Debate for TheJournal.ie

Assignment for TheJournal.ie

YES. Being American and growing up surrounded by health education and open diagnoses regarding substance abuse, I, of course, think everyone is an alcoholic and should go to AA.

I admit, I love to diagnose (with no qualification) psychiatric and substance abuse issues, and that I have been influenced by what is an overzealous health care system (with severe issues of its own) and media culture in the United States.

Before I was pregnant, I had plenty of interesting conversations about healers and home remedies with Irish colleagues and friends. I also had a few friendly debates about the merits of booze to cure my upset stomach, my flu, and of course my headache from drinking too much booze the night before.

The same people that refused to take medication preferred to drink their remedies, and believed this was a healthier and more natural option than popping pills like Americans. Maybe it is healthier but what it definitely is to me, is the confirmation that popular beliefs about alcohol play a stronger role in many Irish people’s decisions than medical evidence or health education.

In Ireland I felt a bit silly and paranoid for maintaining that doctors don’t know exactly what level of alcohol affects the foetus so it was safest to not drink. I had an odd drink or sip and didn’t feel particularly guilty because I knew I would never drink more than that but I was also aware of the public image a pregnant woman drinking alcohol presents and I wasn’t comfortable normalising that image.

Since it is unknown what level of alcohol consumption causes Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and alcohol consumption is notoriously open to subjective and cultural interpretation, why believe that the average woman understands what a few drinks means? How much is “a few” drinks while pregnant?

I heard a woman say that drinking a six-pack was fine once it was only West Coast Coolers. I also heard women and men agree that it’s safe to drink in the last trimester because the baby is already developed when in fact the liver is not developed. Most husbands and wives can’t agree on the definition of “having one” so why did the Irish government think the public could?

I hope that the clear recommendation to avoid drink will make pregnancy easier for women in Ireland by presenting a consistent public health message and associated education that should result in a shift in culture around drink (without thinking everyone needs Alcoholics Anonymous).

Colleen Hennessy is a writer and mother to two Kerry-born munchkins. She can be reached at colleenhennessy.com or @colleenhenness4 on Twitter. 

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