Background: Prenatal alcohol exposure has been found to be associated with adverse physical and mental health outcomes in postnatal life, but the evidence is equivocal as to whether such exposure increases the risk of subsequent alcohol use in the offspring. We systematically reviewed the literature on the association between prenatal alcohol exposure and subsequent alcohol use in the offspring.
Methods: Relevant primary studies were identified via systematic search of PubMed/Medline, SCOPUS, EMBASE and Psych-INFO databases. Articles were also retrieved by reviewing reference lists of the identified studies. Literature searches did not have language and date limits but were restricted to human studies. The revised Newcastle-Ottawa Scale was used to evaluate the methodological quality of the studies included in this review. The protocol of this study was prospectively registered in the PROSPERO.
Results: Twelve observational studies, published between 1998 and 2020, were included in the final review. Eight studies (66.7%) reported an increased risk of alcohol use or increased level of alcohol drinking, two studies (16.7%) reported an increased risk of alcohol use disorder and one study (8.3%) reported an increased odds of alcohol sipping in offspring exposed to maternal prenatal alcohol use compared to non-exposed. However, one study (8.3%) reported insufficient statistical evidence for an association between prenatal alcohol exposure and offspring subsequent alcohol use. However, it should be noted that the large amount of variability across studies included in this review may limit more conclusive inference.
Conclusion: The findings of this review suggest a positive link between prenatal alcohol exposure and offspring's subsequent alcohol use. However, further mechanistic studies that allow stronger causal inference are warranted to further elucidate specific causal pathways.
Keywords: Alcohol use; Alcohol use initiation; Offspring; Prenatal; Systematic review.
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