U.S. researchers have reported that being exposed to alcohol before birth may lead to behavioral problems later in life.

If heavy prenatal alcohol exposure does not lead to fetal alcohol syndrome, it may lead to cognitive and behavioral problems without the facial features characteristic of fetal alcohol syndrome.

The researchers found that alcohol exposure while still in the womb could damage the brain in such ways to cause problems with regulating behavior and optimal thinking and learning.

San Diego State University (SDSU) researchers examined 22 children and adolescents aged 8 to 18 years who were part of a larger study at the Center for Behavioral Teratology, SDSU. Thirteen of them were found to have a history of heavy prenatal alcohol exposure while nine haven’t.

Scanning showed that those children who were exposed to heavy alcohol before birth had altered responses in the frontal-striatal areas of the brain. Two regions have been altered. One showed increased and another decreased activities. Both of the brain regions were thought to be involved with the inhibition of behavior.

The children whose mothers heavily drank during their pregnancies were also found to be at greater risk for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other psychiatric diseases linked with poor control of inhibition.