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Growing Up With an Alcoholic May Cause Improper Brain Development
It has long since been surmised that children who group up in homes with substance abusing family members are more susceptible to drug and alcohol addiction themselves.
The previous hypothesis for this notion was based off of the social cognitive theory, which states that humans learn and mimic the most frequent behaviors that they witness. This environmentally based causation process was used to account for the staggering statistics that have shown that children with a substance abusing family member are four-times more likely to abuse substances themselves.
In an attempt to grasp a better understanding of what factors lead to substance abuse, the University of Texas Health Science Center recently conducted a study that sought to map out physiological brain impairments located in the forebrain area. Researchers argued that environment was not the only causation for substance abuse susceptibility but instead brain development also had an essential role in the matter at hand.
The specific brain location was confined to the forebrain area due to its housing of “judgment” related functions. The cerebral cortex, thalamus, hypothalamus, and basal ganglia make up the forebrain region and are home to various functions such as, decision-making, impulse control, memory, motor response, and attachment behavior.
“Not surprisingly, dysfunctions in the forebrain are involved in many psychiatric disorders, including alcohol and other drug use disorders,” said co-author of the study Ashley Acheson. Researchers at the institution hypothesized that children and young adults who had forebrain dysfunctions could “contribute to their increased risk for developing alcohol and other drug problems.”
In order to conduct their experiment a “Go/No Go” computer game was set up that sought to measure the impulsivity of the participants. Of the 104 participants, 72 had family members who struggled with substance abuse and 32 had no prior history of substance abuse within their families. Participants were instructed to only press the “Go” button when the visual cue flashed on screen. When “No Go” appeared, participants were instructed not to press the button. If the participant pressed “Go” when the correct cue was not present, this reaction was labeled as “impulsive” and considered a loss of “inhibition.”
Researchers found the 72 children and young adults with family histories of substance abuse had more active forebrains then the 32 participants with no history of substance abuse. Through every computer exercise the FH+ group (family history of substance abuse), showed more activity but less accuracy, leading researchers to conclude that there was not a problem with impulse control, but of proper brain function as a whole.
“The greater cognitive resources expended by the FH+ group might be related to other findings showing that persons with a family history of alcoholism have poorer functioning white-matter pathways in the brain,” said William R. Lovallo, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. “These pathways are the long ones that connect up distant brain regions. It is like trying to talk on a long-distance phone call with static on the line. You need to work harder at your conversation.”
Acheson hopes that this study will be able to shed new light on the causation behind substance abuse and family histories. A longer study has been proposed in which the group of participants will be surveyed in the coming years to see which ones fell victim to substance abuse.
The more that researchers are able to uncover about the susceptibility of an individual to engage in substance abuse, the more preeminent measures can be taken, in the form of education as well as treatment.
Chad Arias has a B.A. in journalism and is a contributor for the Latino Post and Opposing Views. In his free time, Arias writes poetry, short stories and is currently working on a novel detailing his experiences with substance abuse. He is most interested on the philosophical and psychological aspects of the subject.