Maternal alcohol disorders and school achievement: a population cohort record linkage study in Western Australia

Sarah E. Johnson, Colleen O'Leary, Carol Bower, David Lawrence, Nadia Cunningham, James Semmens, Stephen R. Zubrick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Objective Maternal alcohol use disorder is a risk factor for a range of developmental outcomes in children. This study examines school achievement in children of Indigenous and non-Indigenous mothers with an alcohol-related diagnosis.

Design, setting and participants This is a Western Australian population cohort study of mothers with a record of an alcohol-related diagnosis classified by the International Classification of Diseases Revisions 9/10 codes as recorded on administrative databases, and of their offspring born between 1989 and 2007 (n=18 486 exposed children), with a frequency matched comparison cohort of mothers with no record of alcohol diagnosis and their offspring (n=48 262 comparison children).

Outcomes Records were linked with school achievement data for numeracy and literacy from Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 (age range: similar to 8-14 years) based on statewide and national testing. Mixed multivariate models with a random intercept per child were used to assess the relationship between exposure and the timing of exposure with failure to meet minimum standardised benchmarks.

Results Academic achievement was lower in all testing domains (reading, writing, spelling and numeracy) among children of mothers with an alcohol diagnosis and persisted across all year groups examined. The highest ORs at Year 9 for non-Indigenous children were in reading (adjusted OR (aOR) 1.6, 95% CI 1.4 to 1.8) and in writing for Indigenous children (aOR 2.0, 95% CI 1.8 to 2.3).

Conclusion Children of mothers with alcohol use disorders are at risk of not meeting minimum educational benchmarks in numeracy and literacy, with the risk highest among Indigenous children.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere014599
Number of pages12
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2017


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