Children of Addicts Work Harder to Break the Cycle

Just how much does a parent's addiction ultimately affect their child?

A new study found that children of alcoholics not only have to contend with difficult factors in their environment, they also have improperly developed brains that make it harder to fight impulses.

The Study Data

Scientists from the University of Texas Health Science Center tested the impulsivity of 105 children, 72 of whom came from families with histories of substance abuse. Findings showed that children whose families had a history of addiction displayed impairments in the same part of the brain that regulates impulse control.

These children also displayed more brain activity while completing tasks, but had less efficient neural pathways, meaning they had to work harder to complete the same tasks as the group of children whose families did not have a history of substance abuse.

"[This is] 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."

Impulses and their Effects on Kids


Study co-author Ashley Acheson also said the impulse issues that children from families with substance abuse histories displayed could "contribute to their increased risk for developing alcohol and other drug problems. "[But] we need to know what makes people misuse alcohol and drugs in the first place in order to treat addictions."

Separate studies have also shown that the drug and alcohol use of parents can have a huge influence on their children. Researchers from Dartmouth College and Dartmouth Medical School in 2005 set up a miniature grocery store for 120 children, all ages two to six, to buy up to 17 times. Sixty-one percent of the children selected alcohol for their shopping cart, but the scientists noted that children whose parents drank alcohol on a monthly basis were more likely to include alcohol among their imaginary purchases at the store.

"If you had a tough day, talk about it, verbalize it. Take a hot shower. Turn on music and relax a little," said Stephen Wallace, director for the Center for Adolescent Research and Education at Susquehanna University. "Do not model alcohol use as a way to self-medicate."

Learn more about important alcohol and drug abuse statistics.

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