Global Prevalence of Prenatal Alcohol Exposure – A Call to Action

Let’s congratulate and commend Tracey W Tsang and Elizabeth J Elliott on their important publication of “High global prevalence of alcohol use during pregnancy and fetal alcohol syndrome indicates need for urgent action” in The Lancet, [http://www.thelancet.com/journals/langlo/article/PIIS2214-109X(17)30008-6/fulltext].  This publication mirrors the historical, epidemiological, and societal implications presented in my book, “The Silent Epidemic:  A Child Psychiatrist’s Journey beyond Death Row – Understanding, Treating and Preventing Neurodevelopmental Disorder associated with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure” [www.prenatalalcoholexposure.com]; as well as a an international book chapter in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders in Adults: Ethical and Legal Perspectives [https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-20866-4_3].  The authors clearly call for global paradigm shifts in public perception of alcohol’s effects on society – through advocacy efforts, the media, the alcohol industry, advertising and public policy.
 
I have just returned from Vilnius and Alytus, Lithuania where I gave two lectures daily for three days to large audiences of clinicians, social workers, public health professionals and policy makers (as well as the entire class of first year medical students at the Medical University of Vilnius) about this topic.  Here is a video of the talk at the Ministry of Health to a multidisciplinary group of professionals in the Center for Mental Health [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNc_RL5Z5Vo].  The introductions were given by the Director of Mental Health for the Ministry of Health who spoke about the epidemic created by alcohol abuse during the former Soviet occupation of the Baltic country.  I was moved and impressed by the city of Alytus’s efforts to end the mass institutionalization of children from alcoholic families, opting instead to offer the entire family therapeutic care with farming families where they are allowed to live in a safe, agrarian setting while learning adaptive functioning skills and vocational skills as well as parenting training.  [My trip was sponsored by a nonprofit family foundation dedicated to improving the lives of Lithuanian children.]
 
In my humble opinion, a medical journal as world renown as The Lancet taking on this issue will surely help awaken others to the devastation on developing brains caused by our western society’s social drug of choice: alcohol.  Just as the British Parliament took on the Gin epidemic in the 1750s, so too can our modern societies choose to urge doctors to encourage their patients (both male and female) to contracept if using alcohol.  After all, these problems occur as early as the 3rd week post conception – well before many know they are pregnant.  Methylation effects to sperm DNA occur up to three months prior to conception, and are transmitted through histone modifications for generations, resulting in familial anxiety, depression, addictive disorders, obesity, and a plethora of other conditions hidden within our tightly wound genome. 
There is no excuse that alcohol is allowed to cause 1 in 20 American children to be born with preventable neurodevelopmental deficits, deformities, and lifelong lost potential.  If the solvent ethanol was as important to mankind as a life-saving antitumor medication, it would not be allowed to cause 1 in 1,000 babies to be born each year with brain damage and birth defects.  We prescribe contraceptives and pregnancy testing to all patients receiving pharmaceuticals that have any potential for causing negative reproductive outcomes.  Just as condoms are promoted for HIV prevention, let’s agree that alcohol and unprotected sex don’t mix and promote contraception and preconception health for alcohol consumers. [https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/alcohol-use.html].   
In the spirit of prevention, identification, and treatment – Kudos to Drs. Tsang, Elliott, Horton and The Lancet.  Perhaps one day you all will be granted well-deserved knighthood!