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Neurotoxicol Teratol. 2016 May-Jun;55:8-15. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2016 Mar 17.

Prenatal alcohol and other early childhood adverse exposures: Direct and indirect pathways to adolescent drinking.

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University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, United States. Electronic address:
University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, United States.
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, United States.


We examined direct and indirect pathways between adverse environmental exposures during gestation and childhood and drinking in mid-adolescence. Mothers and their offspring (n=917 mother/child dyads) were followed prospectively from second trimester to a 16-year follow-up assessment. Interim assessments occurred at delivery, 6, 10, and 14years. Adverse environmental factors included gestational exposures to alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana, exposures to childhood maltreatment and violence, maternal psychological symptoms, parenting practices, economic and home environments, and demographic characteristics of the mother and child. Indirect effects of early child behavioral characteristics including externalizing, internalizing activity, attention, and impulsivity were also examined. Polytomous logistic regression analyses were used to evaluate direct effects of adverse environmental exposures with level of adolescent drinking. Structural equation modeling (SEM) was applied to simultaneously estimate the relation between early adversity variables, childhood characteristics, and drinking level at age 16 while controlling for significant covariates. Level of drinking among the adolescent offspring was directly predicted by prenatal exposure to alcohol, less parental strictness, and exposures to maltreatment and violence during childhood. Whites and offspring with older mothers were more likely to drink at higher levels. There was a significant indirect effect between childhood exposure to violence and adolescent drinking via childhood externalizing behavior problems. All other hypothesized indirect pathways were not significant. Thus most of the early adversity measures directly predicted adolescent drinking and did not operate via childhood behavioral dysregulation characteristics. These results highlight the importance of adverse environmental exposures on pathways to adolescent drinking.


Adolescence; Alcohol use; Child maltreatment; Parenting; Prenatal exposure; Violence

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