Alcholism Treatment

Veterans’ Suicide Risk Doubles with Drinking, Drug Abuse: Study Finds

United States veterans living with a substance abuse problem have a higher risk of committing suicide than veterans who don’t have this problem, according to a new study.

Researchers looked at more than four million veterans. They determined that eight percent of men and four percent of women had either drug or alcohol issue. Veterans in this category were twice as likely to take their own lives compared to veterans who didn’t have a substance abuse disorder.

Women Especially at Risk for Suicide

The danger of suicide for female veterans with substance abuse difficulties was even more threatening than it was for males. The women were more than five times more likely to commit suicide than female veterans who didn’t abuse alcohol or drugs.

Kipling Bohnert, the study leader, stated that the study results should serve as helpful information for doctors and health care providers working with patients who have substance abuse disorders. It should make them aware of the risk of suicide and encourage efforts toward prevention.

The suicide rate for US veterans is 20 per day, according to researchers. This is much higher than for the general population. Bonhert commented recently in a university news release that substance use disorders “may be important markers for suicide risk.”

Substance Type Plays a Role in Suicide Risk

The study results revealed that the type of substance used by the veterans had an impact on their risk of suicide. Veterans who abused prescription sedatives, such as tranquilizers, were at the highest level of risk.

Female veterans were at higher risk by abusing opioid pain medications. Male veterans were at higher risk of taking their own lives if they were abusing amphetamines (“uppers”), according to the study results.

The study was published in the online version of the journal Addiction. It draws attention to the need for more suicide prevention efforts directed toward veterans with substance abuse issues. This need is even more urgent for veterans living with mental health concerns such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

Gun Safety Should be Included in Prevention Efforts

Gun safety needs to be addressed in the efforts to lower suicide rates. Two-thirds of the suicides examined in the study involved use of firearms. Another 25 percent of suicides by veterans with substance abuse issues involved ingesting poisons. Strategies to prevent suicide by taking harmful substances also needs to be addressed.

Rewards Beneficial in Helping Alcoholics with Co-Occurring Disorders

Helping someone overcome an addiction to alcohol is difficult and requires a lot of effort on the part of the addict, loved ones and treatment or counseling team. However, helping someone who is addicted to alcohol and also suffering from a mental illness can be even harder.

This smaller portion of the population are often forced to receive treatment for the mental illness and alcoholism separately, which makes it more unlikely that they will actually overcome their addiction. In order to find a better solution to this problem, researchers at Washington State University conducted a study that examined a potentially better form of treatment for those that have been diagnosed with an addiction to alcohol and a mental illness.

This particular experiment centered around small rewards for submitting clean urine tests. Participants that had been identified as alcohol dependent and suffering from a severe mental illness were split into two groups. The first group, of about forty subjects, were given small prizes if they passed a urine analysis test. The other group, made up of the same amount of people, were given rewards whether they passed the test or not. The study lasted about 12 weeks. The researchers found that subjects who had been given rewards for staying clean were more likely to stay clean, even after the 12-week study. Additionally, researchers also noted that drug use and tobacco use were also diminished in the group that received rewards for passing their tests. This was not the intention of the study, but interesting because it appears that the reward system is powerful enough to address more than one addiction at a time.

“Our findings suggest that contingency management is a feasible approach for people with alcohol problems. And it may be particularly effective in those with serious mental illness – such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder – a high-cost and difficult-to-engage population,” explained Michael McDonell, associate professor in WSU’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.

While this particular group is not vast, mental illness paired with an alcohol addiction can be extremely dangerous and costly to the individual, family and society. Developing an effective way to treat these patients is important and may also open doors for more successful treatment modalities for non-mental health patients that suffer from alcoholism.

Reduction of Alcohol Availability Impacts Suicide Rates

Excessive alcohol consumption increases one’s chances of attempting or committing suicide. This is a statement that has been supported by studies going back to the seventies. It is likely that suicides and depression are influenced by alcohol intake because of the damage alcohol does to the brain. A person who is an alcoholic, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol daily, physically changes the shape and chemical makeup of their brain. This change can result to physical ailments, as well as emotional problems. While many studies have corroborated the link between alcohol and suicide, not many studies have examined the effects of alcohol restrictions on suicides.

Recently, a group of researchers set out to determine if areas with heavier alcohol tax, restrictions on the amount of alcohol in stores, or stricter driving under the influence laws had lower suicide rates. The answer was, yes – areas that make it more difficult to purchase alcohol, or get away with consuming excessive amounts, have less people committing suicide. The research did not specifically answer why this would be the case, but is likely that slight adjustments to make it more difficult to consume copious amounts of alcohol make it less likely that a person will get to the point of wanting to commit suicide.

“By making alcohol less available, it is possible to reduce the average risk of suicide, especially those where alcohol is involved. Departing from approaches that narrowly target members deemed at ‘high risk’ and that commonly address suicidal behaviors almost exclusively as problems of individuals, this population-based approach is likely to maximize public health benefit and to show long-lasting influence on reducing suicide,” explained the authors of the study.

Currently, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. Cities throughout the country are constantly looking at how they can lower their suicide rate. Which is why this information is so critical. By curbing the access to alcohol, even slightly, thousands of lives can be saved. In fact, the data is even more compelling when you look outside of the United States. The same researchers looked at information gathered in other countries, and found similar results, highlighting the influence cities and town all over the world can have on suicide rates.

Therapeutic Site for Vets Helps Reduce Drinking and PTSD Symptoms

Hundreds of thousands of returning active duty soldiers and veterans have drinking problems that are connected to their service for our country. Recently, those who served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom seemed to be highly affected. The drinking is often in an attempt to self-medicate the PTSD symptoms they are experiencing.

A few years ago, research was conducted on the effectiveness of an online tool for helping these men and women reduce their drinking as well as their PTSD symptoms. It is called VetChange, and the randomized clinical trial showed that the program did indeed help. The results had been published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Today VetChange is a free service that is sponsored by Boston University and VA Boston Healthcare System in partnership with the National Center for PTSD, with support from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation and the National Center for PTSD.

“Many veterans use alcohol to self-medicate for PTSD-related issues, such as stress, anger and sleep problems. Our program focuses on alcohol and its link to PTSD. It helps them learn to address these problems and other stressors in their lives without using alcohol,” said Dr. Brief, Director of Residential and Rehabilitation Services at the VA Boston Healthcare System, and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at Boston University.

The tool can be used by itself for Vets looking to reduce their drinking and improve the quality of their lives, and it can also be used in conjunction with traditional substance abuse and mental health treatments or therapies.

Large Number of People Suffer from Alcohol Abuse

A new study revealed that fourteen percent of Americans currently struggle with an alcohol abuse problem. In addition to those that are currently suffering from an alcohol abuse problem, a total of 30% of Americans have struggled with alcohol abuse at least once in their lifetime. The study was conducted by researchers who wanted to investigate exactly how prevalent alcohol addiction is in American society. While problems like; heroin addiction and prescription pill abuse are well known and discussed at length, alcohol addiction is the quiet killer.

“Most importantly, this study highlighted the urgency of educating the public and policy makers about alcohol use disorder and its treatments, destigmatizing the disorder, and encouraging among those who cannot reduce their alcohol consumption on their own, despite substantial harm to themselves and others, to seek treatment,” explained the authors of the study.

In order to educate more people about the dangers of alcohol abuse and also that more Americans are suffering from an addiction to alcohol than many people thought, the researchers published their study in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. The study came about after medical experts changed the definition of alcohol use disorder, altering the criteria people needed to exhibit in order to be diagnosed with the dangerous addiction. The new definition added more signs of alcohol abuse and clarified that someone has to display at least two of the symptoms listed in the definition. Some of the new criteria included; continuing to drink alcohol despite it harming relationships, school or work performance being negatively affected by alcohol consumption and attempting to quit drinking and being unable to.

Researchers gathered data from 36,000 Americans. Questions were asked about their drinking habits and if their drinking negatively affected any aspects of their life. Researchers also studied those that admitted to having a drinking problem at one point in their life. Interestingly, most of the people that had struggled with alcohol in the past, or were currently struggling with alcohol, had not or were not receiving treatment. There is a general feeling that an alcohol abuse problem can go so long without being detected because the public is not aware of the signs of an alcohol addiction and how common the problem actually is. Researchers hope that the study will help to shed some light on the alcohol problem in the country.

Genetics of Alcoholism Dates Back Millions of Years

New genetic research suggests that humans and their ape predecessors may have been consuming alcohol for 10 million years. Homo sapiens’ ape ancestors long ago evolved to eat fermented fruit.

Alcohol, called ethanol by scientists, can be a toxic chemical. And humans’ ability to tolerate drinking relies on one enzyme, ADH4, the researchers explained. Their new study suggests that primate ancestors developed a gene mutation to produce ADH4 beginning about 10 million years ago. This enabled them to safely consume the naturally fermented flesh of rotting fruit when other food sources became scarce.

Matthew Carrigan, an assistant professor in the department of natural sciences at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida explained, “Because fruit can naturally ferment, we may have adapted naturally to the consumption of these foods.”

Carrigan’s finding might change the way scientists look at both alcohol and human evolution, he added.

He said that at the same time our adaptation to ethanol took place, our ancestors also adapted to life on the ground. The adaptation from primarily tree dwelling existence to a terrestrial existence meant that they were being exposed to fruit which is older, and more likely fermented. He speculates, “But basically it suggests that we adapted to ethanol simply so we could tolerate it.”

The findings might even offer new insights into alcoholism, Carrigan suggested. How a particular person’s genes deal with alcohol might give clues to alcoholism prevention and treatment.

If ethanol has been a beneficial and important part of our diet for some time, he questions, then how does this understanding affect our thinking about alcoholism.

Carrigan says it is important to appreciate that there is natural amount of diversity in the differences of genes in each individualh. “And understanding these differences — and how these differences might affect a person’s risk for addiction — could be really important when trying to understand how people interact with ethanol differently.”

How Smoking Can Interfere With Alcoholic’s Recovery

For those who are in the process of detoxing off of alcohol, they may want to also stay away from smoking as well. A recent study shows that smoking impairs the brain functions of those who are recovering from alcohol abuse.

“There have been few longitudinal studies that have specifically studied the effects of cigarette smoking on cognitive recovery in ALC (Alcohol Dependent Individuals) during abstinence. We chose to examine measures of processing speed, learning and memory, and working memory because these abilities have been shown to be adversely affected by alcohol use disorders as well as chronic cigarettes smoking,” explained Timothy C. Durazzo, a researcher in the study.

Since chronic alcohol abuse has such a negative effect on a person’s cognitive skills, it makes sense that researchers wanted to look into anything else that would further impair a person’s brain functioning, especially after they have abstained from alcohol abuse.

Researchers found that those who abstained from alcohol and cigarette smoking showed marked improvement in cognitive skills like processing speed, learning and memory during the first month of abstinence. The group of participants who continued to smoke cigarettes but were still abstinent from alcohol had poorer results on cognitive tests than the other group.

It is no secret that smoking cigarettes is an unhealthy behavior. The smoke from cigarettes appears to be the biggest culprit in hindering a person’s (especially a recovering alcoholic) cognitive abilities. The toxins found in cigarette smoke, paired with the stress that smoking puts on the repertory part of the body, inhibits cognitive functioning. People who have quit drinking but continue to smoke are still contaminating their bodies with toxins that are having a negative effect on their brain’s ability to function.

This new information shows that there are variables that have an effect on a person’s ability to recover from alcohol abuse. While it is highly advisable for those who abuse alcohol to enroll in some sort of treatment center for their problem, this evidence shows that if they quit smoking they will have better chances at maintaining an overall healthier lifestyle with stronger cognitive ability.

A Short History of Alcohol Prohibition

At the end of the 19th century, the temperance movement shifted towards a more ambitious and hard-line approach and eventually pushed for outright prohibition. This shift is now recognizable to historians in parallel changes in the way people discussed the issues of their time. Social Darwinism heavily influenced the way ordinary people interpreted the world around them. To this end, alcoholism no longer threatened the sanctity of American homes, but instead threatened the very fabric of human civilization. Unfortunately, civilization had a very specific meaning in those times and was tied to racist, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic ideals.

Today we think of Prohibition as a failure of U.S. government policy and enforcement because people are always going to find ways to self-medicate or blow off steam. What is forgotten is how wrong-headed that policy was in the first place. With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that the major proponents of Prohibition simply reacted to the changes in American society due to onset of industrialization and urbanization. Anxiety over these changes and a crude understanding of human psychology and behavior prevented these activists from recognizing the pervasive effects of addiction across racial and cultural lines. Instead of recognizing the need to treat individuals regardless of skin color, religion, or origin, the Prohibition impulse sought to demonize those groups who were, in fact, enriching the American cultural experience.

Ultimately, Prohibition was unable to stem this cultural tide. The onset of the Great Depression gave way to the election of FDR who pledged to repeal the 18th Amendment. Americans’ approach to addiction treatment took a new course later in the 1930s with the advent of groups such Alcoholics Anonymous. A new understanding of addiction began to take shape. Simply put, a one-size-fits-all government policy cannot help individuals deal with addiction. Addicts are not the stooges of nefarious “other” groups that are looking to thwart the American way of life. They are human beings, with same kinds of weaknesses as all others. With the support of fellow human beings, they must learn to cope with their illness in a world that is constantly changing.

If you know someone in need of treatment for alcoholism, contact us today.

New Treatment for Heavy Drinkers May Be Possible According to New Study

When alcoholism or heavy drinking becomes a problem, the solution is usually to stop drinking altogether – a tough feat to accomplish on your own. Recent research shows that reducing alcohol consumption could be easy with the help of the anti-epilepsy drug, topiramate AKA Topamax.

The study included 138 heavy drinkers divided into two groups. One group took the drug for 12 weeks and the other group took an inactive placebo. Both groups participated in brief counseling to help them decrease their drinking.

After the 12-week period, the placebo group patients were five times more likely to have had a heavy drinking day compared to the patients in the Topamax group. Also, the Topamax group had twice as many patients who had no heavy drinking days during the last four weeks of the study.

Although there have been recent studies that associate anti-epilepsy drugs with alcohol recovery, this is the first that evaluates the drug as an option for patients who want to limit their drinking to safe levels, rather than stop drinking completely.

After further analysis, researchers discovered that only people with a specific genetic makeup found in 40% of European-Americans benefited from the treatment. As a result, it could be assumed that personalized treatments for heavy drinking may be on the horizon.

“Our hope is that the study will result in additional research focusing to help patients who have struggles with heavy drinking and the problems it causes, but who are unable or unwilling to abstain from alcohol altogether,” explains Dr. Henry Kranzler, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Studies of Addiction.

The results of the study not only supported the theory that the drug helps in decreasing alcohol consumption, but also point to what groups of people the drug could help. Hopefully future research will shine a light on what the use of Topamax could mean for alcoholics continuing to struggle with recovery.