Drinking while Pregnant Makes Bad Kids

Alcohol consumption during first trimester linked to mental health issues

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Despite warnings from experts, many women drink at some point during their pregnancy. Now, a new study shows that mothers who drink while pregnant put their children at a greater risk of developing a serious behavioral disorder.

Even though women are warned not to drink while pregnant, a recent national survey found that almost 30% of women drank alcohol at some point during their pregnancy. About one-fourth of women drank during the first trimester. University of Pittsburgh researchers found that teens who were exposed to one or more drinks per day during pregnancy were three times more likely to be diagnosed with conduct disorder.

dailyRx Insight: Don't drink alcohol if you are pregnant.

Women who drink heavily while pregnant put their babies at risk of fetal alcohol syndrome, a disease that can stunt growth and the development of the central nervous system. Thankfully, most women who drink alcohol while pregnant only do so lightly. However, these women should still be aware that their baby could have developmental problems such as aggression towards people and animals, destroying property, lying, stealing, and breaking serious rules.

The researchers cannot say that being exposed to alcohol during pregnancy directly causes conduct disorder, but they did see that many teens with the disorder were born to mothers who drank at least one drink per day during the first trimester of pregnancy.

For their research, Cynthia A. Larkby and colleagues studied almost 600 teens and their mothers or caretakers (50 percent white and 50 percent African-Ameriacn). Over the past three decades, the researchers examined the effects of being exposed to alcohol before birth. They evaluated mothers at four and seven months of pregnancy, then evaluated mothers and their children at eight months and 18 months after birth. The mothers and children continued to be evaluated at three, six, 10, 14, and 16 years after birth.

The researchers came to their conclusions by studying how much and how often mothers drank during pregnancy, and comparing those drinking patterns to the rates of conduct behavior among the children.

Conduct disorder is estimated to affect between 2%-6% of children under the age of 18, with boys being three to four times more likely to be affected. As a child with conduct disorder grows into an adult, the same behaviors would be classifed as anti-social personality disorder. In conduct disorder, children display repetitive behaviors of aggression, cruelty towards people and animals, lack of empathy, and other destructive behaviors like lying, truancy, vandalism, and theft. Causation is unclear, although it has been associated with child abuse, genetic defects, dysfunctional family units, parental substance abuse, and low socioeconomic status. Treatment is most successful with family involvement and restructuring the home environment into a positive place for development. Medications for depression (Prozac®, Zoloft®, Lexapro®, Paxil®, Celexa®) and ADHD (ex. Concerta®, Ritalin®, Strattera®) can be effective, as those conditions often occur with conduct disorder. Talk therapy and behavioral modification have also been effective.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 22, 2011
Last Updated:
March 26, 2011