Public release date: 12-Dec-2007
Contact: Pam Willenz
American Psychological Association
Pre-natal alcohol exposure shapes sensory preference, upping odds of later alcohol use and abuse
2 studies help explain why teens exposed to fetal alcohol are at high risk for heavy drinking and perpetuating a family cycle of alcohol addiction
WASHINGTON – Young people whose mothers drank when pregnant may be more likely to abuse alcohol because, in the womb, their developing senses came to prefer its taste and smell. Researchers with the State University of New York Developmental Ethanol Research Center have found that because the developing nervous system adapts to whatever mothers eat and drink, young rats exposed to alcohol (ethanol) in the womb drank significantly more alcohol than non-exposed rats.
These findings, covered in two related studies, appear in the December issue of Behavioral Neuroscience, published by the American Psychological Association (APA). The studies contribute a critical biological piece to the complex puzzle of why teens with a family history of drinking may themselves drink more. Lead author Steven Youngentob, PhD, observes that a biologically instilled preference for alcohol’s taste and smell can make young people much more likely to abuse alcohol, especially in light of social pressures, risk-taking tendencies and alcohol’s addicting qualities.
These more subtle consequences of fetal alcohol exposure come on top of the potential for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which leads to profound neurodevelopmental problems including mental retardation.