Underage drinking is a major public health and social problem in the U.S. The ability to identify at-risk children before they initiate heavy alcohol use has immense clinical and public health implications. A new study has found that demographic factors, cognitive functioning, and brain features during the early-adolescence ages of 12 to 14 years can predict which youth eventually initiate alcohol use during later adolescence around the age of 18.
"We were able to predict, with 74 percent accuracy, which 12- to 14-year-old youth eventually went on to engage in alcohol use by late adolescence," said Lindsay Squeglia, assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina.
"Neural features appear to be important predictors," she said. "While we are not at the point where we can scan every child's brain and know if they will/will not begin using alcohol, this is an important step in understanding brain features that contribute to alcohol use during adolescence. We are publishing the script we used for the analyses so other groups can replicate findings, in hopes that a final, validated model can be used clinically to predict adolescent alcohol use." Squeglia will present this research at the 39th Annual Research Society on Alcoholism in New Orleans June 25-29, 2016.
The researchers gathered data on 137 healthy alcohol- and drug-naïve adolescents through the Youth at Risk study, including extensive clinical interviews, neuropsychological testing, and structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging, followed by annual check-ups. By age 18, 70 youth (51%) had initiated heavy alcohol use and 67 had remained non-users.
"Demographic factors that predict adolescent drinking include being male, coming from a higher socioeconomic status -- which means coming from families with more money and education, dating by age 14, and positive expectations of how alcohol is going to make you feel and behave, particularly in social situations," said Squeglia.
"Furthermore, poorer performance on tests of executive functioning -- for example, on tasks of planning, problem solving, and reasoning -- as well as differences in the structure and function of the brain during executive functioning tasks at ages 12 to 14, are also predictive of which youth initiate alcohol use by age 18," she added.
"Teachers, parents, and clinicians can easily be looking for the demographic risk factors we identified as being highly predictive of alcohol use, like gender, dating behaviors, socioeconomic background, and youth's expectations of how alcohol will affect them," emphasized Squeglia. "With replication of our findings, we will hopefully be able to even better identify at-risk youth, as well as potential targets of preventive efforts such as bolstering executive functioning."
Source: Science Daily, 26th June
Drinking as little as half a glass of wine a day can make cancer risks soar, according to North East alcohol campaigners.
Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, have launched a campaign to raise awareness of the links between drinking and cancer — which they say too few people have heard of.
Drinking alcohol increases the risk of suffering from seven different types of cancer, including bowel, breast and throat cancers.
Despite this, campaigners say that very few people in the region are aware that there is any link between drinking and the deadly disease.
They are urging people to keep their drinking within the new recommended limit, issued in January this year: 14 units a week for both men and women.
Balance quotes a study showing that a woman who drinks an average of one unit of alcohol a day increases her risk of being hit by breast cancer by 7-12% — and the risk continues to rise as consumption increases.
One unit is the equivalent of around half a pint of beer, half a standard glass of wine or a single vodka. So drinking a little over three glasses of wine at the weekend, even if you stayed dry throughout the week, would be enough to increase your cancer risk.
Meanwhile Cancer Research UK has shown that as many as a third of mouth and throat cancers, and one in five cancers of the oesophagus, are caused by alcohol consumption.
Harmful nitrosamine chemicals in acholic drinks pass over the mouth, throat and top of the larynx as drinkers swallow, often leading to serious health problems in these vital areas of the body.
Another reason for the link is that the body converts alcohol into the toxic chemical acetaldehyde - one of the reasons for hangovers. It can damage DNA and stop cells from repairing themselves which can cause cancer. Drinking also worsens the carcinogenic effects of smoking, by making it easier for mouth tissues to absorb the damaging chemicals in cigarettes.
But researchers at Sheffield University found that only around one in 10 people mentioned cancer when asked which health conditions they thought could result from drinking too much.
By contrast, the increased cancer risk that results from activities like smoking is well known.
Sue Taylor, partnerships manager for Balance, said people in the North East deserved the opportunity to make fully informed choices about alcohol.
She said: “So many people remain unaware of the links between alcohol and cancer, as well as the health risks associated with alcohol in general.
“This is particularly worrying when we’re seeing such sharp increases in alcohol-related hospital admissions. The fact is, these diseases so often creep up on us, with many people believing they’re drinking in moderation, when actually they’re drinking more than they think.
“We know from evaluation of our previous campaign work that awareness of the links between alcohol and cancer is growing amongst the North East public, but still much remains to be done to raise awareness levels.
“Only by making people aware of the risks, can they make informed choices about how much they drink.”
The campaign, which will include a TV advert — which can be viewed above — has been backed by national and local health leaders and doctors.
Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s director of prevention, said: “The campaign comes at a crucial time when public awareness of the links between alcohol and cancer is still worryingly low.
“We believe it’s vital to equip people with all the information they need to make informed choices about the levels they drink and this campaign supports just that.”
Prudhoe GP Dr John Green said: “Alcohol is a poison, it’s in the same cancer causing group as tobacco smoke and asbestos, and is linked to more than 60 medical conditions, as well as accidents and injuries.
“I see patients every day affected by cancer. There are many different reasons why people get cancer, but drinking is one of the things we have control over and can do something about.”
Councillor Jane Streather, cabinet member for public health and housing, added: “Alcohol is a damaging influence in many people’s lives, and the scale of its impact on the health and wellbeing of many of Newcastle residents is alarming.
“This is visible in many ways but the link between alcohol and cancer, which Balance has worked hard to publicise, deserves to be stressed. Not enough people realise its importance as a risk factor.”Source: Chronicle Live, 27th June