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Too Young And Too Much June 19, 2010

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Alcohol and Illegal Drugs, Brain Power, Human Body, Nutrition and Health, Think About It.
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One drink.  Two drinks.  Three drinks….seven drinks.  Does this sound like you each weekend?  It isn’t news that teens can be binge drinkers.  Even the wicked hangover the next day isn’t necessarily enough to stop teens – or adults – from going wild on booze.  But a new study suggests that binge drinking has some effects on teens that we won’t necessarily see in adults.  To understand what researchers discovered, we have to delve into the brain.  The monkey brain, that is.

Binge drinkers consume lots of alcohol in a short period of time with the aim of getting drunk. Does this sound like you or someone you know?

Lasting Brain Damage

To find out what binge drinking does to the brain, a group of researchers led by Chitra Mandyam of the Scripps Research Institute in California looked at how the drinking affected normal nerve cell development in the hippocampus, a part of the brain responsible for long-term memory.  They used monkeys, an animal with brain development that is very similar to humans.  Their work was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers gave four adolescent monkeys alcoholic drinks for an hour each day over nearly a year.  A couple of months later, the animals were put down so that researchers could compare their brains to monkeys that had not been given alcohol.  So, what did they learn?

The binge drinking monkeys had 50 to 90 percent fewer stem cells in their hippocampus compared to the other monkeys.  This could leave monkeys struggling with memory and spatial skills, plus loads of other important functions in the brain.

You’re Not Alone

Just how common is binge drinking?  In a European study last year, Britain came in as one of the worst offenders.  More than half of teens had been binge drinking in the last month.  For the United States, around 11 million teens drink and approximately 7 million are binge drinkers.  According to MADD, Canadian statistics are very similar.

Getting Support

Binge drinking is harmful at any age and can hurt adults too.  But this study suggests that its effects in teens can be especially dangerous because of teens’ brains being quite vulnerable during these years.  Fortunately, there are ways to get confidential help, whether it’s through a doctor, substance abuse centre or even a counsellor at school.  If you feel like your drinking is a problem or you’re worried about someone you know, talk to a trusted adult.

A School Full Of Drugs August 20, 2007

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Alcohol and Illegal Drugs, Easy As Pie, Human Body, Nutrition and Health, Psychology and Behavior.
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The presence of drugs in schools isn’t anything new, but the scope of the problem appears to be a lot bigger than initially suspected. A United States (U.S.) survey looked at attitudes on substance abuse. It was concluded that millions of teens across the country are students at ‘drug infested schools,’ where they regularly see drugs used, sold and stored on school grounds.

High School Students

The study was performed by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. The survey involved 1,063 students aged 12 to 17 years and 550 parents. It found that 31 percent of high school students – more than 4 million – have seen illegal drug use, drug dealing and high or drunk students at least once a week at school. On top of that, the number of students who go to schools where drugs are used, kept or sold has gone up 39 percent since 2002. In fact, 20 percent of that jump happened from 2006 to 2007. That’s quite a scary leap!

Middle School Students

Marijuana The study also found that 9 percent – over 1 million – middle school students have seen their peers partake in drug-related activities at least once a week at school. Similar to high school students, there has also be an increase in the number of middle school students who go to schools where drugs are used, kept or stored. How much of an increase? It’s a huge one – 63 percent. As with the high school students, a big chunk of that jump happened between 2006 and 2007, where an increase of 35 percent was seen.

What Do Parents Think?

Ironically, only 11 percent of the parents surveyed think drugs are the biggest concern for their teens. On the other hand, twice as many teens said that drugs are their biggest worry. That’s a huge difference and I wonder to myself – what is it that parents are missing on this issue?

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Weekend Drinking Could Now Get You Expelled June 30, 2007

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Alcohol and Illegal Drugs, Easy As Pie, Human Body, Nutrition and Health.
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At a high school in New Jersey, staff will soon be requiring teens to have a urine test that measures alcohol in their system. The idea is to deter teens from boozing it up on weekends but the test itself is a controversial one.


Drinking is a problem that continues to grow in schools and thousands of students will die each year from alcohol related poisoning. The idea with the test is that students will be afraid of the consequences enough to abstain from drinking on the weekends. The test would be done on 4 to 8 students at a time but students wouldn’t know in advance who gets tested.

Urine Urine Doesn’t Lie

Actually, in this case it can. In fact, this is a test that could bust someone who hasn’t knowingly consumed any alcohol at all. The test measures urine concentrations of an alcohol breakdown product called ethyl glucuronide (EtG). The challenge with the EtG test is it’s so sensitive that it can pick up alcohol you might have ingested in teensy amounts-from mouthwash, for example. So you could completely abstain from drinking and still show a false positive. Finding a threshold to differentiate between those who really have been drinking versus those who haven’t is important and it’s a bit of a tough call. Below 1000 nanograms of EtG per milliliter of urine is usually considered innocent and over 5000 nanograms will almost always mean that the person has been boozing it up. What about the people who fall in between? That’s the tough call part.

Beer CansI’m Unsure On This One

This test doesn’t really sit well with me. Considering the number of deaths related to alcohol poisoning, I can see why school staff would want to use the test. I still see too many flaws with this system for it to be truly successful though. I think it’s more important to educate teens so they don’t want to go out and get wasted. I know it sucks too because I’m a complete non-drinker and even at my age, I still get some friendly teasing from friends when I order tea at a pub while everyone else has beer. I don’t think a urine test is the way to keep students from drinking. Plus, can you imagine a student who hasn’t been drinking getting a false positive and maybe being expelled?

I also don’t like the idea of a student possibly being expelled for something like drinking. Yes, it’s illegal but I don’t feel that the punishment fits the ‘crime.’ Given that the school is detecting alcohol consumption outside of the classroom, it’s also school interference in an area that I think should ideally be involving parents.

Some Last Thoughts From Me

I want to share a true story. Maybe I’m trying to scare readers into being careful if they plan to drink? I don’t know. I just like to think that if you’re going to drink, you will do it responsibly. That’s probably not the politically correct thing to say-us adults are supposed to tell teens not to drink at all. If I said that, would you really listen though?

When Things Go Horribly Wrong

A few years ago, my flatmate went on a trip to Barcelona with a small group of guys. They all planned to just have fun and party the night away. I was surprised to receive a distressed phone call from my flatmate; he told me that his friend had died from too much booze. Not only was his blood alcohol level dangerously high, but he ultimately died from choking on his vomit. It was a night that went bad very quickly.

The death could have been prevented.

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