Info Processing Appears Disrupted in ACOAs

Article excerpt

CHICAGO -- Adult children of alcoholics overestimate and overrespond to auditory stimuli, reported Dr. Steven L. Schandler, Ph.D., during a poster presentation at the annual meeting of the Society for Psychophysiological Research.

Additionally, those responses appear powerful enough to resist habituation, said Dr. Schandler, chief of the addiction research laboratory, Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, Long Beach, Calif.

Dr. Schandler said the results support the hypothesis that information processing in adult children of alcoholics (ACOAs) is disrupted by hyperarousal and reduced stimulus accommodation in the attention and orienting systems located in the midbrain. Those disruptions result in a reduced ability to select and encode relevant information and may account for the high incidence of attention disorders in children born to alcoholic parents.

Dr. Schandler said that consuming alcohol may actually facilitate ACOAs' information processing by depressing mesencephalic activity, thus resulting in normalization of attention and orienting.

Dr. Schandler and his colleagues at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., recently studied the effect of a small alcohol dose on attention and orienting during various startle paradigms. Mildly intoxicated ACOAs showed improved visuospatial learning (faster learning and fewer errors), and more normal attention and orienting responsesthan they did while sober.

"If alcohol serves to normalize stimulus augmentation in ACOAs, then it would explain both why children of alcoholics remain at risk for alcoholism regardless of the environment in which they develop and why alcohol abuse is so resistant to treatment regardless of previous consequences or present interventions." Dr. Schandler told this newspaper.

The latest experiment examined the effect of various acoustic stimuli on 30 ACOAs and 30 adults who were not children of alcoholics (NACOA). ACOA status was defined as the presence of alcohol problems and treatment in one biologic parent of the participant, one grandparent, and at least one other blood relative. …