An examination of the relationship between a lifetime history of alcohol dependence (AD) and timing of first childbirth across reproductive development has found that AD in women is associated with delayed reproduction.
The study will be published in the November issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
"Reproductive dysfunctions include a range of menstrual disorders, sexual dysfunctions, and pregnancy complications that include spontaneous abortion or miscarriage," said Mary Waldron, assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine and corresponding author for the study.
"Teenagers who drink tend to have disruptions in their menstrual cycle as well as unplanned pregnancies," Waldron added.
These complications may become more pronounced with time, added Sharon C. Wilsnack, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor in the department of clinical neuroscience at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences.
"Higher rates of reproductive dysfunction in adult women may reflect the cumulative effects of longer exposure to alcohol for older women than for female adolescents," she said.
For this study, Waldron and her colleagues analyzed data gathered on two groups of Australian twins born between 1893-1964 (3,634 female and 1,880 male twins) and 1964-1971 (3,381 female and 2,748 male twins). Control variables included socio-demographic characteristics, regular smoking, history of psychopathology, and family and childhood risks.
Results indicate delayed reproductive onset among alcoholic women in both groups, with little to no effect observed among men.
"To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine alcohol's effects on reproductive onset across reproductive development. Most previous research has examined risks to teens or adults but not both. Our findings highlight a risk associated with AD in women that is not widely recognized - a risk that has assumed increasing importance given the increased rates of alcohol misuse by women and particularly young women," said Waldron.
Both Waldron and Wilsnack said the smaller effects on reproduction found among men may be due to the fact that women reach higher blood alcohol concentrations than men while consuming similar amounts of alcohol - which may contribute to a stronger link between drinking and reproductive problems in women.