Psychological and Brain Sciences Brown Bag Seminar: Lane Strathearn, Pediatrics
The Neurobiology of Maternal Addiction: What's attachment got to do with it?
Lane Strathearn, Professor and Director, Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, Stead Family Department of Pediatrics, University of Iowa
Abstract: Maternal addiction constitutes a major public health problem, and is a significant threat to mothering, with high rates of child abuse, neglect, and foster care placement. Our prior studies have shown that infant face cues activate dopamine-associated brain reward regions, similar to drugs of abuse. Mothers with unresolved attachment trauma—a condition seen almost universally in our sample of substance abusing mothers—also have a blunted amygdala response when viewing their own infant’s crying face. Our most recent functional MRI study shows that mothers with addictions demonstrate reduced activation of reward regions when shown reward-related cues of their own infants, in both dopamine- and oxytocin-innervated regions including the hypothalamus, ventral striatum, and ventromedial prefrontal cortex. This study was the first to demonstrate that mothers with addictions show reduced activation in these key reward regions of the brain. We hypothesize that early attachment trauma may have an adverse effect on brain reward processing, leading to an increased vulnerability to addiction.