Studies have shown that prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) is related to drinking problems during adulthood, but the level of prenatal exposure associated with young adults’ quantity and frequency of alcohol use and drinking problems has not yet been established.
The relation between PAE and offspring levels of alcohol use and alcohol abuse/dependency was examined in 608 22-year-olds. Mothers were recruited in early pregnancy and maternal alcohol use data were collected for each trimester of pregnancy. The offspring were assessed at multiple phases from birth to young adulthood.
The average daily volume of drinking was calculated based on a self-report questionnaire developed by the Maternal Health Practices and Child Development Project and alcohol abuse/dependence was assessed using the Diagnostic Interview Schedule-IV.
Exposure to one or more drinks/day during the first trimester of pregnancy was significantly related to increased levels of drinking at 22 years of age, controlling for other predictors of alcohol use. PAE was also related to two or more symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder, but not to a full diagnosis of young adult alcohol abuse/dependence. These results indicate that individuals exposed to as little as one drink per day during gestation are at risk of higher levels of drinking and more problems with alcohol by age 22.