Genetics, head injury and poor nutrition have all been linked to dementia. Scientists are now adding both heavy drinking and abstaining from alcohol to the list, according to a new report.
Researchers from the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research based in France and the United Kingdom recently conducted a study, published in the British Medical Journal, to determine the relationship between midlife alcohol consumption and risk of dementia into early old age.
To do so, they observed more than 9,000 people, aged 35 to 55, taking part in the Whitehall II Study, which is examining the impact of social, behavioural and biological factors on long-term health.
The analysts assessed their alcohol consumption and dependence over the course of several years.
They then collected hospital records to review the number of participants hospitalised for alcohol-related chronic diseases and cases of dementia.
After analysing the results, they found both abstinence in midlife and drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week were both associated with higher risk of dementia, compared to just drinking one to 14 units weekly.
In fact, they discovered that heavy drinkers who up their consumption by seven units a week may have a 17% increase in dementia risk.
In the UK, 14 units of alcohol weekly is the recommended maximum limit, and a unit is approximately 8 grams of alcohol. A standard glass of wine is about 2 units of alcohol and a beer is about 1.75 units.
“(Our findings) strengthen the evidence that excessive alcohol consumption is a risk factor for dementia,” the authors said in a statement.
“(We) encourage use of lower thresholds of alcohol consumption in guidelines to promote cognitive health at older ages.”
They also added their results “should not motivate people who do not drink to start drinking, given the known detrimental effects of alcohol consumption for mortality, neuropsychiatric disorders, cirrhosis of the liver and cancer.”
They now hope for more studies that further explore the effects of light to moderate alcohol in relation to the memory loss condition. – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Tribune News Service
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- A new study has shown that moderate drinkers take fewer sick days than tee-totalers.
- Meanwhile, people who drank over the moderate amount were more likely to be absent because of “injury or poisoning.”
- It could be because people with existing health problems are more likely to avoid alcohol.
- Or it could be because people who drink are seasoned pros at making it to the office with a hangover.
How many times have you been hungover at work this week? If you have a 9-5 job, and you like a drink, you’ll know the feeling well – a concoction of nausea, pain, and regret. Here’s a different question: How many times in the past year have you called into work sick because you drank too much?
Unless you’re superhuman, the answer is probably at least once. And by that logic, you’d probably assume people who drink take more sick days than those who don’t. But according to new research, this might not be true.
The new study, published in the journal Addiction, examined the drinking habits and absence from work of 47,000 people in Europe using various surveys. The researchers, who were from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, then grouped participants into five categories based on their drinking, ranging from those who never touched alcohol to heavy party animals.
Overall, people who reported being tee-total for several years were absent from work due to illness more often than those who drank moderately, defined as 11 units a week for women and 34 for men.
Non-drinkers had a higher risk of absence because of mental disorders, muscle and skeletal disorders, and respiratory and digestive diseases. Less surprisingly, those who drank over the moderate threshold were at an increased risk of absence due to injury or poisoning.
Lead author of the study, Jenni Ervasti from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, said the findings demonstrate the different types of illnesses tee-totalers and heavy drinkers are susceptible to.
“Some diseases, or their treatment, prevent alcohol use, which may explain the excess risks among abstainers,” she said. “Moreover, participants to whom at-risk drinking causes health problems may be selected out from the labor market, that is, if they retire early or become unemployed. Then, the adverse effects are not seen in absence from work due to illness.”
The study was limited as the surveys were self-reported, and people tend to not be entirely truthful about things like drinking, diet, and their sex lives. But the findings do seem to suggest moderate drinkers take fewer sick days. Whether that’s because they drink due to fewer health problems, have a higher alcohol tolerance, or have simply gotten really good at making it to work with a hangover is unclear.
Chronic heavy drinking is a major risk factor for all types of dementia, especially early onset of the disease, according to a study published on Feb 21, 2018, in The Lancet Public Health.
Researchers examining more than 57,000 cases of early-onset dementia in France found that well over half were either alcohol-related or accompanied by an additional diagnosis of alcohol abuse.
Overall, alcohol-use disorders were associated with a three-fold higher risk of all types of dementia.
Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are said to be premature before the age of 65.
Previous research was inconclusive on the effect of alcohol on cognitive health. Some studies have show a possible benefit of light-to-moderate drinking, while others have found that heavy drinking boosts the risk of dementia.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines “chronic heavy drinking” as more than 60 grammes of pure alcohol – six or more standard drinks – a day for men, and in excess of 40 grammes per day for women.
For the new study, researchers combed through medical records of more than one million adults in France diagnosed with dementia from 2008 to 2013.
The link with alcohol was statistically unmistakable, leading the authors to suggest screening, brief interventions for heavy drinking and alcoholism treatment to help reduce cognitive decline.
“The link between dementia and alcohol-use disorders… is likely a result of alcohol leading to permanent structural and functional brain damage,” said lead author Michael Schwarzinger, a scientist at the Translational Health Economics Network in Paris.
Alcohol-use disorders are also associated with high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and heart failure, which may in turn increase the risk of vascular dementia, he said in a statement.
Previous research has likewise established a link between heavy drinking and smoking, depression and low educational attainment – all risk factors for dementia.
The study, based on discharge records from all French hospitals over a six-year period, excluded patients with diseases linked to rare dementias and people with early-life mental health disorders.
During the same period, there were 945,512 people – more than 85% of them alcohol-dependent – diagnosed with alcohol-use disorders.
“Our findings suggest that the burden of dementia attributable to alcohol-use disorders is much larger than previously thought,” said Schwarzinger.
“Heavy drinking should be recognised as a major risk factor for all types of dementia.”
Clive Ballard, professor at the University of Exeter Medical School in Britain, described the findings as “immensely important”.
“We should move forward with clear public health messages about the relationship between both alcohol-use disorders and alcohol consumption respectively, and dementia,” he commented in the same journal. – AFP Relaxnews
Which is worse for you: weed or whiskey?
It’s a tough call, but based on the science, there appears to be a clear answer.
Keep in mind that there are dozens of factors to account for, including how the substances affect your heart, brain, and behavior, and how likely you are to get hooked.
Time is important, too – while some effects are noticeable immediately, others only begin to crop up after months or years of use.
The comparison is slightly unfair for another reason: While scientists have been researching the effects of alcohol for decades, the science of cannabis is a lot murkier because of its mostly illegal status.
More than 30,700 Americans died from alcohol-induced causes in 2014. There have been zero documented deaths from marijuana use alone.
- Gerardo Garcia/Reuters
In 2014, 30,722 people died from alcohol-induced causes in the US – and that does not count drinking-related accidents or homicides. If those deaths were included, the number would be closer to 90,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Meanwhile, no deaths from marijuana overdoses have been reported, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. A 16-year study of more than 65,000 Americans, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that healthy marijuana users were not more likely to die earlier than healthy people who did not use cannabis.
Marijuana appears to be significantly less addictive than alcohol.
Close to half of all adults have tried marijuana at least once, making it one of the most widely used illegal drugs – yet research suggests that a relatively small percentage of people become addicted.
For a 1994 survey, epidemiologists at the National Institute on Drug Abuse asked more than 8,000 people from ages 15 to 64 about their drug use. Of those who had tried marijuana at least once, roughly 9% eventually fit a diagnosis of addiction. For alcohol, the figure was about 15%. To put that in perspective, the addiction rate for cocaine was 17%, while heroin was 23% and nicotine was 32%.
Marijuana may be harder on your heart, while moderate drinking could be beneficial.
Unlike alcohol, which slows your heart rate, marijuana speeds it up, which could negatively affect the heart in the short term. Still, the largest-ever report on cannabis from the National Academies of Sciences, released in January, found insufficient evidence to support or refute the idea that cannabis may increase the overall risk of a heart attack.
On the other hand, low to moderate drinking – about one drink a day – has been linked with a lower risk of heart attack and stroke compared with abstention. James Nicholls, a director at Alcohol Research UK, told The Guardian that those findings should be taken with a grain of salt since “any protective effects tend to be canceled out by even occasional bouts of heavier drinking.”
Alcohol is strongly linked with several types of cancer; marijuana is not.
In November, a group of the nation’s top cancer doctors issued a statement asking people to drink less. They cited strong evidence that drinking alcohol – as little as a glass of wine or beer a day – increases the risk of developing both pre- and postmenopausal breast cancer.
The US Department of Health lists alcohol as a known human carcinogen. Research highlighted by the National Cancer Institute suggests that the more alcohol you drink – particularly the more you drink regularly – the higher your risk of developing cancer.
For marijuana, some research initially suggested a link between smoking and lung cancer, but that has been debunked. The January report found that cannabis was not connected to any increased risk of the lung cancers or head and neck cancers tied to smoking cigarettes.
Both drugs may be linked with risks while driving, but alcohol is worse.
- Unsplash / Michael Discenza
A research note published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (PDF) found that, when adjusting for other factors, having a detectable amount of THC (the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis) in your blood did not increase the risk of being involved in a car crash. Having a blood-alcohol level of at least 0.05%, on the other hand, increased that risk by 575%.
Still, combining the two appears to have the worst results.
“The risk from driving under the influence of both alcohol and cannabis is greater than the risk of driving under the influence of either alone,” the authors of a 2009 review wrote in the American Journal of Addiction.
Several studies link alcohol with violence, particularly at home. That has not been found for cannabis.
It’s impossible to say whether drinking alcohol or using marijuana causes violence, but several studies – including a recent analysis published in the journal Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience – suggest a link between alcohol and violent behavior.
For a study published in January, researchers used fMRI scans to see how two alcoholic drinks impacts brain function in 50 healthy adult males. Compared with sober participants, the intoxicated volunteers were found to have reduced functioning in the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain linked with moderating social behavior. That reduced functioning was also linked with aggressive behavior.
The finding aligns with some previous research on alcohol’s connections with violence. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, alcohol is a factor in 40% of all violent crimes, and a study of college students found that the rates of mental and physical abuse were higher on days when couples drank.
On the other hand, no such relationship appears to exist for cannabis. A recent study looking at cannabis use and intimate partner violence in the first decade of marriage found that marijuana users were significantly less likely to commit violence against a partner than those who did not use the drug.
Both drugs negatively affect your memory — but in different ways. These effects are the most common in heavy, frequent, or binge users.
- Kristoffer Trolle/flickr
Both weed and alcohol temporarily impair memory, and alcohol can cause blackouts by rendering the brain incapable of forming memories. The most severe long-term effects are seen in heavy, chronic, or binge users who begin using in their teens.
Studies have found that these effects can persist for several weeks after stopping marijuana use. There may also be a link between daily weed use and poorer verbal memory in adults who start smoking at a young age.
Chronic drinkers display reductions in memory, attention, and planning, as well as impaired emotional processes and social cognition – and these can persist even after years of abstinence.
Both drugs are linked with an increased risk of psychiatric disease. For weed users, psychosis and schizophrenia are the main concern; with booze, it’s depression and anxiety.
The largest review of marijuana studies found substantial evidence of an increased risk among frequent marijuana users of developing schizophrenia – something that studies have shown is a particular concern for people already at risk.
Weed can also trigger temporary feelings of paranoia and hostility, but it’s not yet clear whether those symptoms are linked with an increased risk of long-term psychosis.
On the other hand, self-harm and suicide are much more common among people who binge drink or drink frequently. But scientists have had a hard time deciphering whether excessive alcohol use causes depression and anxiety or whether people with depression and anxiety drink in an attempt to relieve those symptoms.
Alcohol appears to be linked more closely with weight gain, despite weed’s tendency to trigger the munchies.
- Melia Robinson/Business Insider
Weed gives you the munchies. It makes you hungry, reduces the natural signals of fullness, and may even temporarily make food taste better.
But despite eating over 600 extra calories when smoking, marijuana users generally don’t have higher body-mass indexes. In fact, studies suggest that regular smokers have a slightly reduced risk of obesity.
Alcohol, on the other hand, appears to be linked with weight gain. A study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that people who drank heavily had a higher risk of becoming overweight or obese. Plus, alcohol itself is caloric: A can of beer has roughly 150 calories, and a glass of wine has about 120.
All things considered, alcohol’s effects seem markedly more extreme — and riskier — than marijuana’s.
When it comes to addiction profiles and risk of death or overdose combined with ties to cancer, car crashes, violence, and obesity, the research suggests that marijuana may be less of a health risk than alcohol.
Still, because of marijuana’s largely illegal status, long-term studies on all its health effects have been limited – meaning more research is needed.
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As anyone who has drunk a cup of coffee knows, not all drugs are equally harmful. Caffeine, the most widely consumed psychoactive drug on earth, is not a danger to human health.
To give people an idea of the most dangerous substances, a team of psychiatrists, chemists, and pharmacologists at the UK’s Royal College of Psychiatrists systematically ranked them based on three factors: how much physical harm they cause, how addictive they are, and how much damage they do to society as a whole, judging by things like costs spent on healthcare. They published their findings in the medical journal The Lancet.
Here are the drugs that rank highest for dependency:
To assess the danger of each drug, the scientists looked at three types of effects.
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The following ranking focuses on dependency. The researchers further broke this category down into three factors that determine how addictive something is.
1. Pleasure, the euphoria a user feels on the drug; psychological dependence
2. The cravings a user experiences when the drug is withdrawn
3. Physical dependence, the headaches or other physical symptoms a user experiences when the drug is withdrawn
1. Heroin ranked the highest on the list in terms of dependency.
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The drug received a full three out of three in terms of pleasure, cravings, and physical dependence.
2. Cocaine received a three out of three in terms of pleasure.
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However, it was deemed to be slightly less psychologically addictive than heroin and about half as physically addictive.
3. In terms of psychological addictiveness, nicotine was ranked as almost as addictive as cocaine.
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Nicotine received a 2.6 out of 3 compared to cocaine’s 2.8. But it was also deemed less pleasurable and far less physically addictive.
4. Barbiturates are sedative drugs that were once widely prescribed for anxiety.
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This category includes brand-name drugs like Amobarbital and Thiopental. Barbiturates got a two out of three for overall dependency – they were ranked as less pleasurable and less physiologically and physically addictive than nicotine, heroin, and cocaine.
5. Alcohol was deemed less psychologically addictive than tobacco.
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Alcohol and tobacco were ranked equally in terms of the “pleasure” aspect of their addictiveness, however, receiving a 2.3 out of 3. Alcohol and tobacco also had a similar physical dependence ranking overall.