Alcohol sales have spiked during the past month. It has long been acknowledged that Scotland has an ‘unhealthy relationship with alcohol’. Too much drinking carries with it heavy personal, economic, health and societal costs. The combination of being home-bound, feeling extraordinary stress or fear, as well as the cultural tendency to turn to both sex and alcohol for comfort and relief makes increasingly risky behaviour a near certainty.
One example of predictable ‘collateral damage’ from the current pandemic will be a significant rise in the cases of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) across Scotland.
Alcohol exposure in utero is the world’s leading cause of neurodevelopmental (brain and nervous system) damage, learning disabilities and behavioural problems. FASD cannot be cured, reversed or outgrown, as it permanently compromises lives and life chances, e.g. by school failure, substance abuse, as well as being troubled and in trouble.
In fact, FASD is invisible in 90 per cent of the people affected and can be difficult to confirm, which means it is often misdiagnosed or simply overlooked – for instance, while the Scottish Government estimates that approximately 172,000 children, young and adults across Scotland are currently affected, there are between 500 and 1,000 undiagnosed FASD cases for every one officially confirmed.
There is no risk-free time during pregnancy, no safe type of alcohol or risk-free amount - which is why all four UK Chief Medical Officers advise that no alcohol should be consumed during pregnancy or if likely to conceive (including in the weeks/months before pregnancy is confirmed). Yet FASD is preventable in either of two ways: by not drinking during pregnancy - or by not getting pregnant while continuing to drink.
Is anything being said - or, better still, being done - to help prevent this specific ‘collateral damage’? Since most people are riveted on new information about what can be done to avoid harm during this pandemic, there is a great opportunity in this moment to prevent FASD.
Five Things You Should Know about Drinking Alcohol during Pregnancy
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and a range of lifelong physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities. These disabilities are known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, or FASDs. People with FASDs can have learning disabilities, hyperactivity, difficulty with attention, speech and language delays, low IQ, and poor reasoning and judgment skills. They can also have problems with their organs, including the heart and kidneys.
There is no known safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy or while trying to get pregnant. All drinks with alcohol can affect a baby’s growth and development and cause FASDs. A 5-ounce glass of red or white wine has the same amount of alcohol as a 12-ounce can of beer or a 1.5-ounce shot of straight liquor.
There is no safe time to drink during pregnancy. Alcohol can cause problems for a developing baby throughout pregnancy, including before a woman knows she is pregnant. Most women will not know they are pregnant for up to 4 to 6 weeks.
Too many women continue to drink during pregnancy. About 1 in 9 pregnant women in the United States reports alcohol use in the past 30 days. And about 1 in 26 pregnant women in the United States reports binge drinking in the past 30 days (having four or more drinks at one time).
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) are completely preventable. FASDs are completely preventable if a woman does not drink alcohol during pregnancy. Why take the risk?
This study, in a representative sample of young people in detention in Western Australia, has
documented a high prevalence of FASD and severe neurodevelopmental impairment, the majority of which had not been previously identified. These findings highlight the vulnerability of young people, particularly Aboriginal youth, within the justice system and their significant need for improved diagnosis to identify their strengths and difficulties, and to guide and improve their rehabilitation.
Adapted Media Release Published: 17 January 2017 Worldwide, an estimated 119,000 children are born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) each year, a new study from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) shows.
The study, published in The Lancet Global Health, provides the first-ever estimates of the proportion of women who drink during pregnancy, as well as estimates of FAS by country, World Health Organization (WHO) region and worldwide. Globally, nearly 10 per cent of women drink alcohol during pregnancy, with wide variations by country and WHO region. In some countries, more than 45 per cent of women consume alcohol during pregnancy. In Canada, which has clinical guidelines advising abstinence during pregnancy, an estimated 10 per cent of pregnant women still drink, which is close to the estimated world average…
Background Prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) affects central nervous system development, growth, and morphology at higher exposure levels. Little is known about the effects of PAE at lower exposure levels or in young adults. Research on children with higher levels of PAE has shown that PAE predicts behavior problems. The question remains whether these effects are permanent or ameliorated by maturation into adulthood.
Methods These data are from a longitudinal study of PAE. Mothers were recruited from a prenatal clinic and interviewed during their fourth prenatal month, seventh month, and delivery. In the postpartum, mothers and offspring were seen at 8 and 18 months, and 3, 6, 10, 14, 16, and 22 years.
Results At 22 years, PAE significantly predicted behavior as measured with the adult self-report. These findings were significant controlling for covariates. Exposure at each trimester predicted increased behavior problems on the Total Score, Internalizing, Externalizing, Attention, and Critical Items scales. Use across pregnancy predicted a higher rate of behavior problems compared to no use and use in the first trimester only.
Conclusions … Thus, there is no safe level or safe time during pregnancy for women to drink. These data demonstrate that the effects of PAE, even at low to moderate levels, extend into young adulthood and are most likely permanent.
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