Alcohol linked to brain damage

You might not just realize this while downing a mug of chilled beer on a summer afternoon, but a new study has revealed that too much alcohol can cause permanent damage to brain.

The study has shown that too much alcohol can also cause brain injury and degeneration by inhibiting insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF)

With the help of postmortem human brain tissue, researchers showed that chronic alcohol abuse can decrease levels of genes needed for brain cells to respond to insulin/IGF, leading to neurodegeneration similar to that caused by Type 2 diabetes mellitus.

"Insulin is one of the most important hormones in the body," said Suzanne de la Monte, professor of pathology/ neuropathology and clinical neuroscience at Rhode Island Hospital and the Warren Alpert School of Medicine at Brown University.

"It has many functions, including regulation of metabolism. Cells throughout the body depend upon insulin just to stay alive and carry out 'ordinary daily functions. The best known diseases associated with abnormalities in insulin's availability or actions are Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes," she added.

The study showed that in chronic alcoholics' brains, there was significant insulin and IGF resistance in those regions known to be highly sensitive to alcohol's toxic effects.

"Alcohol is a toxin that clearly can injure or kill brain cells," de la Monte said.

"Fortunately, alcohol has to pass through the gastrointestinal tract and liver where enzymes detoxify alcohol, and consequently reduce the levels that reach the brain.

“However, in either high concentrations, or at lower levels over a longer period of time, alcohol will dissolve some of the lipid in the cell's membrane," she added.

During the study, researchers examined brain tissue from six male chronic alcoholics with a mean age of 57.7 years, and six male "controls" without alcoholism with a mean age of 57.5 years.

Two brain regions were selected for study – the cerebellar cortex, which sends information to the muscles causing them to move and cingulate gyrus in the frontal lobe, involved with emotion formation and processing, learning, and memory. These were major targets of alcohol's neurotoxicity.

The results showed that in chronic alcoholics' brains, there was significant insulin and IGF resistance in those regions known to be highly sensitive to alcohol's toxic effects.

De la Monte added that the insulin resistance their study found was quite similar to what happens in Type 2 diabetes, which means that alcoholic brain disease may be treatable in part by use of drugs that make brain cells more responsive to insulin and IGF.

source: Times of India


You are wrong Mr Hayes: the treatment system is NOT working!

For the last few years, I've thought a lot about how to change the treatment system so that helps more people overcome addiction and gain a better life. At one stage, I had come to the conclusion that I needed to work with the people at the top, to help them understand the shortcomings of the current treatment system and see how it could be changed.

I gave a talk at the FDAP Annual meeting last year where I described the shortcomings of the system and emphasised that unless we did something we would end up like the American treatment system in the late 1980s and early 1990s - money was slashed and the system collapsed. I also pointed out the way we needed to move forward, which I
have reiterated in the Wired In 'Way Forward'.

I had a very positive response to my talk from a senior person within the NTA and I thought that I could enter into some long-term dialogue with the NTA that would lead to positive change. A change to a treatment system that is based on people attaining recovery - and I mean a genuine recovery, not some politicised excuse of recovery - is inevitable sooner or later. I thought that I could help speed up the process.

Well, after seeing the Paul Hayes article in the Guardian today, I realise how naive I have been. I'm not going to go into any great detail about the article, but I have to confess that it has made me angry. I quote, 'Hayes dismisses his critics as a few academics, politicians and "ideologues" stocked up by the media'. This is absolute rubbish - Paul Hayes either has his head very deeply buried in the sand or he is deliberately being untruthful.
There are many, many thousands of people out there who know that the current treatment system is NOT working and is causing damage to many people. These people who know the truth come from many different aspects of life - they are users, ex-users, family members, practitioners, commissioners, members of the general public, etc.

I've been in the North West for the past couple of days and it was quite clear to me that the people I spoke to all knew many people who know the system is not working and are tired of the NTA spin. Even some commissioners who do not really care about people with substance use problems realise that the way methadone is being used in many treatment programmes is not reducing crime and is storing up problems for the future.

Anyone can use words to create a false story, mislead people by playing with facts, and distract them by creating false concerns. Sooner or later such people are found out for what they are doing. It is time that Paul Hayes is found out for what he is doing. I encourage those people who do not believe that the current treatment system is working to write to Gordon Brown and tell him. Write and complain that Paul Hayes is misleading the country about what is truly happening.

We are talking about people's lives here. They are far more important than defending the current treatment system. Mr Hayes may think that few people will stand up and be counted - and maybe initially this will be the case. But there is a gathering momentum in the country for a treatment system that is focused on improving people's lives - rather than giving them a pill to keep them quiet - with an increasing number of people getting fed up with Mr Hayes's spin. The day of reckoning will come.
People with substance use problems need opportunity, choice and hope. The UK treatment system is not providing these key elements.

I leave you with a quote from Stuart Honor,
'It is no great trick to take an impoverished, unemployed individual who is addicted to heroin (and crack?) and turn him (sic) into an impoverished, unemployed individual who is addicted to heroin, crack, methadone and/or alcohol and benzodiazepines.'


Keep taking the medicine

The head of the National Treatment Agency dismisses 'ideologues' who claim his organisation's addiction programmes aren't working. 'The evidence in favour is overwhelming'.

After seven years at the helm of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA), Paul Hayes is adamant that the addiction programmes he has overseen during his tenure are working. Not everyone is so convinced. On Radio 4 last week, Hayes was forced to defend his record against criticism that the current strategy of "treatment management" - using, for example, methadone for heroin addicts rather than "curing" their addiction - was failing and wrong-headed.

Hayes dismisses his critics as a few academics, politicians and "ideologues" stoked up by the media. He says any notion that investment in treatment programmes - central government funding has risen from £60m in 2001 to £400m in 2008-09 - has been a failure is wrong. The idea that treatment based on harm reduction could be replaced in future by an "abstentionist" approach, where success is measured primarily by the number of addicts "cured", is misguided, he insists. "We need to keep maintenance prescribing as an integral part of the drug treatment system because it stabilises people, reduces crime, reduces deaths."

The number of problem users in contact with treatment services has more than doubled in the last 10 years, from 85,000 to 195,000. Hayes says this is a clear indication that the system is working, but is far from the whole picture. Treatment centres, he insists, are also about taking the opportunity to ensure they help "as many people as they can to overcome their addiction, leave treatment and get on with their lives. But that's always been the objective of policy, so to a large extent a false division has been created. Rather more has been made of this very sharp split than it actually warrants."

There is an element of electioneering and political expediency to the current debate, Hayes suggests. "There was a political consensus for some time that drug treatment was a good thing and that, therefore, the more we had of it the better. There was consensus that the maintenance-led prescribing regime, which has got all the evidence behind it, is right. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence says it's the right approach, the World Health Organisation says it's the right approach - but always with an expectation that those people who could leave treatment free of their drug dependency should be encouraged to do so."

So if this is the case, why is there a debate now? Is it that the evidence doesn't stack up? Hayes says the evidence is clear and robust. "There are 130% more people in treatment than when we started [in 2001], rather than half the people dropping out because treatment isn't of good quality."

Chaotic lifestyles

But it isn't just about treatment numbers, he says. The impact on crime and a reduction in the social fallout from the chaotic lifestyles of problem drug users is also important to understand, he insists. "Long-term crime is falling, and when we match the criminal histories of people going through the treatment system, we show a reduction in arrests and charges. A York University study showed that for every £1 invested in treatment, the community gets £9.50-worth of benefit back - most of which is crimes that haven't happened."

Hayes suggests criticisms began to gain traction a year-and-a-half ago when the Conservative party's Social Justice Policy Group, headed by Iain Duncan Smith, published its Breakdown Britain report. A lengthy document examining the causes of social breakdown and poverty, the report concluded that an "explosion of addiction" was a major factor in fostering wider social exclusion. The possibility that policy might change direction under a future Conservative government was also mooted when it asked if current policy was "treating the symptoms rather than the causes", and concluded that treatment was being pushed in "the wrong direction, preferring maintenance to recovery".

Hayes insists that, despite the signs of a sea change indicated by Breakdown Britain, "the political reality" is very different. "If you actually scrape away the rhetoric of Breakdown Britain, you find people saying, 'Yes, methadone does work. We're not actually anti-methadone, but it's been given too much of a role in the past.'" He cautions against reading too much into the report. "What you promise in opposition and what you are forced to deliver in government are very different. You have to face the reality of the evidence and the resources you have available."

But how can Hayes be so sure that drastic changes in policy direction are not on the horizon if a Conservative administration does make it to Downing Street? If past performance in government is anything to go by, he says, then pragmatism dictates what is done. He points out that the "shift in policy away from an abstinence-driven policy towards a harm reduction policy took place when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister".

It also comes down, he says, to the fact that "very few people will deny there's a correlation" between drug dependency and crime. He argues that this, along with the "many complex problems" such as mental health difficulties that tend to come with people who are drug-dependent, tends to steer politicians down a more pragmatic path when in power.

So does Hayes concede anything to his critics? He admits that if the funding dries up things could get difficult - but says there is enough "for the moment". He also accepts that as the cash has been "pumped in" and local treatment services have expanded, quality of provision and cost-effectiveness has not always kept up. "You can't do that overnight," he says, adding that improving the quality of services - and therefore outcomes - will be a focus for the NTA for the next three years. Addressing critics who might say progress isn't coming quickly enough, he responds: "There is inevitably a time lag between the investment and the investment bearing fruit."

As for the future, Hayes sounds confident. "The evidence in favour of current approaches to treatment are overwhelming," he says. "The evidence and the cost-effectiveness will stand the test of examination and will stand up to whatever political spin is put on it. It may well be recast, relabelled, repackaged, but the evidence is the strength."
source: The Guardian U.K


Tortured by addiction, couple getting back on their feet with Meridian clinic's help

The Center for Behavioral Health offers treatment to help people regain control of their lives

At first, Erika Sternberg and Dan Templeman used prescription painkillers to relax and have fun on the weekends.

Then Erika's father, whom the Boise couple loved dearly, died about two years ago. That tragedy changed the role of drugs in the couple's life. Vicodin, a prescription opiate, wasn't for having fun. It was for getting numb.

"I couldn't have a peace about (the death)," Sternberg said. "It really disturbs my soul."

During two years of drug use and attempts to quit, the couple hit bottom several times.

The Center for Behavioral Health in Meridian opened when the couple needed it most.

With daily treatment, Sternberg, 27, and Templeman, 30, have started to put their lives back together.

Until this spring, Idaho was one of only a few states without a methadone clinic. Methadone is a synthetic form of morphine that helps most people wean themselves from opiates or heroin.

The Center for Behavioral Health, which opened April 7, is part of a for-profit chain of centers in nine states. The outpatient facilities offer treatment and counseling for every addiction.

Fewer than 30 people are in treatment at the Meridian center, partly because of the downturn in the economy, said co-owner Brant Massman, of Boise.

"The response has been very positive," Massman said. "However, because of the economy being where it's at, I can't say that things are booming."

For Templeman, the road to addiction started with surgery to remove his gall bladder. "That's pretty much how most people get hooked on stuff like Vicodin," he said.

At first, Templeman simply asked his doctor for more refills "and then pretty much you just buy them from people," some of whom had unused prescriptions, including for OxyContin, which carries a national reputation as a highly addictive opiate sometimes prescribed to relieve severe pain.

Sternberg was making good money at an office job and bought presents for Templeman, who worked at the Boise Airport.

In addition, she said, "We had gotten my wedding ring."

Eventually, Templeman's sources of prescription painkillers dried up. He decided to use heroin. He said it was to wean himself off prescription painkillers.

"First, we did it just on the weekends, and it just gradually increased," Sternberg said. "We'd do it two days in a row and then ... after a while you just have to have it."

Desperate to hang on to their jobs, the two tried to find a detox center in Boise to get help. With no health insurance, they came up empty. They were missing a lot of work and performing poorly because of their drug habits, and they were afraid of losing their jobs. They pawned possessions to get money.

"It was both depressing and humiliating," Sternberg said. "There were several times I would just break down and cry, but I just couldn't stop."

Through relatives and friends, they heard about a detox program in Seattle, but were unable to stay long enough for aftercare and were using again within a few months.

They went to a methadone clinic in Ontario, but fell behind on paying for their medication and were forced to leave the clinic for nonpayment.

Withdrawal followed.

"You want to keep thinking of ways to die, but you are too weak to do it," Sternberg said. "If there had been a gun, you would have pulled the trigger, because you just want it to end. You don't want to die, but you want a way out."

Since starting their treatment at the Meridian clinic things are looking up.

"For the first time, I don't crave any alcohol or drugs or anything," Sternberg said.

At the Meridian clinic, the couple pays $55 each a week for a daily dose of methadone in a cherry-flavored liquid.

The pair recently began working at Deseret Industries, where they make less than $6 an hour hanging clothes and sorting merchandise for a second-hand store. Deseret Industries, sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will also provide up to $3,000 to help the non-Mormon couple learn a trade or career skills, they said.

The couple's only wish: That the state's Medicaid program would help addicts pay for maintenance, as a few other states do.

"(Addiction) can affect anybody," Sternberg said. "It doesn't mean that you're a bum or homeless or a junkie or any of those things."


Bipolar Teens at Greater Risk for Drug Abuse

A study from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) supports previous reports that adolescents with bipolar disorder are at increased risk for smoking and substance abuse. Researchers say the study is a reminder that teens with bipolar disorder should be screened for drug and alcohol use and abuse.

“This work confirms that bipolar disorder (BPD) in adolescents is a huge risk factor for smoking and substance abuse, as big a risk factor as is juvenile delinquency,” says Timothy Wilens, MD, director of Substance Abuse Services in MGH Pediatric Psychopharmacology, who led the study. “It indicates both that young people with BPD need to carefully be screened for smoking and for substance use and abuse and that adolescents known to abuse drugs and alcohol – especially those who binge use – should also be assessed for BPD.”

It has been estimated that up to 20 percent of children and adolescents treated for psychiatric problems have bipolar disorder, and there is evidence that pediatric and adolescent BPD may have features, such as particularly frequent and dramatic mood swings, not found in the adult form of the disorder. While elevated levels of smoking and substance abuse previously have been reported in young and adult BPD patients, it has not been clear how the use and abuse of substances relates to the presence of BPD or whether any increased risk could be attributed to co-existing conditions such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conduct disorder or anxiety disorders.

The current study, which appeared in the June issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence, analyzes extensive data – including family histories, information from primary care physicians, and a detailed psychiatric interview – gathered at the outset of a continuing investigation following a group of young BPD patients into adulthood. In addition to 105 participants with diagnosed BPD, who enrolled at an average age of 14, the study includes 98 control participants of the same age, carefully screened to rule out mood disorders.

Incidence of each measure – alcohol abuse or dependence, drug abuse or dependence, and smoking – was significantly higher in participants with BPD than in the control group. Overall, rates of substance use/abuse were 34 percent in the bipolar group and 4 percent in controls.

The data also indicated that bipolar youth whose symptoms began in adolescence were more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than were those whose symptoms began in childhood. “It could be that the onset of mood dysregulation in adolescence puts kids at even higher risk for poor judgement and self-medication of their symptoms,” Wilens says.
source: Coalitions Online


Definition of binge drinking has its limits

A Regina man believes most people are binge drinkers if you accept the medical definition of a "binge."

"Binge drinking is defined by a number of different sources as consuming five or more drinks for males and four or more for females on one occasion," said Marta England, supervisor of the Alcohol and Drug Education and Prevention Directorate with the Ministry of Health.

The sources include the Canadian Medical Association, a Canadian Addiction Survey and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

The definition astounds Kyle Wylie.

"If I'm going out with some friends for dinner and then maybe we go to a sit-down pub, we'll probably have five drinks in the span of five hours, so is that a binge drinker? By this definition yes, but I wouldn't consider it that way," said the 23-year-old.

Wylie believes a binge drinker is someone who drinks so much that he or she can't make responsible decisions.

"There are females who can drink five or six drinks and be reasonable and there are guys who can drink two or three drinks and be totally unreasonable," he said. "I was a binge drinker most of high school and a lot of my friends and a lot of the people who were in my high school would definitely say they were binge drinkers too -- by my definition, drinking until you're out of control."

Polling was done in 2006 to determine the consumption levels of young Saskatchewan adults so that educational campaigns about the dangers of binge drinking could be tailored for them.

"The campaigns that we've done have focused on the 18- to 29-year-olds who tend to have the heaviest consumption," England said. "Nearly 30 per cent said they had consumed more than five drinks on at least one occasion and 40.5 per cent said they'd consumed more than 10 drinks on at least one occasion in the past 12 months."

Wylie doesn't dispute the statistics.

"In high school, you'd show up with a 12-pack, not a six-pack -- those statistics are very bang on," he said.

England said binge drinking isn't just a problem in Saskatchewan but across the country and world. Since alcohol is a legal drug that's socially acceptable, drinking seems to go hand in hand with celebrations, but that comes at a cost, she said.

According to the Ministry of Health, alcohol use costs Saskatchewan $508.7 million in lost productivity, absenteeism and disability.

"These are some things that we've got to think about -- is it OK for it to be a rite of passage or is it too costly to be a rite of passage?" England questioned.

While the public has received education about the harms associated with drinking and driving, she said many are unaware of the dangers associated with binge drinking.

"There's all sorts of assaults and fights that happen, unplanned, unprotected or unwanted sexual relations, sexually transmitted infections as well as the more long-term physical harms such as memory loss," she said. "Those are some of the harms that we talk to young people about."

Drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time is more harmful to brain cells than any other pattern of drinking.

"Young people still have that infallible sense that 'it won't happen to me,' so we have to go beyond that and have some community and provincial policies in place that reinforce them to make better decisions," England said. "One thing that we did last year and that we're planning for this year again is to get information into Welcome Week packages and orientation packages at the post-secondary institutions."

She said students want to know about the hazards but don't want to be told what to do.

"We talk about alternative kinds of activities that people can be involved in with both younger youth and the post-secondary youth but some of them have indicated that non-alcoholic sponsorship of events is very hard to come by," England said. "It takes a lot of partners and a lot of different approaches to take a look at binge drinking."

Wylie agrees youths will be turned off by a preachy approach and suggests that young adults whose drinking has caused problems should share their experiences with students.

He drastically cut back on his drinking after he suffered blackouts.

"There's a point where you say, 'Wow, why did I do that?' or you wake up in the morning and you say, 'What did I do?' That made me realize that I had to make a change," he said.

Binge Drinking in Saskatchewan

Of 499 young Saskatchewan adults between the ages of
18 and 29 years who were surveyed in 2006 . . .

42% said they drank more than they intended at least once in the past 12 months.

27% said that, on at least one occasion, they couldn't remember events of the previous night due to drinking.

30% reported they had consumed more than five drinks on at least
one occasion.

15% said their drinking had resulted in someone being physically
injured during the past year.

© The Leader-Post (Regina) 2008


World offers President Karzai extra $20bn to stem drug trafficking

World donors promised Afghanistan more than $20 billion (£10 billion) of new aid, plus fresh moral support, yesterday, but told President Karzai that they were losing patience with his Government’s failure to stem rampant graft and drug trafficking.

Under international pressure over the lack of progress in rebuilding his country, Mr Karzai promised to fight corruption and sought understanding. Poppy-growing farmers, for example, needed help, he said. “Opium is about survival for them.”

The United States, represented by Laura Bush, its First Lady, opened the pledges at the Paris donors’ conference with a $10.2 billion commitment over five years. “Afghanistan has reached a decisive moment for its future. We must not turn our back on this opportunity,” she said.

David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, promised £600 million. He praised progress made in security and healthcare but said that there was a long way to go in building good governance in Afghanistan. The growing links between the insurgency and the drugs industry - which, Mr Miliband said, was reflected in the haul of 235 tonnes of cannabis resin worth about £200 million - had to be tackled.

The total was well short of the $50 billion that Mr Karzai was seeking from the 80 nations and organisations that have already promised $25 billion since 2002. Only $15 billion of that has been spent so far, much of it ineffectively and wastefully, according to aid experts. Afghanistan depends on aid for 90 per cent of its needs.

Nevertheless, Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Minister, called the conference “an unexpected success”. “We had hoped in our most optimistic moments to raise perhaps 17 billion at the most,” he said.

President Sarkozy of France led a chorus of support for Mr Karzai’s fragile Government as the best hope for Afghanistan. “It is the duty of all democrats to help you,” he said. Mr Sarkozy, who has deepened French engagement with the forthcoming deployment of 900 combat troops, said that Afghanistan “was taken hostage by a regime allied to terrorism”.

About 8,000 people were killed last year in the fight with a rejuvenated Taleban, which is trying to break Western will to keep the Nato-led force of 47,000 in Afghanistan.

Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General, called for “active measures” against corruption, more transparency and better management of aid.

Stephen Smith, the Australian Foreign Minister, said that reconstruction had been slow. Mr Smith told The Times that “the Afghan Government has to start taking some responsibility” for the administration of the aid funds.

Mr Karzai cited progress in building roads and hospitals, and in fighting opium production since the 2001 fall of the Taleban regime, but he acknowledged: “There is a long way still ahead of us . . . Afghanistan needs adequate, long-term and predictable support.”


Documentary looks at faith and Alcoholics Anonymous

Broadcast premiere will be at 10 tonight on local PBS channels. Filmmakers interview experts on religion and 12-step program

The place of religious faith in Alcoholics Anonymous gets extensive consideration in the documentary God As We Understand Him: A Film About Faith and the 12 Step Movement.

Airing at 10 tonight on WNEO/WEAO (Channels 45/49), the hourlong production comes from the Akron-based husband-and-wife team of Joshua Gippin and Shane Wynn, who began work on it two years ago. There have been some public screenings; tonight's telecast is its broadcast premiere.

In news materials for the show, Gippin says he set out to understand how non-Christians could use A.A.'s 12 steps when A.A. has roots in Christianity. The film, in fact, looks not only at non-Christians but also at nonbelievers, atheist and agnostic. And in doing so, it has to confront the controversial We Agnostics chapter in A.A.'s Big Book. While the chapter does not call for belief in a specific god or higher power, it still argues for some basic belief — that the Big Book's message is ''spiritual as well as moral.''

To see how people have dealt with that issue, God As We Understand Him interviews not only theologians but also members of A.A. of different beliefs. The A.A. members are shown from the neck down, preserving their anonymity; onscreen graphics identify their religious foundation (even if it's a phrase like ''born-again heathen'') and how long they have been sober. Gippin says he interviewed 33 A.A. members between January and November 2007.

Local experts in the documentary include Victoria Sanelli of Ignatia Hall, Colleen Ryszka of Edwin Shaw Rehab, Pastor George Murphy of St. Paul's Episcopal Church of Akron, Mohamed Ismail of the Islamic Society of Akron and Kent, Rabbi Susan B. Stone of Temple Beth Shalom in Hudson, the Rev. Nancy O. Arnold of Unitarian Universalist Church of Akron, and Hindu priest and Kent State professor emeritus Surinder Bhardwaj.

While the program throws off a lot of sparks about the issues of faith and A.A., in the end it rests on a statement from A.A. co-founder Bill W.: ''Honesty gets us sober. Tolerance keeps us sober.''

''For all their apparent differences, [A.A. members] are united by a common problem,'' the documentary says shortly before presenting a range of people reciting the Serenity Prayer, in more than one language. ''And this is the story of us all, the story of over 6.6 billion humans who live together on Planet Earth. If only the world were more like an A.A. meeting.''

God As We Understand Him is also available on DVD, with about 50 minutes of extra material and a discussion guide. You can buy it through


Drug problems affect society as a whole

I applaud Scotland's Future Forum on their forthright recommendations for the development of treatment and care services for those with drug and alcohol problems. Doubtless there will be criticism of proposals to prescribe pharmaceutical heroin. However, it should be noted that this already occurs elsewhere in Europe, and in North America, and safe injecting areas are available. Indeed, limited prescription of heroin already occurs within the UK, with some success. The prescription of heroin, methadone, and alternatives such as Suboxone, all have a potential role to play in moving drug users along the road to recovery.

In combination with the Scottish Government's significant new investment in the education, prevention, and treatment of alcohol problems, and the recently published Road to Recovery drugs policy, it is to be hoped that we might see a significant improvement in treatment and care services, with commensurate improvement in outcomes, and fewer drug and alcohol-related deaths.

It is also heartening to see a growing recognition that addiction is not simply a problem that can be treated medically and which only affects the individual. Rather, alcohol and drug problems affect families, organisations and society as a whole. As such, solutions must be found that are medical, psychosocial, economic, and cultural.

I look forward to parliament's response.

Dr Gary Tanner, Clinical Lead, Alcohol and Drug Services, NHS Lanarkshire, Coathill Hospital, Coatbridge.


Scientists Launch Major Study Into Depression

Depression will affect up to 25% of the population at some point in their lives. It also has been shown to have a strong genetic component. For example, if one of your close family members has depression, your chance of also being a sufferer is three to four times the general population risk.

Now University of Aberdeen researchers have joined forces with the University of Liverpool and the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London to try to find the genetic causes of depression.

They believe the answers could lie with short DNA sequences which act as 'genetic switches' controlling key genes in an area of the brain that influences mood.

These switches ensure that certain genes are only used in the correct parts of the brain at the proper times and in the right dose. Any changes in these can cause imbalances in the amount of critical proteins in the brain that may increase susceptibility to depression.

Unlike genes, little is know of these switches, technically known as enhancers, because up until now they have been very hard to find.

Recently, however, it was found that these switches were so important in evolution that they have been kept, nearly unchanged, through hundreds of millions of years from a time before the dinosaurs.

Dr Alasdair MacKenzie, Senior Lecturer at the University of Aberdeen, and the scientist leading the study, explained: "Only by comparing the genomes of species as diverse as mice, marsupials and birds has it been possible to identify these switches as, in many cases, they are located far away from the genes they control. The distances involved are as surprising as having a light bulb in London with the switch for controlling it in Liverpool."

Comparing the genomes of different species has helped them to identify the switches responsible for controlling genes known to be involved in depression, as well as addiction, obesity and inflammatory pain.

This new study funded by the Medical Research Council will allow them to build on their earlier work and also analyse common sequence differences found in the general population which can result in increased risk of developing depression.

Researchers in Aberdeen and Liverpool will study the functional effect of these 'switch' sequences. Scientists at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's, led by Dr Gerome Breen and Professor Peter McGuffin, will look at common variations found in these sequences using DNA samples taken from thousands of patients with chronic depression.

It is hoped the three year study - which will also examine why some sufferers do not respond to anti-depressant treatments - will ultimately pave the way for new drugs to treat the condition.

Dr Alasdair MacKenzie said: "This study would have been impossible even four years ago. It is only through advances in the sequencing of the DNA of many different species that we can now use powerful computers to pick out the most important bits of the human genome that includes the switches needed to control genes.

"In addition to depression, this technology has the potential for exploring the causes of a number of other disorders including chronic pain, obesity or even cancer."

Professor Quinn at the University of Liverpool said: "This study hopes to discover how the same genes in different people are controlled in slightly different ways in the parts of the brain that control fear and mood.

"We hope to link differences in the switches that control these genes with susceptibility to distressing conditions such as depression and chronic anxiety. Also, we hope to find out how these differences may change the way that depressed patients respond to their medicines."

Dr Breen, jointly leading the Institute of Psychiatry at King's involvement, said: "We can now analyse millions of genetic variations in the human genome but it is only studies like that that will allows us to track down those that are important in disorders such as depression."

Professor McGuffin added: "We are delighted to be part of such a potentially exciting project and look forward to our collaboration further enlightening clinical research and practice."
source: Medical News Today


Caffeine and alcohol shake up the brain

Caffeine and alcohol consumption have a direct effect on our brain chemistry.

An estimated 80 to 90 percent of Americans report having caffeine on a daily
basis. Caffeine can be found in foods such as chocolate, in many beverages such
as coffee, tea, soft drinks and energy drinks, and in over-the-counter
medicines such as aspirin.

The degree of sensitivity can vary greatly from person to person. Caffeine is a
drug that stimulates the central nervous system. While it increases levels of
serotonin, it also links to specific receptors on the surface of brain cells
normally reserved for another naturally occurring and calming neurotransmitter
called adenosine.

When caffeine replaces adenosine, the brain is more reactive to stimulants,
such as noise and light, which is why a person often feels more alert and
talkative after consuming caffeine.


The effect of caffeine on mood depends on the amount consumed and the
individual's dependence and tolerance. For those who have caffeine only
occasionally, low doses of 20 to 200 mg usually produce a positive mood.

For daily consumers, this positive mood is associated more with the relief from
symptoms like fatigue and lethargy that are so often experienced when caffeine
is withdrawn. Larger doses of caffeine (200 mg or greater) have been associated
with increased anxiety and nervousness.

Some evidence indicates that chocolate may temporarily improve mood. Chocolate
contains high levels of sugar, which increases levels of serotonin, and also
contains fat, which is associated with endorphin release. The caffeine in
chocolate can provide a temporary stimulant effect.


Despite a common myth that alcohol is a mood elevator, unlike caffeine, it
actually acts as a depressant in the body. The notion that alcohol elevates
mood rather than depresses it probably stems from the fact that after a few
drinks, many people begin to lose their inhibitions and appear happier and more

A negative emotional state before drinking can affect the way a person responds
to alcohol. Feeling angry or sad and then drinking, for example, often only
ends up intensifying these emotions.

Studies to determine exactly how alcohol affects the brain are ongoing. We do
know that alcohol changes mood chemically, relaxing brain signals that control
thinking and judgment. It increases levels of dopamine, the neurotransmitter
that affects brain processes controlling movement, emotional response and other

Serotonin is also thought to play an important role in how the brain reacts to
alcohol. Neurotransmitters connect signals from one nerve to the next, allowing
the signal to flow smoothly. Alcohol interferes with this process, reducing the
natural flow in the brain, which in turn, depresses both mental and physical

Just as with caffeine, some people experience withdrawal symptoms when they
stop consuming alcohol. These symptoms are most likely to occur with those who
drink heavily or who consume alcohol frequently and can include anxiety,
depression, fatigue, headache, irritability, shakiness, sweating and nausea.
Severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms can include fever, blackouts,
hallucinations, agitation and convulsions.
source: St-Louis Post Dispatch


Gambling addict is still fighting the demons

"Why don't you just get lost?"

The words, tossed out at the end of an otherwise unremarkable marital dispute, slapped Wayne Davies a lot harder than they should have.

"It just hit me and pierced my heart," Davies said. "I got my feelings hurt, and I just took it like a little kid."

He ran.

He was in the truck 10 minutes before he realized he had pointed it toward a Council Bluffs casino. Davies, a retired shipbuilder and longtime advocate against the spread of gambling, was headed back to the slot machines that once cost him his dream home, his quiet California retirement and nearly everything else he owned. According to Davies, gambling was a mistress he thought he'd left behind when he moved to Iowa and rediscovered the Bible roughly 13 years ago.

"It was unplanned," he said. "There was no intention. It just kind of snuck up on me."

So, while West Des Moines police searched for the "lost" 68-year-old heart patient, Davies burned up 36 hours and roughly $1,300, one casino-cashed check at a time.

But Wayne Davies ultimately found his way back. And he wants you to understand.

"I don't feel this time that I fell, so much as I stumbled," Davies said in a meeting room at the Valley Junction church where he still presides over a weekly anti-addiction support group. "You don't get ahead by looking back. ... You get ahead by looking forward."

Iowa experts figure that up to 5 percent of the population wrestles with some form of gambling addiction, but there are no statistics on how those people fare in long-term battles with their demons. The best Iowa survey says slightly fewer than 71 percent of problem gamblers can expect to be gambling-free six months after they finish addiction treatment.

Most should expect to feel that familiar pull for the rest of their lives, said Lisa Pierce, director of the nonprofit Central Iowa Gambling Treatment Program. If they are successful in treatment, most will manage to turn somewhere for help before they get too far out of control.

"There are always going to be certain things that trigger it though life as crises come up," Pierce said. "You're always going to be compulsive. You're always going to have compulsive tendencies."

Davies, a San Francisco-area shipbuilder, gambled for the first time as part of all-night excursion with his work buddies to Lake Tahoe on the California-Nevada line. He was 21. Over the next few decades, he and his wife and two children made frequent weekend trips to casinos, mostly in Reno, Nev. They'd spend the night, see a show and play some slot machines. It was fun.

As time passed, however, freeways sprang up and made it quicker and easier to get to Nevada. Davies' children grew up and moved away. He began to gamble longer and longer during the trips. His wife, who didn't like his refusals to quit, began to stay behind.

By the mid-1990s, the debts had begun to pile up. Chunks of money intended for a new house found their way into the slot machines. By the time the couple's retirement home was finished, there was too much debt to afford the payments.

Finally, during a visit to his son in Iowa, Davies' granddaughter told him he needed to accept Jesus into his life.

"I just buried myself in the Bible, and that's what got me out of it," he said. "None of my ways was ever going to do it."

A few years later, in 1997, Davies paid the city of Madrid $1 for the deed to a dilapidated old movie theater. The plan was to refurbish and reopen it as a venue for good, old-fashioned family-friendly films from the 1940s and '50s. Down the road, there was supposed to be a restaurant and maybe an addiction treatment center next door.

"This shows what a dollar and a dream can do," former Vice President Dan Quayle said in a pre-caucus visit to the theater in 1999.

But there were never enough dollars, so Davies ultimately abandoned the dream. He moved to West Des Moines.

Today, he uses space at the Valley Junction Church of God to run Family Tyme, a nonprofit organization set up as part of the theater project. He's been working with experts, including Pastor David Redden, and hopes to train people to run support groups similar to the one he leads on Tuesday nights at the church.

"Wayne is not doing the training," Redden said. "What he's doing is saying, 'These people need help like I need help.' "

Twelve people are lined up for classes that begin later this month. The focus, according to Davies, will be simple: Live by the Bible.

You don't have to be perfect. You just can't let anything knock you too far off the path.

For his own part, Davies says he's worked to cut expenses and eliminate bills and the stress that leads to his weakness.

"I don't think I should ever get the attitude that I don't need a support group like this," Davies said. "I can't do it for them. I can only encourage them. But I know the way."

Now, especially.
source: Des Moines Register


Quitting Smoking Increases The Chance Of Staying Sober

People who are dependent on alcohol are also likely to smoke cigarettes. Many experts believe that it's important to counsel alcohol-dependent individuals to give up smoking as well as drinking not just to improve their health, but also to increase their chances of staying sober, reports the June 2008 issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter.

It is a common worry that trying to quit smoking and drinking at the same time will undermine treatment for alcohol dependence. However, most studies have reported that efforts to quit smoking either have no impact on maintaining sobriety or actually increase success of alcohol treatment.

There are no smoking cessation guidelines specifically for alcohol-dependent adults. For now, the best option is to follow the federal guidelines for treating tobacco dependence, which recommend a combination of counseling and medication.

A major and still unresolved question is whether it's better to give up smoking and drinking together, or whether it's better to tackle one addiction at a time. Researchers have found that when smoking cessation support was delayed by six months, study participants were more likely to remain sober compared with those who received concurrent treatment for both addictions. But a follow-up analysis found that this may have been true only for white people in the study.

Dr. Michael Miller, editor in chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter, notes that no single approach is best for every person struggling with both alcohol and nicotine addiction. Whether an individual quits smoking during alcohol treatment or later, it's a net health gain.

Harvard Health Publications
Harvard Medical School 10 Shattuck St., Ste. 612
Cambridge, MA 02115
United States


A new National Directory of addiction and alcoholism treatment centers, therapists and specialists.

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If you are a professional offering services, we provide a first class showcase for what you have to offer. Our site consists of an easy to use search center that will match your needs to the services provided by professionals in your area. We also offer discussion forums where you can dialogue with others about various relevant topics. We provide cutting edge news on a variety of treatment related topics and offer a blog section in which you can journal about your personal experience.

Many individuals will not seek treatment for various reasons. It has been our experience that 'active' addicts and alcoholics, as well as people afflicted with different addictions or physical conditions can sometimes lose the ability to reason. A therapist or specialist for a specific illness or addiction issue, or a full-fledged residential treatment center can and will help. You, and/or your loved one, can find it at

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You provide the hope. We provide the help is a national directory for treatment centers, therapists and specialists. We offer a free, simple and comprehensive index that provides assistance and guidance for those seeking help regarding alcohol addiction, drug addiction, eating disorders, cancer and many other conditions that affect the mind, body and soul.

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source: TransWorld News


'We can't stop our son drinking'

As the government tries to tackle anti-social drinking by targeting parents, the BBC's Jon Kelly speaks to a couple who say they are powerless to prevent their son abusing alcohol. All names have been changed.

Luke Thomson had always been a model son - caring, sensible and hard-working.

But after falling in with a group of friends whose lives revolved around heavy drinking, his parents soon witnessed an ugly transformation.

As a result of his bingeing, Luke would become aggressive, abusive and suicidal. His work suffered, he spiralled into debt and lost his driving licence.

Horrified at the changes in their son, mother Amanda, 53, and father Andrew, 55, have battled to help him, but Luke - now 21 - remains beyond their reach.

From being a sensitive young man, he turned into someone with a split personality
Andrew, father

"It's heartbreaking to watch this happening to a boy that I love," says Amanda.

"But however much we try to help him, it's his friends he listens to - not his parents. That's what the government don't understand."

Downward spiral

Like Andrew, she is deeply sceptical of the home secretary's plans to prosecute adults whose children are caught boozing in public.

For three years they have tried everything to curb Luke's drink problem, to little effect. Stripping the house of alcohol has failed, as have attempts to keep him away from the friends whose influence they believe has had such a pernicious effect.

And as a professional couple from the rural south of England, Andrew and Amanda warn that their situation could happen to anyone.

Luke had been a well-behaved and considerate teenager, but his downward spiral began on his 18th birthday when the new group of friends thought it would be funny to get him hopelessly drunk.

After staying up with his son all night as the teenager experienced his first dose of alcohol poisoning, Andrew hoped it would at least put his son off booze for life. But he was to be proved wrong.

"We'd never had any problems with him growing up, and I'd always been quite anti-alcohol," Andrew recalls.

"But from being a sensitive young man, he turned into someone with a split personality."

As they grew more and more concerned about Luke's increasingly heavy alcohol intake, his parents found they were powerless to help.

He moved into a flat with his new friends, who were used to spending the entirety of each morning sleeping off their hangovers.

Andrew and Amanda believed the group were taking advantage of their son, who had saved carefully as a teenager to buy his own car.

But every time his parents tried to reach out to him, Luke pushed them further away.

"I'd tell him his drinking was out of control, and he'd say, 'I'm too old for you to tell me what to do,'" remembers Amanda.

"Eventually I was so concerned that I spoke to one of the girls he lived with that I thought Luke was becoming an alcoholic.

"So she went and said to him that all I wanted to do was interfere and he should keep away."

'Real problem'

Luke's drinking came to a head when, after a drunken row with his friends, he sat alone at the wheel of his car.

He had kept the engine switched off, but when the police spotted him he was charged and eventually given a 20-month ban.

Until he admits he has a problem and gets help, there's no way out
Amanda, mother

Unable to drive, his prospects at work as an estate agent suffered and his confidence plummeted further.

Two months later, addled with debt, he moved back home. But Andrew and Amanda were still unable to stop his binges.

His mother believes that a girlfriend might help Luke find the self-assurance and maturity he needs to break out of his self-destructive lifestyle, but a vicious cycle keeps him trapped.

"Because he's always drunk he finds it difficult to meet girls. And that makes things worse, because it means his confidence is hit even harder," she says.

"Until he admits he has a problem and gets help, there's no way out for him."

Andrew says his family's experience shows that parents cannot always control the anti-social drinking of children - grown-up or under age.

"The real problem is how cheaply alcohol is sold in shops and supermarkets, and how it is portrayed in the media - soap opera characters turning to it at the slightest problem.

"Punishing parents is not the solution. We are already the ones who suffer the most."
source: © BBC MMVIII


America's other fallen soldiers

Local homes help struggling veterans

Wausau's John Blahuta is a 60-year-old Vietnam-era Army veteran who for most of his life worked as a corporate tax preparer. When he was laid off from his job five years ago, he expected to be able to find work quickly.

"I come from a very hardworking family, a strong work ethic," he said. "I'd rather work than get a handout."

But Blahuta did not find a new job. He was told he was "overqualified" for the clerical and retail jobs for which he applied, he said. His bills began to go unpaid, and more bills were added to those. Eventually he lost most of his possessions and his home.

"I don't have alcohol (addiction)," he said. "I don't have drugs, I don't have mental illness. But I am a homeless veteran."

Memorial Day is a day set aside to honor fallen American veterans -- those who have died in war. But there's another group of fallen vets -- those who face tremendous challenges when their service to the country ends.

Some, like Blahuta, may simply fall on hard times. Many others face substance abuse or mental health issues. Nearly a third of veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with some form of mental illness.

"It's bad when all these men and women go over there and serve their country, and then they come back and ... wind up living in the streets or under bridges," said Kelly Ferguson, 44, a house manager at Wausau's Randlin Adult Care Family Homes, which provides transitional housing for veterans and others in need.

Blahuta, who came to Randlin Homes as a resident in October, has been able to apply his professional experience within the organization, and in March he was elected treasurer of Randlin's board of directors.

Rebecca Epperson, 51, of Wausau is another house manager at Randlin Homes, as well as a Navy veteran who served during Vietnam. She came to Randlin as a resident after a period of homelessness, and she has faced physical and mental health issues. But she said the biggest problem among the homeless veterans she sees is substance abuse, particularly alcoholism.

"They can get a job, and they'll have that job for awhile," she said. "Then they start drinking, they relapse. They lose their job. They lose their home, they lose the friends that they just got. They start that cycle all over again. We're here to break that cycle."

Linda Larson Schlitz, who co-founded Randlin Homes with her husband, Ralph, said the organization's environment is crucial to its mission.

"We provide a family environment of people who care about them, who remember their birthdays and celebrate their sobriety days," Larson Schlitz said.

About 25 percent of Randlin's residents are not veterans. Tanya Throop, 33, is Blahuta's daughter, and she has struggled with mental illness, substance abuse and homelessness in her own life. Residency has provided her with structure and help with everything from taking her medications on schedule to learning how to make crafts.

Throop also works on painting plaster figurines in part as a way to learn patience and attention to detail. The homes work with other residents, both veterans and non-veterans, to develop skills that can be applied to other parts of their lives.

The issue of how society should provide for veterans is an ongoing discussion, and organizations like Randlin Homes are only one part of it. In late May, the U.S. Senate passed a bill that would expand educational benefits for veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, making them eligible for the equivalent of full tuition at state universities following their service.

Expanded educational opportunities and job training were other subjects mentioned by Randlin staff, including Christine Oestreich, 30, of Wausau, a Navy veteran of the Afghanistan war.

"Places like the (Marathon County) Job Center give opportunities to veterans who are actively looking for jobs," Oestreich said.

Another subject that came up again and again in conversations with residents and staff was the distance most veterans must travel to get medical care. The outpatient clinic for veterans in Wausau has a long waiting list, and is not equipped to treat some conditions. Many are forced to travel to Madison or Tomah to get treatment.

As organizations like Randlin Homes try to meet the needs of homeless veterans in Wausau, Larson Schlitz said veterans are also working in her organization to help one another.

"We couldn't do it if we didn't have veterans helping other veterans," she said.
source: Wausau Daily Herald