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A Focused Mind

Don't be boxed in by inattention!

Dr. Kacir's ADHD Blog


ADHD, Executive Function and Alcohol

Posted on November 30, 2010 at 6:20 PM
ADHD is considered a disorder of "executive function."  I generally simplify it and describe this function as being a matter of prioritizing attention.  That is, does the brain keep paying attention to what it is doing, or does it shift its focus to a distraction?  The psychological literature, on the other hand, looks at the bigger picture and lists four components of executive function: verbal working memory, non-verbal working memory, self regulation and generativity.  Verbal working memory consists of the words with which we describe our present situation.  (Some psychologists call this "self-talk.")  Non-verbal working memory involves all the other "stuff" we have to remember about similar situations: how close to stand, how loud to talk, where to look, etc.  Self-regulation involves our "inner workings." How deeply do we need to breathe?  Should our heart beat fast or slow?  Do we need extra sugar in our blood?  How awake do we feel?  Generativity is a fancy word that summarizes what we do with all the other elements-- what plan will we follow in the situation we face?
What, you may ask, does this have to do with alcohol?  Well, I just read an article about scientists who did special EEG testing on 11-year-old children whose mothers admitted to binge drinking during their pregnancies.  The testing measured brain activity in different parts of the brain while these kids performed certain tasks and compared these measurements to those of other 11-year-olds whose mothers did not drink.  Both groups of kids were able to form memories well, but the children who had been exposed to alcohol in the womb had more difficulty retrieving those memories later (verbal and non-verbal working memory).  They also had more trouble stopping an automatic response to triggers when they were instructed not to respond (self regulation) and were slower at shifting their attention to one task from another as well as having difficulty describing the meaning of a given task (generativity).
I was intrigued by the parallels between the problems of ADHD and those demonstrated in this study.  A brain exposed to alcohol before birth might have changes that mimic those in the developing brain with ADHD.

Categories: ADHD and executive function

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