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Bringing up boozers - Does the mere smell of alcohol turn children into drinkers?

点击量:   时间:2017-11-02 02:02:05

By Peter Aldhous Philadelphia CHILDREN of heavy drinkers may be primed to follow their parents’ example from the first few months of life, suggest researchers in Philadelphia. They have found that babies whose parents are potential alcoholics spend more time mouthing toys with a whiff of alcohol than those with no smell. Julie Mennella and Gary Beauchamp of the Monell Chemical Senses Center gave 62 breast-feeding mothers and their partners standard questionnaires designed to identify drinkers who are at risk of becoming alcoholics. About 35 per cent of the fathers and 19 per cent of the mothers were picked out as having a potential drink problem. The infants, ranging in age from 6 to 13 months, were given a selection of red plastic toys to play with. The toys had a handle that was easy to grasp and a perforated base. Inside each toy was a cotton wool ball dosed with distilled water, ethanol or vanilla. In the latest issue of Chemical Senses (vol 23, p 11), Mennella and Beauchamp report that children from homes where one or both parents were at risk for alcoholism mouthed the drink-laced toy more than the other children. This wasn’t the case for the unscented toy, nor the toy dosed with vanilla—an odour which is chemically similar to ethanol. The effect seems to be caused by a general preference for familiar odours, as infants whose mothers frequently used vanilla-scented air fresheners or other products showed more interest in the vanilla-dosed toy. But many questions remain unanswered, says Mennella. For instance, the study did not reveal whether the sex of the drinking parent influenced the results. “Women who drink tend to live with men who drink heavily,” she says. She also stresses that a range of genetic and social factors may contribute to a familial tendency towards alcoholism. To further investigate the effects of the early experience of odour, Mennella is starting a study of four and five-year-old children. She hopes to find out whether those with heavy-drinking parents have unusually positive emotional responses to the smell of alcohol. The latest animal research provides a further hint that sniffing alcohol early in life may be the start of some people’s drink problem. In a paper due to appear next month in the journal Alcohol, researchers led by Norman Spear of Binghamton University in New York say that rats reared in cages with ethanol-scented litter have a greater liking for alcohol after they are weaned than those raised away from the smell of drink. “They show a preference,