Children with Alcohol Exposure Don’t Perform Worse Cognitively with an Additional Diagnosis of ADHD

Heavy prenatal alcohol exposure and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can both result in cognitive impairment. This study looked at the interaction of heavy prenatal alcohol exposure and ADHD across a broad range of cognitive abilities using tests that required children to answer questions, solve problems, and complete puzzles. Both children with heavy prenatal alcohol exposure and children with ADHD struggled on tasks of overall intelligence (verbal abilities, perceptual abilities, and processing speed), and executive function (planning, attention, inhibitory control, working memory,). However, having ADHD affected children with histories of prenatal alcohol exposure differently than children without prenatal alcohol exposure. For non-exposed children, a diagnosis of ADHD led to significantly poorer performance than controls. However, for alcohol-exposed, having an ADHD diagnosis did not result in any additional lowering of scores on these measures. These results are different than what has been shown for behavior, where having both ADHD and heavy prenatal alcohol exposure leads to more communication issues and attention problems compared to alcohol-exposed children without ADHD. In addition, we found that children with prenatal alcohol exposure perform similarly to children with ADHD on measures of executive functioning but worse on measures of verbal understanding and perceptual reasoning. Overall, our results suggest that if a child is alcohol-exposed, having an additional ADHD diagnosis does not further negatively affect their cognitive abilities. Therefore, children with prenatal alcohol exposure, regardless of whether they have ADHD, may benefit from interventions targeted at improving these cognitive abilities, particularly for verbal and perceptual tasks where children with prenatal alcohol exposure are more impaired than children with ADHD alone.

For full story see: Glass, L., Ware, A. L., Crocker, N., Deweese, B. N., Coles, C. D., Kable, J. A., May, P.A., Kalberg, W.O., Sowell, E.R., Jones, K.L., Riley, E.P. & Mattson, S. N. (2013). Neuropsychological deficits associated with heavy prenatal alcohol exposure are not exacerbated by ADHD. Neuropsychology, 27(6), 713.

Research supported by NIAAA grants supporting CIFASD: U01 AA014834 (Mattson), U24 AA014811 (Riley), U24 AA014818 (Barnett), and U24 AA014815 (Jones). Additional support provided by NIAAA grant number T32 AA013525 (Riley).

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