Research Highlights

Research News
Friday, April 30, 2010
Author: Shruti Murti

Brief counseling sessions by physicians can help college students reduce harmful alcohol use, according to a new study supported by NIAAA. Led by Michael F. Fleming, M.D., M.P.H., of the University of Wisconsin, the study is part of the ongoing College Health Intervention Projects (CHIPs) study, a randomized, controlled clinical trial conducted in five college health clinics in Wisconsin, Washington state, and Vancouver, Canada. College health service clinicians examined whether brief counseling sessions would reduce the rates of heavy alcohol use and alcohol-related harm among the nearly 1,000 heavy-drinking students enrolled in the study. After a 12 month follow-up period, alcohol consumption had reduced in the experimental group by 27.2%, compared with a 21% reduction among students in a control group. Heavy episodic drinking also declined by 26.3% in the experimental group, and 23.3% in the control group. This study adds to growing evidence that college health clinic visits are "teachable moments" during which clinicians can help address harmful alcohol use by students.

Research News
Monday, June 14, 2010
Author: Shuly Babitz

It is no surprise that some college-age men and women drink heavily, and can be victims of dating violence as a result. But a recent study by Cynthia Stappenbeck and Kim Fromme at the University of Texas at Austin demonstrates that these behaviors can affect men and women in different ways.

The researchers recruited 2,247 incoming freshmen to complete Internet-based assessments about their drinking and dating behaviors at the end of each fall and spring semester of their first three years of college. The students answered questions designed to assess the details of any dating violence. The questionnaire also asked participants about drinking behavior, including how often they engaged in binge drinking, defined as five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women, and the number of times they felt drunk.

Stappenbeck and Fromme found that 19 percent of the participants experienced physical dating violence at some point during the three year assessment period. 73 percent of participants who acknowledged involvement in violent relationships were female.

The researchers discovered that men who drank most heavily during their freshmen year of college engaged in more violence in their dating relationships during that same year than men who drank less heavily. Heavy drinking, however, did not predict subsequent dating violence for men. By contrast, women who drank heavily during their sophomore year were more likely to encounter dating violence during their junior year than women who did not drink as heavily during their sophomore year.

Given these findings, Stappenbeck and Fromme recommend tailoring education and intervention programs to men and women based on when they may be most vulnerable to heavy drinking and violent relationships. For example, programs should target men before they enter college, and teach them that heavy drinking and dating violence often go hand in hand. Programs should offer men strategies to help reduce both behaviors. Women should participate in drinking prevention programs prior to beginning sophomore year. Both men and women would benefit from better information about how to establish and maintain healthy dating relationships.

Research News
Friday, September 17, 2010
Author: John Bowersox

Although genetic feedback has been evaluated as an adjunct to smoking cessation interventions, its efficacy for reducing alcohol-related risks is unknown. The current study evaluated the feasibility, acceptability, and efficacy of a web-based alcohol intervention incorporating genetic feedback and risk information specific to ALDH2 genotype. The ALDH2*2 variant is associated with partial protection against alcohol dependence but confers significantly increased risk for alcohol-related cancers as a function of alcohol exposure. Two hundred Asian-American young adults were randomly assigned to receive web-based personalized genetic feedback or attention-control feedback. Genetic feedback included health risk information specific to alcohol-related cancer or alcohol dependence, depending on genotype. Genetic feedback and risk information resulted in significant reductions in 30-day drinking frequency and quantity among participants with the ALDH2*1/*2 genotype. Genetic feedback was rated highly by participants and also showed some effects on theoretical correlates of behavior change. Results provide initial evidence of the feasibility, acceptability, and brief efficacy of web-based genetic feedback for reducing alcohol-related health risks associated with the ALDH2 genotype. Results also highlight the utility of targeting preventive interventions based on genetically-related risk and protective factors and specific environmental exposures.

Research News
Friday, September 17, 2010
Author: John Bowersox

Many children adversely affected by maternal drinking during pregnancy cannot be identified early in life using current diagnostic criteria for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). In the current study, conducted with pregnant rats, researchers examined whether ethanol-induced alterations in placental gene expression may be useful as diagnostic indicators of maternal drinking during pregnancy and as a prognostic indicators of risk for adverse neurobehavioral outcomes in affected offspring. Analyses of more than 28,000 genes revealed that the expression of 304 known genes was altered twofold or greater in placenta from ethanol-consuming pregnant rats compared with controls. Gene expression changes involved proteins associated with central nervous system development; immunological responses; endocrine function; skeletal, cardiovascular, and cartilage development, as well as other effects. These results suggest that the expression of a sufficiently large number of placental genes is altered after moderate drinking during pregnancy to warrant more detailed investigation of the placenta as a biomarker system for maternal drinking during pregnancy and as an early indicator of FASD. Given the accessibility of placentas following child birth, the gene changes identified in this study have the potential to serve as practical biomarkers of prenatal alcohol exposure and/or predictors of FASD in offspring. In addition, the identity of these genes could inform our understanding of alcohol's effects on placental function.

Research News
Friday, September 17, 2010
Author: John Bowersox

The learning and memory disabilities associated with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) are due, in part, to hippocampal damage caused by ethanol exposure during prenatal development. However, the mechanism by which alcohol damages the developing hippocampus remains poorly understood. In the current study, researchers examined how ethanol exposure in neonatal rats – a period that is developmentally equivalent to the third trimester of pregnancy in humans -- affects neuronal activities in the hippocampus. They report that in vivo and in vitro ethanol exposure potently inhibits molecular processes that are vital for the proper function and maturation of hippocampal neurons. Most importantly, the ethanol effect reaches significance at concentrations that can be achieved by a pregnant woman consuming less than a single standard drink in an hour. Although many other studies have shown effects of ethanol on synaptic function in developing neurons, the study reported here reveals the most potent effect of ethanol to date. It suggests that even low amounts of alcohol consumption during pregnancy may cause irreversible effects on hippocampal neurons and contribute to FASD.

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