A particularly tragic outcome of alcohol abuse is its effect on the unborn. Alcohol is far worse for the developing fetus than any other abuse drug. When a pregnant woman drinks, her developing child also drinks, and the toxic effect of alcohol is especially devastating at this formative stage of the fetus. Alcohol causes irreversible damage to its central nervous system. Neurons do not form properly. Cells are killed off. Other cells end up located in the wrong place.
The result, fetal alcohol syndrome [FAS], is the foremost cause of mental retardation in newborns. Difficulties encountered by FAS children include intellectual impairment, language problems, developmental delay, behavioral dysfunction or deficit, slow growth, hyperactivity, and hearing and sight disorders. Many FAS babies are also born with characteristic facial deformities.
In addition, children whose mothers drank even moderate amount of alcohol during pregnancy can suffer from certain disabilities, including behavioral problems and learning deficits. “You don’t have to be an alcoholic to hurt your baby,” remarks Professor Ann Streissguth, of the fetal alcohol and drug unit at the University of Washington, “you just have to be drinking enough and pregnant.” The report of the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research Alcool –Effets sur la santé notes: The absorption of alcohol is deleterious during the whole gestational period, and no minimal dose has ever been established below which there are no risks.” Consequently, the wisest course for women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy may be not to drink any alcohol at all.
Scientists suspect that chemicals in red wine [polyphenols] inhibit a chemical that causes blood vessels to constrict.
Furthermore, alcohol in general has been linked to increased levels of so-called good cholesterol. It also reduces substances that can cause blood clots.
Any benefit from alcohol seem to involve drinking small amounts spread throughout the week, rather than the total amount all at once on a night out. Exceeding two drinks per day is linked to increases in blood pressure, and heavy drinking raises the risk of stroke and can cause swelling of the heart as well as irregular heartbeat. Immoderate drinking causes these and other health risks to outweigh any positive effects of alcohol on the cardiovascular system. Too much of a good thing is precisely that –too much.
In a bid to find a treatment for alcoholism, scientists have striven to understand the role that genes play in its genesis and evolution. Scientists have since discovered several genes that seem to influence one’s reaction to alcohol. However, genetic factors are not the only ones in alcoholism. Even if some people do have a certain genetic predisposition, dependence is not inevitable. Environmental components are involved. Poor parenting, alcohol abuse in the home or by peers, situations involving conflict, emotional difficulties, depression, aggressiveness, thrill seeking, high resistance to alcohol’s effects, or addition to another substance have all been cited as risk factors. These and other element open the way for dependence.
Women who are breast-feeding should be aware that after they drink, alcohol builds up in their breast milk. In fact, the concentration of alcohol in breast milk is often higher than in blood, since there is more water in the milk to absorb the alcohol than there is in blood.
Since what is termed a “drink” varies from place to place, the amount of alcohol in a glass will reflect local standard servings and should be considered before consumption.