TIME Addiction

Most People Who Drink Too Much Aren’t Alcoholics

A new report shows that 90% of heavy drinkers are not addicted to alcohol

A new report shows that very few people who drink heavily are actually dependent on alcohol, contrary to some assumptions.

For men, excessive drinking means five drinks in a sitting or 15 over the course of the week; for women, four in a sitting or eight over the week. The survey found that 29% of the population met this criteria, but that 90% of heavy drinkers are not alcoholics.

Health officials believe this is good news for efforts to reduce excessive drinking. Instead of requiring treatment for an addiction, heavy drinkers could be deterred by measures like higher taxes. Excessive drinking causes 88,000 deaths in the U.S. per year.

[NYT]

TIME Addiction

E-Cigarettes Reduce Tobacco Cravings, Study Finds

An Electronic Cigarette Is An Anti Smoking Health Device
Christopher Furlong—Getty Images

E-cigarettes have fewer toxins than regular cigarettes but still contain addictive nicotine

E-cigarettes, which contain anywhere from 100 to 1000 times fewer toxic substances than tobacco cigarettes, significantly reduce tobacco cravings, according to a new study.

Hoping to answer to whether e-cigs decreased the urge to smoke tobacco cigarettes or the urge to smoke altogether, researchers at KU Leuven followed 48 smokers who did not plan to quit for eight months. The smokers were split into three groups, two of which could both vape and smoke tobacco cigarettes for the first two months, and the third of which could only smoke tobacco cigarettes.

In the second stage of the study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the third (control) group was given e-cigarettes as well.

Long-term smokers were likely to trade in tobacco cigarettes for e-cigs: 21% stopped smoking tobacco entirely, and an additional 23% cut the number of tobacco cigarettes they smoked per day in half. Across all groups, the number of tobacco cigarettes smoked was cut by 60%.

“With guidance on practical use, the nicotine e-cig offers many smokers a successful alternative for smoking less – or even quitting altogether,” Professor Frank Baeyens, who headed up the study, said in statement. “E-cig users get the experience of smoking a cigarette and inhale nicotine vapor, but do not suffer the damaging effects of a tobacco cigarette.”

Of course, the participants were presumably still hooked on nicotine, the addictive property in both e-cigs and tobacco cigarettes. And since e-cigarettes are still new, robust research has not yet demonstrated what the consequences of smoking them might be compared to other cigarettes.

MONEY Lottery

Here’s One Solution to America’s Destructive Lottery Addiction

Man in pile of cash excited holding up fistfuls of money
John Lund—Getty Images

This week John Oliver helped expose the dark side of U.S. state lotteries, which are a drain for low-income ticket buyers. Turns out, there's a better alternative.

Lotteries—and the damage they inflict on the finances of poor Americans—were the main topic of HBO’s satirical news show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver this past Sunday.

Host and comedian Oliver had several bones to pick with state lottery administrators, who already generate a staggering $68 billion in revenue each year and are expanding into even more addictive products like video lottery terminals.

Among the disturbing developments he noted is the fact that states like Illinois have begun rolling out smartphone lottery apps.

“If, starting right now, your mother could play the lottery as easily as she plays Candy Crush, in three weeks, she’d be preparing Thanksgiving dinner over a trashcan fire,” Oliver quips in the clip below.

Jokes aside, Oliver has hit upon some sad truths about lotteries.

For one, playing the lottery is a form of gambling that can be just as neurologically addictive as substance abuse.

Lotteries also tend to function as a regressive tax on the poor. Studies show that it’s the poorest Americans who spend the biggest portion of income on lotteries, with 61% of people in the lowest fifth of socioeconomic status (as measured by income and education) playing the lottery each year, compared to 42% in the top fifth. And while the richest Americans gamble on the lottery only 10 times each year, the poorest buy tickets 26 days annually.

“The hope of getting out of poverty encourages people to continue to buy tickets, even though their chances of stumbling upon a life-changing windfall are nearly impossibly slim,” writes Carnegie Mellon’s Emily Haisley, the lead author of a study on the psychology of lottery gambling. “Buying lottery tickets, in fact, exacerbates the very poverty that purchasers are hoping to escape.”

Given that lotteries are a big revenue source for state governments and aren’t going away anytime soon, however, some advocates for the poor are seeking ways to dissuade financially-vulnerable Americans from playing.

One promising answer that’s gained visibility in recent years is to combine the appeal of gambling with something that promotes responsible financial behavior—in this case, a savings account.

These “prize-linked savings accounts” work just like normal savings accounts, except that instead of getting interest for parking their cash, customers are entered into a drawing—a lottery, if you will—to win money or other prizes.

Though they are currently available through credit unions in certain states like Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina and Washington, these accounts are prohibited by many other states’ governments—despite lots and lots of evidence that the accounts are effective at steering would-be gamblers toward building nest eggs they otherwise wouldn’t have.

In one study, for example, researchers found that people saved 38% more than the average when given the option of a prize-linked account. Plus, the money they put away tended to come out of their lottery ticket spending, not their normal savings account contributions (if they had any).

Of course, in an ideal world, everyone would stop chasing prizes and instead contribute to conventional savings, retirement, and investment accounts that actually earn interest or generate returns and don’t impose the stiff early withdrawal penalties that many prize-linked accounts do.

But here in the real world, where advertisements, news, and irrational hope combine to make us feel like our dream life is just a ticket away, it’s unrealistic to expect all Americans to stop playing the lottery.

A more realistic goal might simply be to apply its powerful appeal to smarter alternatives.

TIME Addiction

WHO: Overdose Antidote Should Be Easier to Obtain

People who might witness an overdose should have access to naloxone, says the World Health Organization

Countries should increase access to the overdose antidote naloxone in order to lower deaths from opioids around the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) says in recently released guidelines.

Naloxone is used in an emergency when an individual is overdosing from opioids like heroin, oxycodone and morphine. In the U.S. alone, naloxone has stopped 10,171 overdoses between 2006 and 2010.

The new WHO guidelines recommend countries ensure that more people have access to naloxone, especially people who are at a risk for witnessing an overdose, like family members and friends of a drug user. Social workers should also have access to the drug, the WHO says. Currently, the people who have access to the life-saving drugs are hospital and ambulance workers. “Any adult capable of learning basic life support can also learn to recognize an opioid overdose, and administer naloxone in time to save lives,” the WHO said in a statement.

Each year around 69,000 people worldwide die from an opioid overdose, the WHO says. It’s the second most common cause of death among people who inject drugs after HIV.

Access requirements will differ among countries, but in the U.S., one of the reasons it’s difficult to access naloxone is that many American pharmacists and doctors don’t know they can prescribe the drug outside of a hospital setting, as TIME reported in June. The drug is also not always reimbursed by insurance.

You can read the WHO’s new recommendations here.

TIME Addiction

The Genetic Reason Why Some Drinkers Can’t Stop

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Chris Clor—Getty Images/Blend Images

A new study in mice looks at the link between genetics, alcohol and the brain

Around 10% of people will develop alcohol disorders, and a new study in mice shows that having a specific genetic strand might be the reason some escalate from moderate to excessive drinkers.

Previously, scientists at the University of California, San Francisco showed that moderate drinking activates a protein in the brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which might protect against drinking too much.

In the new study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, they study what happens when that threshold into excessive drinking is crossed. When mice consumed generous amounts of alcohol for a long period of time—mimicking the human act of binge drinking—their levels of the protective protein BDNF decreased significantly in a part of their brains where decision-making occurs. One possible reason for this decline, the scientists discovered, was a corresponding increase in genetic material microRNA, including miR-30a-5p.

When the researchers increased miR-30a-5p in the mice brains themselves, BDNF went down and mice wanted to drink more, preferring alcohol to water. When the scientists inhibited the miR-30a-5p, the brains returned to normal, and so did the drinking behaviors of the mice.

Though mice studies can’t translate directly to humans, the researchers think a similar situation may be happening in human brains during alcohol consumption, and that perhaps certain people are genetically susceptible, as other research has also suggested. The researchers hope their findings will provide better data for alcoholism therapies.

TIME Addiction

Gamblers Get Less Of a Buzz From Pleasure, Study Finds

gambling poker
Getty Images

New research presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Congress in Berlin sheds light on what happens in the brains of gamblers.

Pathological gambling is a difficult condition to classify. Though the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) formerly classified it as an impulse control disorder, the most recent version, the DSM-5, made the switch to defining it as an addictive disorder because of the growing research finding that “gambling disorder is similar to substance-related disorders in clinical expression, brain origin, comorbidity, physiology, and treatment,” the DSM website says.

But this new small study shows that it might be unique in some neurologic ways, too. Researchers performed Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans on 14 male pathological gamblers and 15 non-gambling volunteers to measure their levels of opioid receptors, the parts of the brain activated by pleasure-inducing endorphins. People with addictions like alcoholism or drug addiction have been found to have more opioid receptors. In problem gamblers, however, the researchers saw no difference from healthy volunteers, a finding that surprised them.

Then, participants took an amphetamine capsule, which unleashes endorphins with similar effects to the rush you get from exercise or alcohol, the study says. An additional PET scan revealed that pathological gamblers responded differently to the drug. They released fewer endorphins than those who didn’t gamble, and they also reported lower levels of euphoria on a questionnaire afterward. This might help explain the addictive part of pathological gambling: to get pleasure from the act, problem gamblers might need more of it or to work harder for it.

These findings suggest the involvement of the opioid system in pathological gambling and that it may differ from addiction to substances such as alcohol,” says lead researcher Dr. Inge Mick of the Imperial College London in a press release. “We hope that in the long run this can help us to develop new approaches to treat pathological gambling.”

TIME Addiction

Man Treated for Google Glass Addiction

Google Glass
A visitor of the "NEXT Berlin" conference tries out the Google Glass on April 24, 2013 in Berlin. DPA/AFP/Getty Images

Doctors observed a "notable, nearly involuntary movement of the right hand up to his temple area and tapping it with his forefinger"

San Diego doctors have identified the first known case of “Internet addiction disorder” involving Google Glass, according to a new study.

The 31-year old patient is a service member who checked into the U.S. Navy’s Substance Abuse Program for alcoholism treatment, the study published in Addictive Behaviors said.

During his residential treatment program, the doctors identified that the man “exhibited problematic use of Google Glass,” which manifested in “a notable, nearly involuntary movement of the right hand up to his temple area and tapping it with his forefinger.” The motion is used to activate the wearable technology.

The man had worn the device for up to 18 hours a day, and told doctors he would become extremely irritated and frustrated without the technology’s assistance, the report said. He also reported having dreams where his vision appeared as though it was seen through the lenses.

Addiction expert and report co-author Dr. Andrew Doan told NBC News Tuesday that the patient has now completed a 35-day program and is displaying fewer Google Glass withdrawal symptoms.

“Internet addiction” is not classified as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association, the agency that defines whether or not certain mental conditions are psychiatric disorders. But many experts believe the problem merits proper treatment, which has led to the opening of the first U.S. Internet addiction treatment center last year.

The condition has reportedly reached dramatic levels in China, where some say violent measures have been taken to address it.

TIME Addiction

Addicted to Coffee? It’s Probably in Your Genes

coffee crema
Getty Images

A new genetic explanation for your caffeine cravings

If you feel like you literally could not survive a day without coffee, you might have your genes to thank (or blame).

A new genome-wide study published in Molecular Psychiatry has identified genetic variants that may have a lot to do with your coffee obsession. Researchers from Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital looked at more than 120,000 coffee drinkers and found six markers linked to responsiveness to caffeine—some of which had been previously identified as being related to smoking initiation and other types of potentially addictive behaviors, but had never before been linked to coffee consumption, says Marilyn Cornelis, research associate in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health and lead author of the study.

MORE: You Asked: Is Coffee Bad For You?

Caffeine is a drug—a fact many of us forget until we madly crave a double shot. “There is controversy as to whether it can be addictive, and some of the genes that come up in the study suggest that’s quite possible,” Cornelis says. “The stimulating effects caffeine has would suggest that caffeine is a major driving in habitual coffee consumption at the genetic level.”

MORE: How Coffee Might Lower the Risk of Heart Failure

The results might help add nuance to coffee research, she says, which generally treats everyone as the same. It could also help pinpoint people who’d most benefit from coffee consumption, and who should stick to decaf. “We assume that any health effects from one cup of coffee will be the same for everyone, but this data suggests that’s not true,” Cornelis says.

Scientists have known for a long time that genetics play a role in coffee consumption and caffeine response, Cornelis says. “But it’s only until just recently that we’ve actually been able to pinpoint these exact genetics. That’s an important step forward in the research.”

TIME Addiction

Big Tobacco Is Ramming Home the Message About the Dangers of E-Cigarettes

World Health Organisation Calls For Regulation Of Ecigarettes
In this photo illustration, a woman smokes an E-Cigarette at the V-Revolution E-Cigarette shop in Covent Garden on August 27, 2014 in London, England. Dan Kitwood—Getty Images

Think of it as corporate image enhancement

When it comes to e-cigarettes, large tobacco companies are suddenly stepping up warnings about their own products, the New York Times reports.

“Nicotine is addictive and habit forming, and is very toxic by inhalation, in contact with the skin, or if swallowed,” reads a warning on packets of e-cigarette made by Altria, the company that manufactures Marlboro cigarettes.

Industry experts and critics say the warnings are serving as a legal safeguard or a corporate image-enhancer.

“Is this part of a noble effort for the betterment of public health, or a cynical business strategy? I suspect the latter,” said Dr. Robert K. Jackler, a professor and researcher on e-cigarette advertising at the Stanford School of Medicine.

MarkTen, a prominent e-cigarette brand, features a 100-word warning that, among other things, reiterates that e-cigarettes are not a way to wean oneself off cigarettes. This warning also appears on Reynolds American’s Vuse e-cigarettes.

According to Altria spokesman William Phelps, the MarkTen warning is created with a “a goal to openly and honestly communicate about health effects.”

“Why wouldn’t you warn about ‘very toxic’ nicotine on your cigarettes, when you do so on e-cigarettes?” is Jackler’s only question.

According to the Times, experts say the strategy is low-risk for the big tobacco companies because many people don’t read the warnings anyway.

[NYT]

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

PTSD Is Linked to Food Addiction in Women, New Study Finds

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Getty Images

"Weight status is not just a symptom of willpower and education," a researcher says. "There may be psychological factors in play too"

A new study published in JAMA Psychiatry has found that women who suffer from the worst symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are twice as likely to be addicted to food than those who do not, Reuters reports.

Researchers link symptoms of PTSD in women to a psychological dependence on food, or food addiction. But the study doesn’t mean that there is a direct connection between PTSD and overeating.

“We don’t know if it’s causal. It’s an interesting relationship and probably worth following up,” Susan Mason, from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, told Reuters.

To find out whether women were more likely to have a food addiction, in 2008 researchers asked 49,408 female nurses about PTSD symptoms. A year later they then asked the same group about food addiction.

They found the more symptoms of PTSD a woman had, the more likely it was for her to be addicted to food.

The findings could help doctors treat women with eating disorders, reports Reuters.

“Clinicians may be able to look for that information to deliver better care,” Mason said.

Researchers still don’t know what occurs first — food addiction or PTSD — but they hope the study will help them connect the dots.

“I just want this to add to a lot of research that people’s weight status is not just a symptom of willpower and education,” Mason said. “There may be psychological factors in play too.”

[Reuters]

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