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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and social control of mothers

2010-03-12 22:53:05.713015+00 by Dan Lyke 3 comments

In light of a whole boatload of discussions I've had recently about things like causes of autism, this seemed interesting: Sociological Images on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and the social control of mothers:

It turns out that only about 5% of alcoholic women give birth to babies who are later diagnosed with FAS. This means that many mothers drink excessively, and many more drink somewhat (at least 16 percent of mothers drink during pregnancy), and yet many, many children born to these women show no diagnosable signs of FAS. Twin studies, further, have shown that sometimes one fraternal twin is diagnosed with FAS, but the other twin, who shared the same uterine environment, is fine.

[ related topics: Children and growing up Nature and environment ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2010-03-13 13:40:40.809678+00 by: m

The evaluation and prioritization of risk is even more difficult than pollution and energy audits. Much of the difficulty lies in the very human failing of being unable to differentiate between unlikely occurrences, and those which commonly afflict a significant percentage of the population. Much of that inability of discernment comes from the familiarity of the behavior that engenders the risk.

The first consideration is relative risk. The overwhelming majority of gravid individuals and couples are fearful of 1 in a million risks. Excess drinking brings about a 50,000 in a million risk of FAS. It makes no sense for society to spend millions, sometimes billions to save/ameliorate one life, when another can be saved at no, or a negative cost (savings). The risk of FAS is very high in comparison to other risks our society is willing to take. The cost of avoidance is not just minimal, but rather actually a savings.

The second issue is the appropriate role of society in such matters. Education is one thing. Legal enforcement is another. The specifics on Utah's new set of criminal laws are not yet known, but certainly their intent is anathema. DAs in other jurisdictions have attempted to use the law to control drug use of one sort or another through the criminal courts. Such proceedings have almost always been rejected, as they should be.

Finally, just how effective are such campaigns? That is even more difficult to determine. Alcoholics and problem drinkers are the most at risk, and the least likely to cease drinking. Though I have run across quite a few alcoholic women who stopped drinking before a planned pregnancy, or as soon as they knew they were pregnant -- usually only to resume drinking after birth.

#Comment Re: made: 2010-03-15 16:17:56.987495+00 by: andylyke

and is not alcohol abuse post partem every bit as risky, if not even more, than alcohol use while pregnant?

Dares one ask whether alcohol abuse in general is far more dangerous and societally costly than, for example, cannabis use?

#Comment Re: made: 2010-03-15 17:11:29.327434+00 by: m

Alcohol abuse is far more widespread than generally accepted. One half of all women, and a quarter of men do not drink at all for a variety of reasons. Of those that do drink, some 8-13% develop a serious problem with alcohol causing legal, social, family or employment related difficulties. Some 20 million abusers of whom perhaps 10% are in recovery of one sort or another. Never mind the casual user who commits major and minor faux paus while under the influence.

Alcohol abuse is guestimated to kill 100K annually in the US. But that number belies the mental, medical, physical and social damage done by alcohol to the abuser and those around her/him. We take for granted the risks of alcohol because they are familiar to us, and because social biases cause much of the behavior to be hidden.

Cannabis use is by far less dangerous, not only to the individual, but those around the user. Even the use of opiates is less damaging, except that now social and legal constructs have created set and setting which strongly exacerbate the damage done by such substances. Up until the passage of the Harrison Act in 1914, opiate use was endemic, and some two million Americans were addicts. Most were able to hold down jobs, even professional positions.

Opiates are not as physically or mentally damaging as the use of alcohol. Nobody dies from withdrawal from heroin, but many die from withdrawal from alcohol.