Monday, November 12, 2012

Short Subjects

Brief news on drugs and addiction.

The editorial staff at Addiction Inbox (see photo), occasionally finds itself overwhelmed with news and opinion worth broadcasting. Hence, this bullet list of drug/alcohol related news from recent weeks:

•    Children with heavy alcohol exposure show decreased brain plasticity, according to recent research on fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FAS) using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. The research, supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), included 70 children heavily exposed to alcohol in utero. According to NIAAA, the children showed “lost cortical volume,” described in the study as a pattern of static growth “most evident in the rear portions of the brain—particularly the parietal cortex, which is thought to be involved in selective attention and producing planned movement.”

•    Combining medications for a better outcome is a staple of medical practice. So it’s not surprising to see the same thing being investigated in addiction treatment. Scientists evaluating medications for alcoholism have found that in some cases, mixing the medicine gives better outcomes. In two separate trials, naltrexone proved to be a more effective treatment for alcoholism when combined with either acamprosate (reported in Addiction), or baclofen (as detailed by Dr Mark Gold at the recent meeting of the Society for Neuroscience). In the Addiction study, the authors concluded that “acamprosate has been found to be slightly more efficacious in promoting abstinence and naltrexone slightly more efficacious in reducing heavy drinking and craving,” which suggests the possibility of using different drugs at different stages of recovery for maximum benefit. In preliminary work on baclofen, some researchers now claim that combining it with naltrexone often leads to better outcomes.

•    Every year at about this time, the rumors start flying: Did you hear that Amsterdam is closing its marijuana coffee shops? This breathless annual announcement is never true, and this year, despite all the fuss over “weed passes” and border skirmishes over drug traffic in the south of the Netherlands, Amsterdam’s mayor recently announced that he has no attention of closing the roughly 200 cannabis shops in his city by year’s end, as originally mandated by the now-defunct conservative government. In addition, rumors are flying that the incoming cabinet of Prime Minister Mark Rutte is already backing away from the previous government’s position on banning foreigners from the shops, according to a New York Times report. “Changes to the new policy have not been finalized,” according to a spokesperson for the Dutch Justice Ministry, quoted in the Times. Rutte himself has hinted that the ban may remain intact, but that local councils may be allowed to override that decision—an outcome not untypical of Dutch politics. “I’m guessing that behind the curtains, it’s already been arranged,” said Michael Veling of the Dutch Cannabis Retailers Association.

•    Here’s a finding you can easily test for yourself. Conduct a conversation with a heavily intoxicated chronic drinker. Introduce ironic, “wink-wink” comments into the exchange. Really lay on the irony. And then sit back and watch most of it sail right by your drunk and maddeningly literal companion. And now science is attempting to confirm it: A modest recent study in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research says that “drinking too much alcohol can interfere with men’s feelings of empathy and understanding of irony.” 22 men in an alcoholic treatment program read a series of stories ending with either an ironic comment or a straightforward one. Chronic heavy drinkers identified ironic sentences 63 % of the time, compared to a group of non-alcoholics, who identified 90 % of the ironic comments. Lead researcher Simona Amenta said in a press release that the results may mean that alcoholics “tend to underestimate negative emotions; it also suggests that the same situation might be read in a totally different way by an alcoholic individual and another person.” Ya think?

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