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Alcohol. 2011 Aug;45(5):507-14. doi: 10.1016/j.alcohol.2011.02.307. Epub 2011 May 31.

Lymphocyte measures in treatment-naïve 13-15-year old adolescents with alcohol use disorders.

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Division of Human Nutrition, Stellenbosch University, South Africa.


Many adolescents have chronic exposure to hazardous levels of alcohol. This is likely to be a significant predictor of health outcomes, including those related to immunity. We assessed substance use and biochemical immunological parameters in heavy drinking adolescents (meeting DSM-IV criteria for alcohol dependence) and light/nondrinking control adolescents in Cape Town. Lifetime alcohol dose, measured in standard units of alcohol, was orders of magnitude higher in alcohol-dependent (AD) participants than controls. All adolescent AD had a "weekends-only" style of alcohol consumption. The AD group was chosen to represent relatively "pure" AD, with minimal other drug use and no psychiatric diagnoses. With these narrow parameters in place, we found that AD adolescents were lymphopenic compared with controls, with significantly lower mean numbers of absolute circulating CD3+, CD4+, and CD8+ T-lymphocytes. On conclusion, we found that adolescent AD individuals with excessive alcohol intake, in a weekend binge-drinking style but without comorbid drug or psychiatric disorders, may be at increased risk of lymphopenia. This alcohol misuse may increase infectious disease susceptibility (including TB and HIV) by reducing immune system capabilities. Complex interactions of alcohol with other documented high-risk activities may further compound health risks.

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