered the study two years ago after Nordic countries voiced concern about hazards of heavy drinking.

The Global Alcohol Policy Alliance -- a coalition of medical professionals, researchers and non-governmental organizations such as alcoholics anonymous -- has called on the board to approve the strategy and send it to WHO's annual assembly of health ministers in May for adoption.

But the alliance said it was disappointed that the recommended marketing interventions included industry self-regulation which it said has not been effective to date.

The Global Alcohol Producers Group, whose members include the world's largest alcoholic drinks group, Britain's Diageo, and the third largest brewer, Heineken of the Netherlands, said the draft was an "important and constructive step forward."

But it cautioned against "an over-reliance on strict government controls such as over-taxation or advertising bans" which could lead to illicit products or sales emerging.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Another Defeat for California's Alcohol Fee

Mercury News

A South Bay lawmaker's plan to chase every alcoholic drink served in California with a 10-cent fee was officially put on ice Tuesday, failing for the second time in a year to win support from his colleagues.

The charge, sought by Assemblyman Jim Beall, D-San Jose, would have raised $1.44 billion a year to help pay for some of the billions in criminal justice and public health costs associated with alcohol abuse.

But amid an all-out push from alcohol industry groups, the Assembly Health Committee, just as it did last April, crushed the proposal like an empty beer can.

Only five of 19 members voted in support this time. Six members, mostly Democrats, chose not to vote at all, and one was absent. That was better than last year, when only three members signed off and some didn't even show up for the hearing, but far short of the 10 needed to advance from the committee.

The vote marked another defeat on alcohol levies for Beall, who also proposed a steep beer tax hike in 2008. Sounding like a bar brawler, the lawmaker has vowed to get up and take yet another swing.

"They've given me a bloody nose," Beall said after the vote. "But I'm going to wipe it off and come back in a few weeks with something different." Next time, he said, any proposed fee may be "more modest."

Alcohol taxes and fees have traditionally faced a tough road in California, where beer and wine production are major industries and spend heavily on political campaigns.

The state's excise tax was last raised in 1992, by a penny. A plan by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to hike it by 5 cents a drink last year, to help close the state's budget deficit, was dead on arrival in the Legislature.

And even if Beall's bill had made it past the Health Committee, it likely faced even steeper odds in its next planned destination, the Governmental Organization Committee, the panel that actually oversees California's alcohol industry.

Not that supporters of the doomed bill didn't try hard to make their case this week. Led by the Marin Institute, an alcohol industry watchdog, advocates from labor, religious and health groups stalked the Capitol on Tuesday in hopes of drumming up support.

They also rallied outside the building before Tuesday's vote — with some 100-plus people wearing red hats saying "Charge for Harm" — and they jammed the hearing room before the vote.

"When you cause a problem, you pay for it," Tom Renfree, of the County Alcohol and Drug Program Administrators' Association of California, said during the rally. "We're not going to stand aside and watch people be destroyed."

The Marin Institute estimates that alcohol abuse costs California some $38 billion a year, from lost wages, hospital costs, counseling expenses such as alcoholics anonymous and prison costs — a number seized on by supporters of Beall's bill.

The state Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs estimates the annual cost of alcohol abuse at $22.5 billion.

But the American Beverage Institute, an alcohol industry lobbying group, offered its own statistics Tuesday.

It argued that more than half of the cost of a typical bottle of spirits already goes to the state and federal governments and that new fees — as much as $1 for an average bottle of wine — would be an undue burden on the industry, costing about 38,000 jobs.

"The hospitality industry is already paying its fair share," the institute's managing director, Sarah Longwell, said in a statement.

Beall, however, disagreed and cited surveys showing widespread public support for increasing levies on alcohol. A Public Policy Institute of California poll found 85 percent of respondents supported the governor's tax plan last year.

"The Legislature and the alcohol industry," Beall said, "need to sober up."

Monday, January 11, 2010

University of Colorodo Program Takes On Alcohol Abuse

The Daily Camera

In the wake of the tragic alcohol-related deaths of University of Colorado freshman Gordie Bailey and Colorado State University sophomore Samantha Spady in 2004, the city of Boulder promised to address alcohol abuse in the community.

Since then, the number of committees and groups working on curbing high-risk alcohol abuse among college students and others have ballooned into at least 14 entities in the Boulder area, leaving a confusing mash of agencies that are "numerous, segregated and uncoordinated," according to a city memo released Friday.

In an effort to bring order to that chaos, the city and CU are looking to form a single group -- the Campus-Community Coalition on Alcohol Abuse.

The coalition will combine the efforts of CU's Alcohol Strategies Group, a joint CU and Boulder task force on alcohol and an interagency alcohol group.

Others will be added to the mix, including officials from Boulder County, Boulder County Public Health, the Boulder Valley School District, parents, neighborhood representatives, landlords, the Boulder Convention and Visitor's Bureau, members of the hospitality community, churches and CU students.

The coalition will be co-chaired by Boulder Municipal Judge Linda Cooke and CU Assistant Vice Chancellor for Health and Wellness, Gary Chadwick. Its overriding mission: comprehensively address alcohol abuse in the community as a whole.

"The work on alcohol issues as a community has been an evolution, and this is kind of the next step in the evolution," said Jen Korbelik, who's employed by Boulder and CU to act as a liaison between the two groups. "We want to work to make Boulder, not just with the (CU) campus ... a safer and healthier community."

Korbelik said some older alcohol task groups have outlived their usefulness, and having one central group  operating like alcoholics anonymous will help organize goals and ideas.

"That's the hope, is that this becomes the connecting point for this work as a community and that it is long term," she said.

The group will meet for the first time on Tuesday to set its meeting schedule and agenda. The coalition will not meet in public, however, because it's considered an advisory group. Instead, the workgroup plans to provide regular reports to a city and CU oversight committee, and to the City Council.

Frank Bruno, CU's vice chancellor for administration, said the university has become more effective at addressing alcohol abuse, but there's a long way to go to educate students and others about the dangers of risky behavior -- like binge drinking.

"We've got to make sure we're continuing to assess what the needs are and what the challenges are," he said. "We'll always be taking a look at how we keep kids safe."

Briggs Gamblin, a spokesman for the Boulder Valley School District, said middle and high schools also have a major stake in the conversation because education about the consequences of alcohol abuse needs to begin sooner than college.

"People who work in (alcohol education) make it very clear that students don't begin drinking excessively once they get to college," he said. "That behavior begins earlier."

We're Queensland's Biggest Drinkers

Sunshine Coast Daily

GOLDEN beaches, beautiful weather, rivers of booze.

It is unlikely this description will ever find its way on to a Sunshine Coast tourism brochure.

However, some would argue it is apt in light of an alarming new report which found the Coast is lagging behind the rest of the state when it comes to alcohol-free days.

The 2009 Queensland Health report found 65.6% of Coast residents have at least five alcohol-free days, compared with the state average of 70.1%.

The Coast figure is the worst in the state.

Coast-based responsible-drinking campaigners were not surprised by the figures, saying the region has a drinking mentality in keeping with its laid-back lifestyle.

Dave, the past district officer of Alcoholics Anonymous on the Coast, said the Queensland Health report was a further sign the authorities needed a new strategy in dealing with what the region’s “escalating” alcohol problem.

He said police too readily turned a blind eye to public drinking, especially at parks.

“We quite often go down to Happy Valley on a Sunday for coffee, and when I look around the park they’d be two families not drinking out of 60 families – and usually most people there are families,” he said.

“They say you’re not allowed to drink in public, but you drive around any park anywhere on the Sunshine Coast and people are drinking.

“You don’t have to be a statistician to realise alcohol consumption here is huge.”

Associate professor David Ward is a specialist emergency physician at Nambour General Hospital who speaks regularly on the negative impact of Australia’s drinking culture on society.

Dr Ward sees first-hand the devastating effects of alcohol on society and said the current approach to dealing with the problem was not working.

“Certainly, at the hospital we see the end point of it – the amount of road-trauma accidents and other accidents relating to alcohol,” he said. “If anything, it’s deteriorating.”

Most Coast residents who spoke to the Daily yesterday admitted to drinking every day.

Mal O’Malley, of Maroochydore, works in the building industry and said he liked a drink each day.

“If I’m working, I’ll probably have three schooners in the afternoon and go home and have one or two,” he said.

“On the weekend it’s different – I drink more.”

Stephanie Pratt Sentenced to Three Years Probation

People Magazine

Stephanie Pratt reached a plea deal with Los Angeles prosecutors in her DUI case Thursday.

The Hills star, 23, was sentenced to three years informal probation, completion of a 12-week alcohol education program, as well as three Alcoholics Anonymous meetings a week for eight weeks, and will pay a fine.

DUI charges were dropped in exchange for a no contest plea to one count of misdemeanor "exhibition of speed."

On the issue of whether she attended rehab, "Ms. Pratt voluntarily sought help from a doctor regarding substance issues but the doctor recommended that she didn't need rehab," Pratt's lawyer Jon Bryant Artz tells PEOPLE.

Following her Oct. 18 arrest, in which she was pulled over after attending Holly Montag's birthday party, Pratt said the incident "was the worst thing to happen to me and, at the same time, it was the biggest blessing" as a life lesson.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

In Moscow, Alcoholics Anonymous Begins To Raise The Curtain

NY Times

As they settled into chairs in a dingy room on the city's eastern outskirts, the leader pounded on the table and brought the group to order with words that remain extraordinary in this country.

"My name is Vera," she said, "and I am an alcoholic."

More than half a century after being founded in the United States, and seven years after its tentative introduction here, Alcoholics Anonymous is slowly taking root in Russia, a country whose alcohol problem is seen by health experts as among the worst in the world.

"The state doesn't support us, and there are still very few doctors who work with us," said Vera, who spoke about her involvement in the groupon the condition that only her first name be used. "There's still relatively little information available even among specialists about alcoholism. But we can provide what official treatments never have, which is to help alcoholics learn to live as healthy people."

When the first group was formed here in 1987, a newspaper article suggested it was a C.I.A. front. The paranoia has faded, and there are now 70 A.A. groups meeting regularly across Russia and Ukraine, the movement's organizers said. But it is still very much a novelty in Russia.

Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the nation's best-known teetotaler, ran a temperance campaign while he was leader of the Soviet Union. It failed. Recent tax increases on vodka have had little effect but to drive drinkers to moonshine, chemicals and any other substances containing alcohol, causing the rate of death from alcohol poisoning to double in the last two years.

Traditional treatment for alcoholism has been the police drunk tank or medical "cures" of dubious value. Public debate about the drinking habits of President Boris N. Yeltsin has given the issue increased visibility -- "Your fondness for liquor is a secret only to yourself," one newspaper columnist wrote this week in an open letter to Mr. Yeltsin -- but counselors said that even private acknowledgment of alcoholism, much less a public pronouncement, remains anathema to most Russians.

Nonetheless, on this night, the cross-section of Muscovites attending the open A.A. meeting in the basement of an apartment building in the Novogireyevo neighborhood welcomed one another warmly, and one by one, gave their first names and identified themselves as alcoholics.

The group's 35 members ranged from teen-age girls to retired men, from entrepreneurs in sharp clothes to down-and-outers. Some said they had been sent by clinics. Others said they had heard of A.A. on the radio or in newspaper articles. Some said they were sober. Some were clearly drunk.

Sasha said he had been having a bad day, and provoked howls of sympathetic laughter when he said it had been made much worse by the recent plunge in the value of the ruble. Andrei talked about having been invited out by some old school friends, and of his relief at not being able to go, since they never would have understood his desire not to drink.

Nikolai, swaying, reeking of alcohol and with an open cut on his forehead, stood up and boasted that he had been sober for two months. The group hooted and told him to sit down.

Igor said that his sister and brother-in-law had asked him to leave the room they were providing him, and that he feared ending up sleeping on the street again in the rain and the mud.

"I feel I need a drink," he said. "I want a drink. But coming here I feel much better."

The movement's organizers in Russia said A.A. had been introduced into the country by representatives from the United States and Europe who came here in the mid-1980's, during Mr. Gorbachev's unsuccessful anti-alcohol campaign, to talk with doctors, the police, substance-abuse counselors and hospitals.

The group seems to be most appreciated by those members who are old enough to have been alcoholics under Communist rule.

Felix, who works at a research institute, said he was officially registered by the authorities as an alcoholic during the Brezhnev era. His name was kept on a list by the local police. Occasionally he would have to go to a hospital, where he was given injections or pills that were supposed to keep him from drinking.

"I was controlled only by fear," Felix said. "Now, coming here to A.A., I feel no fear at all. This way is much better."

But even among the younger members, the group appears to be meeting a need that neither the Government nor the medical establishment has addressed.

Igor, who discussed his fear of being thrown out by his sister and brother-in-law, said he started drinking 18 years ago, when he was 12. He was in and out of jail for years on robbery charges -- he said alcohol and drugs were easy to get in prison -- before deciding a few years ago to go straight.

"I got rid of my criminal connections," Igor said. "Somehow alcohol was harder."

After bouncing in and out of drunk tanks and hospitals, he was sent to alcoholics anonymous. six months ago by a counselor.

"It completely changed my life," Igor said. "The first time I came here, I'd been drunk for two months. I didn't understand much at that time, but I felt the warmth radiating from these people."

"Here I can tell these people my problems," he said. "Problems that I tried to talk about in the past to people who wouldn't listen." (Gleb Kosorukov for The New York Times)

Russian Drinkers Receive Higher Vodka Prices From Government

The Washington Post

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Minimum prices for vodka took effect in Russia on Friday as part of President Dmitry Medvedev's campaign to combat alcoholism at a time when Russians traditionally drink heavily during the New Year and Orthodox Christmas holidays.

The price of the cheapest half-liter vodka bottle will nearly double to a new minimum of 89 roubles ($2.95), according to the alcohol regulator's website

In the run-up to the New Year festivities, Moscow's supermarkets carried vast selections of vodka with luxury brands priced more than ten times above the new minimum. But elsewhere the cheapest vodka could be bought for 51 roubles.

Russia's lengthy New Year and Orthodox Christmas holidays, lasting from January 1 to 11, are traditionally marked by bumper alcohol consumption.

Successive Russian and Soviet leaders have tried before to reduce the country's drinking habit, with alcoholism blamed for the low life expectancy of Russian men.

In August, Medvedev ordered tough measures to curb alcohol abuse, saying he was shocked by official data showing the average Russian drank 18 liters (38 pints) of pure alcohol each year.

Since then, Russia has moved to triple the excise duty on beer and is considering drastic limits on where and when beer can be sold, such as banning the sale on street side kiosks.

There are also plans to raise duties for vodka, but these are separate measures that do not take effect yet.

The government said the measures were aimed "to reduce the level of alcohol dependency of the population," when it announced the plans on November 19.

Water or Vodka?

 The average monthly salary of 18,702 roubles ($651) would have bought 368 bottles of the cheapest vodka available before the New Year in an online supermarket, but 210 bottles now.

In 1985, the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev declared a war on the traditional evil of alcohol abuse, ordering dramatic cuts in the production of wines and spirits and introducing strict controls on public consumption of alcohol.

The campaign triggered a surge in illegal production of low-quality home-brewed booze and the curbs dealt a blow to the popularity of Gorbachev, the author of the liberal Soviet reform known as Perestroika.

The Moscow office of Alcoholics Anonymous stated that they continue their efforts to fight alcoholism in Russia, as they do throughout much of the world.

Binge Drinking Especially Dangerous For The Unaccustomed

The Sun - Inland Empire

For certain events, society provides encouragement for alcohol abuse.

And New Year's Eve ranks at the top, says Bob Forrest, chemical dependency program director at Las Encinas Hospital in Pasadena.

A vocalist for Los Angeles bands Thelonious Monster and The Bicycle Thief, Forrest has been a member of the treatment team on VH1's "Celebrity Rehab" and its spinoff, "Sober House."

An obsession to turn every day into New Year's Eve is the dividing line between a non-alcoholic and someone in need of alcohol treatment, he said.

But the non-alcoholic who gives into the urge to binge drink has as much to fear on New Year's Eve.

People who are unaccustomed to drinking have a lower tolerance for alcohol, said Dr. Marc Eckstein, medical director of the Los Angeles Fire Department and associate professor of emergency medicine at USC's Keck School of Medicine.

Eckstein has seen alcoholics with blood alcohol levels of between .400 and .500 sitting up and talking.

He has seen college students with blood alcohol levels of .100 in a state respiratory collapse.

In California, driving with a blood-alcohol content of .08 or above is one of two ways to be convicted of a DUI. The other is being an impaired driver.

The difference has to do with how the liver works to neutralize the toxic effects of alcohol. When the liver is exposed to alcohol regularly, it builds up enzymes to neutralize this bloodstream invader, Eckstein said.

People who do not have this buildup are more easily overwhelmed by it.

Women appear to be more susceptible to alcohol than men, but the reason may be as simple as they tend to weigh less than men and the amount of the enzyme needed to neutralize alcohol is proportional to body weight, said Thomas Otis, a neurobiologist at UCLA who has been researching alcohol's effects on the brain.

Eckstein cautions that when you see someone sleeping after drinking, try to wake them. If you can't, call 9-1-1.

This unconsciousness is likely the result of alcohol poisoning, he said.

Alcohol - a central nervous system depressant - deadens the gag reflex, setting up a potentially fatal situation.

If the "sleeping" person vomits - and they often do - they can breathe that into their lungs and asphyxiate.

In less frequent cases, alcohol may shut down breathing altogether, he said.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism notes, in a publication about New Year's Eve traffic deaths, that many New Year's revelers get into trouble because they do not recognize that driving-related skills and decision-making abilities are diminished long before physical signs of intoxication occur.

Revelers also frequently believe that they can drive safely once drinking has stopped.

Dr. Rodney W. Borger, chairman of the department of emergency medicine at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton, said that eating can help people to sober up, perhaps 5 percent to 10 percent faster.

Even after someone stops drinking, alcohol in the stomach continues to enter the bloodstream, according to the NIAAA. Judgment and coordination can be impaired for hours.

And driving home at night is especially dangerous - natural drowsiness is magnified by alcohol's depressant action, according to the NIAAA.

Driving abilities may even be impaired the next day, when alcohol remaining in the system, a headache or disorientation associated with hangovers, works against them.

Sobering Up Myths and Facts

MYTH: You can drive as long as you are not slurring words or acting erratically.

FACT: The skills and coordination needed for driving are compromised long before the obvious signs of intoxication are visible. Also, the sedative effects of alcohol combined with late-night hours place you at much greater risk of nodding off or losing attention behind the wheel.

MYTH: Drink coffee because the caffeine will sober you up.

FACT: Caffeine may help with drowsiness, but it doesn't counteract the effect of alcohol on decision-making or coordination. The body needs time to break down alcohol and even more time to return to normal.

SOURCE: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

No Booze At Jets-Bengals Game

The Star-Ledger

The Jets announced Wednesday that there will be no alcohol served at Sunday night's game against the Bengals at the Meadowlands.

Team spokesman Bruce Speight said the team makes the decision on a game-by-game basis and arrived at this decision after consulting with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.

Speight said the decision was made, in part, because it's a night game, it's the final game of the season and it's the last game at Giants Stadium and there were concerns about fan behavior.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Iron Man 3 To Feature Alcoholism

Digital Spy

Iron Man comic book artist Bob Layton has claimed that the third movie in the blockbuster franchise could see superhero Tony Stark slip into alcoholism.

Layton, who co-created the War Machine character and consulted on the script for the forthcoming Iron Man movie, suggested that a further sequel will be based on the 'Demon In A Bottle' storyline from the original Marvel comics.

He told MTV: "I think they've come up with a terrific segue to the third film, which I think is going to be fairly powerful. My understanding is that the third film could very well be the 'Demon In A Bottle' story mixed in there with everything and I'm kind of looking forward to that, if that's where they wind up going."

Iron Man 2, starring Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson and Mickey Rourke, opens in the UK on April 30.

From The UK: Condemnation Of Government Response To Alcoholism

Guardian UK

Government responses to Britain's "shocking" rise in binge drinking and alcoholism have ranged from "the non-existent to the ineffectual", the health select committee warns today.

Supermarkets and the drinks industry have more influence on government alcohol policies than health experts, the scornful report by MPs says.

Minimum prices, combined with restrictions on advertising and sponsorship, could save thousands of lives and billions of pounds a year.

The publication of the long-awaited report has triggered a fresh broadside of condemnation from health professionals frustrated by the failure of the government's strategy to tackle the escalating problems of drink-related violence and deaths.

The call for minimum pricing – already endorsed by England's chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, and backed by the Scottish government – does not receive the support of the three Conservative MPs on the health committee.

But the whole committee calls for a sharp rise in taxes on spirits and "industrial white cider", improved treatment services for alcoholics, a mandatory labelling scheme for drinks, and tougher regulation of alcohol promotion and advertising.

On minimum pricing, it says that a lower limit of 40p per unit of alcohol would cost a moderate drinker only 11p more a week and could save 1,100 lives a year. If the level were set at 50p a unit, it would save 3,000 people from liver disease and other fatal conditions.

Price controls would curb self-harm among young binge-drinkers and poorer, high-volume consumers, the report suggests, and they would encourage a switch-over to weaker wines and beers. Traditional pubs would also benefit, it says: the proposal is backed by the real ale campaign group Camra.

"The drinks industry is dependent on hazardous and harmful drinkers for three-quarters of its sales and, if people drank responsibly, alcohol sales would plummet by 40%," the report states.

English drinking habits have been transformed over the past 60 years, it warns. Average consumption has risen from an annual 3.5 litres of pure alcohol per head in 1947 to 9.5 now.

"The alcohol problem in this country reflects a failure of will and competence on the part of government department and quangos," says the report.

"We are concerned that government policies are much closer to, and too influenced by, those of the drinks industry and the supermarkets than those of expert health professionals."

When Sir Liam Donaldson backed minimum price controls last year, the prime minister rubbished his proposal, saying moderate drinkers should not suffer for the "excesses of a small minority". Last week, the NHS Confederation said alcohol abuse was costing the health service £2.7bn a year.

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: "Minimum pricing is essential and must be introduced alongside measures on labelling, sales and advertising, as part of an effective mandatory code."

Alison Rogers, chief executive of the British Liver Trust, commented: "Government vacillation and political cowardice are costing lives. Liver cirrhosis deaths have increased five-fold between 1970 and 2006, while in France, Italy and Spain, deaths have dropped between two- and four-fold." Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians, added: "Politicians, first in Scotland but now more widely in the UK, are coming to the inevitable conclusion that existing policies to reduce health harms caused by alcohol misuse have failed … The time has come for stronger regulation, particularly on price and availability."

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, of the British Medical Association, said: "This cosy relationship [between the government, the drinks industry and supermarkets] needs to end and we need … minimum pricing, higher taxation, reduced availability, improved regulation and better treatment for patients who have alcohol addiction problems."

The Liberal Democrat health spokesperson, Sandra Gidley, a committee member, said: "Stopping alcohol being sold at pocket-money prices is vital to tackle the problems of Booze Britain and start the process of national alcohol rehab. Gordon Brown must listen to respected medical opinion."

The drinks industry rejected the proposal outright. A spokesperson for SABMiller said: "Minimum pricing will have an impact on the vast majority of responsible, law-abiding people who drink moderately, whilst it would be ineffective in addressing the minority of excessive drinkers."

The public health minister, Gillian Merron, conceded that "alcohol is an increasing challenge to people's health" and said that the government was stepping up its public awareness campaigns. "We will consider all of the committee's proposals carefully and respond to them formally in due course," she added.

U.S. Backs Vaccines For Drug, Nicotine Addiction


Hooked on cocaine or cigarettes? The U.S. government wants drug companies to make a vaccine for that.

Convinced of the need for new and better treatments for addiction, the government is focusing its efforts on vaccine development as a new way to treat and possibly prevent addiction to a range of addictive substances.

"It's a perspective that is very different from what we've operated on in the past," Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse told reporters this week at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Chicago.

Volkow said the agency intends to piggyback on the frenetic investment by drug companies in vaccine development, spurred by the need for new products and the runaway success of products like Merck's Gardasil vaccine to prevent the virus that causes cervical cancer.

"There is an enormous amount of research and development in vaccines for cancers and a wide variety of disorders," she said. "We can take advantage of those developments."

But first Volkow has to tempt drug companies to develop the vaccines by funding costly clinical trials.

Earlier this month, her agency, part of the National Institutes of Health, awarded Nabi Biopharmaceuticals a $10 million grant -- the agency's largest ever -- for a late-stage clinical trial of Nabi's vaccine for nicotine addiction called NicVAX.

Volkow said she did her homework before backing the Nabi vaccine to ensure it was significantly different from other products. "Nonetheless, when you are investing in something at this level, it can be very risky," she said.

The vaccine is meant to stimulate the immune system to make antibodies against nicotine, blocking its rewarding effects and helping to prevent relapse in smokers trying to quit.


A similar anti-smoking vaccine by Cytos Biotechnology and Swiss drugmaker Novartis last week missed its main goal in a midstage study, leading some analysts to question whether it can make it to market.

"They are still looking at it but it has been very problematic," said Robert Wasserman, director of investment research at the investment banking firm Dawson James in Florida.

"Vaccines are really tough," he said. "It's not for the faint of heart."

Still, if it works, a nicotine vaccine could have a huge impact, Volkow said. "It's an international problem that kills 5 million individuals every year across the world," she said.

The global market for smoking cessation is expected to reach $4.6 billion by 2016, and vaccines could account for $2 billion in sales, according to independent market research firm Datamonitor.

Volkow said the same methods for making a nicotine vaccine could be used for other illicit substances.

Her agency backed a study released this month of an anti-cocaine vaccine that helped block the high felt by 38 percent of addicts who took it.

The vaccine was developed by Dr. Thomas Kosten of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, who used a similar approach to make a nicotine vaccine now being tested in Europe by private equity firm Celtic Pharma.

Volkow said drumming up drug company interest in vaccines for illicit drugs is a harder sell because of liability concerns, and the fact that drug abusers are stigmatized.

"Unfortunately, when it comes to cocaine addiction treatment ... most of the investment goes to the government," she said.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Eminem Seeks Addiction Help From Elton John

Detroit Examiner

Legendary singer/pianist Elton John is an unlikely confidant for oft troubled Detroit rapper Eminem, but Elton John says he's been helping Eminem kick drugs.

"I've been helping Eminem over the last 18 months and he's doing brilliantly," John told BBC Radio, without divulging details. The interview was taped over the holidays and broadcast today.

While John didn't discuss details, and host Danny Baker, did not pry, Eminem's drug problems are common knowledge.

"It's no secret I had a drug problem," Eminem told Vibe magazine, after he entered rehab in 2005 for addiction to sleeping pills before taking a three-year sabbatical.

    If I was to give you a number of Vicodin I would actually take in a day? Anywhere between 10 to 20. Valium, Ambien ... the numbers got so high I don't even know what I was taking.

When the rapper decided it was time to get help, he called Elton for support.

    He had a substance-abuse problem in the past. So when I first wanted to get sober, I called him, because he's somebody in the business who can relate to the lifestyle and how hectic things can be. He understands, like, the pressure and any other reasons that you wanna come up with for doing drugs.

Sir Elton John is no stranger to drug and alcohol abuse after his own battle with drugs and booze earlier in his legendary career. "To be honest with you, I don't know how I survived," John confessed. He acknowledges the problem is as rampant as it ever was.

    When you give it up, you tend to think everybody else has given it up, but of course it is just as prevalent as it ever was. And nowadays pills, such as downers, are even more damaging.

John has counseled other celebrity addicts over the years, including the late Michael Jackson, but says he doesn't force his advice on anyone. "I'm there if people want my help,"

"If people ask for help, you tell them where to go, but there's no point advising people if they don't want to do it."

Not everybody is interested in help or counsel. John has tried to help singer George Michael in the past only to be rebuffed. Elton holds no ill will though saying, "People used to tell me 'Oh, for Godsake, clean your act up." And I didn't want to know. I didn't want anyone's help. I used to get annoyed."

You can watch the entire interview here. (The Eminem conversation is at approximately 18-19 minutes in).

At the 2001 Grammy Awards, John and Eminem performed a memorable duet of the hip-hop star's hit song, "Stan." At the time, Eminem was under fire from gay rights groups because of his lyrics, but he later said he didn't know John was gay when he asked him to sing with him.