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J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2017 Sep;78(5):789-794.

Prenatal Exposure Effects on Early Adolescent Substance Use: Preliminary Evidence From a Genetically Informed Bayesian Approach.

Author information

Institute of Cognitive Science, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, Colorado.
Division of Behavioral Genetics, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.
Department of Psychiatry, Rhode Island Hospital, Providence, Rhode Island.
Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.
Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, Colorado.
Midwest Alcoholism Research Center, Department of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri.



Given the controversy surrounding the question of whether there are direct or causal effects of exposure to maternal smoking during pregnancy (SDP) on offspring outcomes such as substance use during the adolescent years, we sought to test, on a preliminary basis, within- and between-family associations of SDP and initiation of substance use early in adolescence (by age 15 years) using a discordant sibling design.


We used a sibling-comparison approach in a sample of 173 families drawn from the state of Missouri, wherein mothers were discordant for smoking behaviors between two different pregnancies, to test for associations of SDP and initiation of substance use in a younger adolescent cohort. The discordant sibling comparison approach allows for disentangling familial effects from direct effects of SDP through the purposeful collection of data from siblings within the same family with differential exposure.


There were no between- or within-family effects of SDP on initiation of any type of substance use (alcohol, marijuana, smoking, and other drug classes), suggesting that SDP does not exert a direct effect on substance use in early adolescence.


Preliminary findings did not support an association of SDP and initiation of substance use in this younger adolescent sample. Studies such as this one can help build a body of evidence to explain whether associations of SDP and adolescent outcomes reflect a direct effect of SPD or may instead be attributable to familial confounders that are controlled in the discordant sibling design.

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