Yale Study: Genes May Explain Why Alcohol Detox is Particularly Hard for Some People

Detox
Yale Study Explains Why Detox Symptoms are Worse for Some, Not Others

New findings published in journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research

Some heavy drinkers suffer intense withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop drinking — some, less so.  A new Yale-led international study of individuals with alcohol dependence has identified gene variants that may help explain why “detox” from alcohol is particularly difficult for some people. The researchers report their findings September 25 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, the official journal of the Research Society on Alcoholism.

Alcohol takes more lives in the United States every year than opioids, but there are few effective treatments to help people who have an alcohol use disorder,” said Andrew H. Smith, lead author of the study and a research affiliate in the laboratory of senior author Joel Gelernter, Foundations Fund Professor of Psychiatry and Professor of Genetics and of Neuroscience. “For people who experience intense withdrawal symptoms, that’s one more barrier they have to face while trying to reduce unhealthy alcohol use.”

Those physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are much worse than any hangover. Sudden cessation of alcohol consumption can lead to shakes, nausea, headaches, anxiety, fluctuations in blood pressure, and in the most serious cases, seizures.

The American team and collaborators in Denmark linked variants in the SORCS2 gene to the severity of alcohol withdrawal in people who have European ancestry, about one in ten of whom carry the variants. No such connection was found in African Americans. Intriguingly, the SORCS2 gene is important for activation of brain areas which respond to changes in the environment. The gene variants identified in the study may impinge on the ability of heavy drinkers to adapt to the sudden absence of alcohol, researchers speculate.

Better understanding of the many genes likely to be involved in withdrawal symptoms could ultimately lead to new medications that moderate these symptoms, which could help with the discontinuation of habitual alcohol use,” Gelernter said.

The research was primarily funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health.


The Council on Recovery does not provide medical detox services, but does refer out to detox facilities in the Houston area. The Council provides outpatient services for people battling alcoholism, including Healing Choices, our intensive outpatient treatment program (IOP). Call 713.914.0556 for more information.

As School Starts, Know the Facts About College Drinking

As students start the Fall Semester at college, The Council on Recovery urges parents and students to consider the facts about college drinking from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Harmful and underage college drinking are significant public health problems, and they exact an enormous toll on the intellectual and social lives of students on campuses across the United States.

Drinking at college has become a ritual that students often see as an integral part of their higher education experience. Many students come to college with established drinking habits, and the college environment can exacerbate the problem. According to a national survey, almost 60 percent of college students ages 18–22 drank alcohol in the past month, and almost 2 out of 3 of them engaged in binge drinking during that same time-frame.

Consequences of Harmful and Underage College Drinking

Many college alcohol problems are related to “binge drinking”. Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men—in about 2 hours. Drinking this way can pose serious health and safety risks, including car crashes, drunk-driving arrests, sexual assaults, and injuries. Over the long term, frequent binge drinking can damage the liver and other organs.

Drinking affects college students, their families, and college communities at large. Researchers estimate that each year:

  • Death: About 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor-vehicle crashes.
  • Assault: About 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
  • Sexual Assault: About 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.
  • Academic Problems: About 1 in 4 college students report academic consequences from drinking, including missing class, falling behind in class, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall. In a national survey of college students, binge drinkers who consumed alcohol at least 3 times per week were roughly 6 times more likely than those who drank but never binged to perform poorly on a test or project as a result of drinking (40 percent vs. 7 percent) and 5 times more likely to have missed a class (64 percent vs. 12 percent). Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) About 20 percent of college students meet the criteria for an AUD.
  • Other Consequences: These include suicide attempts, health problems, injuries, unsafe sex, and driving under the influence of alcohol, as well as vandalism, property damage, and involvement with the police.

Factors Affecting Student Drinking

Although the majority of students come to college already having some experience with alcohol, certain aspects of college life, such as unstructured time, the widespread availability of alcohol, inconsistent enforcement of underage drinking laws, and limited interactions with parents and other adults, can intensify the problem. In fact, college students have higher binge-drinking rates and a higher incidence of driving under the influence of alcohol than their non-college peers.

The first 6 weeks of freshman year are a vulnerable time for heavy drinking and alcohol-related consequences because of student expectations and social pressures at the start of the academic year.

Factors related to specific college environments also are significant. Students attending schools with strong Greek systems and with prominent athletic programs tend to drink more than students at other types of schools. In terms of living arrangements, alcohol consumption is highest among students living in fraternities and sororities and lowest among commuting students who live with their families.

An often-overlooked preventive factor involves the continuing influence of parents. Research shows that students who choose not to drink often do so because their parents discussed alcohol use and its adverse consequences with them.

Addressing College Drinking

Ongoing research continues to improve our understanding of how to address the persistent and costly problem of harmful and underage student drinking. Successful efforts typically involve a mix of strategies that target individual students, the student body as a whole, and the broader college community.

Strategies Targeting Individual Students – Individual-level interventions target students, including those in higher-risk groups such as first-year students, student athletes, members of Greek organizations, and mandated students. They are designed to change students’ knowledge, attitudes and behaviors related to alcohol so that they drink less, take fewer risks, and experience fewer harmful consequences. Categories of individual-level interventions include:

  • Education and awareness programs
  • Cognitive–behavioral skills-based approaches
  • Motivation and feedback-related approaches
  • Behavioral interventions by health professionals

Strategies Targeting the Campus and Surrounding Community – Environmental-level strategies target the campus community and student body as a whole, and are designed to change the campus and community environments in which student drinking occurs. Often, a major goal is to reduce the availability of alcohol, because research shows that reducing alcohol availability cuts consumption and harmful consequences on campuses as well as in the general population.

For more information on individual- and environmental-level strategies, the NIAAA CollegeAIM guide (and interactive Web site) rates nearly 60 alcohol interventions in terms of effectiveness, costs, and other factors—and presents the information in a user-friendly and accessible way. For more information, visit www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/CollegeAIM.

The Council on Recovery provides prevention, education, and treatment programs for individuals and their families dealing with alcoholism, drug abuse, other addictions, and co-occurring mental health disorders. Start at The Council. We can help. Call 713-942-4100 for more information.

CDC Report: Excessive Alcohol Use and Risks to Women’s Health

Recently reported data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are shedding new light on the links between excessive alcohol use by women and the increasing risks to female health. Here are vital the facts from the CDC.

Although men are more likely to drink alcohol and drink in larger amounts, gender differences in body structure and chemistry cause women to absorb more alcohol, and take longer to break it down and remove it from their bodies (i.e., to metabolize it). In other words, upon drinking equal amounts, women have higher alcohol levels in their blood than men, and the immediate effects of alcohol occur more quickly and last longer in women than men. These differences also make it more likely that drinking will cause long-term health problems in women than men.

Drinking Levels among Women

  • Approximately 46% of adult women report drinking alcohol in the last 30 days.
  • Approximately 12% of adult women report binge drinking 3 times a month, averaging 5 drinks per binge.
  • Most (90%) people who binge drink are not alcoholics or alcohol dependent.
  • About 2.5% of women and 4.5% of men met the diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence in the past year.

Reproductive Health Outcomes

  • National surveys show that about 1 in 2 women of child-bearing age (i.e., aged 18–44 years) drink alcohol, and 18% of women who drink alcohol in this age group binge drink.
  • Excessive drinkingmay disrupt the menstrual cycle and increase the risk of infertility.
  • Women who binge drinkare more likely to have unprotected sex and multiple sex partners. These activities increase the risks of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Pregnancy Outcomes

  • About 10% of pregnant women drink alcohol.
  • Women who drink alcohol while pregnant increase their risk of having a baby with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). The most severe form is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), which causes mental retardation and birth defects.
  • FASDare completely preventable if a woman does not drink while pregnant or while she may become pregnant. It is not safe to drink at any time during pregnancy.
  • Excessive drinking increases a woman’s risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, and premature delivery.
  • Women who drink alcohol while pregnant are also more likely to have a baby die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). This risk substantially increases if a woman binge drinksduring her first trimester of pregnancy.

Other Health Concerns

  • Liver Disease: The risk of cirrhosis and other alcohol-related liver diseases is higher for women than for men.
  • Impact on the Brain: Excessive drinking may result in memory loss and shrinkage of the brain. Research suggests that women are more vulnerable than men to the brain damaging effects of excessive alcohol use, and the damage tends to appear with shorter periods of excessive drinking for women than for men.
  • Impact on the Heart: Studies have shown that women who drink excessively are at increased risk for damage to the heart muscle than men even for women drinking at lower levels.
  • Cancer: Alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, and breast among women. The risk of breast cancer increases as alcohol use increases.
  • Sexual Assault: Binge drinking is a risk factor for sexual assault, especially among young women in college settings. Each year, about 1 in 20 college women are sexually assaulted. Research suggests that there is an increase in the risk of rape or sexual assault when both the attacker and victim have used alcohol prior to the attack.

The Council on Recovery offers prevention, education, treatment, and recovery services for women experiencing alcoholism, drug addiction, and co-occurring mental health disorders. Contact The Council today to get help.

The Lifelong Quest For Sobriety…The Ultimate Hero’s Journey—Part 24

Bob W.

Guest Blogger and long-time Council friend, Bob W. presents Part 24 of a series dealing with Alcoholism and Addiction from a Mystical, Mythological Perspective, reflecting Bob’s scholarly work as a Ph.D. in mythological studies.

In classical and renaissance academia, there was an idea of an Astral Plane, a spirit world above the physical that may or may not have been equated with Heaven, Hell or Purgatory. It was seen as a place of spirits, maybe the soul, where otherworldly beings existed to whom we might appeal or supplicate ourselves. It also showed up in the world of psychics and mediums in recent centuries.

In more recent times this idea has been used in various sci-fi or action hero genres, in movies like the 2016 Dr Strange, based on an action hero first created by Stan Lee of Marvel Comics in 1963.  The hero, Steven Strange, is a renowned, but massively egotistical, neurosurgeon whose hands are irreparably crippled in an automobile accident. He explores all sorts of traditional and experimental systems in an attempt to heal himself. He journeys to the far side of the world in such pursuits and is eventually transformed into a powerful mystic who is able to access and employ unusual energies and systems. His transformation process takes him to a higher plane and is much like ours in the development of our sober living ethos. The paranormal abilities he gains in his transformation now make him much less interested in his former skills as a surgeon; he is now compelled to pursue his new gifts and energies in attempts to save mankind from various cosmic dangers.

This seems to be an uncanny, if a bit weird, analogy for those of us who see our journey in sobriety leading us to much higher levels of service than we could ever have imagined in our days in the disease.  In the constant exploration of whom and what we were in our disease and who and what we are in recovery, we begin to discover the core, the soul of our most authentic inner selves. We are naturally drawn to explore ways to be of service to everyone and everything, in everyday simple and massively expansive ways.

We see that, in carrying the message, in working to help others, in gaining a sense of the profound meaning of service to the cosmos, we are able to move to a plane of existence that is truly glorious. We now live a good part of our lives on a very real and present Astral Plane.

12 Tips for Partying Sober During the Holidays

For a recovering addict or alcoholic, holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s can be annual versions of The Bermuda Triangle. To stay out of the danger zone, it is best to prepare yourself for the potential threats to your sobriety before you encounter them. Here are 12 Tips you can follow for partying sober during the holidays:

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), “Freedom from Want,” 1943.
Story illustration for “The Saturday Evening Post,” March 6, 1943. Photo Credit www.nrm.org.

1-Prepare your mind

Have a few lines handy for when someone offers you a drink at a holiday party. “No thank you, but I’ll take a Coke.” If you are constantly asked, be repetitive and consistent with your answers and answer firmly, “No.”

2-Volunteer

Spend time helping at a soup kitchen or helping children’s charities. You’ll find that giving your time will feel amazing and still give you the ability to be social during the holiday season.

3-Be the designated driver for the evening

By being the designated driver, this will make you look responsible and will prevent more people from asking you to drink with them.

Continue reading “12 Tips for Partying Sober During the Holidays”

Binge Drinking: A Big Problem for Young Adults Not in College

There is a public health crisis plaguing the U.S. once again, binge drinking. People who binge drink may not do so during the regular weekdays, but may consume excessive amounts over the weekend. Binge drinking is the third leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S. An estimated 88,000 people die from excessive alcohol use each year.

In 1998, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) gathered a task force to solve problems related to binge drinking in college. They analyzed behaviors of college students between the ages of 18 and 24 years of age. Their 2002 study found that from 1999 to 2005, the percentage of college students who reported binge drinking rose from 42 percent to 45 percent. These numbers then declined to 37 percent by 2014. These improved statistics seemed promising, but another demographic became an even greater cause for concern.

Recently, binge drinking for non-college young adults has increased from 36 percent to 40 percent. Young men are twice more likely to binge drink than young women according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

 

Representation of how many people binge drink in the U.S.; categorized by age. Photo Credit: CDC.

Ralph Hingson, the creator of the CDC study, believes that this group of young adults are binge drinking more because they don’t have as many organizational involvement in their spare time. Binge drinking is not only a problem in adolescents and young adults but in every age demographic in the U.S.

“People often don’t recognize binge drinking as a problem because it’s not a daily thing,” Gregory Smith, M.D. stated in an interview with Men’s Fitness.

The following are signs that a person is a binge drinker:

Becoming a big risk taker

The person may act out of character and make bad decisions that lead to an increased possibility of contracting an STD or getting a DUI.

Drinking heavily every weekend

Abstaining from drinking during the week does not make it a wise decision to drink eight drinks in one night as a reward. Excessive drinking can lead to raised blood pressure, increase the risks of cancer, and interfere with medication.

Exceeding your alcohol limit

If the drinker has difficulty sticking with a planned number of drinks or doesn’t remember how many they’ve had, there is a problem.

Black Out

Heavy drinking interferes with a brain messenger called glutamate which is linked to memory. If the drinker cannot remember events of the night, he/she may have experienced a blackout.

Neglecting your responsibilities

If the person is usually hard-working, dedicated to his/her goals, but has replaced those characteristics with hangovers and drunken happy hours, there is a drinking problem.

About 22 million people need treatment for alcohol or drug addiction, but less than 1% actually receive treatment. If you know someone who needs us, please contact The Council on Recovery at 713.914.0556 for assistance.