A new study has revealed that children born to moms who drank during their pregnancy have an increased risk of drinking problems by the time they are 21.
Dr. James Garbutt, a professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said, "We know about the detrimental effects of alcohol during pregnancy on brain development and some physical malformations, but this is one of the best studies showing that alcohol use itself may be another risk factor. It's another reason not to drink during pregnancy."
The study was conducted by Australian researchers and was published in the September issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.
The study, led by Rosa Alati, from the University of Queensland, Herston, Australia, and her colleagues collected data on alcohol abuse for over 2,100 people who were followed from birth to age 21.
In addition the participants' mothers were asked how often and how much they drank at any given time.
The researchers found that at 21 years of age, 25 percent of the children had some kind of alcohol problem. 13 percent of these said that they developed the problem before they were 18, while 12 percent said they developed the problem between 18 and 21.
On analysis of the data it was found that children of mothers consumed more than three glasses of alcohol at any time during early pregnancy were often nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to develop an alcohol disorder before age 18 and over twice as likely to develop an alcohol problem between ages 18 and 21.
The researchers found that drinking during other stages of pregnancy, including late pregnancy, also increased the risk.
Alati's group concluded "Our findings support a biological contribution to the origin of alcohol disorders and suggest that greater attention should be given to the role of the programming effect of in utero alcohol exposure to the development of alcohol disorders in adulthood."
Dr. Redford Williams, the director of the Behavioral Medicine Research Center and a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University said, "This paper makes a convincing case that increased maternal alcohol consumption, especially early in pregnancy, is likely a cause of alcohol problems in young adulthood."
Williams said that it is known that increased maternal alcohol use is associated with altered brain development in the fetus, as well as fetal alcohol syndrome in newborns.
Williams added, "The major potential problem in interpreting these findings is the possibility, unexamined in this study, that genetic factors that influence maternal drinking may also be present in the offspring and contribute -- in addition to, or via, an interaction with the increased exposure to alcohol to the offspring's drinking behavior at age 21,".
However he said, "Whatever the mechanism eventually turns out to be, these findings make a strong case for not drinking during pregnancy."