Individuals with alcohol use disorders (AUDs) have deficits in emotional processing as well as atypical function and structure in brain regions important for affective regulation. These symptoms are often associated with problems in executive functioning. Interestingly, even prior to heavy alcohol use, youth with a family history of alcoholism (FHP) are at greater risk for emotional problems and exhibit deficits in cognitive control compared to youth without a family history of alcoholism (FHN). Given that FHP youth are at much greater risk for developing an AUD than FHN youth, it is essential to clarify whether brain and behavior phenotypes related to affective processing and executive functioning may be premorbid risk factors for the development of AUDs in FHP youth. Thus, the goal of this study is to investigate brain function and behavior related to emotional processing in FHP youth, as well as examine their associations with executive functioning, prior to heavy alcohol use. Specifically, this research plan will investigate emotional processing and its association with cognitive functioning using behavioral measures, functional magnetic resonance imaging, and resting state functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging in FHP and FHN youth. By examining brain activity and behavior in FHP and FHN youth prior to heavy alcohol use, this study will provide insight into the neural and behavioral phenotypes associated with familial alcoholism, which may relate to the increased risk for developing AUDs. Understanding whether atypical emotional processing and associated deficits in cognitive control are present in FHP youth prior to heavy alcohol use will allow future research to establish prevention strategies aimed at reducing the development of AUDs.

Public Health Relevance

Youth with a family history of alcoholism are at greater risk for developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD) than their peers, which may be due to underlying differences in behavior and brain functioning even prior to heavy alcohol use. The goal of this project is to enhance understanding of the relationship between familial risk for alcoholism, emotional processing, and associated cognitive functioning. In the long-term, this will allow future research to develop specific strategies aimed at preventing the development of AUDs.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
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Health Services Research Review Subcommittee (AA)
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Bechtholt-Gompf, Anita
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Oregon Health and Science University
Other Basic Sciences
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Cservenka, Anita; Fair, Damien A; Nagel, Bonnie J (2014) Emotional processing and brain activity in youth at high risk for alcoholism. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 38:1912-23