Vol. 6, No. 3, 2000 Page 4

Prenatal alcohol exposure again linked to delinquency, psychiatric woes

Fetal alcohol exposure often causes IQ deficits and physical abnormalities, and a new study adds to the evidence that mothers who drink heavily during pregnancy put their children at high risk for psychiatric problems and delinquency.

Tresa Roebuck and colleagues evaluated 32 3- to 16-year-old children exposed to alcohol in utero (19 diagnosed as having Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), and 13 who did not exhibit FAS symptoms). They compared the alcohol-exposed children to 32 control subje ects matched for age, gender, and ethnicity. All of the children were tested using the Personality Inventory for Children (PIC), a behavior rating scale that includes 12 clinical subscales.

The researchers report that the alcohol-exposed children had significantly worse scores on all 12 subscales of the inventory. "Elevations in the [alcohol-exposed] group were particularly high on the Intellectual and Delinquency scales," they say, "the mea ans of which were more than three standard deviations above those of the control group." Scores on the Psychosis and Depression scales were more than two standard deviations above scores for controls. Surprisingly, hyperactivity scores, while high, were a among the least abnormal of the 12 subscales.

The alcohol-exposed children without overt symptoms of FAS showed profiles similar to the FAS subjects, although their cognitive scores were better. Also, when the researchers divided their alcohol-exposed children into three groups (preschool to early el lementary school, elementary school, and junior high/high school), they found impairment at all ages.

Although some of the alcohol-exposed children's deficits may be due to impaired intellect, the researchers say comparisons with retarded children's scores on the PIC reveal that "alcohol-exposed children, although less impaired intel llectually, are more likely than children with mental retardation to exhibit antisocial behaviors, lack of consideration for the rights and feelings of others, and resistance to limits and requests of authority figures." These clinical findings, th he researchers say, are consistent with research by Ann Streissguth (see related article, Crime Times, 1995, Vol. 1, No. 1, Page 3), whose studies show that the majority of individuals with FAS or the milder Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE) experience mental health problems, fail academically, and/or have encounters with legal authorities.

While the researchers note that some of the alcohol-exposed children's deficits may stem from their family environment, they point out that data on children of alcohol-abusing parents show far less evidence of psychosocial impairment. For instance, one st tudy of alcoholics' children found that they had elevated scores on an average of 1.4 PIC subscales, while Roebuck et al.'s subjects had a mean of 6.4 elevated scales. "This suggests," they say, "that children with histories of prenatal alcohol exposure h have psychosocial problems above and beyond those that would be expected from living with an alcoholic parent."


"Behavioral and psychosocial profiles of alcohol-exposed children," Tresa M. Roebuck, Sarah N. Mattson, and Edward P. Riley, Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, Vol. 23, No. 6, June 1999, pp. 1070-1076. Address: Edward P. Riley, Center for Behavioral Teratology, 6363 Alvarado Court, #209, San Diego, CA 92120, eriley@mail.sdsu.edu.

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