Epidemiological studies have linked prenatal tobacco and alcohol exposures to internalizing behaviours in children and adolescents with inconsistent findings. Dearth of epidemiological studies have investigated the associations with the risk of experiencing symptoms of anxiety in young adulthood.
Study participants (N = 1190) were from the Raine Study, a population-based prospective birth cohort based in Perth, Western Australia. Data on prenatal tobacco and alcohol exposures were available for the first and third trimesters of pregnancy. Experiencing symptoms of anxiety in young adulthood at age 20 years was measured by a short form of the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale (DASS 21). Relative risk (RR) of experiencing symptoms of anxiety in young adulthood for prenatal tobacco and alcohol exposures were estimated with log binomial regression.
After adjusting for potential confounders, we observed increased risks of experiencing symptoms of anxiety in young adults exposed to prenatal tobacco in the first trimester [RR = 1.52, 95% CI: 1.12-2.06, p-value < 0.01] and third trimester [RR = 1.53, 95% CI: 1.10-2.13, p-value  = 0.02]. However, we found insufficient statistical evidence for an association between first trimester [RR = 1.01, 95% CI: 0.76-1.22, p-value = 0.90] and third trimester [RR = 1.03, 95% CI: 0.80-1.34, p-value = 0.91] prenatal exposure to alcohol and the risk of experiencing symptoms of anxiety in young adults. There was a dose response association between prenatal tobacco exposure and increasing anxiety symptoms in offspring.
The findings of this study suggest that an association between prenatal tobacco exposure and risk of anxiety symptoms remains apparent into young adulthood.

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