It is widely known that a range of factors may influence someone’s risk of becoming addicted to drugs. Genetics, environment, addiction in the family, propensity for risk-taking, age at which someone begins experimenting, and peer groups have all been shown to increase one’s risk of become an addict. A new study out of King’s College London has revealed yet another risk factor.
Smoking While Pregnant- A Setup for a Lifetime Problem
New research has shown that when mothers smoke during pregnancy, their children may be significantly more likely to engage in substance use in adolescence, and at an earlier age than their counterparts. Risk was increased for tobacco smoking, as well as alcohol and cannabis use. This is due, apparently, to changes in the infant’s genes while still in the womb as a result of the prenatal nicotine exposure. When a mother smokes while pregnant, the nicotine (and other harmful chemicals in cigarettes) filters through their bloodstream, which is then filtered through the womb, exposing the infant to the drug. The scientists who ran the study showed data that revealed changes in “DNA methylation” in infants whose mothers smoked during pregnancy, which basically means that there was deficiencies in how their genes were regulated and developed- changes in the way genes are switched “on and off”. DNA methylation changes were seen in genes responsible for brain development, particularly regions responsible for drug-seeking behaviors and risk for addiction. The study also indicated the importance of genetic factors, meaning parents with substance abuse issues pass certain genetic susceptibilities to their offspring. The researchers noted that while these findings were significant, they don’t imply causation, and further studies will need to replicate these results and expand on them in order to be able to draw any causal conclusions. A wide range of factors can influence whether one becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, and the balance of these factors is what ultimately determines someone’s risk. However, it is important to continue this research and search for the interlocking keys that create addicts, so that hopefully one day we are able to minimize people’s risk from an early age. While it is well known that smoking while pregnant can increase the risk of birth defects, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), premature birth, and miscarriage, the information that the child is also predisposed to one of the deadliest epidemics that our nation has ever seen, addiction, is new. Hopefully these study results will be incorporated into education and prevention programs, and that more mothers think twice before lighting up while pregnant.
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