Teen-age girls, depression, alcoholism, and brain activity

  • Many patients diagnosed with depression have abnormalities in brain electrical activity.
  • Research has found that teen-age girls with a personal history of depression, not current depression, have enhanced alpha (slow wave) brain electrical activity.
  • Teen-age girls with a family history of alcoholism have enhanced beta (fast wave) activity.
  • The effects of a family history of alcoholism occurred in the left frontal brain; the effects of a personal history of depression occurred in the right frontal brain.

Numerous studies have documented abnormalities in brain electrical activity in patients diagnosed with depression. A study in the November issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research examines teen-age girls with a history of depression, rather than active depression, to see if they exhibit a subtle abnormality in brain function. The study also investigates if the presence of depression or alcoholism among family members exaggerates the abnormality in brain function.

"Researchers and clinicians have often raised the question of whether clinical depression is a state or a trait," said Lance O. Bauer, professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and lead author of the study. "That is, do patients with clinical depression possess normal brain function that only becomes abnormal when they are in a state of active depression? Or, alternatively, do these patients possess a subtle brain abnormality which is always present, in other words, a trait?"

Researchers examined 151 adolescent females, 15 to 20 years of age, divided into six categories: depressed or nondepressed, those with a positive or negative family history of alcoholism, and those with a positive or negative family history of depression. Of the total, 58 met Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - Third Edition, Revised (DSM-IIIR) criteria for a personal lifetime diagnosis


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