Please Stop Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy!

Please Stop Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy!
Posted by: KenP in society, Nar-A-Non, enabling, costs, alcoholism, Alcoholic women, alcohol, Al-Anon, 12-step on Jun 06, 2008

We have been screaming at the world through our writings that women are using more alcohol, drugs, and tobacco combined in the current generation than ever before. However, if you are like us, you have developed a kind of numbness to startling statistics…and besides…”figures lie and liars figure” right? Well, yes, but in this case the figures hide the reality.

First, raw data on rates of alcohol use by each sex are difficult to trust because there is so much denial built into such counting institutions as medicine and the law. For example, women still only receive 15% of the DUI’s, a subject addressed in an earlier article. In a nutshell, a recent DOT study (US DOT Report H5-801-230) outlined how the two most significant decision-making factors determining whether a woman is arrested by the officer at the site of the stop are: how much the officer drinks, and the attitude of the person stopped. Males still make up the greater share of police officers, and the effects of testosterone mixed with alcohol upon the behavior of the person stopped heavily favors the man being arrested.

Another reason that simply comparing rates is not that meaningful is because it has been documented that the problems caused by alcoholism are in every measurable way greater for women than for men.

“Compared with men, women with drinking problems also are at increased risk for depression, low self-esteem, alcohol-related physical problems, marital discord or divorce, spouses with alcohol problems, a history of sexual abuse, and drinking in response to life crises (M McCaul & J Furst, “Alcoholism Treatment in the United States,” AHRW, Vol. 18, No. 4, 1994, p. 257).”

What makes this sudden increase in substance abuse among women so frightening is that this profound social change happened so quickly! How quickly?

•· Four times as many pregnant women drank frequently (7 or more drinks per week or 5 or more drinks on at least one occasion) in 1995 (3.5%) as in 1991 (0.8%) (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Alcohol Consumption Among Pregnant and Childbearing-Aged Women–United States, 1991 and 1995,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 4/25/97, p. 345).

That was a four-fold increase in only one four-year period. You are probably as fatigued as readers with startling figures as I am as a writer, so let’s just say that the problem is huge.

We can all project to disturbing endpoints for this trend, but there has been a hidden consequence to this shift. Women who drink during pregnancy are charging themselves and our society a truly unacceptable price; today, as you read this, for the first time ever, fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the number one cause of infant retardation in America…and probably elsewhere in the world as well.

The cost of FAS in human terms is incalculable. The spirits of women destroyed from guilt because ” …just a few drinks” were consumed have been crushed, their marriages have been destroyed, and many have had to drive away leaving their child in some brick building surrounded by green tiled walls.

But only a small percentage of children with FAS will actually be institutionalized. Here is a quote from Dr. Jeff Herten’s excellent 2006 publication An Uncommon Drunk that tells what happens in most families after a single bout of heavy drinking during a mother’s pregnancy leaves her baby the lifetime victim.

“Dustin Griffith was a “floppy” baby, a term given to infants with decreased muscle tone, which will later be reflected in poor muscle coordination. Dustin will not be shortstop on his local high school baseball team. In fact, in school he will require special education. His congenital neurological defects, brought on by alcohol in his mother’s circulation while critical areas of his brain and nervous system were developing, will make him a lifelong challenge for his parents and for society. He will have a low IQ, poor memory, poor anger management, and low academic ability, poor impulse control, and a severe form of attention deficit disorder. He will require special schooling all through his formative years, and only with extreme good fortune will he be able to be a productive member of society, working at a minimum wage job.”

Dr. Herten goes on to point out that, yes, FAS is common among alcoholic women, but that retardation of growth and mental capacity may occur when a pregnant woman consumes as little as one drink (1.5 ounces of alcohol) per day!

What does this all cost society in dollars? Well, the figure for frank diagnosed FAS is about 11% of all federal dollars spent on mental retardation…about nine billion dollars. It is estimated that in combined state and federal dollars, a single bout of heavy drinking by a pregnant woman will cost the taxpayers about 1.4 million dollars during the lifetime of her child. This struck me as a modest figure, so I interviewed a REAL TEACHER to tease out what is really happening. State and federal funding is only a fraction of the coats, and that funding source is constantly waning. I will write another post specifically on this subject, but school districts are having to tap taxpayers harder at the county level, which means property taxes. In Texas, as well as in some other states, powerful public outcries have placed CAPS on how much homeowners have to pay, and many school districts can no longer legally raise more money that way. Now school districts are experimenting with golf tournaments and just plain begging to private industry for help.

This has gotten so serious, so quickly, that the American Academy of Pediatrics has made raising the awareness of the problem among high school and college age women their top priority. The AAP is one of the most respected of medical specialties. These professionals work long hard hours on behalf of children with less pay than most medical specialties because they, like the authors, just love kids. I saw this first hand during a seven year period early in my career in the pharmaceutical industry.

These are the reasons why why The AAP has focused its efforts on identifying and preventing fetal alcohol syndrome, and have made it a major purpose to increase awareness of this tragic condition to all women in their child-bearing years.

Do you want one last mind numbing fact to ponder? Guess what the number one symptom of fetal alcohol syndrome is in children whose mothers drank during pregnancy; give up? It is ADD, ADHD, or whatever you want to call that ‘ants in the pants’ behavior that causes our grammar school kids to line up every morning at school. One by one they march every morning the school nurse’s office, eyes glazed, minds bouncing like ping pong balls, to receive their dose Ritalin!

How can we stop this insanity?

One way is to inform ourselves. There are really obvious physical changes that happen to children suffering from this disease. Find the standard diagram used by physicians and other health-care professionals to identify the facial characteristics of children with fetal alcohol syndrome. You will start seeing these faces all around you! For that diagram as well as a great web site to gather information, go to the one sponsored by The FAS Community Resource Center.

A second way to be actively part of the solution is for all of us to stop enabling alcoholic women, people. If you are one of the four highly functioning adults it requires to enable any alcoholic woman to continue drinking heavily while you soften the consequences attendant with her behavior, STOP IT! One of my favorite quotes comes from C. S. Lewis, the great Christian writer, who said “pain is God’s megaphone.” Pain, when it is deadened, be on an individual or a collective level- when it is deadened either by more consumption of mind-altering substances or codependent behavior by family members (or institutions), is not heard.

Please, you super-caring fixers out there allowing somebody you love to destroy her (and possibly the next generation), get yourself to a meeting of Al-Anon, Nar-A-Non, or Adult Children of Alcoholics tonight! There is a meeting probably less than five miles from your front door, it is free, and there is plenty of help there.

Call 1-888-4AL-ANON or access www.al-anon.alateen.org to learn when and where that meeting is held.