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Alcohol is known to have adverse effects on the health outcomes of the babies born to mothers who drink alcohol during pregnancy. Early researchers struggled to put a safe limit on the amount of alcohol that could be consumed during pregnancy without putting the baby at significant risk. Recent experimental trials have established that alcohol ingestion is hazardous even in small amounts.
An extensive study was carried out by Nicole Cameron, the assistant professor of psychology at Bing Binghamton University in New York and his colleagues in collaboration with Michael Nizhnikov from South Connecticut University and subsequently published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. The aim was to study the association between the consumption of alcohol in pregnancy and alcohol-related behavior in the offsprings.
During the trial, pregnant rats were given 1 glass of alcohol for 4 consecutive days at a time which is the rat equivalent of second trimester in humans. The later generations were tested for both water and alcohol preference for over two generations. They also tested the sensitivity to alcohol in the offsprings of the pregnant rats who were given alcohol as compared to those pregnant rats who were not given alcohol. This was done by studying the “righting reflex”, the ability of rats to return from lying down to standing up position.
How Does Alcohol Affect Addiction Related Behaviors In Future Generations?
The rats whose mothers and grandmothers had been given alcohol displayed a greater preference to alcohol over water with less sensitivity to its effects as compared to the rats whose preceding generations did not have alcohol. Scientists were, therefore, able to prove the link between alcohol consumption in pregnancy and alcohol dependency in humans.
If a pregnant woman drinks even as little as 4 glasses of alcohol during pregnancy, there will be an increase chance of her children and grandchildren being more alcohol dependent and less sensitive to its effects.
This study is the first of its kind to establish a pattern of alcoholism in successive generations. Earlier researches were limited to studying the effects of direct alcohol exposure on the babies in mother’s womb. This study has aptly negated the fact that small amounts of alcohol are permissible. Women usually tend to indulge in alcohol just as an occasional glass of wine or even binge drinking without even realizing its detrimental effects on their babies.
The Future Prospects
How alcoholism is passed down from one generation to the next? The question is yet to be answered. However, another study that has been published in the Journal of Neuroscience suggests that neurological changes in the brain that occur upon first time exposure to alcohol may be the underlying mechanism of transmission. This exposure to alcohol may occur during pregnancy or even during breastfeeding.
The study has paved way for future studies about how alcohol dependence is transmitted from one generation to the next. It will help fully explore the potential harms of alcohol consumption on the babies in orders to educate the expectant mothers and to decrease the rate of prenatal exposure to alcohol.