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why-do-girls-and-women-drinkThe Washington Post recently featured an article on the normalisation of heavy drinking for women. Citing targeted advertising and multiple media, particularly to girls on social media, the article outlines the dangers in this trend of treating alcohol as a lifestyle rather than a drug. The obvious dangers are that normalising heavy drinking will increase the number of alcohol-exposed pregnancies and have a negative impact on girls’ and women’s health. Advertising exploits the positive connections women seek with each other, making it about drinking together and promoting it on t-shirts, cups, cards and even wine labels.

The liquor industry is attempting to link drinking with gender equality. But there is nothing equal or liberating about the risks women and girls face, or the distain that is heaped upon them for drunkenness. A recent article in the Daily Mail supported public shaming of binge drinking by young women in particular, and featured numerous denigrating photos of them on New Year’s Eve. Many pointed out the hypocrisy of moralising (Suzanne Moore, The Guardian). A different dialogue is needed: one that focuses on facts, health, education, and creates platforms of conversation and support.

It’s science not sexism that reveals the risks and consequences of heavy drinking for women and girls, and ways to reduce harm. We have learned why women may drink, the effectiveness of non-judgmental approaches to reducing harm, and best practices and policies for promoting health. The facts are not as confusing as some suggest and by focusing on them, we can counter normalising and moralising.

  • Women’s bodies process alcohol differently, so woman’s alcohol level will be higher than a man drinking the same amount. Canada’s low-risk drinking guidelines reflect this sex difference.girls-alcohol-pregnancy-picture
  • Men, in general, are riskier drinkers than women as evidenced by rates of alcohol-related injury and mortality, but women have more chronic health risks related to heavy drinking (Wilsnack & Wilsnack, 2013).
  • Beyond the risk of addiction, Jennie Cook’s research found a causal link between drinking and at least 7 forms of cancer for both sexes (Connor, 2017).
  • Claims of protective factors for cardiovascular disease are coming under scrutiny and skepticism even as these claims remain a core industry research topic and argument for drinking (Chikritzhs, Fillmore, & Stockwell, 2009)
  • How and when we present the facts of drinking alcohol to women and their partners makes a difference to the health of women and their families (See 10 Fundamental components of FASD Prevention from a women’s health determinant perspective).
  • Prevention of alcohol harms requires a tiered response in policy, practice, and messaging (See FASD Prevention: Canadian Perspectives)
  • Comprehensive and integrated programs that build relationships work best for supporting women in making healthy choices for themselves and their families (See Mothercraft’s Mother-Child Study)

References

Chikritzhs, T., Fillmore, K., & Stockwell, T. I. M. (2009). A healthy dose of scepticism: Four good reasons to think again about protective effects of alcohol on coronary heart disease. Drug and Alcohol Review, 28(4), 441-444. doi:10.1111/j.1465-3362.2009.00052.x

Coalescing on Women and Substance Use. http://coalescing-vc.org/virtualLearning/section2/documents/GirlsAlcoholPregnancyinfographic7.pdf

Connor, J. (2017). Alcohol consumption as a cause of cancer. Addiction, 112(2), 222-228. doi:10.1111/add.13477

Wilsnack, R. W., & Wilsnack, S. C. (2013). Gender and alcohol: consumption and consequences. In P. B. Peter Boyle, Albert B. Lowenfels, Harry Burns, Otis Brawley, Witold Zatonski, Jürgen Rehm (Ed.), Alcohol: Science, policy and public health (pp. 153-160). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

 

 

New Zealand has published an action plan on how best to address FASD. Described as a “whole of government action plan” by Associate Minister of Health, Peter Dunne, Taking Action on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: 2016-1019 builds on the best practices being done across communities and service sectors including government policy and partnerships, as well as front line prevention and intervention. According to Fetal Alcohol Network NZ, the government is earmarking an initial 12 million for these efforts, which will increase support and services to women with alcohol and substance use issues.

New Zealand began the process of building the action plan with a discussion document of principles, priorities and action areas. They spent over a year seeking submissions and comments on the plan from professionals, communities, families and whānau (Maori extended family.)  Notable changes to the principles based on those submissions included issues of ethnic and services inequities, as well as stigmatization of women, families and individuals with FASD. The resulting principles defined the core priorities of the plan: prevention, early identification, support and evidence. These priorities framed its action building blocks and designated indications of success of plan outcomes. You can view an analysis of the Ministry of Health action plan submissions here.

By underscoring a collaborative and practical approach, the goal is to make sure that “FASD is prevented and people with FASD and their family/whānau live the best possible lives.”(1) Read more about New Zealand’s efforts:
http://www.health.govt.nz/publication/taking-action-fetal-alcohol-spectrum-disorder-2016-2019-action-plan

To read more about New Zealand’s prevention efforts see these previous posts:

First FEBFAST and Debates about Alcohol Labeling in New Zealand, February 1, 2011


References

  1. FASD Working Group. 2016. Taking Action on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: 2016–2019: An action plan. Wellington, NZ: Ministry of Health.

 

 

 

cbc mothering project

Manito Ikwe Kagiikwe (The Mothering Project), located at Mount Carmel Clinic in Winnipeg’s North End, provides prenatal care, parenting and child development support, group programming, advocacy, and addiction support for vulnerable pregnant women and new mothers.

CBC News interviewed Stephanie Wesley and Margaret Bryans about the program earlier this week. Bryans, a nurse and program manager at Manito Ikwe Kagiikwe, discusses the successes of the program since it first opened two years ago. The article focuses on the importance of supportive relationships and the value of a ‘focus on kindness’: “Women who are pregnant, who are using drugs and alcohol are one of the most stigmatized groups in our community.” (The Mothering Project aims to break cycle of addiction, CBC News, April 28, 2015).

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The program is a wonderful example of a integrated and holistic pregnancy program for women with addiction and related concerns. The program is based on principles of harm reduction. (Learn more about harm reduction and similar programs in this booklet, Harm Reduction and Pregnancy: Community-based Approaches to Prenatal Substance Use in Western Canada).

Since the program opened two years ago, 49 women have participated. Early evaluation findings show that, at the beginning of the program, 100% of women were actively using substances, 97% had never completed a substance use treatment program and 56% did not have a prenatal health care provider. Over the course of the program, 36% stopped using alcohol and drugs, 47% reduced their use, 39% attended an addiction treatment facility and 100% accessed prenatal care. Over half of mothers have been able to take their babies home with them from the hospital. Check out the infographic below for more.

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Overview: Four Levels of FASD Prevention

Information Sheet: What Men Can Do To Prevent FASD

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