Mood Influences Alcohol Craving Differently in Men and Women, Pointing the Way to Alcohol Use Disorder Treatments Tailored by Sex

Drinkers’ mood shifts and exposure to alcohol-related cues — beer cans, bars, and drinking buddies — contribute to alcohol cravings in opposite ways for men and women, a new study suggests. The findings have implications for how men and women develop dangerous drinking habits and ways that this might be prevented or treated. Various theories link alcohol use to positive and negative emotions: drinking to either enhance good mood or cope with stress, potentially becoming a self-reinforcing cycle. Studies have yielded mixed findings, however, suggesting that mood interacts with subconscious cognitive processes to prompt alcohol-seeking.

Drinking to Manage Physical Pain Results in Perceived Relief, Increasing Vulnerability to Dangerous Alcohol Use

People who self-medicate pain with alcohol may be vulnerable to hazardous drinking, with their experience of pain relief a potentially powerful driver of alcohol consumption, a new study suggests. Both pain and dangerous alcohol use are major public health issues. Each affects millions of US adults and costs hundreds of billions of dollars annually in health care and lost productivity. Recent studies have demonstrated a strong correlation between pain and alcohol use; people with chronic pain are more likely than others to report heavy drinking, and those with alcohol use disorder (AUD) are more likely to report chronic pain. Alcohol has known analgesic effects. Evidence of shared neural mechanisms underlying chronic pain and substance misuse suggest alcohol’s pain-relieving capacity might be influenced by individuals’ experience of chronic pain. Better understanding the relationship between chronic pain and alcohol use could inform improved prevention and treatment approaches. For the

Perfectionism May be a Risk Factor for Severe Alcohol Use Disorder, Novel Study Shows

Perfectionist traits — higher self-criticism, and unrealistic standards leading to isolation — are associated with severe alcohol use disorder (AUD), according to the first study directly comparing patients with AUD to a healthy control group. Perfectionist people strive for unrealistic performance standards and are prone to self-criticism.

Trials of Alcohol Use Disorder Treatments Routinely Exclude Sex, Gender, Race, and Ethnicity from Consideration in Outcomes

The manifestation of alcohol use disorder (AUD) and its social, health, and psychological implications depend in part on patient demographics. Yet researchers routinely exclude those demographics from analyses of non-medicinal AUD treatment trials, a review of studies has found. Consequently, little is known about how sex, gender, race, and ethnicity influence the effectiveness of those treatments, or which treatments are indicated — or not — for specific patients and communities. This is despite the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act in 1993 requiring that NIH-funded studies include diversity of sex/gender and race/ethnicity in their participant samples and analysis. Problematic alcohol use, which has high prevalence and low treatment rates, is a leading contributor to preventable death and disease. Non-pharmacological treatments include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing (MI), contingency management, twelve-step programs, and more. Inequalitie

Study Highlights Underuse of Medications for Alcohol Use Disorder in Acute Care Settings

New research has revealed a significant gap in prescribing of effective medications for alcohol use disorder (AUD). The study, reported in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, showed that just one in twenty patients with an alcohol-related diagnosis were prescribed an approved AUD drug (naltrexone, disulfiram, or acamprosate). The findings reinforce and build on previous evidence of under-prescribing, despite these treatments being proven to reduce heavy drinking and relapse. In the inpatient acute care setting, provision of AUD medication has been shown to be both feasible and associated with a reduction in re-admissions and emergency department (ED) visits. However, few prior studies had reported on prescribing habits in this setting. The current study examined prescribing in the acute inpatient care setting compared to other care settings within the University of Colorado Healthcare System.

Online Tools for Alcohol Recovery Could Narrow Treatment Gaps — But Uptake is Slow

Online resources for supporting recovery from Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) are promising but underused, a new study suggests. The expansion of digital recovery supports, such as video meetings, discussion forums, and social networking sites, could potentially help address a substantial unmet need for services. In 2020, fewer than one in ten Americans with current or recent substance use disorder received any form of treatment. Women are less likely to access treatment than men, research shows. Online services may make recovery support more accessible, eliminating certain barriers associated with traditional treatment (e.g., transportation and cost) and reducing others (e.g., stigma). Research is sparse, however, and the factors influencing the use and effects of digital services are not well understood. For the study in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, researchers explored how people in recovery from AUD use online supports and whether that use is linked to gender or outcome

Facebook Users’ Language Predicts Who’s at Risk for Dangerous Drinking

The language used in Facebook posts can identify people at risk of hazardous drinking and alcohol use disorders (AUDs), according to a new study. Social media platforms are a “low-cost treasure trove” of data, researchers claim, expanding the options for studying, screening, and helping people at risk. Social media content in recent years has been used to explore various public health phenomena. For example, language and “likes” have predicted depression, hospital visits, low birthweight, obesity, and life expectancy. Social media language has also been linked to patterns of alcohol consumption and related problems. For the study in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, investigators explored how convincingly the language of Facebook could be used to identify risky drinking. They compared the accuracy of multiple predictive tools, including a new technique for processing language that has rarely been applied to health research.

A ‘factory reset’ for the brain cures anxiety, drinking behavior

Gene editing may be a potential treatment for anxiety and alcohol use disorder in adults who were exposed to binge drinking in their adolescence, according to the results of an animal study published in the journal Science Advances. The researchers used a gene-editing tool called CRISPR-dCas9 in their experiments to manipulate the histone acetylation and methylation processes at the Arc gene in models of adult rats.

Brain Activity Helps Explain Response to Alcohol and How People Recognize Emotions Before Becoming Intoxicated

People who need to drink relatively high amounts of alcohol before feeling its effects, a genetically influenced risk factor for future heavy drinking and alcohol problems, may have differences in brain connectivity that impair their ability to interpret facial expressions and recognize their own intoxication, a new study suggests. The paper, in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, is believed to be the first to demonstrate differences in brain connectivity between people with low and high responses to alcohol. Varying levels of responses to alcohol — for example, how many drinks a person consumes before feeling intoxicated — are known to be related to neurobiological processing. Low responders, who drink more alcohol before feeling affected by it, are at greater risk of alcohol use disorder (AUD) than high responders, who feel the effects of fewer drinks. Scientists using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) are exploring the possibility that low responders are less a

Mechanisms of addiction: Psychology professor receives NIH grant for brain research

A five-year, $2.59 million grant from the National Institutes of Health will allow a psychology professor at Binghamton University, State University of New York to study the mechanisms of addiction.

Recovery From Alcohol Use Disorder: Long-term Abstinence Accompanied by Brain Changes and Emotional Improvements

from alcohol use disorder (AUD) have been clarified in a new study in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. AUD recovery was already known to be multidimensional, with behavioral changes – ranging from stopping heavy drinking to complete abstinence – accompanied by partial reversal of alcohol-induced brain damage. While the relationship between early abstinence (the “withdrawal phase”), negative mood, and sex-specific effects of alcohol on the brain’s “reward system” have been well-established, a growing body of evidence is revealing that AUD individuals in long-term abstinence (greater than five years) report higher levels of subjective happiness and emotional well-being, as well as a significantly lower risk of relapse. Yet, the way these long-term behavioral and emotional improvements relate to underlying brain changes, and potentially differ between men and women, remains unknown. To better understand and characterize these aspects of the recovery process, the study’s res

First of its kind study using multi-omics approach identifies large list of candidate genes associated with alcohol use disorder

New York, NY (Aug 20, 2021) – Researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai have published the first study of its kind in the field of addiction genetics using a multi-omics approach to provide a large list…

Traumatized People with Alcohol Use Disorder Likely Need a Range of Interventions to Address Risky Drinking

People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol use disorder (AUD) who are successfully treated for trauma likely need additional interventions addressing persistent drinking patterns, according to a new study.

Linking brain network “profiles” to treatment outcomes among individuals with co-occurring alcohol use and posttraumatic stress disorders

Alcohol use disorders (AUDs) frequently co-occur with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and this dual diagnosis often results in poorer treatment outcomes than for either disorder alone. An innovative study uses pre-treatment functional neuroimaging to predict treatment responses among individuals with both AUDs and PTSD. These results and others will be shared at the 44th annual scientific meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA), which will be held virtually this year from the 19th – 23rd of June 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leveraging technology to track recovery and relapse in individuals with alcohol use disorders

Alcohol researchers have long known that excessive drinking can cause detrimental changes in cardiovascular functioning. Recent advances in technologies can facilitate data collection that identifies altered cardiovascular functioning even before a diagnosis of cardiovascular disease. These results and others will be shared at the 44th annual scientific meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA), which will be held virtually this year from the 19th – 23rd of June 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

UIC research identifies potential pathways to treating alcohol use disorder, depression

A discovery from researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago may lead to new treatments for individuals who suffer from alcohol use disorder and depression. The study, “Transcriptomics identifies STAT3 as a key regulator of hippocampal gene expression and anhedonia during withdrawal from chronic alcohol exposure,” is published in the journal Translational Psychiatry by researchers at UIC’s Center for Alcohol Research in Epigenetics.

Novel Interventions May be Needed to Tackle Poor Social Cognition in People With Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol dependence is associated with impairments in social cognition – for example, the ability to identify the emotional state of others – that persist despite abstinence from alcohol during inpatient treatment, according to new study findings. Cognitive deficits are common in alcohol use disorder (AUD), and often involve difficulties with working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control; however, it has become clear that social cognition, including the ability to recognize facial emotion, can also be affected. Poor social cognition contributes to interpersonal difficulties and conflicts. It may also have an important clinical impact, in that poorer recognition of facial emotion has been linked to poorer outcomes of treatment for alcohol dependence and a greater risk of relapse. However, research on social cognition is lacking, and it was not known if social cognitive deficits persist or might naturally improve with abstinence from alcohol. The study at the Medical University of I

Patients with Depression, Anxiety, and Bulimia at Heightened Risk of Unhealthy Drinking and Associated Health Issues

People experiencing depression, anxiety disorder, or bulimia are at heightened risk of unhealthy drinking, according to a new study involving more than two million patients. Unhealthy drinking is known to frequently co-occur with behavioral health conditions, potentially impeding disease management and leading to more serious problems such as alcohol use disorder (AUD) and chronic medical issues. Although one in four US adults drink beyond recommended limits, little is known about the relationship between particular psychiatric diagnoses and varying levels of alcohol consumption. The study in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research aimed to change that.

Re-Train Your Brain: Online intervention tackles co-occurring alcohol misuse and social anxiety in young adults

Clinical testing of an online cognitive training intervention for co-occurring alcohol misuse and social anxiety will soon be underway, following successful evaluation of a demo program in young adults. In a study reported in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, researchers assessed the demo’s acceptability and ease-of-use among service providers and target users in Sydney, Australia, with the feedback used to develop and refine the full program.

Multiple Paths to Recovery Among Patients With Co-Occurring Alcohol Use and Mental Health Disorders

A study has revealed diverse routes to recovery among people with co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders admitted for psychiatric inpatient care, while highlighting that some patients need additional support. Problem drinkers who also have a psychiatric condition — such as major depressive disorder (MDD) — often struggle to sustain long-term recovery following treatment. Mutual health groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) can provide an ongoing source of recovery support for alcohol misuse, and involvement with AA is also linked to improvement in depression. However, it was not known how depression and involvement influence drinking during and after inpatient psychiatric treatment, and how they predict recovery. The new study, reported in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, investigated long-term trajectories of alcohol use, depression, and AA involvement over time among patients with co-occurring diagnoses.

Women and Racial Minorities are Marginalized in Trials of Medications for Alcohol Use Disorder

Women and racial minorities are seriously underrepresented in trials of medicines for alcohol use disorder (AUD) despite evidence that these treatments affect demographic groups differently. This is according to a review in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, which may be the first to evaluate sex and racial representation in studies relating to the three pharmacological treatments approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for AUD. Previous research indicates that sex and race/ethnicity likely influence the prevalence of AUD, its risk of health consequences, and the effectiveness of treatments.

Seekers Versus Non-Seekers of Treatment for Alcohol Dependence: Implications for Drug Development

A new report has highlighted key differences between participants in early and later stages of drug research for alcohol use disorder (AUD), which could affect study findings and confound evaluations of novel treatments. In the US, only 4% of people with diagnosed AUD receive medication to treat their condition, and currently only three drugs are approved for this purpose. Early-stage laboratory studies of new treatments, which often involve controlled alcohol use, usually enroll heavy drinkers who have not sought treatment for their AUD. Later-stage trials, however, typically enroll patients who have sought treatment (and hence better reflect those who might be prescribed an approved treatment in clinical practice). A lower motivation and ‘readiness to change’ of non-treatment seekers compared with treatment seekers could affect drinking behavior and medication adherence in research studies. As such, it is vital to compare these groups and assess for differences that could influence s

Heavy-drinking Rodents Enhance Understanding of Problematic Alcohol Use Patterns

New study findings in mice suggest that repeated binge drinking increases the motivation to consume alcohol to excess. In humans, the pattern of drinking (as well as quantity consumed) can be an important indicator of future drink problems; in adolescents, for example, a binge-drinking pattern can predict development of alcohol use disorder (AUD). Studies using laboratory animals that have been selectively bred to drink alcohol (ethanol) in large amounts can provide valuable insights on problematic drinking patterns, using experimental approaches that would be impossible or unethical to apply in humans. Indeed, many important findings on responses to alcohol have been gained from animal studies, conducted to strict welfare guidelines. The latest study, reported in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, examined two behaviors in mice that reflect their motivation to experience alcohol’s rewarding effects on the brain.

Understanding Alcohol-Related Violence: What is its Place and Role in the Wider Context of Aggression?

Aggressive behavior often, but not always, occurs alongside alcohol and drug misuse. Indeed, alcohol and drugs contribute to at least 40% of violent acts. However, despite the importance of substance misuse to understanding aggression, the relationships between alcohol-related, drug-related, and non-substance-related aggression are unclear. In particular, it is not known if these are three different facets of an individual’s overall aggressive tendency, or if they are three distinct and separate entities. A new analysis reported in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research has probed this question using statistical modeling.

Challenging Dogma, Recovery from Alcohol Use Disorder Can Sometimes Include Heavy Drinking

Recovering from alcohol use disorder (AUD) can sometimes involve drinking reductions that do not come close to abstinence, according to recent research — challenging the dogma that recovery from AUD requires abstinence or infrequent drinking. In a new study, one in five participants achieved stable recovery while occasionally drinking heavily. These participants reported success in various measures of life satisfaction, functioning, and health several years after treatment for AUD, according to the study in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. Their experience highlights the value of any drinking reduction. This study expands a body of work that is calling into question the longstanding emphasis — in research and recovery programs, including Alcoholics Anonymous — on drinking practices as a primary measure of success. A similar shift is taking place around other psychiatric disorders, with recovery increasingly measured by improved health and functioning over the absence of

Untangling the Effects of Past Adversity and Alcohol Use Disorder on Acute Stress Responses

The hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis is the body’s key stress response system. By driving production of the stress hormone cortisol, and then ensuring a return to baseline levels, the HPA axis regulates our reaction to stressful events. Chronic alcohol use, however, can lead to persistently elevated cortisol, reducing the body’s capacity to respond appropriately to stress. Among people in treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the blunted stress response predicts risk of relapse and a return to drinking. Longer-term life stress, including childhood adversity, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and chronic stress, can also dampen HPA axis function, complicating interpretation of the alterations evident in people with AUD. However, it is not known how stress and trauma intereact with AUD to affect HPA-axis reactivity. A new report in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research by researchers from the universities of Texas, Florida, and Colorado addresses this issue, u

Adolescent exposure to anesthetics may cause alcohol use disorder, new research shows

Early exposure to anesthetics may make adolescents more susceptible to developing alcohol use disorder (AUD), according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York.

Combining Multiple Measures of Alcohol Use Helps Clarify Risky Drinking in People with HIV

Researchers and clinicians can better understand the health risks facing people with HIV through comprehensive measures of alcohol use, including objective biomarkers, according to a new study in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. Frequent or heavy alcohol use in people with HIV can affect HIV disease progression and comorbidities. Alcohol use disorder is a barrier to effectively managing HIV and contributes in multiple ways to poor health outcomes. These effects are not well understood, however, owing in part to the limitations of self-report tools (questionnaires) for measuring alcohol use. Researchers at Louisiana State University and Tulane University correlated self-reported alcohol use, measured by multiple questionnaires, with a biomarker of alcohol consumption in people with HIV. This study explores the implications of this multi-faceted approach for understanding the alcohol use of people with HIV and the related risk factors.

Good News for Alcohol Treatment Studies: Drinking in Lab Setting Reflects Real-World Alcohol Use

Rates of alcohol use disorder (AUD) have risen in the US in recent years. A small number of pharmacotherapies (drug treatments) are available for AUD, but there is an urgent need for more treatments to be evaluated. Increasingly, novel medications, as well as behavioral interventions, are tested in laboratory-based studies, where the impact on participants’ alcohol consumption can be directly assessed. However, it is not known if drinking in the laboratory setting accurately reflects individuals’ real-life drinking behavior and therefore if study findings hold true in the real-world. A new report in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research by researchers from the NIAAA-supported Center for the Translational Neuroscience of Alcoholism at Yale University addresses this issue, by examining the extent to which individuals’ drinking in a laboratory setting correlates with their (self-reported) alcohol use in the lead-up to the study.

General Anesthetic Exposure During Adolescence Might Contribute to Developing Alcohol Use Disorder

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. – General anesthetic exposure during adolescence may be an environmental risk factor contributing to an enhanced susceptibility to developing alcohol use disorders, according to researchers at Binghamton University, State University of New York.  Adolescent alcohol abuse can lead…

Alcohol, adolescence, and anesthesia: identifying risk factors for alcohol use disorder

Alcohol misuse is common among adolescents, and increases the risk of developing a chronic alcohol use disorder (AUD) in the future. Adolescents respond differently to alcohol compared with adults — they tend to be less sensitive to some of the negative effects of drinking that help protect against excessive intake, but more sensitive to its rewarding and memory-impairing effects. This may contribute to the high rates of alcohol misuse in adolescence, as well as to an elevated risk of developing AUD. However, as not all adolescents who drink alcohol will develop an AUD, it is important to identify factors that may further increase propensity to abuse alcohol in this age-group. Researchers from the State University of New York at Binghamton are interested in the potential impact of having a general anaesthetic, in view of evidence that exposure to anesthesia in adolescence can cause behavioral alterations similar to those induced by alcohol. In a new study published in the journal Alcoh

To BOLDly Go (or No-go): Brain imaging predicts frequent binge drinking in adolescents

A study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research could inform efforts to prevent adolescents from escalating to harmful patterns of drinking. Binge drinking in adolescence has many short- and long-term heath consequences, including risk of future alcohol use disorder and potential for harm to the developing brain. The risks are greatest for those who binge frequently – at least once a week. A hallmark of binge drinking is a reduced capacity to control one’s alcohol intake, related to a neurological process of ‘inhibitory control’ involving several regions of the brain. In adolescents who have not yet started drinking, specific alterations in these brain responses have been linked to an increased risk of future alcohol and drug use; however, it was not known if there are changes that could predict escalation of alcohol use among those already drinking. Therefore, researchers from the University of California investigated whether abnormal brain patterns co

Starting drinking young predicts hospital admission for acute intoxication

In studies, younger age at first alcohol use has been associated with later alcohol problems in adult life, including heavy drinking and alcohol use disorder. That is the reason why around the world, as in the Netherlands, a key aim of alcohol policy is to postpone the age at first alcohol use. In a report published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, researchers from the Netherlands have investigated whether age of drinking onset is a risk factor for alcohol intoxication among adolescents aged under 18 years.

Cerebellum and cognition: Impact of co-use of alcohol and cigarettes

There is consistent evidence that having an alcohol use disorder is associated with abnormalities in the cerebellum, a structure attached to the bottom of the brain that is involved in coordinating posture and balance but also in supporting some cognitive functions. Cigarette smoking, which often co-occurs with alcohol use, has also been shown to impact brain structure and function, and co-use of these substances is purported to accelerate aging of the brain. A report published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research examines neuroimaging (MRI) data from 92 people in order to further investigate the impact of smoking and alcohol status on the volume of the cerebellum and related cognitive function.