AIM: To examine whether exposure to increased alcohol availability in utero is associated with later alcohol-related health problems.

METHOD: Register-linked population-based longitudinal study using data from a natural experiment setting, including 363 286 children born 1965-71. An experimental alcohol policy change was piloted in two regions of Sweden in 1967-68, where access to strong beer increased for 16-20 year old. Children exposed in utero to the policy change were compared to children born elsewhere in Sweden (excluding a border area), and to children born before and after the policy change. The outcome was obtained from the National Hospital Discharge Register using the Swedish index of alcohol-related inpatient care. Hazard ratios (HR) with 95% confidence intervals (CI) were estimated by Cox regression analysis.

RESULTS: The results suggest that children conceived by young mothers prior to the policy change but exposed to it in utero had a slightly increased risk of alcohol-related health problems later in life (HR 1.26, 95% CI 0.94-1.68). A tendency towards an inverse association was found among children conceived by older mothers (HR 0.88, 95% CI 0.74-1.06).

CONCLUSION: Results obtained from a natural experiment setting found no consistent evidence of long-term health consequences among children exposed in utero to an alcohol policy change. Some evidence however suggested an increased risk of alcohol-related health problems among the exposed children of young mothers.

Published in General Health

The pattern of alcohol consumption in the form of binge drinking (BD) or heavy episodic drinking has increased notably worldwide in recent years, especially among adolescent and young people, being currently recognized as a global health problem. Although only a minority of binge drinkers will develop a substance use disorder, BD may have negative personal and social consequences in the short and medium term. The objective of this article is to review the findings on personality traits related to binge drinkers and to emphasize the aspects that should be examined in order to make progress in this area. The main characteristics of personality related to the practice of BD, regardless of the theoretical model used, are high Impulsivity and high Sensation seeking, as well as Anxiety sensitivity, Neuroticism (Hopelessness), Extraversion and low Conscientiousness. The data obtained may have theoretical implications to elucidate the endophenotype of BD, but they are especially useful for their preventive applications. Integration into prevention programs of emotional self-control skills, decision-making, social skills, and strategies to manage negative emotions will minimize the risk factors or consequences of BD associated with personality and will improve their effectiveness. In the future, it is necessary to harmonize a common measurement instrument for the assessment of personality, develop longitudinal studies with large samples that also integrate biological and neurocognitive measurements, and determine the reciprocal relationship between personality and BD together with its modulating variables, as well as the possible cultural differences.

Published in Drinking Patterns

Introduction: Adolescence and young adulthood are periods of continued biological and psychosocial maturation. Thus, there may be deleterious effects of consuming large quantities of alcohol on neural development and associated cognition during this time. The purpose of this mini review is to highlight neuroimaging research that has specifically examined the effects of binge and heavy drinking on adolescent and young adult brain structure and function.

Methods: We review cross-sectional and longitudinal studies of young binge and heavy drinkers that have examined brain structure (e.g., gray and white matter volume, cortical thickness, white matter microstructure) and investigated brain response using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Results: Binge and heavy-drinking adolescents and young adults have systematically thinner and lower volume in prefrontal cortex and cerebellar regions, and attenuated white matter development. They also show elevated brain activity in fronto-parietal regions during working memory, verbal learning, and inhibitory control tasks. In response to alcohol cues, relative to controls or light-drinking individuals, binge and heavy drinkers show increased neural response mainly in mesocorticolimbic regions, including the striatum, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), hippocampus, and amygdala. Mixed findings are present in risky decision-making tasks, which could be due to large variation in task design and analysis.

Conclusions: These findings suggest altered neural structure and activity in binge and heavy-drinking youth may be related to the neurotoxic effects of consuming alcohol in large quantities during a highly plastic neurodevelopmental period, which could result in neural reorganization, and increased risk for developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Published in Drinking Patterns

Moderate alcohol consumption in patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is common, yet the effects on cardiovascular and liver health are unclear. Moderate alcohol use is associated with improved insulin sensitivity and decreased cardiovascular mortality in the general population, but whether similar benefits would be observed in persons with NAFLD remains largely unstudied. There is significant overlap in the pathogenesis of alcoholic liver disease (ALD) and NAFLD, although studies of ALD have focused on pathological alcohol intake and few mechanistic studies of moderate alcohol use in NAFLD exist. We undertook a critical review of the effect of moderate alcohol use on cardiovascular and liver disease in patients with NAFLD. A total of seven observational studies met the criteria for inclusion (one for cardiovascular endpoints and six for liver endpoints). Insufficient studies have assessed the association of moderate alcohol use with cardiovascular outcomes. There was a positive association between moderate alcohol use and decreased NASH and fibrosis; however, heavy episodic drinking may accelerate fibrosis progression and moderate alcohol use may increase the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma in patients with advanced fibrosis. Significant methodological limitations were present, including incomplete adjustment for confounding factors and failure to measure lifetime use or the pattern of alcohol intake. Thus, a strong recommendation of benefit of moderate alcohol use in NAFLD cannot be made. There remains a need for additional high-quality longitudinal studies that evaluate both cardiovascular and liver outcomes among NAFLD patients with moderate or lesser degrees of alcohol use. (Hepatology 2017;65:2090-2099).

Published in Liver Disease
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