When we call addiction a “family disease,” what are we really talking about?
Some researchers think there’s a genetic component to drug & alcohol addiction. NIDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, cites studies of siblings, twins and even adoptees showing nearly half of the risk of developing a substance use disorder depends on an individual’s genetic makeup.
Of course, that’s not a guarantee. In addition to genes, a person’s surroundings, personality, and experiences are all factors in whether or not someone engages in addictive behavior.
Like peer pressure.
While positive peer pressure exists (and is a good thing!), it’s also often regarded as one of the biggest risk factors for addiction. We have a natural tendency to emulate others … even when we see risky behaviors involving drugs like alcohol.
A recent study on soon-to-be mothers illustrates this all too well.
Partner Influence Seems To Determine Drinking During Pregnancy
For the study, researchers from New York’s University of Rochester teamed up with the Collaborative Initiative on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (CFASD), a global organization of researchers specializing in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. The team tracked 246 pregnant women in two locations in western Ukraine, a country bordering Russia on the Black Sea.
The women in the study all had either steady partners or were married. Over the course of their pregnancies, the women were polled on a variety of questions, from their satisfaction with their relationships to the alcohol and tobacco use of their partners. As their pregnancies continued into the third trimester, the women were asked about their own drinking and whether they were experiencing depression. After the women gave birth, the researchers assessed their infants’ mental and physical development at six months old.
Researchers discovered women who were unsatisfied with their relationships and had partners who smoke and drank more often were much more likely to have babies who were exposed to alcohol. Women who reported happiness with their relationship were less likely to feel depressed and drink during their pregnancies.
For the research team, the results suggested alcohol use during pregnancy is often driven by a partner’s actions, rather than a simple desire to drink. They may show a more useful avenue of address when warning mothers about the risk of alcohol during pregnancy. “The more we learn about these factors, the more we can reduce stigma around drinking during pregnancy and help in a way that’s empowering and meaningful,” said the study’s lead author, University of Rochester graduate student Carson Kautz-Turnbull in a press release.
The dangerous effects of alcohol use during pregnancy are well known. But an additional study from the University of Georgia (UGA) shines a light on another risk group for early alcohol exposure: children in the child welfare system.
Children in Welfare System Face Hurdles If Caregivers Drink
For this study, UGA researchers examined data from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect. A long-term look at children in the child welfare system, the longitudinal studies tracked children aged between 8 and 16 as they passed through the system, checking on them every four years and assigning them a score based on any trauma symptoms they had.
UGA researchers discovered that the children reported fewer trauma symptoms as they aged. However, children who had caregivers with alcohol use disorders had different outcomes. Instead of reporting fewer symptoms of trauma as they aged, children with caregivers who had alcohol use disorders reported higher rates of trauma symptoms.
Moreover, their trauma scores increased as they aged.
“By the time children in the child welfare system are 16 years old, those who had a caregiver with problem drinking have significantly higher rates of trauma symptoms than most,” said Orion Mowbray, PhD, lead author of the UGA study in a press release.
Mowbray also explained one of the unique difficulties caregivers in the child welfare system can experience when it comes to treatment: time. Alcohol use disorders require considerable time to be treated effectively, and sobriety is a lifetime commitment. Meanwhile, children who are in the child welfare system tend to only be there for a couple of years.
“The lack of effective treatment options for many caregivers with alcohol use problems may add a significant amount of stress and trauma to these children as they’re growing up,” Mowbray said.
Sober Living Is An Ideal Environment For Alcohol Recovery
Group sessions, 12 step programs, psychotherapy … these are all effective recovery tools for alcohol use disorders. They work even better when combined with a sober living environment.
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