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Top Substance Abuse Research Findings of 2012

List of Marijuana's Negative Effects Grows

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Updated December 27, 2012

The top substance abuse-related research studies in 2012 found several more negative effects of smoking marijuana, a larger binge drinking problem than previously thought, another alcohol link to teen cancer, the reason domestic violence victims change their stories, and a medication that helps some people cut down on how much they drink.

Studies published during the year revealed that smoking marijuana can double the risks of getting into a serious vehicle crash, doubles the risk of testicular cancer among young males, affects the development of an embryo's brain during early pregnancy, and can cause functional impairment for those who have withdrawal symptoms when they quit smoking.

1. Smoking Weed Doubles Car Crash Risk

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Ten different studies of nearly 50,000 vehicular crashes found that smoking marijuana is almost as dangerous as having a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08. Drivers who smoked within three hours of driving were much more likely to be involved in a serious wreck, compared to sober drivers. The risk was even greater for drivers under 35 years of age.

2. Marijuana Withdrawal Causes Functional Impairment

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Many smokers claim that they have mild or no withdrawal symptoms at all when they quit smoking marijuana, but a 2012 study found that withdrawing from weed can cause severe-enough symptoms to cause a relapse among those who need to quit. The more they smoked, the greater the withdrawal symptoms, research found.

3. Smoking Marijuana Doubles Risk of Testicular Cancer

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Smoking weed has long been linked to developing testicular cancer, but a study published in 2012 found that marijuana use increases the risk of a specific subtype of testicular cancer. In fact, it doubles the risk. The problem is that the subtype linked to marijuana use is one that is difficult to cure.

4. Marijuana, Spice Use Can Affect Embryo's Brain

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Pregnant women should stop smoking marijuana or using synthetic forms of the weed, such as K2 or Spice, as soon as they find out they're pregnant. Researchers found that smoking marijuana or using Spice can damage the brain of a developing embryo as early as two weeks after conception.

5. Treatment Can Reduce Financial Burden on Families

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Getting treatment for alcohol abuse problems has many benefits, especially for the person who is the drinker. But research in 2012 found that the benefits extend far beyond just the individual: treatment can produce a significant change in the family's financial status, greatly reducing the costs directly related to the alcoholism, and those of caring for the alcoholic.

6. Why Do Domestic Violence Victims Recant?

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It's a familiar cycle. The victim calls 911 to report an incidence of domestic violence, but then changes her mind about prosecuting the perpetrator. It's long been thought that fear of more violence causes victims of violence to recant, but a 2012 study found that it's much more complicated than that — involving a five-stage sophisticated emotional appeal to gain the sympathy of the victim.

7. Binge Drinking Bigger Problem Than Thought

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a 2012 report that revealed that binge drinking in the United States is a much more widespread problem than previously thought. The study found that 38 million Americans are drinking more alcohol, and more often than originally believed.

8. Drinking Ups Risk of Benign Breast Disease

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For teenage girls and young women, even moderate alcohol consumption can be hazardous. Researchers found that female drinkers don't have to be binge drinkers to increase their risk of developing a pre-cancerous condition known as a proliferative benign breast disease (BDD), which in some cases can lead to breast cancer. It's another example of how alcohol is more dangerous for females.

9. Age 16 Peak Time for Teens to Start Drugs

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More and more studies are finding that adolescents are beginning to experiment with alcohol and drugs at earlier ages, and the same is now true for prescription drugs. A 2012 study found that it's not during their senior year that teens begin to use pain pills, as previously believed, but rather much earlier: at age 16. And most of them get those drugs from the family medicine cabinet at home, or at friends' homes.

10. Chantix May Help Heavy Drinkers Cut Down

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Chantix is usually used by people who want to stop smoking cigarettes, but a 2012 study of a group of heavy drinkers who were seeking help to stop smoking significantly reduced their levels of drinking while taking the drug. Researchers believe the findings could lead to developing a new treatment for those who want to reduce their level of harmful drinking, but the drug has not been approved as an alcohol treatment.
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