Maternal Binge Drinking Linked to Higher Alcohol Abuse Risk in Offspring

Researchers at the University of Palermo in Italy recently learned that pregnant and lactating mothers who binge drink may be putting their offspring at risk for alcohol abuse and mental health disorders. Most doctors recommend abstaining from alcohol during pregnancy to reduce the risk for birth complications and fetal birth defects, but many women who drink habitually often continue to drink throughout their pregnancies. This new finding reveals yet another important reason to stay away from alcohol during pregnancy.

How Maternal Drinking Leads to Addiction in Offspring

alcohol abuse risk

To learn more about how maternal drinking affects unborn babies, researchers provided pregnant and lactating female rats with alcohol in ways that mimicked binge drinking in human women. After the mother rats gave birth, both the moms and their babies underwent testing that examined their moods and behaviors.

The scientists found that the offspring of binge-drinking rats were highly vulnerable to alcohol abuse during adolescence as a result of changes made to genetic coding while in the womb. The offspring also showed low responses to rewards commonly sought out by other healthy rats such as food, sugar, and sex, and exhibited “despair-like” behavior when placed in awkward environmental conditions where they did not have access to alcohol.

Lead study author Dr. Carla Cannizzaro says binge drinking during pregnancy can upset the development of brain regions that control reward in unborn babies, and lead to serious problems with substance abuse and mental health disorders later in life. Though pregnant women who drink heavily may try reducing their alcohol intake during pregnancy, continuing to binge drink two to three times per week can still put unborn babies at great risk and increase their risk for addiction. The study results were published in the latest issue of Frontiers in Psychiatry.

Other Risks Associated with Binge Drinking During Pregnancy

When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, so does her baby, since alcohol in the mother’s blood stream passes to the baby through the umbilical cord. Evidence reveals that binge drinking is more harmful than other drinking patterns during pregnancy, since high levels of blood alcohol concentration is a major risk factor for fetal brain injury.

Consuming alcohol during pregnancy increases the risk for miscarriage and fetal death, and can cause offspring to develop lifelong problems with behavioral disorders and physical and intellectual disabilities. These types of disabilities are known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, and commonly affect babies who are born to mothers who drink heavily during pregnancy.

Babies exposed to alcohol in the womb may be at risk for the following characteristics:

  • Low body weight
  • Short height
  • Abnormal facial features
  • Poor memory and concentration
  • Hyperactive behavior
  • Speech and language delays
  • Poor reasoning and judgment
  • Vision or hearing problems
  • Learning disabilities

Getting Help for Addiction During Pregnancy

Pregnant women who suffer from alcohol dependence often need specialized treatment so they can safely withdraw from alcohol without causing further harm to their unborn babies. Some alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening and lead to complications that put both mom and baby at risk. But alcohol detox centers that offer a medical detox can help pregnant women overcome alcohol dependence and experience a safer, healthier pregnancy and birth.

A medical detox conducted at an inpatient detox center allows pregnant women to withdraw from alcohol while under 24/7 care and supervision by medical staff. Medications may be used to relieve some withdrawal symptoms, but only if they present little to no risks for baby. The benefit of a medical detox for pregnant women is the ability to receive around-the-clock care so medical staff can intervene when necessary to lower the risk for complications and keep mom and baby safe.

If you are pregnant and suffering from addiction, don’t let stigma and fear stand in the way of your seeking treatment to become sober and healthy. Ready to begin your recovery journey? Call 800-996-6135(Who Answers?) to learn about available treatment programs for drug and alcohol addiction.

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