Close relationships with parents promote healthier brain development in high-risk teens as a buffer against alcohol use disorders

Overview: Close and supportive parental relationships can help reduce the genetic and environmental risks of developing an alcohol use disorder for teens at risk.

Source: New York State University

For teens at increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD), close relationships with parents may help reduce their genetic and environmental vulnerability, a new study suggests.

The offspring of people with AUD are four times more likely than others to develop the condition. Increasing evidence suggests that this hereditary risk may be enhanced or reduced by the quality of parenting.

Deficient parenting has been associated with a range of negative behavioral and psychiatric outcomes, while positive parenting appears to be crucial for the development of higher-level social, emotional, and cognitive traits.

Typical neurological development during adolescence hones self-regulatory and executive functions (e.g., attention, inhibition, and decision-making), enabling adaptive responses to challenging situations. Deficiencies in these abilities underlie the risk of developing substance use disorders.

Research has shown that during cognitive tasks, people with AUD and their offspring show low activity on two measurable brain responses.

These – known as P3 and frontal theta (FT) – are important in self-regulation and executive functions. Low levels of P3 and FT predict the development of AUD and can be conceptualized as a “neurodevelopmental delay”. Little is known about the potential of positive parenting, especially by fathers, to buffer against this outcome in teens at high risk of developing AUD.

For the study Alcoholism: clinical and experimental researchresearchers examined associations between the P3, FT, risky drinking of vulnerable youth and the bond with their mothers and fathers during adolescence.

Between 2004 and 2019, researchers recruited 1,256 young offspring, ages 12 to 22, from the Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism (COGA), a large, multi-generational family study of the genetic and environmental influences driving AUD.

These offspring were interviewed and their brain function assessed every two years. The interviews covered participants’ substance use, mental health, and aspects of their home environment, including their relationship with their mothers and fathers between the ages of 12 and 17. Their P3 and FT responses were measured using a visual task.

Researchers also collected data on binge drinking, impulsivity (a personality trait known to influence alcohol use problems and relationships with parents), demographic characteristics, and parents’ alcohol and substance use. They used statistical analysis to examine associations between these factors.

It depicts a teenage girl
Overall, greater association with fathers was associated with more robust P3 and FT activity in offspring, while an association with mothers was associated with less binge drinking. The image is in the public domain

Overall, greater association with fathers was associated with more robust P3 and FT activity in offspring, while an association with mothers was associated with less binge drinking. Certain gender differences also emerged.

Closeness to fathers was linked to greater P3 in sons but not daughters; closeness with mothers was linked to less binge drinking in daughters but not sons.

This may reflect the different roles of fathers and mothers in child and teen development, and the differential parenting of boys versus girls. The findings were independent of other risk factors, including parents’ AUD, substance use problems, socioeconomic status, and offspring impulsiveness.

The study provides compelling evidence that warm, close relationships with parents during adolescence can help build resilience to problem drinking in offspring negatively affected by AUD in the family and that this partially reflects improved neurocognitive functioning. Aspects of parenting that influence the risk of AUD in children include — and go beyond — drinking behavior.

The researchers conclude that close bonds with parents during the key transition period of adolescence can significantly reduce the child’s propensity for risky behavior and substance use disorders, with important gender differences.

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About this news about neurodevelopment, parenting and AUD research

Writer: Gayatri Pandey
Source: New York State University
Contact: Gayathri Pandey – New York State University
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original research: Closed access.
“Associations of parent-adolescent closeness with P3 amplitude, frontal theta, and binge drinking in offspring at high risk for alcohol use disorder” by Gayathri Pandey et al. Alcoholism: clinical and experimental research


Abstract

Associations of parent-adolescent proximity with P3 amplitude, frontal theta, and binge drinking in offspring at high risk for alcohol use disorder

Background

Parents influence their children’s brain development, neurocognitive function, risk and resilience for alcohol use disorder (AUD) through both genetic and socio-environmental factors. Individuals with AUD and their unaffected children show low parietal P3 amplitude and low frontal theta (FT) power, reflecting inherited neurocognitive impairment associated with AUD. Similarly, children who experience poor parenting often have atypical brain development and more alcohol problems. Conversely, positive parenting may be protective and critical to the normative development of self-regulation, neurocognitive functioning, and the neurobiological systems that serve them. Yet, the role of positive parenting in resilience to AUD has been understudied and its association with neurocognitive functioning and behavioral susceptibility to AUD in high-risk children is less well known. Using data from the Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism prospective cohort (N = 1256, average age [SD] = 7:25 PM [1.88]), we examined the associations of maternal and paternal proximity during adolescence with offspring P3 amplitude, FT ability, and binge drinking in high-risk offspring.

methods

Self-reported closeness with mother and father between ages 12 and 17 and binge drinking were assessed using the semi-structured assessment for the genetics of alcoholism. P3 amplitude and FT power were assessed in response to target stimuli using a Visual Oddball Task.

Results

Multivariate multiple regression analyzes showed that closeness to father was associated with greater P3 amplitude (p = 0.002) and higher FT power (p = 0.01). Closeness to mother was associated with less binge drinking (p = 0.003). In male offspring, proximity to father was associated with greater P3 amplitude, but in female offspring, proximity to mother was associated with less binge drinking. These associations remained statistically significant with paternal and maternal AUD symptoms, socioeconomic status, and offspring impulsivity in the model.

Conclusions

In high-risk children, closeness to parents during adolescence may promote resilience to developing AUD and related neurocognitive disorders, albeit with important sex differences.

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