CBC Digital Archives

Alcohol devastates developing brains

It's not just the water that flows freely in Canada. Brewing, distilling and wine-making have long thrived here, and not even Prohibition could turn off the taps. Despite tight controls on the purchase and consumption of liquor, Canadians kept on drinking, and laws were gradually relaxed in the 1960s and '70s. Then alcohol's darker side came to light: teen drinking, drunk driving, fetal alcohol syndrome and a terrible toll on aboriginal communities. CBC Digital Archives traces Canada's changing relationship with the bottle.

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Cory's fate was sealed before he was even born. His adoptive parents struggled for years to get a diagnosis to explain his quick anger, confusion, impulsiveness and lack of abstract thought. Then puberty hit, bringing on a pattern of lying, stealing and running away. Cory, who at 17 has the mind of a seven-year-old, is a victim of fetal alcohol syndrome, his brain incurably damaged by his biological mother's drinking. In 1992, many people are unaware of FAS, but a dedicated group of parliamentarians, doctors and parents are trying to change that, as this clip from CBC Radio's Sunday Morning reports.
• Fetal alcohol syndrome was first identified in 1970, and in 2007 it was identified as Canada's leading cause of mental disability. • A 2007 report by the FASlink Fetal Alcohol Disorders Society estimates that 37 per cent of babies in Canada have been exposed to "multiple episodes of binge drinking" (five or more drinks in a session) while in utero. Another 42 per cent have been exposed on more than on occasion to between one and four drinks in a session.

• Besides the damage to their brains, children with FAS have identifiable facial features that include small eyes set far apart, a thin upper lip, a turned-up nose and a receding chin. The organs, eyesight and hearing can also be affected. A milder version of the problem is known as FAE, or fetal alcohol effects.

• Even light drinking (one drink per day) has been shown to cause a drop in IQ of two points by the time the child reaches age 10, according to the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Medium: Radio
Program: Sunday Morning
Broadcast Date: June 21, 1992
Guest(s): Charles Fremes, Jim Karpoff, Muniini Mulera, Joan Smith
Host: Mary Lou Finlay
Reporter: Tricia Naylor
Duration: 14:54
Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/naumoid

Last updated: February 3, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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