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Alcohol Related Research

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Taste of Beer May Trigger Brain’s Reward Center, Stimulate Alcohol Craving

By Join Together Staff
April 16, 2013 
Filed in Alcohol & Research
Original Article here

The taste of beer may trigger the brain’s reward system and cause a craving for more alcohol, researchers from Indiana University report.

They found men who were given small amounts of their preferred brand of beer felt a desire to drink. This desire was associated with the release of the brain chemical dopamine, which helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.

People who had parents or a sibling with alcoholism released a greater amount of dopamine, HealthDay reports.

“We believe this is the first experiment in humans to show that the taste of an alcoholic drink alone, without any intoxicating effect from the alcohol, can elicit this dopamine activity in the brain’s reward centers,” lead researcher David A. Kareken, PhD, said in a news release. He noted the stronger effect of beer in people with close alcoholic relatives suggests this response may be an inherited risk factor for alcoholism.

The study included 49 men, who underwent two brain scans—one when they drank half an ounce of beer over 15 minutes, and another when they drank Gatorade. The beer significantly increased men’s desire to drink. The brain scans showed significantly more dopamine activity after the men tasted the beer, compared with Gatorade. The results were greater in those with a family history of alcoholism.

The study appears in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

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Injuries Rise with Alcohol-Energy Drink Mix (11/06/07)

College students often mix alcohol with energy drinks so they can drink more and longer, researchers say, but the strategy can lead to more alcohol-related injuries, too.

Fox News reported Nov. 5 that researchers from Wake Forest University School of Medicine found that students who mixed alcohol and drinks like Red Bull had double the risk of being hurt or injured, requiring medical attention, riding with an intoxicated driver, being taken advantage of sexually, or taking advantage of another sexually.

Lead researcher Mary Claire O'Brien said she and colleagues "were surprised that the risk of serious and potentially deadly consequences is so much higher for those who mixed energy drinks with alcohol, even when we adjusted for the amount of alcohol."

"Students whose motor skills, visual reaction times, and judgment are impaired by alcohol may not perceive they are intoxicated as readily when they're also ingesting a stimulant," said O'Brien. "Only the symptoms of drunkenness are reduced - but not the drunkenness. They can't tell if they're drunk; they can't tell if someone else is drunk. So they get hurt, or they hurt someone else."

The findings were based on an Internet survey of more than 4,000 students from 10 universities. About a quarter of those who drank alcohol within the past month said they mixed alcohol and energy drinks. Mixing was more prevalent among males, whites, older students, intramural athletes, and fraternity/sorority members and pledges.

The findings were reported at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in Washington, D.C. Reprinted with permission from Join Together Online.

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Blackouts Linked to Alcoholism (04/22/03)

New research suggests that people who have partial blackouts after binge drinking may be more likely to drink heavily in the future, New Science reported April 14.

In a study involving 1,078 college students who were weekly binge drinkers, scientists at the University of Texas in Austin found that drinkers who had partial memory blackouts had more optimistic attitudes about alcohol's effect on them. For example, participants believed that alcohol makes them more sociable, sexually attractive, or assertive.

Based on the study's findings, the researchers concluded that drinkers who experience "fragmentary blackouts" are more likely to have a faulty memory of the drinking experience and fill in the gaps with positive beliefs.

Psychologist William Corbin, who was part of the research team, said drinking blackouts appear to increase the likelihood of people drinking heavily in the future. "It could identify people more at risk," he said.

This information has been reproduced with the consent of Join Together Online.

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Brain Damage Seen in Heavy Social Drinkers (04/15/04)

Brain scans of heavy social drinkers revealed the same type of brain damage as suffered by hospitalized alcoholics. However, it is rare for social drinkers to recognize any reduction in cognitive functioning, Reuters reported April 14.

According to researchers at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), damage was evident in the brains of 46 individuals who drank more than 100 alcoholic drinks a month for three years prior to the study. In addition, problems were found in reading, balance, and function tests.

"Heavy drinkers were significantly impaired on measures of working memory, processing speed, attention, executive function, and balance," the researchers wrote.

The amount of brain damage, the researchers said, was enough to impair day-to-day functioning. It was the same pattern of damage seen in alcohol-addicted individuals hospitalized or undergoing treatment.

"Socially functioning heavy drinkers often do not recognize that their level of drinking constitutes a problem that warrants treatment," the researchers wrote in their report.

Authors of the study, Dieter Meyerhoff of UCSF and Dr. Peter Martin of Vanderbilt, said social drinkers might not notice any problems with their cognitive functioning. "What our findings indicate is that the brain damage is detectable in heavy drinkers who are not in treatment and function relatively well in the community," said Meyerhoff.

The study's findings are published in the Journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. Reprinted from Join Together Online.

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College Rapes Linked to Binge-Drinking Rates (02/17/04)

Research shows that alcohol is a key factor in the majority of college rapes, and more rapes occur on campuses where binge-drinking rates are highest, theCollegiate Presswire reported February 12.

In a study of 119 college campuses nationwide, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, St. Joseph's University, and the University of Arizona found that women from colleges with medium and high binge-drinking rates were nearly twice as likely to be raped while intoxicated than those from schools with low binge-drinking rates.

Furthermore, of the college women who reported being raped since the beginning of the school year, 72 percent were so intoxicated that they were unable to consent or refuse.

"This study reveals that a woman's chance of being raped is far more pronounced on campuses where the student body as a whole engages in a high rate of binge drinking and when individuals consume a large amount of alcohol," said Melchun Mohler-Kuo, Sc.D., lead author of the study and a research scientist at the College Alcohol Studies program at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Mary Koss, Ph.D., professor of public health at the University of Arizona and a co-author of the study, added, "This study points to an urgent need for more alcohol prevention programs on campuses, along with sexual assault education. Men need education about what constitutes rape, and women should be better informed of strategies to avoid risky situations."

The study, "Correlates of Rape While Intoxicated in a National Sample of College Women," was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The study's findings are published in the January 2004 issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol.

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