Association of prenatal alcohol exposure with behavioral and learning problems in early adolescence

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 1997 Sep;36(9):1187-94. doi: 10.1097/00004583-199709000-00010.


Objective: To examine the association of moderate levels of prenatal alcohol exposure with learning and behavior in early adolescence.

Method: A population-based cohort of 464 children were followed longitudinally from birth to age 14 years. Alcohol exposure was assessed via in-depth maternal self-report in the fifth month of pregnancy. At age 14, learning and behavior were assessed with multiple measures, tapping parent, teenager, and psychologist viewpoints, drawn from adolescent laboratory examination and parent phone interview. The underlying pattern of association between prenatal alcohol and adolescent outcome was detected using partial least-squares statistical techniques; confounding factors were dealt with by regression methods.

Results: Analyses revealed a statistically significant, subtle relationship between greater prenatal alcohol use and increased behavior/learning difficulties during adolescence, even after accounting for other developmental influences. "Binge" maternal drinking and exposure early in pregnancy were associated with a profile of adolescent antisocial behavior, school problems, and self-perceived learning difficulties.

Conclusions: Fetal alcohol exposure (even at "social drinking" levels) is associated with developmental difficulties in adolescence that are consistent with problems seen earlier in life. Clinicians should understand the potential role prenatal alcohol exposure plays in behavioral and cognitive problems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Learning Disabilities / etiology*
  • Least-Squares Analysis
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sampling Studies
  • Social Behavior Disorders / etiology*