You don’t have to be a drinker for your brain to be affected by alcoholism.
A new study shows that just having a parent with an alcohol use disorder affects how your brain transitions between active and resting states – regardless of your own drinking habits.
The study, performed by researchers at Purdue University and the Indiana University School of Medicine, discovered that the brain reconfigures itself between completing a mentally demanding task and resting.
But for the brain of someone with a family history of an alcohol use disorder, this reconfiguration doesn’t happen.
While the missing transition doesn’t seem to affect how well a person performs the mentally demanding task itself, it might be related to larger scale brain functions that give rise to behaviors associated with addiction.
In particular, study subjects without this brain process demonstrated greater impatience in waiting for rewards, a behavior associated with addiction.
Findings are published in the journal NeuroImage. The work was led by Enrico Amico, a former Purdue postdoctoral researcher who is now a researcher at EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland.
How the brain reconfigures between active and resting states is like how a computer closes down a program after you’re finished with it.
“The moment you close a program, a computer has to remove it from memory, reorganize the cache and maybe clear out some temporary files.
This helps the computer to prepare for the next task,” said Joaquín Goñi, a Purdue assistant professor in the School of Industrial Engineering and the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering.
“In a similar way, we’ve found that this reconfiguration process in the human brain is associated with finishing a task and getting ready for what’s next.”
Goñi’s research group, the CONNplexity Lab, takes a computational approach to neuroscience and cognitive science.
Past research has shown that a family history of alcoholism affects a person’s brain anatomy and physiology, but most studies have looked at this effect only in separate active and quiet resting states rather than the transition between them.
“A lot of what brains do is switch between different tasks and states. We suspected that this task switching might be somewhat lower in people with a family history of alcoholism,” said David Kareken, a professor of neurology at the Indiana University School of Medicine and director of the Indiana Alcohol Research Center.
A family history of alcoholism affects a process that the brain uses when transitioning from a mentally demanding state to a resting state, researchers have found.
The study defined a “family history of alcoholism” as someone with a parent who had enough symptoms to constitute an alcohol use disorder. About half of the 54 study participants had this history.
Researchers at Indiana University measured the brain activity of subjects with an MRI scanner as they completed a mentally demanding task on a computer.
The task required them to unpredictably hold back from pressing a left or right key.
After completing the task, the subjects rested while watching a fixed point on the screen.
A separate task outside of the MRI scanner gauged how participants responded to rewards, asking questions such as if they would like $20 now or $200 in one year.
Amico and Goñi processed the data and developed a computational framework for extracting different patterns of brain connectivity between completing the mentally demanding task and entering the resting state, such as when brain areas rose and fell together in activity, or one brain area rose while another fell at the same time.
The data revealed that these brain connectivity patterns reconfigured within the first three minutes after finishing the task. By the fourth minute of rest, the effect had completely disappeared.
Multiple regions of the brain are involved in a ‘reconfiguration’ that happens between completing a difficult task and resting. But for people with a family history of alcoholism, this reconfiguration is diminished. Image is credited to Purdue University.
And it’s not a quiet process: Reconfiguration involves multiple parts of the brain at once.
“These brain regions talk to each other and are very strongly implicated in the task even though by this point, the task is already completed.
It almost seems like an echo in time of what had been going on,” Kareken said.
Subjects lacking the transition also had the risk factors that researchers have seen to be consistent with developing alcoholism.
These include being male, a greater number of symptoms of depression, and reward-impatience.
A family history of alcoholism, however, stood out as the most statistically significant difference in this brain reconfiguration.
The finding affects research going forward.
“In the past, we’ve assumed that a person who doesn’t drink excessively is a ‘healthy’ control for a study. But this work shows that a person with just a family history of alcoholism may also have some subtle differences in how their brains operate,” Goñi said.
The code used to analyze data in this study is available at https://engineering.purdue.edu/ConnplexityLab/publications.
Funding: This research was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (grant P60AA07611) and the Purdue Discovery Park Data Science Award “Fingerprints of the Human Brain: A Data Science Perspective.” The work was also partially supported by the National Institutes of Health (grants R01EB022574, R01MH108467, and R00AA023296).
Alcohol use may harm not only the individual drinker but also the lives of their partners, families, friends, work colleagues, and their communities.
It has become a matter of global concern because of impact on social and economic burden in societies. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are around 3.3 million deaths worldwide per year because of harmful use of alcohol.
Alcohol-related deaths make up nearly 6% of global deaths per year.
A considerable amount of research has examined the impact of parental alcohol misuse on children’s development.
Parental alcoholism was found to be statistically significantly associated with a child harm outcome measure in almost two of every three published studies. It has been projected that 10% of US children is exposed to alcohol abuse or dependence in the family.
The 30% of children lived with at least one binge drinking parent in UK and 12% of parents/carers stated that one or more of their children had been physically hurt, emotionally abused, or exposed to domestic violence because of others’ drinking in Australia.
The children of alcoholics (COAs) suffer from a wide range of psychosocial problems. The psychological effect of parental alcoholism has been identified from infant period to adulthood.[7,8] COA parent had higher internalizing symptoms than did their non-COA peers and higher risk for both major depressive disorder and persistent depressive disorder.
These children are prone for early and frequent use of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, and other illicit drugs.
COA father had higher depression/anxiety scores, greater impulsivity, and externalizing behaviors and are more likely to exhibit attention and conduct problem, lower self-esteem, and poor adjustment than non-COA parents.
Parental addiction had a significant association with child abuse and high rate of school dropouts. The effect of parental alcoholism varies among gender; girls have higher internalizing scores whereas the boys have higher externalizing scores.
The children of alcohol-dependent women were at increased risk for externalizing (conduct disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) and internalizing disorders (major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders).
By young adulthood, children from these multiplex families had significantly greater odds of developing alcohol abuse or dependence and drug abuse or dependence.
These indicate that children are at risk for behavioral problems because of father or mother alcoholism.
The psychiatric disorders among children with parental alcoholism had higher somatization scores, social withdrawal, greater attention problems, depression, hyperactivity disorder, and substance use disorders.[23,24]
The physical, psychological health, wellbeing, and quality of life are significantly impacted in families where the father is alcohol-dependent.
Studies on the prevalence of behavior problems among children had shown varying results from one state to another.
A recent study conducted among school students in Mumbai has shown that symptoms of overall anxiety were present in 10.8% of the students. Older students had greater odds of having overall anxiety symptoms and obsessions/compulsions, where fears of physical injury being the most common type.
The study conducted at Uttar Pradesh has shown that prevalence of depression was found to be 14.5%, whereas that of anxiety disorder was found to be 15%, and a Kerala study has shown that clinical depression was found in 12.7% of sample and subclinical mild depression was found in 19.3% of the sample.
Hereditary and family factors play major role in causative factor for anxiety and depression among children and adolescents. Many studies have shown that parental alcoholism has an effect on growing children.[12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20,30]
The impact of heavy parental alcohol use on children and young people is a social issue that urgently requires further research and calls for immediate attention of political leaders, policymakers, health professionals, opinion-makers, and society at large.
A systematic review on risk and protective factors for COAs shows that if the problems are identified at the earliest age and appropriate rehabilitation services are provided then the complication can be prevented.
The environment of alcoholic families affects the growing child because of disruptions to normal routines, the tension of strained relationships, and dishonesty.
The impact of alcoholism has greater effect on children and many studies are not focused on these issues; hence the investigator felt that there is a need to assess anxiety, depression, and self-esteem among children of alcoholic and nonalcoholic parents at selected government high school in Bangalore, India.