An examination of the relationship between a lifetime history of alcohol dependence (AD) and timing of first childbirth across reproductive development has found that AD in women is associated with delayed reproduction.
"Reproductive dysfunctions include a range of menstrual disorders, sexual dysfunctions, and pregnancy complications that include spontaneous abortion or miscarriage," explained Mary Waldron, assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine and corresponding author for the study. "Teenagers who drink tend to have disruptions in their menstrual cycle as well as unplanned pregnancies."
These complications may become more pronounced with time, added Sharon C Wilsnack at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences. "Higher rates of reproductive dysfunction in adult women may reflect the cumulative effects of longer exposure to alcohol for older women than for female adolescents," she said.
Waldron and her colleagues analysed data gathered on two groups of Australian twins. Control variables included socio-demographic characteristics, regular smoking, history of psychopathology, and family and childhood risks.
Both Waldron and Wilsnack said the smaller effects on reproduction found among men may be due to the fact that women reach higher blood alcohol concentrations than men while consuming similar amounts of alcohol – which may contribute to a stronger link between drinking and reproductive problems in women. It may also be, added Wilsnack, that research demonstrating detrimental effects of alcohol use on male reproduction is not as extensive and consistent as research linking alcohol use to female reproductive dysfunction.
"Young women who drink alcohol may want to consider the longer-term consequences for later childbearing," cautioned Waldron. "If drinking continues or increases to levels of problem use, their ability and/or opportunity to have children may be impaired."
"For women who are already experiencing fertility problems or other reproductive difficulties," added Wilsnack, "the study's findings should warn them not to use alcohol to cope with stress caused by the reproductive problems, because alcohol would likely make the reproductive problems worse as well as carrying risks of possible alcohol abuse or dependence."