New research published in the Journal Of Neuroscience is offering insight into the exact mechanisms of the brain which cause prenatal alcohol exposure to increase a likelihood of addiction later on. Researchers found that prenatal alcohol exposure causes a change in endocannabinoids, which are chemicals in the brain associated with numerous processes. Endocannabinoids change the way they affect another brain chemical, dopamine, which is a key component in the neurobiology of addiction. The researchers found that the way the endocannabinoids interact with the brain when there is alcohol exposure and when there isn’t alcohol exposure is different. Specifically, the effect on the dopamine neurons is that they become more sensitive to the effect of substances like alcohol. Dopamine production is what creates tolerance in fully developed alcoholism. When someone grows tolerant of alcohol it means they need more alcohol in order to achieve the same or a greater level of intoxication. In the brain, it means the same amount of alcohol is no longer creating the same amount of dopamine, which is required for creating the same amount of euphoria the brain is craving. Being more sensitive to alcohol and other substances means that the brain will require less of a substance to become addicted. Meaning the tolerance will be incredibly low. Prenatal alcohol exposure reduces the function of the endocannabinoid receptors, which then reduces the effect of the endocannabinoids on the dopamine neurons. Instead of weakening the excitatory synapses on the dopamine neurons as they endocannabinoids are supposed to, cause, the excitatory synapses are strengthened, creating a greater risk for addiction.

There is little to no longitudinal research to indicate that prenatal drug and alcohol exposure does in fact lead to addiction. A growing problem across the US in light of the opioid epidemic is neonatal withdrawal or neonatal abstinence syndrome, called NAS. Babies are born into withdrawal from opiates that they had become addicted to through their mothers’ use. Research has found that birth defects and developmental problems are mostly caused by prenatal alcohol exposure. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders create a wide range of problems in infancy and childhood, which can lead to developmental problems through adolescence as well. Due to the way alcohol exposure affects the brain, a number of mental health issues having to do with impulse and control can be created.


There are ways to help someone struggling with alcoholism through a pregnancy recover. Hired Power wants to help you and your family bring recovery home, and bring a newborn into a household of recovery. From intervention to creating an at-home treatment program, our recovery services are designed to support you every step of the way. Call us today for information: 714-559-3919


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