WEDNESDAY, Aug. 20, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Alcoholism is associated with delayed childbearing in women, according to a study that compared women's and men's lifetime history of alcohol dependence and their age when they had their first child.
The researchers analyzed data from two groups of Australian twins born between 1893-1964 (3,634 female and 1,880 male twins) and between 1964-1971 (3,381 female and 2,748 male twins).
The results showed that alcoholic women in both groups had delayed onset of childbearing, but alcoholism had little or no effect on men.
The findings are to be published in the November print issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
"To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine alcohol's effects on reproductive onset across reproductive development," corresponding author Mary Waldron, assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine, said in a journal news release.
"Most previous research has examined risks to teens or adults but not both. Our findings highlight a risk associated with AD [alcohol dependence] in women that is not widely recognized -- a risk that has assumed increasing importance given the increased rates of alcohol misuse by women and particularly young women," Waldron said.
Alcohol dependence can cause reproductive dysfunctions for both teen and adult females.
"Reproductive dysfunctions include a range of menstrual disorders, sexual dysfunctions, and pregnancy complications that include spontaneous abortion or miscarriage. Teenagers who drink tend to have disruptions in their menstrual cycle as well as unplanned pregnancies," Waldron said.
The finding that alcohol dependence has more reproduction-related impact on women on men may be because women reach higher blood alcohol concentrations than men while consuming similar amounts of alcohol, the researchers suggested.
"Young women who drink alcohol may want to consider the longer-term consequences for later childbearing," Waldron warned. "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, 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," added Sharon C. Wilsnack, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor in the department of clinical neuroscience at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences.
The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has more about women and alcohol.