Early exposure to anaesthetics in life may make adolescents more susceptible to developing alcohol use disorder (AUD), warn researchers.
Anaesthetics are commonly used drugs in the healthcare field and are often administered to children to induce unconsciousness and immobility during surgeries.
For the findings, published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical Experimental Research, the research team examined whether exposure to anesthetics during adolescence could affect a person”s response to alcohol in adulthood, especially the development of AUD.
Researchers discovered that anaesthetic exposure during adolescence may be an environmental risk factor that leads to an increased susceptibility to developing AUD later in life.
Although not all adolescents who drink alcohol develop AUDs, the research team said it”s important to identify risk factors that contribute to an increased susceptibility to alcohol abuse
“This is highly concerning. Given that although the age of initiation and subsequent binging during adolescence are linked to alcoholism later in life, apart from stress, it was not clear what other environmental factors may play a role,” said study author David Werner from Binghamton University, New York in the US.
During the study, researchers exposed early-adolescent male rats to isoflurane, a general anaesthetic, in short durations and tested them on various alcohol-induced behaviours later in adolescence or adulthood.
The team found that exposure to anaesthetics in adolescence had extremely similar behavioural and neural effects as adolescent chronic alcohol exposure.
In the study, the adolescent rats exposed to isoflurane had a decreased sensitivity to the negative effects of alcohol, such as its aversive, sedative and socially suppressive effects.
These rats also showed an increase in voluntary alcohol consumption and cognitive impairment, and certain behaviours continued into adulthood after their initial anaesthetic exposure.
These results further suggest that exposure to anaesthetics during adolescence, while in some cases is necessary, may have unintended consequences that incubate over time.
“Apart from infancy to early childhood, adolescence can be considered the most critical developmental stage following birth,” Werner said.