Children of familial substance abusers have impaired brains

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  • Published: Jul 24, 2014
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: NMR Knowledge Base / MRI Spectroscopy
thumbnail image: Children of familial substance abusers have impaired brains

Young men and women from families with a history of substance abuse are at a greater risk of developing the same problems themselves and the problem is not simply due to mimicking. Scientists in the US have shown that impaired development of the brain is a major factor, confirming earlier suppositions that the parts of the brain that control risk taking and reward seeking are inhibited.

Using magnetic resonance imaging and proton NMR, the researchers studied young people aged 10-14 who were not regular substance abusers but came from families with histories of drug and alcohol abuse. The procedures were described in Human Brain Mapping by senior author Ashley Acheson.

Compared with a control group of children from families without a history of substance abuse, the frontal white matter of the at-risk group was characterised by reduced myelination which correlated with reduced levels of N-acetylaspartate and raised levels of total choline in the brain. So, these two chemicals could be used as predictors of substance abuse behaviour.

These alterations in the chemical balance have been reported previously for alcohol and drug abusers, but this new work suggests that the changes are present before the abuse has begun. The studies need to be extended over long periods of time to see whether these factors actually affect the susceptibility of the young people to drugs and alcohol.

The likely causes of this behaviour are likely to be a combination of shared genetic, familial and environmental factors might be responsible for the alteration in the brain, but a more detailed examination would be needed to assess these factors individually.

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