Vol. 8, No. 1, 2002 Page 4

Moms' smoking affects behavior of both males, females

Many studies show a strong link between maternal smoking during pregnancy and delinquency or other behavior problems in male offspring, (see related articles, Crime Times, 1999, Vol. 5, No. 4, Page 1 and Crime Times, 1999, Vol. 5, No. 2, Page 1) and a new Danish study extends this finding to female children.

Patricia Brennan and colleagues studied more than 8,000 males and females born between 1959 and 1961. Data on the subjects' mothers' smoking habits had been documented during the third trimester of pregnancy. The researchers used Danish registries to determine which subjects had adult arrest records or histories of substance abuse.

"Results indicate a dose-response relationship between the amount of maternal prenatal smoking and both criminal arrest and psychiatric hospitalization for substance abuse in male and female offspring," the researchers say. This remained true even when they controlled for many demographic, parental, and perinatal risk factors. For males but not females, maternal prenatal smoking was related to criminal arrest even when the researchers controlled for hospitalization for substance abuse.

Brennan et al. note that animal studies link prenatal nicotine exposure to elevated levels of testosterone in males, changes in serotonin receptor sites, and alterations in the vasopressin system—and that these changes, in turn, are associated with increased aggression and substance abuse in both animals and humans.

The researchers stress that the vast majority of children whose mothers smoke during pregnancy do not become criminals or substance abusers. However, they say, "Our study suggests that prenatal smoking cessation programs may have the potential to reduce not only negative physical health outcomes, but also negative behavioral health outcomes, in future generations of children."


"Relationship of maternal smoking during pregnancy with criminal arrest and hospitalization for substance abuse in male and female adult offspring," P. A. Brennan, E. R. Grekin, E. L. Mortensen, and S. A. Mednick, American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 159, No. 1, January 1, 2002, 48-54. Address: Patricia A. Brennan, Department of Psychology, Emory University, 532 N. Kilgo Cir., Atlanta, GA 30322.

Related Article: [2005, Vol. 11]

Return to:
[Author Directory] [Front Page] [Issue Index] [Subject Index] [Title Index]