Vol. 1, No. 3 , 1995, Page 7


Research shows conclusively that mothers who drink during pregnancy increase their risk of having children with severe behavioral problems (See See Crime Times, Vol. 1, No. 1/2, Page 3). But researchers now suggest that fathers who drink heavily, even well before their children are conceived, increase these children's risk of hyperactivity, alcoholism, and/or other behavior disorders.

Theodore Cicero notes that "studies indicate that male offspring of alcoholic father have behavioral problems and impaired intellectual skills as well as hormonal and nervous system anomalies." These defects have been blamed on genetic influences, but Cicero and colleagues suggest that they are due instead to direct effects of alcohol on the father's sperm or gonads.

The researchers found that male rats exposed to alcohol during maturation, and then kept alcohol-free, later sired abnormal offspring. Male offspring performed poorly on spatial learning tests, and had lower levels of testosterone and beta-endorphins. Female offspring had abnormal levels of stress-related hormones, and reacted differently to stress than did control females.

No gross abnormalities were seen in the offspring sired by the "alcoholic" rats. Cicero says this is highly consistent with the observations in humans, in that offspring of alcoholic fathers, as opposed to offspring suffering from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, are not grossly malformed or impaired but have pronounced selective intellectual and functional deficits."

The researchers say alcohol may cause mutations in sperm's genetic material, or may alter the chemical composition of semen. Another possibility, they say, is that "sperm may be `selected' in some way such that only a specific population is functionally intact following prolonged exposure to alcohol."


"Effects of paternal exposure to alcohol on offspring development," Theodore J. Cicero, Alcohol Health and Research World, Vol. 18, No. 1, Winter 1994, pp. 37-41. Address: Theodore J. Cicero, Dept. of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO.

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