Women stay mentally sharp farther into old age than men typically do, and scientists now think they know why. It all has to do with how the brain burns energy. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that women’s brains burn energy in a much more youthful way throughout adulthood. Women’s brains appear to be about three years younger than men’s of the same chronological age, even in their 20’s, and that difference holds for the rest of their lives.
Binge drinking and prolonged heavy drinking may trigger a permanent change in a person’s DNA, which results in an even greater desire for alcohol. A study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research shows that among binge and heavy drinkers, two genes are modified that influence drinking behavior—one that influences the body clock and another regulating the stress-response system. Scientists hope the findings may eventually help identify biomarkers for people at risk for alcoholic changes.
And finally, more than half of all American workers say they’ve suffered from job burnout, but most of them won’t take a “mental health day” away from the job to deal with it. The University of Phoenix survey shows only a third of workers have taken time off for mental health, mostly because they say their companies don’t view it as an acceptable reason to be off work.
Drug and alcohol addiction and abuse is rising. Researchers have found that “fear mongering” educational efforts to combat it in adolescents doesn’t work. New science has discovered that certain personality types are predictably predisposed to addiction risk, and that educational efforts can be targeted to them effectively. Experts discuss.
Dr. Natalie Castellanos-Ryan, Assistant Professor of Psychoeducation, University of Montreal
Maia Szalavitz, author, Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction
Contrary to public opinion, autism is not a safeguard against substance abuse. In fact, experts say people diagnosed with autism are just as likely, if not more likely, to turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with the challenges of their lives. Elizabeth Kunreuther, clinical instructor at the University of North Carolina Wakebrook Addiction Treatment Center and co-author of Drinking, Drug Use and Addiction in the Autism Community, explains what autism is, why people with autism turn to harmful substances, and the implicit ethical implications.
Many family members and friends assume that their loved one is immune from substance abuse because of several protective factors inherent in autism, such as social and sensory issues and rule-following behavior. But, Kunreuther says, these factors are not as protective as they seem. People with autism struggle to fit in with society and thus can develop a dependence on various substances. She also points out that if the person with autism is indeed helped through substances, she believes there is nothing wrong with their use, as long as it is moderated.
Providing another perspective, Matthew Tinsley, Asperger syndrome patient and co-author of Asperger Syndrome and Alcohol: Drinking to Cope, shares the story of his own experience, as he struggled with using alcohol as a coping mechanism. He says that being diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, is what helped him move away from an unhealthy addiction.
To learn more about autism and its connection to substance abuse, visit Kunreuther’s and Tinsley’s websites in the links below.
Elizabeth Kunreuther, Clinical Instructor at University of North Carolina Wakebrook Addiction Treatment Center and co-author of Drinking, Drug Use and Addiction in the Autism Community
Matthew Tinsley, Asperger syndrome patient and co-author of Asperger Syndrome and Alcohol: Drinking to Cope
Addiction has become undoubtedly entangled in modern American society. Whether it’s gambling, food, sex, technology, alcohol or drugs, the deadly disease hijacks the human brain with severe ramifications. Recent eruptions in the number of opiate addicts and overdoses has shined an even brighter spotlight on this critical public health issue.
There is an inclination to equate addiction to a moral failing, lack of willpower, or simply bad judgment. Dr. Rita Goldstein, Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, explains that due to our ‘evolutionary legacy,’ the reward center in the brain is designed to make us feel good when we do things like eat food or have sex. Yet, with prolonged addiction, a chemical imbalance occurs, and as a result, the reward center takes priority over rational thinking or the threat of negative consequence. When addictive behavior is continually reinforced, further imbalance occurs, weakening the part of the brain meant to counterbalance impulsive behavior.
The good news; Dr. Anna Rose Childress, Research Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at the Pennsylvania School of Medicine, observes that with abstinence, with or without the use of medications for recovering addicts, the brain can begin rewiring pathways created in the midst of addiction. The road to recovery is not yet paved in the golden promise of a cure, but understanding the biology of addiction is a critical component of treating the disease.
Dr. Rita Goldstein, Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, New York
Dr. Anna Rose Childress, Research Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
Synopsis: Government researchers and auto companies are developing a device called DADSS (Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety) that can inobtrusively test whether a person is drunk as he attempts to start his car. If so, DADDS makes the car inoperable. Experts explain how it will work and debate some of the issues surrounding its possible rollout.
Host: Reed Pence. Guests: J. T. Griffin, Chief Government Affairs Officer, Mothers Against Drunk Driving; Sarah Longwell, Managing Director, American Beverage Institute; Dr. Bud Zaouk, Program and Technical Manager, DADSS development program
Synopsis: Scientists are learning that some people can be physically addicted to certain kinds of foods, especially highly-processed foods, and suffer withdrawl when they can’t have them. Experts explain the brain chemistry of food addiction, how it is virtually identical to the chemistry of drug addiction and alcoholism, and what it means for the nation’s fight against obesity.
Host: Reed Pence. Guests: Dr. Ashley Gearhardt, Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of Michigan; Dr. Vera Tarman, Medical Director, Renascent Addiction Treatment Center, Toronto, and author, Food Junkies: The Truth About Food Addiction