Alcoholism & Addiction

Study Examines Potential for Adult Alcohol Disorders When Babies Are Exposed to Alcohol in Utero

Pregnant women face a long list of things to avoid in order to protect the well-being of their unborn child. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy is known to lead to certain developmental problems and women are strongly advised against it. Now, researchers are examining the likelihood that maternal drinking can lead to alcohol problems in adulthood.

Early reports out of such research indicate that such exposure to alcohol is an independent contributor to the likelihood of alcohol consumption by the age of 14. In addition, this consumption can also significantly impact the development of alcohol disorders by the age of 21.

Alati, Al Mamun, Williams, O’Callaghan, Najman, and Bor interviewed 7,223 mothers. Each of these women had their first antenatal visit at Mater Misericordiae Hospital in Brisbane, Australia between 1981 and 1984. Over the course of 21 years, five follow-up visits were completed with 2,555 mother and child pairs or 35.4 percent of the original sample.

At each interview, mothers were asked to report on the quantity of alcohol they had consumed at different stages of pregnancy. They were also asked about the amount they were consuming at the time of the interview. According to results, 25 percent of the offspring met the DSM-IV criteria for a lifetime diagnosis of alcohol disorders by age 21.

Another 13 percent reported the disorder before the age of 18 and 12 percent reported the onset of an alcohol disorder between the ages of 18 and 21. Further analysis of the data collected indicate that mothers who consumed more than two glasses of alcohol during early pregnancy, at an average of 18 weeks gestation, were 2.47 times more likely to have a child with early onset alcohol disorder.

This same mother was 2.04 times more likely to have a child with late onset alcohol disorder compared to mothers who consumed two or fewer glasses of alcohol during pregnancy. The overall association was stronger for early onset alcohol disorders than for late onset.

A number of limitations were identified with this study, not the least of which was the fact that researchers asked participants the quantity of alcohol they consumed without specifying a measurement for the standard single drink. Researchers based their assumption on a 10gram drink, but respondents could have had varying quantities.

Even with glaring limitations, this study still presents valuable information in regards to the possibility that alcohol exposure for a fetus could be predictive of future alcohol disorders. Additional research should be done into this area. The stigma now associated with drinking while pregnant could limit further research, but its value would be far-reaching.


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