Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

Fetal alcohol syndrome—where the developing fetus is exposed to high levels of ethanol in the womb—has far-reaching negative effects on neural development. Now environmental and biological factors of parental alcohol abuse might also retard brain growth, according to a new study published in Biological Psychiatry.

Many studies have shown that alcohol-dependent men and women have smaller brain volumes than non-alcohol-dependent individuals. It is widely believed that this is due to the toxic effects of ethanol, which causes the alcoholic’s brain to shrink with aging to a greater extent than the non-alcoholic’s.

Children of alcoholics are known to have a greater risk for alcohol dependence than individuals without a parental history of alcohol dependence. In addition to inheriting genes that predispose them to alcoholism, children of alcoholics may experience adverse biological and psychological effects from poor diets, unstable parental relationships, and alcohol exposure before birth, all of which could contribute to their increased risk for alcoholism.

In a search for direct physical evidence of these assumed genetic and environmental mediators of family-transmitted alcoholism, the NIAAA researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques to measure the volume of the cranium — the part of the skull that encloses the brain — in a group of individuals being treated for alcohol dependence. The intracranial volume (ICV), they note, is determined by skull growth, which occurs as the brain expands to its maximum size around puberty. Because ICV does not change as the brain shrinks with age, it provides a good estimate of the lifetime maximum volume of the brain.

The researchers found that the average ICV of adult alcoholic children of alcoholic parents was about 4% smaller than the average ICV of adult alcoholics without family histories of alcoholism or heavy drinking. Family history did not affect the frequency, quantity, or other aspects of drinking behavior of the alcoholics themselves, suggesting that differences in ICV between family history positive and negative alcoholics are not the result of different drinking patterns. The researchers also found that adult alcoholic children of alcoholic parents had IQ scores that averaged 5.7 points lower than IQs of alcohol dependent individuals with no parental drinking, but that were still within the range of normal intelligence.

The authors report that ICV of women, but not men, in the study appeared to be affected more by their mothers’ drinking than their fathers’, perhaps due to a greater maternal influence on a child’s nutritional, social, and intellectual environment. None of the participants in the study were diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).


  1. #1 J-Dog
    February 22, 2007

    While we are on the subject, maybe someone could do a study to demonstrate the reduced (massively reduced) neural development of fundies and ID believers’ kids.

    Can you help me write the grant request? Can I bribe you with you listed as lead on this?

  2. #2 Shelley Batts
    February 22, 2007

    Probably wouldn’t be prudent. I am a child of IDers.

  3. #3 J-Dog
    February 22, 2007

    No Way! You can’t be! You are a Science Goddess! Hey, besides, ID hasn’t been around all that long, so they may be IDrs NOW, but way back when, I’ll bet they weren’t any worse than Catholics!

    Also, if this really were science, we would just disprove THAT hypothesis and move on to another… Okay, Fundies and Moonies! We split the grant money, study on the beach in Hawaii or the Caribean… Coould be VERY good…

  4. #4 Shelley Batts
    February 22, 2007

    No Way! You can’t be!

    Yep, my dirty secret is out. And we were worse than Catholic….fundie Suthern Baptists, baby! Went to church 3-4x a week, but (shhhhh, don’t tell) I never bought it. Our pastor’s daughter was/is my best friend. 🙂

    (Sorry, mom, if you’re reading this!)

    I think common sense, and open mind, and a good undergraduate science education can do wonders, even for a girl who went to South Carolina public schools and SBC-luvin’ churches. 🙂

  5. #5 J-Dog
    February 22, 2007

    Well, you know… In the big picture, I get Southern Baptist better than I get DI. You know the SB’s are honest believers, no pretense, you see what you get.

    BUT, if you’re talking DI… You don’t know which lie or which liar to believe. They quote mine, lie, twist words and meanings; I don’t think there has ever been a MORE disengenuous group, that’s told more lies for Jeebus (but they say science) EVER IN THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE WORLD!

    Maybe an in-depth study of THIS could get me a bright and shiny PhD? Maybe I do a “Reverse Marcus Ross” thing?
    Then I get my PhD AND time with Oprah!

    Bottom line: Baptist’s wrong, but honest. DI wrong, but lyers. And Shelley does her science thing. Obla di Obla da

  6. #6 pough
    February 23, 2007

    No, no, no. It’s all a lie from the highly-organized neo-prohibition groups. See here:

  7. #7 manoj
    February 12, 2009

    Health informatics or medical informatics is the intersection of information science, computer science, and health care. It deals with the resources, devices, and methods required to optimize the acquisition, storage, retrieval, and use of information in health and biomedicine. Health informatics tools include not only computers but also clinical guidelines, formal medical terminologies, and information and communication systems.


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