The more the TV advertisements promote a particular brand of alcohol, the more our children consume that brand, according to a recent study conducted at Boston University. Another study performed at the Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) claims to have found the neural circuit that causes alcohol addiction, switching which off can curb compulsive drinking.
On one hand, manufacturers use mainstream media to promote sales of alcohol, tobacco and junk food in mainstream media; on the other hand, scientists are working day in and day out to revert our dependence on alcohol. What a paradox!
The research headed by Timothy Naimi, MD, MPH, lead researcher at Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, conducted a study which aims to shed light on the fact that alcohol advertising encourages adolescents to drink and also increases their consumption of alcohol beverages.
The study was conducted on over 1,000 young people aged 13-20 and examined the relationship between exposure to commercials of 61 alcohol brands and their drinking habits in the past 30 days.
The exposure of youths to ads was measured in the term “adstock units”. On average, youths who viewed no adstock units drank about 14 drinks per month and those who had viewed 300 adstock units drank 33 drinks per month. The scientists found that there is an increased likelihood of young people drinking more alcohol when they see more ads.
Naimi points out that alcohol advertising is regulated by the alcohol beverages industry and is specifically aimed at adults. But there is no check and balance to make sure youths are not being exposed to such ads and there is no penalty for violations.
There have been previous researches which indicate that underage people have been exposed to plenty of alcohol ads.
One such study was done by researchers at RAND, a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decision making through research. It analyzed thousands of Midwestern students and how beer advertisements affect them. The researchers found that nearly half of 7th graders became drinkers by 9th grade, and the more ads they viewed, the greater the probability was that they would become drinkers by 9th grade.
These findings once again bridge the gap between advertisement and alcohol consumption among the youth. It also suggests that current regulations concerning alcohol consumption were not effective to stop underage people from being exposed to alcohol.
All addictions are not due to alcohol advertising. A report issued by the American Lung Association says that controlling tobacco use in the US has seen a mixed result. The report states that 44% of Hollywood movies which were deemed safe for children viewership featured tobacco smoking. In another instance, junk food commercials influence children to alter their food choices to select junk food rather than selecting healthy nutrition and the brain activity is rewired to make certain decisions.
The Switch To Turn “Off” Alcohol Consumption
A group of TSRI scientists are trying to revert the damage caused by alcohol consumption. The study’s first author, Giordano de Guglielmo, carried out experiments in rats to find out alcohol dependence by designing a protein that distinguishes the neurons activated by alcohol. Then the rats were injected with a compound that inactivated the neurons linked to alcohol metabolism.
Giordano de Guglielmo’s co-author Oliver George said that the rats completely changed their cravings of alcohol and ceased their compulsive behavior. Just to confirm their findings, they conducted the experiments two more times. Each time the results were the same.
George was surprised and said: “We’ve never seen an effect that strong that has lasted for several weeks. I wasn’t sure if I believed it.” He also adds, “It’s like they forgot they were dependent.”
Interestingly, the rats still had a thirst and taste for sugar water which showed that the researchers had successfully targeted alcohol-dependent neurons and not the whole brain. The rats also seemed to be least bothered by their withdrawal from alcohol and did not show any urge to return to drinking.
The research sheds light on different regions in the brain which make a person adapted to casual drinking and alcohol addiction. However, the inactivated neurons in the rats’ brain jumped to another group of neurons by which their craving for alcohol returned and this indicates that inactivating neurons to dampen alcohol addiction does not have long-lasting effects.
De Guglielmo says, “It is very challenging to target such a small population of neurons in the brain, but this study helps to increase our knowledge of a part of the brain that is still a mystery.”
The researchers say that more research is needed to find how the circuitry of alcohol-activated neurons work and a way is needed to replicate the study in alcohol additive humans.
On a similar note, scientists are trying to find a way to curb drug abuse but drug addiction is unlike alcohol addiction. One scientist, Gene Heyman, PhD, author of Addiction: A Disorder of Choice, says that drug addiction is a psychiatric condition with the highest rate of recovery and that it is voluntary and actually “is influenced by preferences and goals”, and just like there are successful dieters, there are successful ex-addicts.
For people struggling with drug addiction, a major step in their life is deciding to change once and for all. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) affirms that one thing to be noted is there is no one single treatment for everyone. Medication and detoxification is important but so are behavioral changes, and staying in treatment for the duration of the treatment is essential.
NIH also states that adolescence is a critical time period and is the stage in a person’s life when they experience new things which may be linked to greater risks and certain dangers. These tendencies are induced by other children who either take drugs for entertainment, to ease anxiety in social situations or to enhance athletic performance. They state that “prevention is the best strategy” when it comes to curbing drug addiction.