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J Stud Alcohol. 1998 Sep;59(5):533-43.

Prenatal alcohol exposure and family history of alcoholism in the etiology of adolescent alcohol problems.

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Department of Psychology, University of Washington School of Arts and Sciences & Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System, Seattle, USA.



To examine the relative importance of prenatal alcohol exposure and family history of alcoholism for the prediction of adolescent alcohol problems.


In 1974-75, a population-based, longitudinal prospective study of alcohol and pregnancy began with self-report of alcohol use by pregnant women. In a 14-year follow-up, 439 parents provided information on the family history of alcohol problems for these adolescent offspring. The 14-year-old adolescents provided information on the frequency and quantity of their own alcohol consumption within the past month, on the consequences of their drinking over the past 3 years, and on their age at first intoxication. Additional covariates were assessed prenatally and at follow-up.


Prenatal alcohol exposure was more predictive of adolescent alcohol use and its negative consequences than was family history of alcohol problems. Prenatal exposure retained a significant predictive effect even after adjustment for family history and other prenatal and environmental covariates. By contrast, the nominally significant correlation of family history with adolescent drinking is weaker after adjustment for prenatal alcohol exposure and disappears entirely after adjustment for other relevant covariates. We observed no evidence for an interactive effect of fetal exposure and family history in predicting adolescent alcohol use.


Fetal alcohol exposure is a risk factor for adolescent alcohol involvement and alcohol-related problems and may account for variance in prediction of problems otherwise attributed to family history of alcoholism. Studies of alcoholism etiology and family history need to include consideration of even modest levels of fetal alcohol exposure.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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