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A new study investigates the factors associated with teen drinking in an effort to improve health education and give teens an alternative to having that first drink.
Researchers also determined that the individual source of the first drink — that is, who gives a teen their first drink — is predictive of future alcohol use/abuse.
Investigators from the University of Iowa discovered that adolescents who get their first drink from a friend are more likely to drink sooner in life, which past studies show makes them more prone to abusing alcohol when they get older.
The finding is designed to help specialists predict when adolescents are likely to first consume alcohol, with the aim of heading off problem drinking at the pass.
“When you start drinking, even with kids who come from alcoholic families, they don’t get their first drinks from their family,” said Dr. Samuel Kuperman, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Iowa.
“They get their first drinks from their friends. They have to be able to get it. If they have friends who have alcohol, then it’s easier for them to have that first drink.”
This month a report in the journal Pediatrics found one-third of eighth graders in the United States say they have tried alcohol. By 10th grade, more than half say they’ve had a first drink, and that percentage shoots to 70 percent by their senior year.
“There’s something driving kids to drink,” explains Kuperman, corresponding author on the paper. “Maybe it’s the coolness factor or some mystique about it. So we’re trying to educate kids about the risks associated with drinking and give them alternatives.”
Kuperman and his team used two longstanding measures of adolescent drinking behavior — the Semi-Structured Assessment for the Genetics and Alcoholism and the Achenbach Youth Self Report to build their model.
From those measures of nearly two dozen variables and a review of the literature, the team found five to be the most important predictors: two separate measures of disruptive behavior, a family history of alcohol dependence, a measure of poor social skills, and whether most best friends drink alcohol.
The researchers then looked at how the five variables worked in concert. Surprisingly, a best friend who drank and had access to alcohol was the most important predictor.
In fact, adolescents whose best friend used alcohol were twice as likely to have a first drink, the researchers found.
Moreover, if considered independently of the other variables, teenagers whose best friends drank are three times as likely to begin drinking themselves, the study found, underscoring the sway that friends have in adolescents’ drinking behavior.
“Family history doesn’t necessarily drive the age of first drink,” said Kuperman, who has studied teen drinking for more than a decade. “It’s access. At that age (14 or 15), access trumps all. As they get older, then family history plays a larger role.”
The current study reviewed behavior from 820 adolescents at six sites across the country. The participants were 14 to 17 years old, with a median age of 15.5, nearly identical to the typical age of an adolescent’s first drink found in previous studies.
More than eight in 10 respondents came from what the researchers deemed high-risk families, but more than half of the teenagers had no alcohol-dependent parents.
Tellingly, among those adolescents who reported having had drunk alcohol, nearly four in ten said their best friends also drank.
The result underscores previous findings that teenagers who have their first drink before 15 years of age are more likely to abuse alcohol or become dependent.
It also supports the screening questions selected in the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the American Academy of Pediatrics initiative to identify and help youth at risk for alcohol use, the researchers write.
Kuperman said future studies will investigate the genetics underpinning alcoholism, chiefly tracking adolescents who use alcohol and see whether they have genes that match up with their parents if they also are problem drinkers.
“We’re trying to separate out those who experiment with alcohol to those who go on to problematic drinking,” he said.
Source: University of Iowa
Emerging research supports the theory that areas of the brain work together at the same time to recall memories.
Scientists at University of California, Davis, and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston studied patients with electrodes implanted in their brains.
“Previous work has focused on one region of the brain at a time,” said Arne Ekstrom, Ph.D., assistant professor at the UC Davis Center for Neuroscience.
“Our results show that memory recall involves simultaneous activity across brain regions.” Ekstrom is senior author of a paper published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
Researchers studied patients being treated for a severe seizure condition. To pinpoint the origin of the seizures in these patients, physicians place electrodes on the patient’s brain inside the skull. The electrodes remain in place for one to two weeks for monitoring.
Six such patients volunteered for the study while the electrodes were in place. Using a laptop computer, the patients learned to navigate a route through a virtual streetscape, picking up passengers and taking them to specific places. Later, they were asked to recall the routes from memory.
Correct memory recall was associated with increased activity across multiple connected brain regions at the same time, Ekstrom said, rather than activity in one region followed by another.
However, the analysis did show that the medial temporal lobe is an important hub of the memory network, confirming earlier studies, he said.
Intriguingly, memories of time and of place were associated with different frequencies of brain activity across the network. For example, recalling, “What shop is next to the donut shop?” set off a different frequency of activity from recalling “Where was I at 11 a.m.?”
Using different frequencies could explain how the brain codes and recalls elements of past events such as time and location at the same time, Ekstrom said.
“Just as cell phones and wireless devices work at different radio frequencies for different information, the brain resonates at different frequencies for spatial and temporal information,” he said.
The researchers hope to explore further how the brain codes information in future work.
The neuroscientists analyzed their results with graph theory, a new technique that is being used for studying networks, ranging from social media connections to airline schedules.
“Previously, we didn’t have enough data from different brain regions to use graph theory. This combination of multiple readings during memory retrieval and graph theory is unique,” Ekstrom said.
Placing electrodes inside the skull provides clearer resolution of electrical signals than external electrodes, making the data invaluable for the study of cognitive functions, say the researchers.
Experts believe the new findings provide important insights into the normal mechanisms associated with memory recall. Moreover, the knowledge gained will provide a framework for the study of memory dysfunction in the future.
New research suggests a person’s first sexual experience can set the tone for the rest of one’s sexual life.
Matthew Shaffer, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of Tennessee, and C. Veronica Smith, Ph.D., an assistant psychology professor at the University of Mississippi, devised the research project to study the effects of losing one’s virginity.
The study is published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy and is the first to look at whether the circumstances of losing one’s virginity have lasting consequences.
“The loss of virginity is often viewed as an important milestone in human development, signifying a transition to adulthood,” said Shaffer.
“However, it has not been studied in this capacity. We wanted to see the influence it may have related to emotional and physical development.”
The researchers examined how first-time sexual satisfaction impacts long-term sexual function as well as how first-time physical and emotional responses affect long-term sexual experiences.
They found that positive first-time experiences were predictive of physical and emotional satisfaction. Specifically, those who felt loved and respected by their partner found later encounters more emotionally satisfying.
The researchers asked 331 young men and women about how they lost their virginity. The anonymous participants ranked the experience according to emotions related to anxiety, contentment and regret.
Survey responders also answered questions about their sex life using scales measuring sense of control, satisfaction and well-being. Finally, the participants filled out a diary for two weeks describing each sexual experience.
A series of analyses revealed those who were most emotionally and physically satisfied the first time found their sex lives the most fulfilling. Those who reported higher levels of anxiety and negativity with the first time reported lower overall sexual functioning.
“While this study doesn’t prove that a better first time makes for a better sex life in general, a person’s experience of losing their virginity may set the pattern for years to come,” said Shaffer.
Shaffer suggests that a first-time sexual experience may create a general pattern of thought and behavior that guides sexual experiences and understanding of information concerning sexuality.
Source: University of Tennessee
The Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) is a controversial treatment facility right here in my home state of Massachusetts that uses a form of electroshock therapy in order to “treat” developmentally disabled teens and adults in its care. It’s one-of-a-kind in the nation for its aggressive use of shock therapy — ala B.F. skinner and rats from the 1960s.
Last month, the Center received a warning letter about the continued unauthorized use of “adulterated” shock devices, called GEDs (for Graduated Electronic Decelerators). The Center is the only treatment facility in the country that uses these self-manufactured devices.
They were approved for their intended use by the FDA in 1995. However, since at least 2008, the Center has been using revised versions of these devices — GED3A and GED4 — that deliver higher electrical charges. The FDA has told the Center — repeatedly — that these new versions need to undergo additional testing to demonstrate their safety (especially a concern, given the higher voltage levels the devices reportedly deliver).
And yet, for over four years, the Center has simply ignored the FDA and continues to use the devices — against the FDA’s rules and directives.
Meanwhile, patients in the Center’s care continue — every day — to be shocked against their will. Here is one patient’s story.
According to Fox News, the Center is still “being investigated by the Justice Department and has drawn the scrutiny of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture.
“And Massachusetts State Sen. Brian A. Joyce, D-Milton, a long-time critic of JRC, has written to the FDA asking them to ban the shocks all together. He is also planning on again filing legislation to ban the use of shocks and other aversive treatments in Massachusetts.”
It’s no wonder. How, in the year 2013, could we consider the use of electrical shocks on human beings who are developmentally disabled to be either humane or an appropriate treatment? If it’s so successful, how is it that no other treatment facility in the entire country uses this form of “treatment?” How is it that no independent researchers not connected to the JRC have ever published a single peer-reviewed, controlled scientific study on the effectiveness and safety of GED3A or GED4 devices?
But don’t listen to me. Listen to someone who has undergone this “treatment:”
The GED IS harmful. Even the GED-1. I was burned many times, and I still have scars on my stomach from being repeatedly shocked there, by the FDA approved GED-1. The electrodes had actually burned into my skin. I experienced long term loss of sensation and numbness in my lower left leg, after getting a shock there. I felt searing pain all the way down to the bottom of my foot, and was left with no feeling in my skin from the knee down for about a year. Again, this was with the GED-1.
After complaining to JRC nursing about my leg, they told me to tell the Neurologist about it during a follow up visit for a suspected seizure. He asked the staff what that device was on my leg, and they explained to him it was an electrode. After their explanation, the Neurologist said, “Well, I don’t know what that thing is, but it needs to come off.”
JRC left the device off my leg for about a year, then decided on their own, without sending me back to a Neurologist, it was ok to put it back. I have seen students with torso electrodes accidentally placed on their spine area, get a shock there and be violently bent backwards.
Also, I would like you to know that the devices have a tendency to malfunction and go off all by themselves. JRC refers to this as a “misapplication.”
It happened to me and other students so many times I cannot count. Sometimes the GED’s will just start to go off and shock you by themselves. Other times the staff shock one student but the remote can also set off someone else’s device at the same time. I have also gotten accidentally shocked from staff mixing up my device with another student’s device, shocking me instead.
Then there are the times when staff intentionally misuse the GED. I have had a staff who became angry with me and started pushing more than one remote at a time, shocking me several places on my body at once. I have had staff intentionally give me shocks for things I didn’t do in places like the bus where there was no camera to prove it.
I have had numerous staff over my years there threaten me with a GED, antagonize me to try and get me to have a behavior they can then shock me for, merely for the sport of it. Staff can and DO use the GED to scare non-verbal students into doing what they want them to by pretending they are about to shock them. Some even laugh when they do this.
This is treatment? To me, this sounds a lot more like prison, with the underpaid and under-trained guards being given unlimited access to shock prisoners whenever they feel like it. Or for their own amusement.
The Judge Rotenberg Center, in my opinion, is a facility that appears to be horribly out of control, irresponsible, and out of touch with the times. To me, it represents the absolute worse that psychology and psychiatry has to offer the developmentally disabled.
It’s time for the Judge Rotenberg Center to stop living in the positive echo chamber of the past that it clings to, drop the use of GEDs altogether, and use modern treatment techniques — used successfully in dozens of treatment facilities across the country — to help those in its care.
Read the full patient letter here: Autistic Hoya: Judge Rotenberg Center Survivor's Letter
Emerging research suggests children start to develop higher-level thinking skills at a very young age, challenging the long-held belief that such complex cognitions are linked to knowledge acquisition and better schooling.
In a new longitudinal study, researchers from the University of Chicago and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill discovered children begin to show signs of higher-level thinking skills as young as age 4 ½. It shows that other skills, not always connected with knowledge, play a role in the ability of children to reason analytically.
The findings, reported in the journal Psychological Science, show for the first time that children’s executive function has a role in the development of complicated analytical thinking.
Executive function includes such complex skills as planning, monitoring, task switching, and controlling attention. High early executive function skills at school entry are related to higher-than-average reasoning skills in adolescence.
Growing research suggests that executive function may be trainable through pathways, including preschool curriculum, exercise and impulse control training.
Parents and teachers may be able to help encourage development of executive function by having youngsters help plan activities, learn to stop, think, and then take action, or engage in pretend play, said lead author of the study, Lindsey Richland, Ph.D., assistant professor of comparative human development at the University of Chicago.
Although important to a child’s education, “little is known about the cognitive mechanisms underlying children’s development of the capacity to engage in complex forms of reasoning,” Richland said.
The new research follows the development of complex reasoning in children from before the time they go to school until they are 15.
Study authors studied the acquisition of analogical thinking, one form of complex reasoning.
“The ability to see relationships and similarities between disparate phenomena is fundamental to analytical and inductive reasoning, and is closely related to measurements of general fluid intelligence,” said Richland.
Developing complex reasoning ability is particularly fundamental to the innovation and adaptive thinking skills necessary for a modern workforce, she pointed out.
Richland and co-author Margaret Burchinal, Ph.D., studied a database of 1,364 children who were part of the Early Child Care and Youth Development study from birth through age 15. The group was fairly evenly divided between boys and girls and included families from a diverse cross-section of ethnic and income backgrounds.
The current study examined tests children took when they were 4 ½, when they were in first grade, third grade, and when they were 15. Because the study was longitudinal, the same children were tested at each interval. Among the tests they took were ones to measure analytical reasoning, executive function, vocabulary knowledge, short-term memory and sustained attention.
Children were tested at 4 ½ on their ability to monitor and control their automatic responses to stimuli. In first grade they worked on a test that judged their ability to move objects in a “Tower of Hanoi” game, in which they had to move disks between pegs in a specific order.
In third grade and at 15 years old, they were tested on their ability to understand analogies, asked in third grade for instance to complete the question “dog is to puppy as cat is to__?” As 15-year-olds they were asked to complete written tests of analogies.
The study found a strong relationship between high scores among children who as preschoolers had strong vocabularies and were good at monitoring and controlling their responses (executive function) to later ability on tests of understanding analogies.
“Overall, these results show that knowledge is necessary for using thinking skills, as shown by the importance of early vocabulary, but also inhibitory control and executive function skills are important contributors to children’s analytical reasoning development,” Richland said.
Source: University of Chicago
Teens who experience a decline in verbal skills, compared to their peers of friends, are at increased risk for developing a psychotic disorder in adulthood.
Although research has shown that patients who develop adult psychosis experienced several cognitive deficits during childhood and adolescence, it had remained unclear whether these deficits became more severe during adolescence.
For the study, researchers looked at data from 10,717 males born in Sweden in 1953, 1967, 1972 and 1977, and followed through to December 2006. Verbal, spatial, and inductive ability were tested at ages 13 and 18 using standardized tests.
The findings showed that individuals whose verbal ability declined, compared to their peers or friends between ages 13 and 18, were at greater risk for developing schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders in adulthood.
Decline in verbal score between ages 13 and 18 was a much stronger predictor of later psychosis than the score at age 18 alone.
“We know that the brain undergoes a rapid period of development during adolescence, and these findings add to the evidence that brain development may be impaired in some people, who later develop psychosis,” said James MacCabe, Ph.D., lead researcher of the study from the Department of Psychosis Studies at King’s College London.
“However, it is important to understand that only a small minority of people develop psychosis, so the actual risk of psychosis, even among people with a decline in verbal abilities, remains very low. This could certainly not be used as a ‘test’ for psychosis.”
The researchers note that the drop off in verbal ability is relative to the average population and therefore does not represent an actual deterioration in verbal ability between ages 13 and 18.
In fact, it’s more likely that the individuals who will later develop psychosis do not progress along with their peers.
The authors found that the decline in verbal skills was not linked to the age of onset of psychosis suggesting that the decline most likely represents a neurodevelopmental process specific to the teen years rather than a marker of early stage psychosis.
The study is published in JAMA Psychiatry.
Source: King’s College London