Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Dad was a drinker...

This article, Genetic Link To Heavy Substance Abuse In Teenagers, suggests:

Family and community experiences play an important role in whether teenagers experiment with alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana, but genetic influences become more important for progression to heavy substance use

The article doesn't provide much data. The researchers studied 1200 pairs of twins, totaling 2400 total subjects. The results seem to be as follows:
86% tried alcohol = 2064 33% had alcohol "problems" = 800
58% tried cigarettes = 1392 24% were "heavy smokers" = 576
22% tried marijuana = 528 38% of those used it more than 6 times = 200
I've little doubt the statistics demonstrate that more variability in "heavy substance abuse" is accounted for by genetic factors than environmental factors, although it's impossible to tell with the data provided in the brief article. But what interests me is this quote by the lead researcher:

"The strong link between starting smoking and going on to heavier use suggests that public health strategies should concentrate on stopping teenagers from experimenting with cigarettes in the first place. By contrast, given the large numbers who try alcohol without developing a problem habit, it may be that drink strategies should focus on those at risk of heavy use. However, young people should still be warned against drinking too much, because of the risk of accidents and fights."

I understand that there was a higher percentage of smokers with smoking "issues" than drinkers with drinking "issues." But the data provided seem to indicate there are more young people (as a whole) with alcohol "issues" than smoking "issues" (800 to 576). If the goal is to help the greatest number of people, it seems odd to try to prevent smoking altogether while simply trying to prevent "heavy" alcohol use. I guess it probably doesn't help the alcohol cause with this article coming out a week later, Alcohol Worse Than Ecstacy, According To Proposed 'Matrix Of Harm' For Drugs, which states:

A new study...proposes that drugs should be classified by the amount of harm that they do...The new ranking places alcohol and tobacco in the upper half of the league table. These socially accepted drugs were judged more harmful than cannabis, and substantially more dangerous than...LSD, 4-methylthioamphetamine and ecstasy.

For the life of me, I can't figure out how to read the table. But the article makes you wonder whether, as the first article suggests, "it may be that drink strategies should focus on those at risk of heavy use."

Disclaimer: I found my drug of choice early on in life. Fortunately, it was alcohol, which is arbitrarily legal (or arbitrarily not illegal, depending on how you look at it).

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