There is no doubt that growing up in an alcoholic household is incredibly painful. And, as most of us know, children of chronic drinkers are much more prone to develop a habit themselves. Well now, there is new scientific evidence that delves into that behavior and the way a child’s brain thinks after seeing a dependent parent.
The Scientific American website published an insightful piece on the subject, delving into research provided by The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (or NIAAA, for short). Their data shows that growing up around a chronic drinker can affect a child’s mental processes. The conclusion of their study was that neural activity from one component of the brain to another can actually switch based on witnessing alcoholism as a young child.
“This new research shows that a family history of alcoholism affects much more than your desire to drink,” Scientific American author Jillian Kramer explained in her article. “It also changes how your brain transitions from one task to the next—going, say, from cooking breakfast to thinking about a work deadline.”
The study itself took in approximately 54 participants, some with a family history of alcoholism and some without. All were given MRI’s and asked to perform simple tasks via a computer exercise. Those without the history often showed brain reconfigurations; utilizing frontal, parietal and visual areas as they went through the program. People with a history of family alcoholism, though, experienced much fewer changes when completing the tasks.
Lead researcher Enrico Amico also spoke to Scientific American, outlining the significance of these results.
“It certainly looks like a family history of alcoholism impacts the mental preparation to switch from performing one task to another,” he explained. “This could be analogous to the process of clearing the cache of your smartphone when you want it to switch faster between apps. The problem is that this ‘cache-clearing process’ might be impaired in brains with family history of alcoholism.”
The conclusion was that either set has the ability to complete both simple and mentally demanding tasks. But Amico hypothesizes that those with a history could find themselves more stressed or reactive after a task is completed. As he put it, it all relates back to the way the brain is being utilized and the imbalance of reconfigurations.
This could also play into the tendency for those who come from alcoholic homes to use. Clearly, that type of environment can create a lot of trauma; ultimately shaping how these children are shaped for adulthood.