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Offspring of parents with drug or alcohol use disorder face an elevated risk of intellectual disability, even if only the father is affected, according to research from Karolinska Institutet. The study, published in eClinicalMedicine, suggests the need for preventive measures targeting both parents.

Alcohol or drug abuse pose risk to babies’ intellectual ability

Research from Karolinska Institutet reveals that substance abuse, whether by the mother or father, not just during pregnancy, can pose a risk for the child’s intellectual disability, alongside the well-known dangers of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

Lotfi Khemiri, a researcher at the Karolinska Institutet, recommends xtending preventative measures to include fathers with various substance use disorders, in addition to focusing on mothers with alcohol-related problems. he emphasized the need educate healthcare professionals and promote public health recommendations in this regard.

A study using Swedish registry data involving nearly 2 million babies born between 1978 and 2002 and their parents discovered that 1.2% of babies born to parents without a substance use disorder diagnosis had intellectual disabilities, while 3% of babies born to parents with such diagnoses (related to alcohol or drug abuse) had intellectual disabilities.

Parental diagnosis of a substance use disorder before or during pregnancy, as opposed to after birth, increases the risk of intellectual disability in the child by over two-fold. This correlation remains significant even after considering socioeconomic factors and parental psychiatric comorbidity.

Genetic and environmental factors contribute to intellectual disability

The observational study cannot provide conclusive insights into the underlying mechanism, but Dr. Khemiri suggests that genetic and environmental factors, including substance abuse during pregnancy, may be contributing factors.

Researchers anticipate that the findings will make valuable contributions to preventive measures and the enhanced identification of intellectual disabilities in children. Additionally, they may aid in timely interventions for both the child and parents seeking treatment for substance use disorders.

Significantly increased instances of intellectual disability were noted in cases where alcohol-related issues occurred during pregnancy. The risk was found to be fivefold higher when the mother had an alcohol use disorder diagnosis and threefold higher when the father had a similar diagnosis.