‘Dabbling’ in Hard Drugs in Middle Age Linked to Increased Risk of Death

Newswise — Young adults often experiment with hard drugs, such as cocaine, amphetamines and opiates, and all but about 10 percent stop as they assume adult roles and responsibilities. Those still using hard drugs into their 50s are five times more likely to die earlier than those who do not, according to a new study by University of Alabama at Birmingham researchers published online Jan. 27, 2012, in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 9.4 percent of Americans ages 50-59 and 7 percent of adults ages 35-49 reported use of a drug other than marijuana sometime in the past year. The study’s lead author, Stefan Kertesz, M.D., associate professor in the UAB Division of Preventive Medicine. and colleagues attempted to discover if lifelong hard-drug use shortens lifespan to better enable primary-care doctors to advise patients who use drugs recreationally.

“While government guidelines have not endorsed screening for drugs in primary care, many doctors are challenged when they discover patients continue to dabble with them,” Kertesz says. “In primary-care practice, we often hear from stable patients who report using some cocaine, irregularly, perhaps on weekends. It’s an underappreciated but very common situation. The typical question physicians have to ask is ‘If this patient doesn’t have addiction, what advice can I give other than noting that it’s unwise to break the law?’ After all, we are supposed to be doctors, not law enforcement.”

Kertesz and a research team from other universities looked at data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study for their analysis. CARDIA, funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, is a long-term research project involving more than 5,000 black and white men and women from Birmingham, Chicago, Minneapolis and Oakland, designed to examine the development and determinants of cardiovascular disease and its risk factors. Participants ages 18-30 were recruited and followed from 1985 to 2006.

The research team looked specifically at the reported use of “hard drugs” by 4,301 of the CARDIA participants. They compared people who stopped drug use early to those who continued and calculated the likelihood of premature death among these groups.

“Fourteen percent of the people in the study reported recent hard-drug use at least once, and of these, half continued using well into middle age,” Kertesz says. “But, most of the drug users in our study were not addicts. They were dabblers who used just a few days a month.”

Kertesz and his colleagues found that older hard-drug users were more likely to report being raised in economically challenged circumstances in a family that was unsupportive, abusive or neglectful. The team also found that those who were heavy drug users into young adulthood and continued at lower levels into middle age were roughly five times more likely to die than persons who didn’t use drugs.

“We can’t assume that drugs caused death, as in an overdose,” he says. “Rather what we found is that middle-age adults who continue to dabble in hard drugs represent a group that is at risk of bad outcomes — which could include death from trauma, heart disease or other causes that are not a direct result of their drug use — at a higher rate than people who stopped using drugs.”

Kertesz added that the team’s findings are a reminder that people who continue to use drugs are potentially quite vulnerable. They often have grown up under economic and psychosocial stress from childhood onward. They continue to smoke and drink and they remain at elevated risk of premature death.

“Based on the data we hope to offer better advice to primary-care doctors struggling with the rising tide of drug-taking by adults who have not left behind many of the bad habits they learned in young adulthood,” he says.

Study co-authors include Yulia Khodneva, M.D., Monika Safford, M.D., and Joseph Schumacher, Ph.D., UAB Division of Preventive Medicine; Jalie Tucker, Ph.D., UAB School of Public Health; Joshua Richman, M.D., Ph.D., UAB Department of Surgery; Bobby Jones, Ph. D., Department of Statistics, Carnegie Mellon University; and Mark J. Pletcher, M.D., departments of Epidemiology & Biostatistics and Medicine, University of California, San Francisco.

Released: 1/27/2012

Source: University of Alabama at Birmingham

Related Link:

http://newswise.com/articles/dabbling-in-hard-drugs-in-middle-age-linked-to-increased-risk-of-death

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Sleep Preserves and Enhances Bad Emotional Memories

Photo Credit: UMass Amherst, Based on a recent study that included polysomnography, neuroscientists at UMass Amherst suggest that emotional memories are protected by the brain during sleep.

Newswise — AMHERST, Mass. – A recent study by sleep researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is the first to suggest that a person’s emotional response after witnessing an unsettling picture or traumatic event is greatly reduced if the person stays awake afterward, and that sleep strongly “protects” the negative emotional response. Further, if the unsettling picture is viewed again or a flashback memory occurs, it will be just as upsetting as the first time for those who have slept after viewing compared to those who have not.

UMass Amherst neuroscientists Rebecca Spencer, Bengi Baran and colleagues say this response could make sense from an evolutionary point of view, because it would provide survival value to our ancestors by preserving very negative emotions and memories of life-threatening situations and offer a strong incentive to avoid similar occasions in the future.

“Today, our findings have significance for people with post-traumatic stress disorder, for example, or those asked to give eye-witness testimony in court cases,” Spencer says.

“We found that if you see something disturbing, let’s say an accident scene, and then you have a flashback or you’re asked to look at a picture of the same scene later, your emotional response is greatly reduced, that is you’ll find the scene far less upsetting, if you stayed awake after the original event than if you slept. It’s interesting to note that it is common to be sleep-deprived after witnessing a traumatic scene, almost as if your brain doesn’t want to sleep on it.” The study is reported in the current issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

In their experiments involving 68 healthy female and 38 male (total 106) young adults between 18 and 30 years old, Spencer and colleagues set out to explore, among other ideas, an assumption that the well-known enhancement of memory that occurs during sleep is tied to a change in emotional response to the memory.

Further, in a subset of subjects the neuroscientists used a polysomnograph with electrodes attached to subjects’ scalps as they slept, to investigate whether dreaming or other brain processes that occur during rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep periods may play a role in the processing of emotions.

In the two-phase experiment, participants were shown pictures on a computer screen and asked to rate each one as sad or happy as well as their own response as calm or excited to each, on a scale of 1-9. The researchers counted sad-happy ratings and calm-excited of 1-3 as negative images and 4-6 as neutral, so each participant’s overall “emotional value” score was unique.

Twelve hours later, participants were shown a mix of new and already viewed pictures and asked whether they had ever seen the picture before and to rate each again on the two scales. They all kept a sleep diary and took a sleep quality index test, as well.

Session timing was arranged so that 82 subjects were assigned either to a Sleep group who saw the first set of pictures late in the day and the second group of pictures after they had slept overnight or to a Wake group, who saw the first set of pictures in the morning and the second set later the same day. To rule out a possible circadian effect on attention, 24 different subjects followed the same routine but with only a 45-minute break between the two phases. Polysomnography data were collected from 25 participants in the Sleep group in their own homes overnight.

Spencer and colleagues found that sleep had significant effects on participants’ memories and feelings. Recognition memory for the pictures was better following sleep compared with wake.

Importantly, the researchers found that contrary to previous assumptions that sleep might soften negative emotional effects of a disturbing event, a period of sleep was associated with participants’ maintaining the strength of their initial negative feelings compared to a period of wakefulness. This suggests that sleep’s effect on memory and emotion are independent, the authors state.

The researchers found no significant relationship between REM sleep time and participants’ accuracy in recalling whether they had seen a picture in both the first and second phases of the study. As such, how sleep protects the emotional response and the emotional memory are unanswered questions. “Sleep may, in fact, be protective of the emotional salience of a stimulus just as sleep protects the emotional memory,” the authors point out.

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the UMass Amherst Commonwealth Honors College.

Released: 1/16/2012

Source:  University of Massachusetts Amherst

Related Link:

http://www.newswise.com/articles/sleep-preserves-and-enhances-bad-emotional-memories

Sleep vs. Cuddling: Study Looks at What Happens After Sex

Newswise — Sleep versus cuddling: science is finally weighing in on what happens after sex.

According to a recent study by evolutionary psychologists at the University of Michigan and Albright College in Pennsylvania, the tendency to fall asleep first after sex is associated with greater partner desire for bonding and affection.

“The more one’s partner was likely to fall asleep after sex, the stronger the desire for bonding,” explains Daniel Kruger, research fellow at the University of Michigan, and lead author of the study.

The study, published in December in the Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, examined 456 participants, who completed anonymous online surveys assessing experiences and desires with one’s partner after sex. Participants then indicated “who falls asleep after sex?” and “who falls asleep first when going to bed not after sex?”.

Participants whose partners nodded off immediately after sex had stronger desires for post-coital cuddling and chatting.

“Falling asleep before one’s partner may be a non-conscious way to foreclose on any commitment conversation after sex,” says co-author Susan Hughes, associate professor of psychology at Albright College in Reading, Pa.

The study also looked at who were more likely – men or women – to fall asleep first.

Despite the common stereotype, the researchers did not find it more common for men to fall asleep first after sex. Women, however, were more likely to fall asleep first when sex hadn’t taken place.

“Perhaps men stay awake longer as an artifact of mate guarding – making sure the woman doesn’t leave them for another partner,” says Hughes. “Men may also stay awake longer in an attempt to entice their partner into having sex.”

Research on post-coital behaviors are few, the study authors say. “The vast majority of the research on the evolutionary psychology of human reproduction focuses on what’s before and leading up to sexual intercourse,” says Hughes. “But reproductive strategies don’t end with intercourse; they may influence specific behaviors directly following sex.”

Released: 1/20/2012

Source: Dick Jones Communications

Related Link:

http://newswise.com/articles/sleep-vs-cuddling-study-looks-at-what-happens-after-sex

Walking and Texting at the Same Time? Stony Brook Study Says Think Again!

A Stony Brook University study that tested cell phone use/texting while walking showed use of the mobile device often results in walking errors and interferes with memory recall.

Newswise — STONY BROOK, N.Y., January 18, 2012 – Talking on a cell phone or texting while walking may seem natural and easy, but it could be dangerous and result in walking errors and interfere with memory recall. Researchers at Stony Brook University found this to be the case in a study of young people walking and using their cell phones. The study is reported in the online edition of Gait & Posture.

Thirty-three men and women in their 20s, all of whom reported owning and using a cell phone and familiar with texting, participated in the study. To assess walking abilities, participants completed a baseline test. Each participant was shown a target on the floor eight meters away. Then, by obstructing vision of the target and floor, participants were instructed to walk at a comfortable pace to the target and stop. They repeated the same walk three times. After each walk, the amount of time it took and the position where each participant stopped was measured.

Participants returned one week later. With vision occluded except for the ability to see a cell phone, one-third completed the exact same task; one-third completed the task while talking on a cell phone; and one-third completed the task while texting.

“We were surprised to find that talking and texting on a cell phone were so disruptive to one’s gait and memory recall of the target location,” says Eric M. Lamberg, PT, EdD, co-author of the study and Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Physical Therapy, School of Health Technology and Management, Stony Brook University.

Dr. Lamberg summarized that the changes from the baseline blindfolded walk to testing indicated that participants who were using a cell phone to text while walking and those who used a cell phone to talk while walking were significantly slower, with 33 and 16 percent reductions in speed, respectively. Moreover, participants who were texting while walking veered off course demonstrating a 61 percent increase in lateral deviation and 13 percent increase in distance traveled.

Although walking seems automatic, areas in the brain controlling executive function and attention are necessary for walking. Dr. Lamberg says that the significant reductions in velocity and difficulty maintaining course indicates cell phone use and texting impacts working memory of these tasks.

“We are using the findings to help physical therapy patients improve true functional walking while making them aware that some tasks may affect their gait and/or certain aspects of memory recall,” said Dr. Lamberg. He emphasizes that using a cell phone while walking reflects a “real world” activity, one that recovering patients are likely to engage in sooner rather than later during their recovery process.

Lisa M. Muratori, PT, EdD, study co-author and Clinical Associate Professor in Stony Brook’s Department of Physical Therapy, points out that the study is also being used to help them further understand the underlying mechanism causing the difficulty in performing the dual-task of walking while using a cell phone.

Drs. Muratori and Lamberg believe that these results bring new and important insight into the effects of multi-tasking with mobile devices. Elucidating the cause of this disruption may allow for new physical therapy treatment interventions and modifications in technology – such as voice-activated texts – that may lessen the potential dangers of walking while using hand-held devices.

Both authors describe the results as preliminary, with the need for further studies with larger and more varied populations.

Released: 1/18/2012

Source: Stony Brook University Medical Center

Related Link:

http://newswise.com/articles/walking-and-texting-at-the-same-time-stony-brook-study-says-think-again

We May Be Less Happy, but Our English Language Isn’t

Newswise — “If it bleeds, it leads,” goes the cynical saying with television and newspaper editors. In other words, most news is bad news and the worst news gets the big story on the front page.

So one might expect the New York Times to contain, on average, more negative and unhappy types of words — like “war,” ” funeral,” “cancer,” “murder” — than positive, happy ones — like “love,” “peace” and “hero.”

Or take Twitter. A popular image of what people tweet about may contain a lot of complaints about bad days, worse coffee, busted relationships and lousy sitcoms. Again, it might be reasonable to guess that a giant bag containing all the words from the world’s tweets — on average — would be more negative and unhappy than positive and happy.

But new research shows just the opposite.

“English, it turns out, is strongly biased toward being positive,” said Peter Dodds, an applied mathematician at the University of Vermont.

The UVM team’s study “Positivity of the English Language,” is presented in the Jan. 11 issue of the journal PLoS ONE.

This new study complements another study the same Vermont scientists presented in the Dec. 7 issue of PLoS ONE, “Temporal Patterns of Happiness and Information in a Global Social Network.”

That work attracted wide media attention showing that average global happiness, based on Twitter data, has been dropping for the past two years.

Combined, the two studies show that short-term average happiness has dropped — against the backdrop of the long-term fundamental positivity of the English language.

In the new study, Dodds and his colleagues gathered billions of words from four sources: twenty years of the New York Times, the Google Books Project (with millions of titles going back to 1520), Twitter and a half-century of music lyrics.

“The big surprise is that in each of these four sources it’s the same,” says Dodds. “We looked at the top 5,000 words in each, in terms of frequency, and in all of those words you see a preponderance of happier words.”

Or, as they write in their study, “a positivity bias is universal,” both for very common words and less common ones and across sources as diverse as tweets, lyrics and British literature.

Why is this? “It’s not to say that everything is fine and happy,” Dodds says. “It’s just that language is social.”

In contrast to traditional economic theory, which suggests people are inherently and rationally selfish, a wave of new social science and neuroscience data shows something quite different: that we are a pro-social storytelling species. As language emerged and evolved over the last million years, positive words, it seems, have been more widely and deeply engrained into our communications than negative ones.

“If you want to remain in a social contract with other people, you can’t be a…,” well, Dodds here used a word that is rather too negative to be fit to print — which makes the point.

This new work adds depth to the Twitter study that the Vermont scientists published in December that attracted attention from NPR, Time magazine and other media outlets.

“After that mild downer story, we can say, ‘But wait — there’s still happiness in the bank,” Dodds notes. “On average, there’s always a net happiness to language.”

Both studies drew on a service from Amazon called Mechanical Turk. On this website, the UVM researchers paid a group of volunteers to rate, from one to nine, their sense of the “happiness” — the emotional temperature — of the 10,222 most common words gathered from the four sources. Averaging their scores, the volunteers rated, for example, “laughter” at 8.50, “food” 7.44, “truck” 5.48, “greed” 3.06 and “terrorist” 1.30.

The Vermont team — including Dodds, Isabel Kloumann, Chris Danforth, Kameron Harris, and Catherine Bliss — then took these scores and applied them to the huge pools of words they collected. Unlike some other studies — with smaller samples or that elicited strong emotional words from volunteers — the new UVM study, based solely on frequency of use, found that “positive words strongly outnumber negative words overall.”

This seems to lend support to the so-called Pollyanna Principle, put forth in 1969, that argues for a universal human tendency to use positive words more often, easily and in more ways than negative words.

Of course, most people would rank some words, like “the,” with the same score: a neutral 5. Other words, like “pregnancy,” have a wide spread, with some people ranking it high and others low. At the top of this list of words that elicited strongly divergent feelings: “profanities, alcohol and tobacco, religion, both capitalism and socialism, sex, marriage, fast foods, climate, and cultural phenomena such as the Beatles, the iPhone, and zombies,” the researchers write.

“A lot of these words — the neutral words or ones that have big standard deviations — get washed out when we use them as a measure,” Dodds notes. Instead, the trends he and his team have observed are driven by the bulk of English words tending to be happy.

If we think of words as atoms and sentences as molecules that combine to form a whole text, “we’re looking at atoms,” says Dodds. “A lot of news is bad,” he says, and short-term happiness may rise and and fall like the cycles of the economy, “but the atoms of the story — of language — are, overall, on the positive side.”

Released: 1/12/2012

Source: University of Vermont

Related Link:

http://www.newswise.com/articles/we-may-be-less-happy-but-our-language-isn-t

Marriage Experts Keep Love Alive for Valentine’s Day

Newswise — NEW YORK (January 2012) — Love is in the air, but Valentine’s Day shouldn’t be the only time to express love for your partner; rather, it should serve as a reminder to devote time and energy to your relationship every day.

“Valentine’s Day is not a day for arguing with your spouse or significant other. In fact, no day is good for that. Couples should spend more time acknowledging the positive aspects of their relationship and put aside their complaints,” says Dr. Philip Lee, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center and co-head of the Marital and Family Therapy program.

His wife, Dr. Diane Rudolph, also a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell, and co-head of the Marital and Family Therapy program, says, “Although most couples believe it is healthy to clear the air and not keep anger ‘bottled up,’ constant arguing usually leaves both partners feeling bad about the relationship.”

Dr. Lee and Dr. Rudolph have been counseling couples for more than 25 years and have been married for more than 20 years. The doctors share their advice on how to keep the flame of love burning past Valentine’s Day.

• Be considerate but not too practical when you consider buying a Valentine’s Day gift — remember that this day is about celebrating the charming nature of love.

• Be diplomatic. Instead of screaming and throwing a tantrum about the things that make you upset, praise your partner for doing the things that are helpful to you.

• Give your partner space. Give yourselves a chance to unwind before tackling the evening’s chores. You both need some transition time after work, and once you’ve had that time you will both be much better listeners, and probably more willing to cooperate with each other.

• Remember the good old days. Almost everyone remembers the “early days” of the relationship as more fun than the present. It’s probably because you weren’t arguing about how to get to the restaurant, where to sit or how much to drink.

• Be polite. Try being polite for a week starting on Valentine’s Day. There’s no shame in saying “Thanks for picking up the kids” or “Great-looking dinner; can’t wait to try that chicken.” While it may seem silly to talk that way to your partner, just remember you would do the same for a business partner, employee or your child.

• Break the cycle of arguments. You don’t have to voice your displeasure about everything. Rather than “expressing yourself” in a negative way, break the cycle of blame and recrimination by treating your spouse more like a friend or co-worker. You wouldn’t argue with your co-worker about mundane details because you want to have a civil relationship with this person.

• Never say never. Don’t begin sentences with “You never…,” i.e., “You never clean up after…,” “You never take my feelings into account…,” or “You never think of anyone but yourself…” This places your spouse on the defensive and accomplishes nothing — it is a losing start. Try something like “You know what would be really great?” or “It would really help me if you could…”

• Say “thank you.” Show your appreciation for all of the things that your partner does no matter how small or how you may really feel. Something as simple as a “thank you” can make a dramatic difference in your relationship in a matter of weeks.
o “Thanks for picking up the kids.”
o “Oh, look, the dry cleaning is back. Thanks, honey, for picking it up.”

• Just listen. Try just listening to your partner without offering suggestions, criticism or a solution to his/her problems. Most of the time your spouse just wants you to listen and calmly empathize without saying any more. Even if it seems pointless to you, that’s often all that the person needs.

Released: 1/13/2012

Source: NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center

Related Link:

http://www.newswise.com/articles/marriage-experts-keep-love-alive-for-valentine-s-day

Low Vitamin D Levels Linked to Depression

DALLAS – Jan. 5, 2012 – Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to depression, according to UT Southwestern Medical Center psychiatrists working with the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study. It is believed to be the largest such investigation ever undertaken.

Low levels of vitamin D already are associated with a cavalcade of health woes from cardiovascular diseases to neurological ailments. This new study – published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings – helps clarify a debate that erupted after smaller studies produced conflicting results about the relationship between vitamin D and depression. Major depressive disorder affects nearly one in 10 adults in the U.S.

“Our findings suggest that screening for vitamin D levels in depressed patients – and perhaps screening for depression in people with low vitamin D levels – might be useful,” said Dr. E. Sherwood Brown, professor of psychiatry and senior author of the study, done in conjunction with The Cooper Institute in Dallas. “But we don’t have enough information yet to recommend going out and taking supplements.”

UT Southwestern researchers examined the results of almost 12,600 participants from late 2006 to late 2010. Dr. Brown and colleagues from The Cooper Institute found that higher vitamin D levels were associated with a significantly decreased risk of current depression, particularly among people with a prior history of depression. Low vitamin D levels were associated with depressive symptoms, particularly those with a history of depression, so primary care patients with a history of depression may be an important target for assessing vitamin D levels. The study did not address whether increasing vitamin D levels reduced depressive symptoms.

The scientists have not determined the exact relationship – whether low vitamin D contributes to symptoms of depression, whether depression itself contributes to lower vitamin D levels, or chemically how that happens. But vitamin D may affect neurotransmitters, inflammatory markers and other factors, which could help explain the relationship with depression, said Dr. Brown, who leads the psychoneuroendocrine research program at UT Southwestern.

Vitamin D levels are now commonly tested during routine physical exams, and they already are accepted as risk factors for a number of other medical problems: autoimmune diseases; heart and vascular disease; infectious diseases; osteoporosis; obesity; diabetes; certain cancers; and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, multiple sclerosis, and general cognitive decline.

Investigators used information gathered by the institute, which has 40 years of data on runners and other fit volunteers. UT Southwestern has a partnership with the institute, a preventive medicine research and educational nonprofit located at the Cooper Aerobics Center, to develop a joint scientific medical research program aimed at improving health and preventing a wide range of chronic diseases. The institute maintains one of the world’s most extensive databases – known as the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study – that includes detailed information from more than 250,000 clinic visits that has been collected since Dr. Kenneth Cooper founded the institute and clinic in 1970.

Other researchers involved in the study were Dr. Myron F. Weiner, professor of psychiatry and neurology and neurotherapeutics; Dr. David S. Leonard, assistant professor of clinical sciences; lead author MinhTu T. Hoang, student research fellow; Dr. Laura F. DeFina, medical director of research at The Cooper Institute; and Benjamin L. Willis, epidemiologist at the institute.

Visit http://www.utsouthwestern.org/mentalhealth to learn more about clinical services in psychiatry at UT Southwestern.

Released: 1/5/2012

Source: UT Southwestern Medical Center

Related Link:

http://www.newswise.com/articles/low-vitamin-d-levels-linked-to-depression-ut-southwestern-psychiatrists-report

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