Brain and Body

Drinking During Pregnancy Increases Risk of Alcoholism in Next 3 Generations, Research Finds

March 1, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Pregnant woman
Photo credit: J.K. Califf/flickr (CC by SA 2.0)

Even small doses of alcohol.

There has been plenty of research on the risks of drinking alcohol during pregnancy, but for the first time, researchers from Binghamton University have shown that even small doses of alcohol can increase the risk for the next three generations to develop alcoholism.

The research team, led by assistant psychology professor Nicole Cameron, conducted the study on pregnant rats. The rats received the equivalent of one glass of wine for four days in a row at gestational days 17 to 20, which would be the second trimester in humans.

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They tested juvenile male and female offspring for water or alcohol consumption. They also tested adolescent males for sensitivity to alcohol by injecting them with high doses of alcohol which rendered them unresponsive or “drunk on their backs” (yes, poor rats). Then, they measured the time it took the rats to recover their senses and get back on their four paws.

According to the results of the study, the researchers argue that drinking even just a little bit during pregnancy will increase the risk of future generations of offspring developing drinking problems.

"Our findings show that in the rat, when a mother consumes the equivalent of one glass of wine four times during the pregnancy, her offspring and grand-offspring, up to the third generation, show increased alcohol preference and less sensitivity to alcohol," Cameron said in a press statement.

This study was the first ever to investigate the effects of alcohol consumption during pregnancy on generations that weren’t directly exposed to alcohol in the uterus during pregnancy.

The research team recently received a grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to continue their research on the transgenerational effects of alcohol exposure.

"We now need to identify how this effect is pass through multiple generations by investigating the effects alcohol has on the genome and epigenome (molecules that control gene translation)," said Cameron.

Now we know that during pregnancy it’s important to consider, not only first generation children, but grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well. A couple glasses of wine could do much more damage than previously thought.

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