Trajectories of Alcohol Use and Electrophysiological and Morphological Indices of Brain Development: Distinguishing Causes from Consequences


Address for correspondence: Dr. Shirley Y. Hill, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, 3811 O'Hara Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. Voice: 412-624-3505; fax: 412-624-3986.


Abstract: Alcoholism is a major public health problem. Patterns of drinking during adolescence can influence the likelihood of this outcome. Both environmental variation and familial/genetic susceptibility play important roles in this process. While there is some evidence to suggest that metabolic factors play a role in whether some individuals are protected from developing alcohol problems, there is substantial reason to look for cognitive factors that are associated with increased susceptibility. Developmental trajectories for information processing that can be reflected in P300 amplitude changes over time, as well as trajectories describing acquisition of postural control when compared in offspring from families with multiple cases of alcoholism or those with none or few, suggest that brain development provides a clue to why some individuals are more susceptible to becoming alcoholic. Finally, differences seen in amygdala volume between high- and low-risk adolescents suggest that functional differences seen in electrophysiological responding or neuropsychological test performance may have anatomical correlates.