The CDC Is Recommending That Young Women Not Drink, Period


Lately, health authorities have been on a real buzzkill streak. Don’t eat bacon, it’ll give you cancer. Don’t vape, it probably gives you cancer. And now the CDC is, albeit with a noble goal, essentially telling women to get on the pill or get off the bottle, period.

That recommendation is part of the CDC’s updated fact sheet on fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, and FASD is indeed a horrible spectrum of diseases with lifelong consequences for the babies that suffer from them, ranging from personality problems to medical issues. And they’re not wrong about how avoiding alcohol will also prevent FASD, kind of the same way that abstinence prevents pregnancy. That said, there are a few questions worth asking here.

First off, there are some unspoken assumptions that need to be called out:

More than 3 million US women are at risk of exposing their developing baby to alcohol because they are drinking, having sex, and not using birth control to prevent pregnancy.

True, these might not be interconnected behaviors, but that sure reads a lot like “Ladies, if you drink even once, your legs are going to fall open and a penis will sneak in, so better protect yourself!” We’re not knocking the fine human tradition of going to parties and exploring temporary interpersonal relationships, but the fellas are equally accountable, here. Where’s their lecture about if they’re having a drink or two, and meet a woman they want to go home with, to make sure everything is securely wrapped?

Secondly, as you might have already guessed, there’s some argument over just how much alcohol is too much. This isn’t as simple as “any alcohol at all will ruin your baby for life,” as the CDC’s recommendation leaves out other risk factors of FASD like smoking, poor diet, age of the mother, and multiple pregnancies. If we’re trying to limit FASD, more information is better.

Again, this isn’t to trivialize FASD. It’s a serious problem; by some estimates, 5% of mothers are dealing with alcoholism. The sufferers have no choice in dealing with the consequences. But being condescending to women doesn’t seem to be a useful way to solve this particular public health issue.

(via the CDC)