Children of mothers who drink alcohol during pregnancy may be at an increased risk of developing depression in late adolescence, according to new University of Bristol research. The study, which used data from 14,541 pregnant mothers in the 1990s, is published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
While previous research has suggested that babies exposed to alcohol in the womb have a higher risk of a variety of adverse outcomes, few studies have investigated the association with mental health problems in late adolescence.
Researchers from Bristol Medical School and the Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group, part of Bristol’s School of Psychological Science and the Medical Research Council (MRC) Integrative Epidemiology Unit, investigated whether the frequency mothers and their partners drank alcohol during pregnancy was associated with offspring depression at age 18.
Using data from Bristol’s Children of the 90s also known as the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC)—a longitudinal birth cohort that has tracked pregnant mothers, their partners and their offspring since the 1990s—the team analysed data from a sample of 14,541 pregnant mothers, comprising 4,191 mothers who had consumed alcohol between 18 and 32 weeks of their pregnancy, and diagnoses of depression at age 18 in their children. They also examined partners drinking. By including partners alcohol use (which is unlikely to have a direct biological effect on the developing fetus), the authors were able to examine if associations were likely to be causal, or due to shared confounding factors between parents.
The study found that children whose mothers consumed alcohol at 18 weeks pregnant may have up to a 17 percent higher risk of depression at age 18 compared to those mothers who did not drink alcohol. However, there was little evidence of any association between partner drinking and offspring depression in adolescence. This suggests that the association seen with maternal drinking may be causal, rather than due to confounding by other factors (which might be expected to be similar between mothers and their partners).
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