Effects of prenatal alcohol exposure at school age. II. Attention and behavior

Neurotoxicol Teratol. 1991 Jul-Aug;13(4):369-76. doi: 10.1016/0892-0362(91)90085-b.


Alcohol, a potent teratogen, has been suggested as an etiologic agent in attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity (ADHD), which is often diagnosed in children with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and in children of alcoholics. We studied attentional and behavioral factors associated with diagnosis of this disorder in children selected from a predominantly low-income, black population who were tested as part of a longitudinal follow-up of children with prenatal alcohol exposure. Sixty-eight children with a mean age of 5 years 10 months, born to three groups of mothers, were assessed. These groups consisted of: a) women who reported not drinking during pregnancy (n = 21), b) women who reported drinking throughout pregnancy (n = 25), and c) women who reported drinking an equivalent amount but who stopped drinking after educational intervention during the second trimester (n = 22). Dimensions assessed included factors related to attention on a computerized task, impulsivity, and the presence of psychiatrically significant internalizing and externalizing behaviors. In addition, free play and mother-child interactions were video-taped, and evidence of overactive and noncompliant behaviors were noted. Hyperactivity and impulsive behavior were not evident. Results indicated that children exposed throughout pregnancy showed deficits in the ability to sustain attention and were more often described by teachers, although not by their mothers, as showing attentional and behavioral problems. Problems in both internalizing and externalizing behaviors also were noted by teachers. However, when current drinking was controlled, only externalizing behaviors remained different by group.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Attention / drug effects*
  • Child
  • Child Behavior / drug effects*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Ethanol / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*


  • Ethanol