Children of Addicts Must Work Harder to Fight Impulses
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It is generally well-accepted that children of alcoholic families are more prone to alcoholism. A new study indicates, however, that their struggle with impulse control isn’t solely due to environmental factors, but also because of improperly developed brains.
Researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center studied a total of 105 children, 72 of which had a family history of substance abuse. The researchers tested the children’s impulsivity via a computer game and determined those children with a family history of substance abuse were more likely to exhibit impairments in the part of the brain responsible for impulse control.
“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. Acheson added that the dysfunctions could “contribute to their increased risk for developing alcohol and other drug problems.”
The researchers discovered that the group of children with a family history of alcohol or other drug use disorder, or the FH+ group, displayed more brain activity during their tasks. While the FH+ group had more active forebrains, they had less efficient neural pathways. In other words, the FH+ group had to work harder than the non-FH+ group to complete the same tasks.
“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.”
The researchers say the findings will help them understand why people misuse alcohol and drugs, as well as aid them in determining which brain regions to focus on for developing future treatments. “I think we need to know what makes people misuse alcohol and drugs in the first place in order to treat addictions,” Acheson said.