Drinking While Pregnant May Alter Child's Brain

TUESDAY July 24, 2007 -- Being exposed to alcohol before birth may lead to behavioral problems later on, U.S. researchers report.

Heavy prenatal alcohol exposure does not always lead to fetal alcohol syndrome, noted a team reporting in the August issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. In some cases, it can cause cognitive and behavioral problems without the facial features characteristic of fetal alcohol syndrome.

In their study, researchers at San Diego State University (SDSU) examined 22 children and adolescents (ages 8 to 18 years) -- 13 with and 9 without histories of heavy prenatal alcohol exposure. The participants were part of a larger study at the Center for Behavioral Teratology, SDSU.

The participants who were exposed to heavy alcohol before birth had altered responses in the frontal-striatal areas of the brain.

"We found two regions within the prefrontal cortex where the youth with alcohol-exposure histories had increased brain activation and one area in the subcortex (called the caudate nucleus) where the alcohol-exposed youth had decreased brain activation," study co-author Susanna L. Fryer, a graduate student in the SDSU/University of California, San Diego, joint doctoral program in clinical psychology, said in a prepared statement.

These brain regions are thought to be involved with the inhibition of behavior. In fact, the participants with alcohol exposure were also at greater risk for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other psychiatric diseases linked with poor control of inhibition.

"Prenatal alcohol exposure can cause damage to the brain that results in significant problems with regulating behavior and optimal thinking and learning," Fryer said.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have more about disorders related to prenatal alcohol exposure.

Posted: July 2007


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