Alcoholic Families May Mess Up Kids' Brains

By Adam K. Raymond 01/17/12

Non-drinking teens with a family history of alcoholism show weaker brain responses to risky decisions.

Yet another way for teens' brains to be
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Alcoholic parents have long been accused of wreaking havoc on their children's lives. But a new study suggests they screw up their kids' brains too. Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University found that teenagers with a family history of alcoholism display "weaker brain response during risky decision-making." The study involved 31 people aged 13-15. Eighteen had a family history of alcoholism and 13 didn't. With their heads monitored by a functional MRI, the kids were asked to make "risky" and "safe" decisions based around a Wheel of Fortune-like game. Initial results didn't say much: the children with family alcoholism performed similarly to those without. But the MRI results told a different story. "We found two areas of the brain the responded differently," says assistant professor Bonnie J. Nagel. Those areas were the prefrontal cortex and cerebellum, where teens with family alcoholism displayed weaker responses than their peers when faced with risky decisions. "We believe that weaker activation of these brain areas, known to be important for optimal decision making, may confer vulnerability towards risky decisions with regards to future alcohol use in adolescents already at risk for alcoholism," adds Nagel.

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Adam K. Raymond covers politics and sports for New York Magazine. Visit Adam's website and follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.