Thursday, October 28, 2010

Canada: Many School Suspensions linked to Alcohol, Drug Use

Times Colonist

There have been 54 suspensions handed out to students in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district so far this year, with 24 due to drug and/or alcohol offences in the district's high schools. The other major offences causing suspensions so far this year also include fighting (12) and assaults (five).

Superintendent Mike Munro said that while it's "not uncommon" for students to experiment with drugs and alcohol, they can be suspended for three to 10 days for a first offence, along with the possibility that the students and their families be referred to local social agencies for assistance or drug addiction treatment.

He said after three drug/alcohol offences within an 18-month period, students can be suspended for up to 20 days and are automatically referred to the district's disciplinary committee that deals with more serious incidents and committee members determine the next steps. After four offences, Munro said the district then has to determine if the student has medical issues and requires some sort of intervention. Students in this category are often referred to appropriate social agencies and their academic programs usually continue outside of regular school instruction.

However, Munro said for students who take alcohol and/or drugs to school with the purpose of selling, the penalties are much more severe.

"These students are trying to make money off the weaknesses of others and we take a very dim view of this," Munro said.

"Students under 16 who participate in these activities can be suspended for a full calendar year, with the matter also referred to the discipline committee, while those over 16 can be expelled. The police are often involved in these cases and charges can be brought forward, as has been the case in many instances over the years."

Munro said statistics around which of the district's high schools have the most drug/alcohol suspensions are not available, but in his experience they are typically spread out equally between all of them.

"There are other options and programs available to us rather than kicking these kids out of school or suspending them for long periods of time," he said. "The current policy has been in place for 15 years and it's now under review."

Monday, October 25, 2010

Brain's Pleasure Chemical May Explain Men's Higher Alcoholism Rate

Bloomberg / BusinessWeek

Drinking-related dopamine release is greater in males, study finds

Differences in the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine may help explain why men are up to twice as likely as women to develop alcoholism, a new study says.

Dopamine, which plays a number of roles in the brain, provides a feeling of pleasure when it's released by experiences such as having sex or taking drugs.

The study included male and female college-age volunteers who underwent brain scans after consuming an alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink. After consuming similar amounts of alcohol, men showed greater dopamine release than women. The increased release occurred in a part of the brain called the ventral striatum, which is strongly associated with pleasure, reinforcement and addiction formation, according to the researchers, from Columbia and Yale universities.

Their findings were published in the Oct. 15 issue of Biological Psychiatry.

"In men, increased dopamine release also had a stronger association with subjective positive effects of alcohol intoxication," Dr. Nina Urban, a study co-author, said in a news release from the journal's publisher. "This may contribute to the initial reinforcing properties of alcohol and the risk for habit formation."

The study also found that repeated heavy drinking episodes resulted in a decline in alcohol-induced dopamine release. This may be a factor in developing tolerance or becoming an alcoholic, the researchers said.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Benefit of Alcohol: A Glass Half-Full

The Washington Post

People often justify their evening nightcap by pointing to alcohol's ability to protect the heart. But alcohol harms far more people than it helps. That's especially true for men, since they tend to drink more than women and are more likely to binge-drink.

The health benefits of alcohol come from moderate drinking, and most of the risks come from excessive consumption. So you may be tempted to say, "Alcohol may be bad for the population overall, but it's okay for me." While that may be generally true, there are exceptions.

Even moderate drinking can contribute to certain cancers, for example, so the risks may outweigh the benefits for people at high risk of those malignancies. And moderate drinking can cause more harm that good if it leads to excessive consumption.

The benefits

Moderate, regular drinking - generally no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men - raises HDL (good) cholesterol and cuts the risk of death from heart disease by about 25 percent. It may also help prevent Type 2 diabetes and ischemic strokes, the kind caused by blood clots.

The risks

Each drink may increase the risk of cancers of the colon, rectum, liver, mouth and throat, and, in women, the breast. Alcohol can also contribute to birth defects, depression and hemorrhagic strokes, the kind caused by bleeding in the brain. Heavy drinking can harm the liver and heart as well as increase the risk of accidents, addiction and violence. So can binge drinking, which is defined as more than three drinks in any one day for women and more than four for men.

The balance

The benefits of moderate drinking appear to be highest among people at increased risk of heart disease, notably men about 40 or older and women about 50 or older. In younger people, the increased risk of accidents, cancer and violence may erase that benefit.

The bottom line

No one should start drinking because of alcohol's possible health benefits. Those with a known drinking problem or certain medical conditions, and those who take medications that interact with alcohol should avoid alcohol or restrict their intake. But current drinkers don't need to stop, if they truly have it under control.

To see if you do, ask yourself these questions:

l Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?

l Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?

l Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?

l Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says that if you answer "yes" to two or more of these questions, you most likely have a problem and should talk with a physician or consider a treatment program such as alcoholics anonymous.

Monday, October 18, 2010

More Americans Drinking More Alcohol

Bloomberg / BusinessWeek

Among women, whites more likely than Hispanics, blacks to down 5 or more drinks a day, study finds

Alcohol consumption is on the rise in the United States due to a number of factors, including social, economic and ethnic influences and pressures, a new study has found.

Researchers analyzed national alcohol consumption patterns among people who took part in the 1991-1992 National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey and the 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Each survey included about 43,000 people.

Drinkers were defined as people who had consumed at least 12 drinks that contained at least 0.6 ounces of any kind of alcohol within the past year. The number of whites, Hispanics and blacks who reported drinking increased between 1992 and 2002.

Among women, whites were more likely than Hispanics or blacks to consume five or more drinks a day or drink to intoxication, said the UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers.

The study also found an increase in drinking five or more drinks per day among heavier drinkers, which suggests a potential polarization of drinking practices.

Males younger than 60 who did not have a college degree were likely to consume more drinks per month, and being unmarried or unemployed were risk factors for males getting intoxicated more than once a month, according to the report published online and in the October print issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

The findings suggest "that a variety of public-health policies such as restrictions on alcohol advertising, regulating high-alcohol-content beverages, increasing taxes on alcohol, as well as treatment and brief interventions may be needed to reduce alcohol-related problems," lead author Dr. Raul Caetano, dean of the UT Southwestern School of Health Professions, said in a medical center news release.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Northern Ireland to End Happy Hour?

BBC News
Social Development Minister Alex Attwood has said he wants to end happy hours and all-you-can-drink promotions in licensed premises.

Members of the public are to be asked their views on whether alcohol promotions should be banned.

An eight week consultation on the draft proposals begin on Monday.

In July, an independent report said excessive drinking was costing the public purse in Northern Ireland almost £700m a year.

Mr Attwood said:"My latest figure for the cost of alcohol abuse in Northern Ireland - health, social, legal, policing costs is close to £700m a year and in those circumstances, I think this is a proportionate, reasonable and necessary step to take.

"I think that when it comes to drink, people have to realise drinking in moderation is the principle and that there is responsibility upon government and myself as minister that where it becomes irresponsible, where it goes beyond what people would normally do, then that has to be outlawed.

"We have to do a lot more in bringing to the attention of parents, children and teachers and everybody else with any influence, the consequences and dangers of alcohol abuse."

Mr Attwood said a number of practices deemed "irresponsible alcohol sales" had been outlined in the consultation document.
'below cost'

He said these included happy hours, all-you-can-drink promotions, two drinks for the price of one, and people sitting in a "dentist's chair with a drink gun firing alcohol into their mouths".

Colin Neill, who is chief executive of Pubs of Ulster, the trade body which represents more than 70% of the licensed trade in Northern Ireland, said the proposals did not go far enough.

"Unfortunately I think the big problem is that the majority of this bill and the promotions they talk about are now uncommon, yet they still do happen and have to be stopped," he said.

"The biggest challenge is going to be that with 70% of alcohol drunk at home, although the bill says they are going to tackle on and off sales it still falls short of tackling the selling of alcohol below cost."

Mr Attwood said he had wanted to go further with the proposals but would not be able to "in the lifetime of this Assembly".

He said he hoped the next social development minister would "go further" and deal with the issue of licensees selling "below cost".

Thursday, October 7, 2010

No Level of Alcohol is Safe during Pregnancy

North Jersey

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause a wide range of physical and mental birth defects.

The term fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) is used to describe the many problems associated with exposure to alcohol before birth.

Each year in the United States, up to 40,000 babies are born with FASDs .

Although many women are aware that heavy drinking during pregnancy can cause birth defects, even light drinking may harm the fetus.

The fact is that no level of alcohol use during pregnancy has been proven safe.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that pregnant women do not drink any alcohol — including beer, wine, wine coolers and liquor — throughout their pregnancy and while nursing.

In addition, women who may be pregnant, or those who are attempting to become pregnant, should not drink alcohol.

When a pregnant woman drinks, alcohol passes through the placenta to her fetus. In the fetus's immature body, alcohol is broken down much more slowly than in an adult's body.

Thus, the alcohol level of the baby's blood can be higher and remain elevated longer than that of the mother's blood, sometimes causing the baby to suffer lifelong damage.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause mild or severe FASDs. These can include mental retardation; learning, emotional and behavioral problems; and defects involving the heart, face and other organs.

The most severe of these effects is fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), a combination of physical and mental birth defects.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy increases the entirely preventable cause of mental retardation and the risk for miscarriage and premature birth and stillbirth.

These babies are abnormally small at birth and usually do not catch up on growth as they get older.

They have characteristic facial features, including small eyes, a thin upper lip and smooth skin in place of the normal groove between the nose and upper lip. Their organs, especially the heart, may not form properly.

Many also have a small brain that is abnormally formed. Most have some degree of mental disability.

Many have poor coordination, a short attention span, and emotional and behavioral problems.

The effects of FAS and other FASDs last a lifetime.

Even if not mentally retarded, adolescents and adults with FAS and other FASDs are at risk for psychological and behavioral problems. They often find it difficult to keep a job and live independently.

The CDC estimates that about three times the number of babies born with FAS are born with some, but not all, of the features of FAS.

These FASDs are referred to as alcohol-related birth defects (ARBDs) and alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorders (ARNDs).

ARBD describes physical birth defects that can occur in many organ systems, including the heart, liver, kidneys, eyes, ears and bones.

The term ARND describes learning and behavioral problems associated with prenatal exposure to alcohol, which can include learning disabilities; poor attention span; memory and problem solving; speech and language delays; hyperactivity; psychological disorders and poor school performance. They do not have the characteristic facial features associated with FAS.

In general, ARBDs are more likely to result from drinking alcohol during the first trimester, when organs are forming rapidly.

Drinking at any stage of pregnancy can affect the brain, resulting in ARNDs, and can also affect growth.

Because there currently is no way to predict which babies will be damaged by alcohol, the safest course is not to drink alcohol at all during pregnancy and to avoid heavy drinking during childbearing years — because about 50 percent of pregnancies are unplanned.

All women who are considering becoming pregnant should stop drinking alcohol.

Heavy drinkers should avoid pregnancy until they believe they can abstain from alcohol throughout pregnancy.

Frankly, if a woman can't stay away from alcohol once she knows she is pregnant, she may well have a drinking problem which must be addressed.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Is He an Alcoholic?

Daily Mirror

HE says it's under control. YOU know it's not. But a new book reveals how a little love can help him beat the bottle

Your partner staggers home worse for wear after a night out with colleagues several times a week ... but, then, socialising with co-workers and clients is vital to most people’s careers, isn’t it?

He always manages to upset friends, family and you when he’s tipsy ... and you hate the way he never seems to know when to stop when there’s alcohol around. But he’s not got a drink problem, has he?

If you’ve found yourself asking questions like this — and perhaps taken refuge in these same evasive, self-deceiving replies — you’re not alone.

The knock-on effect of the economic ­crisis has been a dramatic increase in drug and alcohol addiction. In fact, according to a recent NHS report, one in three men and one in six women can be classified as ‘hazardous’ drinkers.

Recent statistics suggest that in the UK, one in 13 people could be diagnosed as alcoholic with the knock-on effect that 3.7 million people are affected by parental alcoholism and one million by their ­partner’s alcoholism.

In a new book, Bottled Up, counsellor Lou Lewis (who lived with an alcoholic husband for 20 years, until his death from cancer in 2007) and her partner and co-author Dr John McMahon (himself a recovering alcoholic who gave up drinking in 1984 after a serious health scare) explain how you can pinpoint when a partner, friend or family member’s drinking is becoming a serious problem . . . and how you can tackle it.

Lewis and McMahon say there’s a very simple test to see if you need help. If you’re reading this, hoping the person you’re concerned about doesn’t catch you; if you’ve ever typed ‘Is my partner/friend an alcoholic’ into a search engine; if you can’t trust the person you care about to turn up to anything on time and sober, it’s likely alcohol is starting to take a hold.

For convenience, we’ll stick with calling the person you might be concerned about ‘he’ — but ‘he’ could be anyone. Women are catching men up in the alcohol dependency stakes.

You may be worried that you’re over-reacting. As ‘he’ no doubt keeps pointing out, there are times when he can drink and not get drunk. But you’re always on tenterhooks waiting for the next time he’s had one too many.

According to standard textbooks, someone can be categorised as an alcohol abuser if, in the past 12 months, one or more of the following has occurred:

    * His recurrent alcohol use has resulted in failure to fulfil major obligations at work, school or home.
    * The person has been drunk in physically hazardous situations, such as driving.
    * There’s been alcohol-related trouble with the law.
    * He’s continued his alcohol use despite recurrent social or personal problems (for example, physical fights).

His problem with alcohol is likely to be spiralling into alcohol dependence if three or more of the following criteria have been met in the past 12 months:

    * There’s a need for increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication.
    * The person drinking experiences ­withdrawal symptoms.
    * Alcohol is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
    * There are unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use.
    * A great deal of time is spent in obtaining alcohol, using alcohol or recovering from its effects.
    * Important social, occupational or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of alcohol use.
    * Alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the alcohol (for example, drinking despite having a stomach ulcer that has been made worse by alcohol).

So if the person you care about does fit these criteria, what can you do?

Well, remember the last conversation you had about the issue. It probably started because he was drunk again and you had suggested that he might have a problem.

He immediately became hurt and defensive, and denied any problem. He stormed off to nurse his wounded pride and you were left frustrated.

Lewis and McMahon devised their ­Bottled Up approach as a result of years of experience on both sides of alcohol abuse. It suggests that a gentle, positive attitude is always going to work better than bullying or browbeating.

You may feel like shouting, crying, pleading, pouring the booze down the sink — even threatening to walk out. But if you want your circumstances to change for the better (and Lewis and McMahon insist they can), it is time to learn some new behaviours and go against all your instincts.