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Proper Parenting Can Neutralize Genetic Predisposition for Substance Abuse

According to a recent study by scientists from the University of Georgia, proper parenting can help neutralize a particular genetic risk that makes a young individual more likely to use drugs or alcohol. The findings of the said research were published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. This is the first study that examines a group of young individuals over time to find out the how the combination of the genetic risk factor with a child’s environment would influence his behavior.

“We found that involved and supportive parenting can completely override the effects of a genetic risk for substance abuse,” says co-author Gene Brody of the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences. “It is a very encouraging finding that shows the power of parenting.”

Brody and his team focused on the gene, 5HTT, which is associated with the transport of serotonin, a brain chemical. Most people have two copies of the gene’s longer version. Those who have one or two of the shorter one have been found to be more likely to consume alcohol and drugs according to studies. These individuals are also at a higher risk of engaging in impulsive behavior.

The study was composed of an interview with 253 African-American families living in rural Georgia. The researchers also collected saliva samples from the parents and youth for genetic testing. Among those found with two copies of the long gene, the use of substances was found to be low among youth aged 11 years old but the rate increased as they grew older. “By age 14, 21 percent of the youth had smoked cigarettes, 42 percent had used alcohol, five percent drank heavily and five percent had used marijuana.”

For those with the genetic risk factor, on the other hand, the young individuals who did not receive sufficient levels of supportive parenting “increased their substance use at rate three times higher than youth with high levels of parental support.”

According to co-author Research professor Steven Beach of the UGA Institute for Behavioral Research, the effect of the genetic risk factors among children who are closely supervised by their parents was next to none. “With this study and previous studies looking at environmental risk factors such as poverty, we’re finding that in many cases, the best way to help children is to help families become more resilient.”

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