Child abuse and neglect leave their marks on the brain, explains the Harvard Mental Health Letter

Harvard Mental Health Letter
Published: June, 2005

Researchers are looking for ways to prevent and reverse the harm. Rat pups from a genetically anx¬ious strain respond much better to stress as adults if they are adopted by unusually attentive foster mothers. In a strain of rats sensitive to alcohol, the risk of addiction is increased by early separation from their mothers. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibi¬tors (Prozac and others) may help, says the Harvard Mental Health Letter; other promising drugs include mifepristone (RU-486) and propranolol (Inderal). For post¬-traumatic stress disorder, psychological treatment can retrain the brain's response to traumatic memories.

Choice of treatment may depend on the nature of the childhood experience. Mistreatment does not cause the same brain changes in everyone. Individual genetic characteristics are important. The kind of stress—parental loss, neglect, or abuse—may also make a difference.

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