Despite the fact that most parents of my generation smoked cigarettes and drank alcohol during pregnancies, most kids turned out ok. Nevertheless, it is surprising how many mothers continue to abuse their bodies while they are pregnant given all the medical knowledge available today.
Janet Christie drank all through her pregnancy. Her son, now a young adult, had enormous behavioral problems. He failed Grade 2; by the age of 15 he still couldn’t read; his problems made him feel full of rage and led to drug use. It took a while for Christie to figure out it was her prenatal drinking that led to his difficulties. Her son had fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and needed specialized help. Christie never realized that her drinking would have such a terrible effect.
Christie decided to speak out because the myth that this only happens to certain women is wrong. It pushes middle-class women even further into the closet. At least the First Nations women talk about it and admit it. White women just pretend their kids have learning disabilities. It’s even more shame-based.
Research shows alcohol consumption is rising among all ages of women — from underage girls to their grandmothers, women between 54 and 64. Heavy drinking — and this can mean more than five glasses at one time for women — is no longer a moral or social problem. It is a health issue.
David Jernigan, head of Baltimore’s Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, says: “If you drink before age 15, you’re four times more likely to become alcohol dependent than those who wait until they’re 21; seven times more likely to be in a motor-vehicle crash after drinking; eight times more likely to experience violence after drinking; 11 times more likely to experience other unintentional injuries like drowning and falls.”
What can be done about this growing, pervasive problem? Experts say increasing alcohol use needs to get onto the public radar and be treated as a serious health issue by all levels of government. Data should be developed to keep track of alcohol-related injuries, assaults, emergency room visits and impaired driving charges so we can better monitor the problem.
Women should consume no more than two drinks most days (up to 10 a week), while men should have no more than three a day (up to 15 a week). Importantly, these guidelines have the support of major alcohol manufacturers.
Countries such as Australia, New Zealand and many in Europe conduct random breathalyzer tests, even if there is no suspicion the driver has been drinking. This has led to a 15 to 20 per cent improvement in some countries’ rates of death due to impaired driving; it’s something that provincial governments should strongly consider.
Alcohol affects women in different ways from men: they are typically smaller and the product gets into their bloodstream sooner. Alcohol addiction isn’t discussed enough because of the stigma. But with more input from governments and the medical community we can stem the problem.
In other words, this is something women need to start thinking about. Alcohol isn’t something that makes you merry; it can mar your relations with your friends, husband and children. It can inexorably change your life. For the worse.