Drinking During Pregnancy Decreases Word Attack and Arithmetic Scores on Standardized Tests: Adolescent Data From a Population-Based Prospective Study


  • This research was supported primarily by Grant AAO1455-01-17 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, US. Public Health Service.

Reprint requests: Ann P. Streissguth, Ph.D., Fetal Alcohol and Drug Unit, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, GG-20, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA 98195.


Women (1529) were interviewed in midpregnancy, and a cohort of their children has been examined at various ages. The two standardized tests presented herein are part of a large battery of tests administered when the children were 14 years old. “Word Attack” (n=462) measures phonological processing on a task involving the reading of pseudowords in nontimed performance. “Arithmetic” (n=191) measures auditorily processed mental computations in timed performance. Scores on both tests were associated with prenatal alcohol exposure in a dose-dependent fashion. These effects were robust when considered in relation to a wide variety of potentially confounding variables, such as prenatal exposure to tobacco and other drugs, sociodemographic characteristics, and traumatic postnatal events. A variety of alcohol scores were related to these two performance measures, but those involving a massing of drinks on a given occasion had the strongest association. The higher the average number of drinks/occasion, the poorer the offspring performance on tasks thought to underlie numerical problem solving and reading proficiency. Earlier reports of prenatal, alcohol-related neurobehavioral deficits in childhood have now been extended into adolescence.