Children Of Alcoholics Drink Less, But Are More Sensitive To Effects When They Do — In Mice At Least

Alcoholic
The offspring of mice chronically-exposed to alcohol didn't find alcohol as appealing. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Many people out there are in denial about the influence their parents had on them. It’s usually up to their siblings, if they have any, to point such things out, saying “Wow, that’s something dad would say.” It’s not only the small, random things that we adopt from our parents, though. A new study published in the journal PLOS ONE finds that, in mice at least, adult males that were chronically exposed to alcohol bred offspring that were less likely to consume alcohol, while being more sensitive to its effects.

“We examined whether a father’s exposure to alcohol could alter genes he passed down to his children,” said Dr. Gregg Homanics, professor of anesthesiology, and pharmacology and chemical biology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, in a press release. “Rather than mutation of the genetic sequence, environmental factors might lead to changes that modify the activity of a gene, which is called epigenetics.”

The study showed that it’s possible for a father’s alcohol consumption to affect “otherwise normal genes” in their offspring, subsequently influencing how they will eventually consume alcohol. The weird part is that there was no effect on female offspring.

For their study, Homanics and his team exposed male mice to ethanol vapor over the course of five weeks. Their blood alcohol content was maintained at a level slightly higher than the legal limit for driving. After mating, the researchers found that mice whose sires were exposed to alcohol tended to stay away from the alcohol when it was provided, and were more likely to choose alcohol. On the occasions that they consumed it, they experienced the typical effects of alcohol on motor function and anxiety.

“We suspected that the offspring of alcohol-exposed sires would have an enhanced taste for alcohol, which seems to be the pattern for humans,” Andrey Finegersh, a doctoral student at the university, said in the release. “Whether the unexpected reduction in alcohol drinking that was observed was due to differences between species or the specific drinking model that was tested was unclear.”

It’s a common belief that children will grow up to be alcoholics if their parents are. If the findings of this study are true, then the chances a kid will have substance abuse problems may be more a product of growing up with their alcoholic parent than being prone to it from birth. Incidentally, male offspring born to cocaine-addicted mice were also less likely to consume the drug when exposed to it.

 

Source: Finegersh A, Homanics G, et al. PLOS ONE. 2014. 

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