Exposure to adversity at early age may increase susceptibility to mental disorders, says study

A group of researchers recentlyidentified a disturbing modification in the DNA of children with alcoholic parents. This change in DNA increased their susceptibility to mental health disorders later in life. The findings of

the study will be published in the journal Progress in Neuropsychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry in August 2019.

Two groups of children were chosen for the study – the first group comprised 50 children with parents with alcohol use disorder (AUD) and the second group, the control group, had 50 children who came from non-alcoholic families. The children from the first group had experienced high levels of stress during their early lives due to alcoholic parents. The kind of stress they experienced included violent, abusive fathers, mothers abandoning their homes and children, and domestic violence.

Early stress caused DNA methylation and hampered HPA function

It has been scientifically proved that exposure to hardships and difficulties during the early years of life may lead to severe biological effects on a child’s brain. This is due to a process called DNA methylation. During this process, the DNA molecule undergoes chemical modifications, which in turn, influences the working of the hypothalamus-pituitary axis (HPA). The HPA is an intricate set of connections between the pituitary glands, the hypothalamus, and the adrenal glands.

Explaining more about the HPA, lead author Dr Meera Purushottam, a consultant with the Department of Psychiatry, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), said that the HPA is one of the major neuroendocrine system of the human brain that controls reactions to stress, regulates digestion, mood and emotions, sexuality, immune system, and stored energy and its expenditure.

During the study, a stress test was administered on both the groups of children. Further, every ten minutes, their saliva was tested for cortisol – a hormone released during high levels of stress.

DNA changes increase susceptibility to mental disorders

Speaking on the results of the study, co-author Dr. Vivek Benegal, a professor at the Centre for Addiction Medicine at NIMHANS said that children experiencing high levels of stress from a young age had a restrained rise in cortisol levels when exposed to similar levels of stress later. On the other hand, in the control group, as expected, the level of cortisol spiked when the children were exposed to high levels of stress.

The findings also substantiated the hypothesis that exposure to difficulties in children with alcoholic parents, during an early age, led to low levels of cortisol secretion. Additionally, they also experienced increased site specific DNA methylation in a specific gene, which is also a serotonin transporter, named SLC6A4. Serotonin is an important chemical produced by the body to communicate between the neurons. This protein is also important for emotional well-being, hunger and appetite, memory and reasoning.

Another unique characteristic of this particular study was that it carried out a comprehensive evaluation of HPA function by estimating cortisol levels during stress. It estimated chemical changes in DNA due to early hardships. The study concluded that children with alcoholic parents had an altered HPA as well as some changes at the DNA level which might result in the development of mental health disorders in future.

Treatment for alcohol use disorder

Alcohol abuse not only causes physical and psychological harm to the user but its effect may also put their children at the risk of developing serious mental health complications later in life. Fortunately, it is possible to overcome alcohol abuse with the help of a medically supervised detox program.

If you or a loved one is battling an addiction to alcohol, and is looking for a reliable California detox retreats, then the California Detox Helpline can assist. We can connect you with the best and most effective detox programs offered by reliable, accredited and safe detox centers in California. Call our 24/7 helpline number 855-780-2495 or chat online with our treatment advisors to get complete information about the best rapid detox centers in California.