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Family History of Alcoholism Affects Brain Process in Non-Drinkers

February 17, 2020

Having a family history of alcoholism appears to affect a common brain reconfiguration that occurs between active and resting states, even if the affected individual does not drink, a study supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) suggests.

Published in the journal NeuroImage, the study involved 54 participants, around half of whom had a parent who met criteria for an alcohol use disorder. Indiana University researchers used MRI technology to measure participants' brain activity as they negotiated and completed a mentally demanding task on a computer. The process of the brain reconfiguring itself between completing the task and resting did not occur in individuals with a family history of alcoholism, the researchers reported.

The study, also involving researchers from Purdue University, found that other traits characterizing individuals for whom the reconfiguration did not occur were being male, being impatient in receiving rewards, and having more symptoms of depression—all consistent with the development of alcoholism. The researchers believe these results could have implications in the design of research studies.

“In the past, we've assumed that a person who doesn't drink excessively is a 'healthy' control for a study,” said Joaquín Goñi, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and industrial engineering at Purdue. “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.”

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