Alcohol's Fetal Harm Lasts a Lifetime
Bower, Bruce, Science News
Alcohol's fetal harm lasts a lifetime
Pregnant women who abuse alcohol may hand down a lifetime legacy of disabling mental and behavioral problems to their offspring, according to the first systematic study of the long-term consequences of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).
Adolescents and adults assigned a diagnosis of FAS during childhood often appear alert and verbal, but they cannot live independently, hold down jobs or succeed at school because of poor concentration, social withdrawal, impulsiveness, report psychologist Ann P. Streissguth of the University of Washington in Seattle and her colleagues. Mental retardation also persists among a majority of those with FAS, they point out. However, the debilitating behavioral problems plague those with normal and low IQs alike.
FAS, a mix of physical, mental and behavioral abnormalities afflicting many babies born to mothers who drink heavily during pregnancy, represents the leading known cause of mental retardation in the United States.
"[FAS] is not just a childhood disorder," Streissguth's team writes in the April 17 JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION. "There is a predictable long-term progression of the disorder into adulthood."
The researchers studied 38 males and 23 females ranging in age from 12 to 40 diagnosis before age 12; the other 18 had prior diagnoses of "possible fetal alcohol effects. …