811 W. John Street, Yorkville, IL 60560
For 24/7 Mental or Public Health Emergencies, call 630-553-9100
Mon 8:30am - 4:30pm  •  Tue - Thu 8:30am - 7:00pm  •  Fri 8:30am - 4:30pm

Exploring associations between prenatal solvent exposures and teenage drug and alcohol use: a retrospective cohort study

June 19, 2017


Background: Investigating the effects of prenatal and childhood exposures on behavioral health outcomes in adolescence is challenging given the lengthy period between the exposure and outcomes. We conducted a retrospective cohort study in Cape Cod, Massachusetts to evaluate the impact of prenatal and early childhood exposure to tetrachloroethylene (PCE)-contaminated drinking water on the occurrence of risk-taking behaviors as a teenager. An increased occurrence of risk-taking behaviors, particularly illicit drug use, was observed in those highly exposed to PCE. We hypothesized that there may be other sources of prenatal solvent exposure such as maternal consumption of alcoholic beverages during pregnancy which might modify the previously observed associations between PCE and risk-taking behaviors and so we conducted an exploratory analysis using available cohort data. The current report presents the results of these analyses and describes the difficulties in conducting research on long-term behavioral effects of early life exposures.

Methods: The exploratory analysis compared a referent group of subjects with no early life exposure to PCE or alcohol (n = 242) to subjects with only alcohol exposure (n = 201), subjects with only PCE exposure (n = 361), and subjects with exposure to both PCE and alcohol (n = 302). Surveys completed by the subject’s mother included questions on prenatal alcoholic beverage consumption and available confounding variables such as cigarette smoking and marijuana use. Surveys completed by the subjects included questions on risk-taking behaviors such as alcoholic beverage consumption and illicit drug use as a teenager and available confounding variables. PCE exposure was modeled using a leaching and transport algorithm embedded in water distribution system modeling software that estimated the amount of PCE delivered to a subject’s residence during gestation and early childhood.

Results: Subjects with early life exposure to both PCE and alcohol had an increased risk of using two or more major drugs as a teen (RR = 1.9 (95% CI 1.2, 3.0)) compared to unexposed subjects. Increased risks for only PCE exposure (RR = 1.6 (95% CI 1.0, 2.4) and only alcohol exposure (RR = 1.3 (95% CI 0.7, 2.1)) were also evident but were smaller than the increased risk associated with both exposures. While available confounding variables were controlled, many relevant social risk factors were not obtained due to limitations in the retrospective study design.

Conclusions: This exploratory analysis found evidence for an additive effect of early life exposure to PCE and alcohol on the risk of use of multiple illicit drugs as a teenager. Because of numerous limitations in this retrospective study, further research is needed to examine longstanding behavioral effects of early life exposures. To be most informative, this research should involve long-term prospective data collection.

Serving the Residents of Kendall County Since 1966
811 W. John Street, Yorkville, IL 60560   •   630-553-9100