Sure, it's always Mom's fault.

ResearchBlogging.orgEvery kid blames their parents for all their bad habits. Parents are supposed to be your role models, your guides. So who doesn't try and get away with a "mom's X behavior when I was a kid made me like this" every once in awhile? Well, it turns out you might get to pile one more on poor mom's shoulders. Drink a little too much, a little too often? Find yourself naked in unfamiliar places with no idea how you got there? Think that beer is a "soft drink" because it's less than 20% alcohol by volume? Well, it's possible your boozing behavior is your mother's fault. That's because a new study out of the State University of New York has found that the progeny of rats given alcohol while pregnant are drawn to intoxicated peers and the smell of alcohol as juveniles.

Breeding Boozers?

That's right - if mom slipped even once while carrying you, it's possible that she gave you a predilection to alcoholism.

The basic idea is that as little fetuses in our mothers wombs, we observe and learn about our environments by chemical stimulus, particularly odors. This is helpful if the mother eats a healthy diet. The baby's brain remembers the compounds in healthy foods, and until adulthood is drawn to their smell. It makes it a whole lot faster to teach a child what should be eaten if its already developed a desire or a "nose" for those things. However, have a night of boozing or doing drugs while carrying a baby, and the baby gets those odors in its head.

The idea that a fetus can recall and be drawn to odor stimuli from what its mother ingests is already well-supported. So the question then becomes does this apply to alcohol as it does to other food odors, and what are the consequences of this behavior?

The researchers from New York say yes, and the consequences are steep. They gave pregnant rats diets supplemented with ethanol or water, then tested their kids when they were juveniles and adults. They either exposed the babies to alcohol once, in the womb or as juveniles, or twice, once at both ages. Juvenile rats that had fetal exposure to alcohol were more likely to follow intoxicated peers and were more drawn to the smell of ethanol than their water-fed counterparts. Those that then got re-exposed as adolescents subsequently showed even higher affinity for alcohol, and this effect persisted to adulthood in female rats. In other words, reinforcement of that gestational exposure increased alcoholic tendencies in teenagers, and the effect can even last a lifetime.

So what does this mean for us? For one, as if it wasn't clear already, drinking while pregnant is a really, really bad idea. Not only might it harm your baby directly (as in birth defects), it might lead them to be at risk of alcoholism and alcohol abuse. Pre-natal exposure makes juveniles more attracted to alcohol and more likely to pay attention to peers that are drinking, leading to more exposure and more reinforcement of unsafe behaviors. But moreover, keeping adolescents away from alcohol also helps tone down their behavior as adults, even if you did slip up during pregnancy, so parenting is also key for 'at risk' teens.

And, of course, if you are a heavy drinker, you might be able to pin it all on Mom. I mean, is she sure she didn't have a couple glasses of wine while you were developing? I bet it's all her fault.

Amber M. Eade, Paul R. Sheehe, Juan C. Molina, Norman E. Spear, Lisa M. Youngentob, Steven L. Youngentob (2009). The consequence of fetal ethanol exposure and adolescent odor re-exposure on the response to ethanol odor in adolescent and adult rats Behavioral and Brain Functions DOI: 10.1186/1744-9081-5-3


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