Alcoholic Parents: Spacey Kids

Alcoholism in your family history may affect spatial memory of later generations

(RxWiki News) Can family history of alcoholism affect brain development? Seems far-fetched, but new research has provided compelling evidence.

A recent study looked at brain scans of 53 kids while they performed spatial memory tasks.

Researchers found the brains of kids with prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) or family history of alcohol abuse functioned differently than the control group.

"Seek treatment for problems with alcohol abuse."

Sarah Mattson, PhD, professor of psychology at San Diego State University, and Piyadasa Kodituwakku, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics and neurosciences in the School of Medicine at the University of New Mexico, teamed up for this investigation.

For the small study, 53 kids aged 12-18 were spit into three groups for cognitive testing of spatial working memory (SWM) while researchers ran functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans.

SWM has to do with locating things and places. People who get lost going places they've been before or have a map of directions to, or can't remember where they put their keys, have trouble with SWM

Groups were split as follows: A) 18 kids with heavy prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE); B) 18 kids without PAE, but with family history of alcoholism; C) 17 kids with no family history of alcoholism or PAE to act as the control group.

Dr. Mattson, “Previous studies demonstrated that children with PAE may exhibit difficulties learning spatial locations and later recognizing if an object is in a previously learned location.”

She goes on to say the real-world implications of this kind of deficit could make every day tasks like route finding, keeping track of personal items and trying to remember two things at once very difficult.

Results of the fMRIs showed that the PAE group needed more blood oxygen in four areas of the brain that assist SWM compared to the control group, which did not show increased blood oxygen in these same areas during the task.

The family history of alcoholism group showed a need for more blood oxygen in two areas of the brain that assist SWM compared to the control group.

Further research is necessary, but authors suggested there was damage to specific regions of the brain which might be more associated with family history of alcohol abuse rather than specifically with PAE.

This study was published in October in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

No funding information was given and no conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
October 19, 2012