Monday, September 29, 2008

Does early alcohol consumption make for more drinking in later life?

Some apparently epidemiological research found that children introduced to drink under the age of 15, even in supervised conditions, were more likely to become alcoholics. Once again which is cause and which is effect is assumed. Did anybody consider that parents who give alcohol to younger kids might be themselves big drinkers and that tendency to drink might be hereditary? Thus it could be the parentage that makes someone a big drinker, not how early they began drinking. The study proves NOTHING about the effect of giving kids alcohol while young

For parents it is one of the great dilemmas of child-rearing. How should you teach your children to deal with alcohol? Should you ban it altogether - and risk making it seem more attractive - or let your youngsters try a little wine at family meals in the hope that they will learn to drink responsibly? A new study from America's respected National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) suggests the liberals may have got it badly wrong. It found that if young people have their first taste of alcohol before the age of 15 it sharply raises their risk of becoming alcohol dependent in later life. "We can see for the first time the association between an early `age of first drink' and an increased risk of alcohol use disorders that persists into adulthood," said Deborah Dawson, a research scientist at the NIAAA.

The findings come amid rising concern over teenage drinking habits in Britain, where 54% of teenagers admit to binge-drinking within the previous month. America has tougher restrictions - all states ban alcohol sales to under21s - but teen drinking still flourishes. A study found that under21s drank 20% of all alcohol consumed in the United States and that one-third of high school pupils were binge-drinking once a month or more.

Until now it had been argued that early drinking and subsequent alcohol dependency reflected underlying factors such as social deprivation, poor education or childhood abuse. Although such factors may play an important role for some people, the NIAAA study shows that early exposure to alcohol is a risk in itself. It means that giving youngsters small amounts of alcohol in the hope of teaching them restraint may have the opposite effect.

One theory is that teenagers' brains are changing so fast that exposure to intoxicants can affect long-term development, creating a link between alcohol consumption and pleasure. The NIAAA's study seems to confirm this. The researchers looked at data gathered over three years from more than 22,000 young Americans. These were divided into three groups: those who first drank under the age of 15, between 15 and 17, and 18 or over. The researchers then looked at the drinking patterns that evolved in each of the three groups and at the first incidence of alcohol abuse or dependence.

Howard Moss, associate director for clinical and translational research at the NIAAA, said the study showed that it was important to delay the onset of drinking behaviour as late as possible. "Early alcohol consumption itself, as a misguided choice, is driving the relationship between early drinking and risk for development of later alcohol problems," he said.

The findings will undermine the belief, widespread in France and southern Europe, that children should be given watered wine at meals to learn how to drink responsibly. Frederick Rousseau, a music producer who lives in Paris with his two daughters, aged 18 and 15, said such attitudes were increasingly seen as irrelevant because France was experiencing a surge in teenage drinking similar to that in Britain. "My own younger daughter got drunk at a recent party even though she is so young," he said. "Teenagers here prefer hard drink like vodka now and they drink like mad."

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, who leads a research group at the University College London Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, said: "The young brain is very malleable and changes fast in response to new influences, although a lot might depend on the amounts drunk as well as the exposure itself."


Ho hum! The attention-seekers will never let this one go

If you have 100 people trying to prove that cellphones are bad, you will get 5 false-positives by chance alone

CANCER experts have backed mobile phone manufacturers' rejection of the latest claims of links between mobiles and brain tumours. Researchers in Sweden said last week they had found evidence of links between mobile and cordless phones and one of the most common brain tumours. Lennart Hardell, of the University Hospital in Orebro also told a conference in London that young mobile users had a fivefold risk of getting a benign tumour called acoustic neuroma, which causes deafness. Neurosurgeon Charlie Teo said on ABC TV the association between tumours and phones was "quite compelling".

However, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association rejected Professor Hardell's assertions, calling it "alarmist" research that "had not undergone a proper process of review by scientific peers". "People can be confident there is no biological, medical or statistical basis to assert a link between mobile phone use and brain cancer," the association's chief executive Chris Althaus said. "The World Health Organisation's most recent health advice says none of the recent reviews have concluded that exposure to the radio frequency fields from mobile phones and their base stations cause any adverse health consequences." More than 600 studies supported these conclusions, Mr Althaus said.

Patricia McKinney, professor of pediatric epidemiology at Leeds University, agreed that there was no threat: "Overall, we found no raised risk of glioma [brain cancer] associated with regular mobile use and no association with time since first use, lifetime years of use, cumulative hours of use, or number of calls."

University of Sydney cancer specialist Bruce Armstrong said: "It's highly unlikely that that statement [fivefold risk] is true. There's no evidence of any substantial trend to an increase in risk of brain tumours in younger people in Australia."


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