Neuroscientists at the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions have just discovered a link between prenatal alcohol exposure and an increased risk for addictions in adulthood. According to their research, fetuses exposed to alcohol in the womb experience permanent changes to the reward system in their brain, which make them more sensitive to the effects of drugs later in life.
Endocannabinoids—cannabis-like chemicals that are produced in the brain itself—are at the center of the research, because of their role in increasing the brain’s susceptibility to addiction. Maternal drinking during pregnancy is believed to affect the unborn baby’s endocannabinoids by weakening dopamine neurons—involved in addictive behaviours—which can cause issues that surface later in childhood and continue throughout the affected child’s adult life.
Understanding this impact may allow neuroscientists to develop drug therapies and other methods to counter the negative consequences associated with prenatal alcohol exposure. Currently there is no cure for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), a condition caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy, which can trigger mental health issues (including depression and anxiety) as well as impulse-control issues.
According to The Canada Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Research Network (CanFASD), “The safest choice for a woman who is pregnant or planning to become pregnant is not to drink alcohol.”