Well-Educated Women More Likely to Keep Drinking During Pregnancy

Alcohol consumption substantially boosts the chances that a pregnant woman will give birth to a child with serious or possibly fatal health complications. Despite this fact and doctors’ warnings to avoid alcohol, significant numbers of pregnant women still drink. In a study published in January 2014 in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, a team of Dutch researchers investigated the impact that a woman’s educational status has on the chances that she will consume alcohol during pregnancy.

The Basics

A woman who drinks alcohol during pregnancy passes that alcohol through her bloodstream and into the bloodstream of her developing child. Alcohol is toxic to the human body, and especially so to the incompletely formed organs and structures in a human fetus. Doctors and researchers believe that alcohol intake has its most damaging effects on fetal development in the first trimester of pregnancy; however, alcohol intake at any stage of pregnancy can produce a seriously negative impact on fetal well-being. Women who drink excessively during pregnancy can expose their developing children to fetal alcohol syndrome, a condition that disrupts normal function in systems throughout the body and brain. In addition, women who drink in amounts that would be considered moderate for a non-pregnant person considerably increase their chances of experiencing a miscarriage. As a rule, doctors strongly urge pregnant women affected by alcohol use disorder (alcohol abuse or alcoholism) to seek treatment for their alcohol-related issues as quickly as possible.

Alcohol and Educational Status

Each year, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration uses a project called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health to track various factors related to alcohol consumption and all other prominent forms of substance use in all Americans age 12 or older. Statistics drawn from this survey regularly show that people who have a college-level education consume alcohol more often than people who don’t graduate from college. For example, in 2012 (the last year for which information is currently available), almost 69 percent of U.S. college graduates identified themselves as alcohol consumers. In contrast, only 36.6 percent of people who never graduated from high school identified themselves as alcohol consumers. However, college graduates have relatively low chances of participating in binge drinking, a pattern of alcohol intake consciously or unconsciously geared to produce rapid drunkenness.

Impact on Drinking During Pregnancy

In the study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, the Dutch researchers used an examination of 4,885 pregnant Dutch women to investigate the connection between educational status and the likelihood of drinking alcohol during pregnancy. All of these women were self-identified alcohol consumers before their pregnancies began. In addition to looking at relative education levels, the researchers assessed the potential impact of physical health difficulties during pregnancy and mental health difficulties during pregnancy.

After weighing the influences of the various factors, the researchers concluded that being relatively well-educated leads to a roughly 40 percent increase in the chances that a woman will continue to drink alcohol while in the first trimester of a pregnancy. They also concluded that relatively well-educated women have an approximately 77 percent higher chance of continuing to drink throughout the latter stages of pregnancy. In addition, the researchers concluded that well-educated women who stop drinking while pregnant have a roughly 67 percent higher chance of beginning to consume alcohol again before they deliver their children.

Significance and Considerations

The authors of the study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs also concluded that the presence of physical health problems and/or mental health problems contributes in small but significant ways to the odds that a well-educated woman will drink alcohol in the early stages of pregnancy. In addition, they concluded that well-educated women who drink relatively heavily before getting pregnant are more likely to keep drinking during pregnancy than well-educated women who don’t drink heavily before getting pregnant. Finally, the study’s authors note that other factors, including social and cultural standards that favor alcohol consumption, may have a substantial impact on well-educated women’s drinking patterns during pregnancy.

The National Survey on Alcohol Use and Drugs also tracks alcohol consumption among pregnant women. The figures gathered in 2012 indicate that roughly 8.5 percent of pregnant women in the U.S. drink alcohol; almost 3 percent binge drink and less than 0.5 percent drink heavily on a regular basis. All of these totals are lower than the totals for non-pregnant women.

Posted on February 25th, 2014
Posted in Pregnancy

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