Recent Studies on Alcoholism

Posted on August 15th, 2012

Alcohol abuse is the largest substance use problem in the world, and researchers are constantly working to shed new light on the problem in the hopes of improving prevention and treatment. The studies attack the problem from every conceivable angle, ranging from the demographics of drinking problems to hidden chemical and genetic clues to the ways in which problems develop.

Here is a look at a few recently published studies examining who is developing alcohol use problems, and why.

Alcoholism and Social Bonding

A 2011 from the University of Pittsburgh has shed some new light on the effects of social reinforcement on the development of drinking problems. The Department of Psychology, the Department of Psychiatry, and the Department of Human Genetics performed the study cooperatively.

The fact that people drink to facilitate social interactions has long been taken for granted, but this study hoped to find whether social bonding contributes to a genetic predisposition to alcoholism. Researchers hoped to make a connection between social reinforcement and previous studies that suggest the human dopamine receptor gene plays a role in drinking disorders.

What the University of Pittsburgh researchers found is that there may be a link between alcoholism and a certain allele, or variation, of the dopamine receptor gene. This gene is commonly referred to as the DRD4 gene, and the allele has been named the 7-repeat allele.

This study found that individuals who carry the 7-repeat allele are more sensitive to the social bonding effects of alcohol, and report more positive social bonding from alcohol than individuals who do not have the 7-repeat allele. The University of Pittsburgh researchers feel that this discovery could point to a more complete explanation of the DRD4 gene’s role in problematic drinking.

PTSD and Depression Predict Alcohol Abuse

In recent years, the separate problems of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and substance abuse among returning soldiers have gained notoriety. However, the relationship between these problems is still only minimally understood, and a 2012 study hopes to give new insight into how these issues relate.

While it may seem self-evident that PTSD and depression in soldiers returning from deployment may lead to alcohol use problems, a direct relationship had not been scientifically established. This new study looked at a sampling of soldiers from the Ohio Army National Guard who had been deployed, and who reported no substance use problems prior to their time on active duty.

The results from this study showed that while either depression or PTSD can increase the probability that a soldier will abuse alcohol during or after their deployment, a co-occurrence of these two conditions significantly increases those odds. The final numbers from the participating Ohio Army National Guard soldiers who developed alcohol use problems were 7.0% among those with no PTSD or depression, 16.7% among those with PTSD, 22.6% among those with depression, and 43.8% among those with both PTSD and depression.

Alcohol Use Among American Surgeons

A survey undertaken in 2010 and published in 2012 looked as the incidence of alcohol abuse among members of the American College of Surgeons. A connection between stress and alcohol abuse has long been recognized, and surgeons have one of the most stressful jobs there is. At the same time, there are few jobs where the complications of an alcohol use disorder might have worse consequences.

25,073 members of the American College of Surgeons ultimately participated in the survey. As part of the survey, the participating surgeons completed the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test. 15.4% of those surveyed earned scores indicative of an alcohol use disorder, with the breakdown between male and female surgeons being 13.9% and 25.6% respectively.

The survey also looked for co-occurring depression or burnout among the surgeons, and for recent major medical errors during the performance of their jobs. The results showed an apparent connection between each of these elements, with depressed and burned-out surgeons more likely to have an alcohol use disorder, and those with alcohol use disorders more likely to have committed a major error in the previous three months.

These results led the study’s researchers to conclude that alcohol abuse and other mental health conditions are currently significant problems among American surgeons.

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