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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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