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Alcohol and Pregnancy

August 24, 2016

Alcohol consumption is part of our culture despite the fact it has many negative consequences for some individuals who chose to drink.  Alcohol also has ‘second-hand’ effects; effects on those who have not chosen to drink.  One of these is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).  FASD is an umbrella term describing the range of effects caused by alcohol use during pregnancy.  It is the leading cause of life-long neurodevelopmental impacts in Canada.  These impacts include physical, cognitive, behavioural, social, and developmental disabilities.  There is no cure for FASD; the disorder lasts a lifetime.  For the majority of affected individuals it is an invisible disability which poses challenges when trying to create understanding about the neurological differences and need for supportive environments.

There are no confirmed statistics on the number of people in Canada who have FASD, however it is estimated that about one in one hundred Canadians are affected.  This translates into over 130,000 Ontarians living with FASD.  FASD cost Canada $1.8 billion in 2013.  This conservative estimate of the overall burden and cost was reported in a study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health entitled The Burden and Economic Impact of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder in Canada (2015).

FASD is preventable by avoiding alcohol use during pregnancy.  Current evidence indicates that for FASD, there is no safe type, amount or time to consume alcohol if pregnant.  One half of all pregnancies are unplanned and society needs to encourage a thoughtful approach to alcohol consumption to decrease unintentional alcohol use during pregnancy.

Alcohol use and harms across the lifespan is a topic that is of concern to both the OPHA Alcohol Work Group and the Reproductive Health Work Group.  As a result, some members from both groups joined together to create a collaboration in May 2016.  The group addresses key and emerging issues, and supports knowledge exchange and transfer.  They produced a FASD social media message resource with other partners which was distributed to health units and other provincial organizations in August 2016.  Other areas of advocacy include the recent changes to Sandy’s Law and the provincial FASD and Alcohol strategies.     


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