Imprinting and opiate addiction - Tips From Other Journals

Date: March, 1991

Imprinting is a process in which a specific memory is engraved during a critical period in early life and leads to certain behaviors in later life. This process has been well documented in animals but has not been widely studied in humans. It has been suggested, however, that certain self-destructive behaviors, such as suicide and drug addiction, might result in part from imprinting at birth. Jacobson and colleagues examined the birth records of opiate addicts to determine whether their addiction stemmed partly from imprinting during exposure to drugs their mothers received during labor.

The investigators reviewed the records of 139 opiate addicts and 230 nonaddicted siblings born in Stockholm between 1945 and 1966 to determine if perinatal exposure to opiates, barbiturates and nitrous oxide differed between the two groups. A significantly greater proportion of the addicts had been exposed to opiates or barbiturates, or both, compared with their nonaddicted siblings. Addicts had also been exposed to nitrous oxide for longer periods and more often than their siblings. When factors such as duration of labor, asphyxia, birth weight, meconium stained amniotic fluid and birth order were controlled for, the relative risk of opiate addiction increased with the number of administrations of any of the three drugs. When addicts were compared with their siblings, the estimawted relative risk was 4.7 for three drug administrations.

The authors conclude that the administration of opiates, barbiturates and nitrous oxide during labor may put neonates at increased risk of opiawte addiction in adulthood. The authors postulate that a propensity for opiate use is imprinted on some people at birth. If the findings of this study are verified, the possible long-term effects of depressant or sedative drugs used for control of pain during delivery will need to be considered. (British Medical Journal, November 10, 1990, vol. 301, p. 1067.)

COPYRIGHT 1991 American Academy of Family PhysiciansCOPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

© 2006,, All Rights Reserved.