May 27, 2016

Thoughts on Alcohol and Pregnancy


I barely discuss this fact, and this may be the first time I've ever mentioned this online: I'm a firm teetotaler. I don't drink alcohol; never have, never will. The one time I've never had anything stronger than church wine in my life was one time in my sophomore year of college when I ate soup that I didn't find out until after I ate it that it was made with unboiled wine. I was tipsy for much of the evening, I didn't like the sensation, and I was relieved when it wore off and I had full control of my faculties again.

If I had been in the United States a century ago, I could see myself participating in the anti-alcohol movements of the day. Of course, I know that the consequences of the effort were, ahem, less than successful and imposing a ban on drinking alcohol for non-medicinal purposes is not the best policy for society overall.

So when I read about a controversy involving CDC research of pregnant women who drink alcohol and the resulting recommendations, I'm also of two minds. On the one hand, I think the CDC was right to highlight the risks of pregnant women of the risks of drinking alcohol. I think they should go further: They should also warn of the risks for women who aren't pregnant, for men who aren't pregnant, and for dead people who aren't pregnant. Hey, wait a minute! They already do. What's more, the tangible effects of alcohol on health systems are clear.

The research coverage of the issue seems to have been lost in translation leading to a firestorm of outrage over sexism in the recommendations and post hoc clarification. Compound this with the fact that when it comes to research on alcohol in pregnancy there's a lot we still don't understand.

It's a fine line to walk: empowering people, particularly women, to make their own decisions -- while at the same time understanding that those decisions may prove damaging, to themselves and to others. We shouldn't scold, but we should be mindful of the predictable bad consequences of our actions (or inactions). While my choice -- abstinence from consuming alcohol -- empowers me and may be the best for me, I understand that I shouldn't impose my what I think on others (I try not to) and understand it may not be everybody (heck, it often seems like damned few people are aboard that bandwagon). Life is sometimes not "consistent" in the logical sense, but I hope that we be mindful of possible conflicts can occur in furthering those goals that we hold dear -- among them: empowerment, responsibility, and using the best scientific understanding available.