Heavy Prenatal Alcohol Linked to Behavioral Ills: In Adolescents, Skills for Academic Achievement and Social Interaction Were Found to Be Greatly Impaired

Article excerpt

SANTA BARBARA, CALIF. -- The psychiatric and behavioral consequences of heavy prenatal alcohol exposure on children are abundantly clear by mid-childhood and adolescence, based on studies presented at the annual meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism.

One study found that children exposed prenatally to alcohol were far more likely than their peers to meet the diagnostic criteria for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, tic disorders, and mood disorders by the time they were 8-14 years old.

Another study assessed social problem-solving skills and executive functioning in adolescents who were heavily exposed to alcohol in utero. Profound impairments were found in both types of skills, which are integral to academic achievement and social interaction.

The studies were conducted by researchers from the Center for Behavioral Teratology at San Diego State University and were presented in poster form.

Sarah N. Mattson, Ph.D., a senior author on the studies, said in an interview that "heavy alcohol exposure" was equivalent to about a case of beer or a fifth of hard liquor a day.

Susanna L. Fryer, a doctoral student at the center, explored childhood psychopathologies in 43 alcohol-exposed and 22 nonexposed children using structured interviews with primary caregivers.

"The difference within the ADHD category was, by far, the largest [group] effect observed," she concluded. By the numbers, 42 of 43 alcohol-exposed children met diagnostic criteria for ADHD, compared with 1 of 22 nonexposed children matched by age and socioeconomic status.

Nearly a third (13 of 43) of the alcohol-exposed children had oppositional defiant disorder, but just one nonexposed child met the criteria for that diagnosis. Mood disorders were found in eight alcohol-exposed children, tic disorders in four, and conduct disorder in five. No child in the control group met the diagnostic criteria for any of those illnesses. …