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.