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Alcoholism & Addiction

Study Says Family History of Alcoholism May Worsen Effects of Prenatal Alcohol Exposure

Drinking while pregnant is not recommended, as prenatal exposure to alcohol (PAE) has been linked to fetal alcohol syndrome and other problems following birth such as learning disorders, deficiencies in executive and adaptive functioning, and memory problems. Up to this point, the impact of family history of alcoholism on PAE had not been documented.

An article printed by Medical News Today outlined a study conducted by researchers at San Diego State University, which examined more than 50 children aged 12 to 18, who were right-hand dominant. Study participants submitted to structural and functional imaging while completing an assignment created to measure spatial working memory (SWM).

Lead study author, Sarah N. Mattson advised that children exposed to high levels of PAE often experience many neurocognitive problems, including impaired functioning of SWM. Prior studies have also shown issues with spatial location and memory recall in children who endured PAE. The impact of these shortfalls on children is that they could become prone to losing items and may be susceptible to getting lost because of trouble route finding.

Researchers used neuroimaging to examine children’s brains to get a better understanding of how past family history of alcoholism and early exposure to alcohol affected SWM. It was concluded that a past family history of alcohol is potentially linked to neural processing issues among those children exposed to alcohol while in the womb. According to Mattson, the main purpose of the study was to find out which neurocognitive deficits were caused by PAE, and which were products of a family history of alcohol.

A main finding from the study is the existence of multiple brain functioning mechanisms that potentially contribute to SWM deficits in children exposed to alcohol while in the womb. The implication of the study is the need to focus on multiple approaches when treating children with SWM impairments or neurocognitive problems.

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