A new study shows that children from families with several generations of alcohol dependence exhibit differences in their brain when compared to children without a family history of alcoholism, Reuters reported June 8.
For the study, 17 teenagers considered high risk for alcohol dependence because of a strong family history of alcoholism underwent MRI brain scans. The results were compared with MRIs from 17 teens without a family history of alcoholism.
The study found that teens with a family history of alcoholism had a smaller amygdala, the right side of an area of the brain that controls basic emotions. “When we looked at some of the children who hadn’t had any drugs or alcohol to speak of, the same pattern of smaller right amygdala volume was seen,” said Dr. Shirley Y. Hill of the University of Pittsburgh. “Why the right amygdala? We are not sure.”
The amygdala is part of a “reward circuit” within the brain, which is associated with some addictive behaviors. Hill explained that a smaller amygdala could indicate a developmental delay that affects this circuit.
“The paper is the first demonstration that a brain structure that is part of a circuit that is involved in both emotion and cognition may be smaller in adolescents from families with a high loading of alcohol dependence before they drink,” said Hill.
The study’s findings are published in the June issue of the journal Biological Psychiatry.