Monthly Archives: January 2017

France: Larger Pregnancy Warning Label Angers Winemakers


The French government’s plan to increase the size of visual warnings about the health risks of drinking during pregnancy has angered winemakers, has reported.

At present, the warning on bottle labels consists of a 0.5cm silhouette of a pregnant woman holding a wine glass, with a red line scored across it. France’s government is considering enlarging this image to 1cm.

Hervé Grandeau, of the Bordeaux Wine Producers’ Federation, described the idea as a “misplaced attempt to salve the conscience” of the state, and as a “half-baked measure” to

“There has been no study of alcohol consumption by pregnant women since the warning came in. We don’t know if it works. Today it’s a larger warning, tomorrow they’ll want more colours and soon wine labels will be drowned in health warnings,” he commented.

Denis Lamblin, a paediatrician and campaigner on the issue, disagreed: “It’s society as a whole and drinks manufacturers whose advertising increasingly targets woman of childbearing age.” He added that winemakers “do everything to camouflage it [the label].”

A child with alcohol-related problems is born every hour in France. Besides causing miscarriages, alcohol is also linked with 400 childhood disorders, according to Lamblin.

“Why are there photos of malformed foetuses on cigarette packets when the consequences of smoking during pregnancy are less dramatic than those of alcohol?”

Retrieved from:

What are your thoughts on the French debate? Share!


Bell Let’s Talk


It’s Bell Let’s Talk Day!

Today, Bell will contribute 5¢ more towards mental health initiatives for every text, call, tweet, Instagram post, Facebook video view and use of Snapchat geofilter.

In September 2010, Bell Let’s Talk began a new conversation about Canada’s mental health. At that time, most people were not talking about mental illness. But the numbers spoke volumes about the urgent need for action. Millions of Canadians, including leading personalities engaged in an open discussion about mental illness, offering new ideas and hope for those who struggle, with numbers growing every year.

As a result, institutions and organizations large and small in every region received new funding for access, care and research, from Bell Let’s Talk and from governments and corporations that have joined the cause. Bell’s total donation to mental health programs now stands at $79,919,178.55 and we are well on our way to donating at least $100 million through 2020.


One of the biggest hurdles for anyone suffering from mental illness is overcoming the stigma attached to it. The annual Bell Let’s Talk awareness campaign and Day is driving the national conversation to help reduce this stigma and promote awareness and understanding and talking is an important first step towards lasting change.

What can you do? Get on social media today, every day, and start the conversation! #BellLetsTalk


Heavy drinking among women: Normalising, moralising and the facts


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 guidelinesreflect 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)


    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.

    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.

    Retrieved from:



LETTER: Mothers of people with FASD need recognition and more services


Comment to original story: Re: School Board Hears Karri’s Story” Jan. 13

I would like to give my sincere gratitude to Karri for having had the courage to come forward and share her difficult journey with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

Without stories like hers, we would not realise the struggles these individuals face on a daily basis, particularly when they enter the school system, where the stigma becomes a very stark reality for many of these individuals and their families.

It is often far too easy to lay blame on the birth mother for being the only cause of this devastating and totally preventable disorder.

I mean, who else should we blame? Unfortunately, this kind of attitude has the unintended consequence of doing more harm than good.

The fear of being perceived as villains because of circumstances that led them to drink throughout their pregnancies, only perpetuates the shame and stigma these birth mothers may be experiencing, and pushes them further into isolation and secrecy.

This could have a detrimental impact on not only the quality of their prenatal health, but also of the health, well-being, and future outlook of their unborn child. And it does very little to address the help and counsel they may need for the problems that caused them to drink in the first place, leaving them vulnerable to future alcohol-exposed pregnancies.

Many of these women are living with alcoholism, substance-use issues, and chronic adverse life conditions, and they have no-one to turn to and nowhere to go for help as a result of this stigmatic attitude.

And even if they do have the courage to come forward and reach out, the treatment services are sadly either unavailable to them, or deficient in quality. Many treatment facilities do not allow access for pregnant women, nor provide childcare for the children who are already in their care.

Birth moms are human beings too, and all human beings have a right to human dignity.

What society does not recognise, however, is the critical role birth moms play in improving the lives of those affected by FASD, and in preventing more alcohol-exposed pregnancies. But what is equally important is the role that our families, our communities, our governments, and our societies play in understanding and supporting the root causes of women’s use of alcohol during pregnancy.

Bernadette Fuhrmann

Birth-mom and founder of

Wheel of Life Support Services

South Slocan, BC.

Retrieved from:

The global toll of fetal alcohol syndrome

Brazil Zika Abortion Backlash

The global toll of fetal alcohol syndrome

Study by Centre for Addiction and Mental Health provides worldwide estimates of this preventable birth defect

Worldwide, an estimated 119,000 children are born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) each year, a new study from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) shows.

The study, published in The Lancet Global Health, provides the first-ever estimates of the proportion of women who drink during pregnancy, as well as estimates of FAS by country, World Health Organization (WHO) region and worldwide.

Globally, nearly 10 per cent of women drink alcohol during pregnancy, with wide variations by country and WHO region. In some countries, more than 45 per cent of women consume alcohol during pregnancy. In Canada, which has clinical guidelines advising abstinence during pregnancy, an estimated 10 per cent of pregnant women still drink, which is close to the estimated world average.

Nearly 15 per 10,000 people around the world are estimated to have FAS, the most severe form of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). FAS is characterized by mental, behavioural and learning problems, as well as physical disabilities. In Canada, the estimate is 10.5 cases of FAS per 10,000 people.

Not every woman who drinks while pregnant will have a child with FAS. “We estimated that one in 67 mothers who drink during pregnancy will deliver a child with FAS,” says lead author Dr. Svetlana Popova, Senior Scientist in CAMH’s Institute for Mental Health Policy Research.

She notes that this figure is very conservative and does not include other types of FASD that may occur from alcohol consumption during pregnancy, including partial FAS (pFAS) and Alcohol-related Neurodevelopmental Disorders (ARND).

Although it’s well established that alcohol can damage any organ or system in the developing fetus, particularly the brain, it’s still not known exactly what makes a fetus most susceptible, in terms of the amount or frequency of alcohol use, or timing of drinking during pregnancy. Other factors, such as the genetics, stress, smoking and nutrition also contribute to the risk of developing FASD.

“The safest thing to do is to completely abstain from alcohol during the entire pregnancy,” says Dr. Popova.

The study involved comprehensive literature reviews and statistical analyses to determine the estimates, which are intended to help countries plan public health initiatives and policies, such as FAS surveillance systems and educational efforts on the risks of alcohol use during pregnancy, the researchers note.

The five countries with the highest alcohol use in pregnancy were in Europe: Russia, United Kingdom, Denmark, Belarus and Ireland. As a region, Europe also had a 2.6 higher prevalence of FAS than the global average. The lowest levels of drinking and FAS were found for the Eastern Mediterranean and South East Asia regions, as there are high rates of alcohol abstinence in these regions.

The predictive model that the research team developed in this study could also be used to estimate the prevalence of other disease conditions, notes Dr. Popova. Her team is currently extending this work to study the global scale of all fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). An earlier study by Dr. Popova and her team, published in The Lancet last year, showed that more than 400 disease conditions co-occur with FASD.


The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada’s largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital and a world-leading research centre in this field. CAMH combines clinical care, research, education, policy development and health promotion to help transform the lives of people affected by mental illness and addiction. CAMH is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, and is a Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization Collaborating Centre. For more information, please visit or follow @CAMHnews on Twitter.

For more information, please contact:
Sean O’Malley
Media Relations, CAMH
(416) 595-6015

Retrieved from:

How a bracelet is helping first responders understand fetal alcohol spectrum disorder

A new MedicAlert program teaches police and paramedics how to approach people with FASD — and keeps those afflicted with the disorder out of prison

Published on Jan 12, 2017

In federal correctional facilities, up to 23 per cent of inmates have FASD, according to the Correctional Investigator of Canada — a rate 28 times higher than in the general population. Youth with FASD are 19 times more likely to be confined to a young-offender’s facility than their unaffected peers, according to a 2013 report from FASD ONE Justice Action Group in Ontario.

FASD comprises an array of conditions that can affect anyone whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. Sometimes those conditions manifest physically — smaller head size and shorter height are common — but behaviour problems, poor coordination, and poor impulse control are also prevalent.

Sinclair, like many on the FASD spectrum, doesn’t always grasp the consequences of his actions. When he gets angry, frustrated, or confused, he shuts down, curls up in a ball, and freezes in place. He has a criminal record for theft, possession of drugs, and numerous parole breaches.

“People with FASD, we try to fit in with groups,” he says. “Unfortunately we fit in usually with the wrong crowd.”

Sinclair explains that he is suggestible, wanting people to be his friend, but not always understanding that — in what he calls “the drug-and-alcohol world” — some of those people might be talking to him for the wrong reasons.

“People will be like, ‘Go do this for me,’ and I’ll be like, ‘Oh you are my best friend so okay,’ even though that person doesn’t have my best interests,” he said.

The bracelet will not stop people with FASD from falling in with the wrong crowd — but Catherine Horluck of MedicAlert Foundation Canada says it may keep them from falling into the hands of the justice system.

“The vision is that the bracelet would provide equitable treatment for people with FASD in their time of need,” she said.

The pilot program launched in November 2015 in northern Ontario, and so far 79 people have registered to wear the bracelet. When first responders — whether police, paramedics, or nurses — see the bracelet, they’ll be able to access MedicAlert’s database, which will provide patient details and connect them with family or friends.

“I think many of my officers, like myself, had no idea that it’s a spectrum and there are strategies you can use to have a discussion with these folks,” said John Syrette, chief of the Anishinabek Police Service, which covers part of the area the pilot encompasses.


As part of the program, Syrette and his officers learned what FASD is and what the bracelet signifies. Syrette says his force also learned strategies for dealing with people on the spectrum.

“I hope officers will see this bracelet and think, I have to step back for a second and review my approach, because typically you are trying to take control of a situation and you are trying to bring closure as quickly as possible,” he said. “That’s probably not going to assist this person right now.”

After police got in touch with Sinclair’s contacts through MedicAlert, they took him to his friend’s house, where he was able to settle down — and thereby avoid a stay in the psychiatric centre and criminal charges.

“My best friend of 13 years listens to me talk, and I make better decisions based off of it,” Sinclair said. “He understands me completely.”

Sinclair, who is from Deschambault Lake, part of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, talks openly about his FASD. But Frances Pine, FASD coordinator at the North Shore Tribal Council, an original partner in the MedicAlert program, says there’s a stigma attached to the condition that can make talking about it difficult.

“A lot of people don’t want to confirm they have FASD, you know,” she said. “But when you actually look at the diagnostic criteria, it can happen to anybody.”

If a woman consumes seven drinks in one week or has two binge-drinking episodes (four or more drinks in one night) during her pregnancy, Pine explained, the child is at risk.

“That’s Christmas holidays. That’s frosh week. That’s a family reunion. It can happen to anybody,” she said. “Most women don’t know they are pregnant until between six and 12 weeks, and the threshold is you can start doing damage as early as two weeks.”

Pine says the new bracelet can help educate people and attenuate the stigma. It’s also an important tool for families affected by the FASD.

“It gives them a sense of security,” she says. “If you are not there for them in that moment and time when they need somebody, you want something there to help speak for them, because you know at that moment when their fight or flight is kicking in that they are not going to be thinking rationally.”

MedicAlert is helping 35 organizations who work with FASD-afflicted people bring the bracelet program — now in its second year — to their communities. The plan over the next two years is to make the bracelet and training accessible across Canada.

Sinclair knows his situation could’ve turned out differently had he not been wearing the bracelet that night last spring. He could easily be behind bars. Instead he’s running the FASD Northern Ontario Facebook page and doing advocacy work to reduce the stigma that surrounds the condition.

“If you are on the spectrum it’s being able to say, ‘Hey, I’m FASD — you have to do things different,’” he said. “I get the same results done; I just do it differently.”

Geraldine Malone is a Munk Global Journalism Fellow who covers Indigenous communities and the penal system.

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10 reasons to cut back on alcohol


Some people overestimate how much they can drink. The first step in deciding whether we need to cut back is to consider how many standard drinks are in that glass of wine, beer or spirit.

Check our the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse drinking guidelines 

A miscalculation increases the risk of drinking more than you should. Here are 10 reasons to cut down on drinking.


Reducing alcohol intake means you might find it easier to manage your weight. Some drinks may have as many calories as high-fat foods.

In a British study, alcohol represented a large proportion of calories consumed (over 25 per cent for men and nearly 20 per cent for women) on the heaviest drinking day – and these are calories with little or no nutritional value.

There was a link to obesity, but the relationship is complex.

Some heavy drinkers do not eat well, partly contributing to the paradoxical observation that some heavy drinkers are underweight, rather than overweight.

Health problems such as liver disease, brain injury, cancer and heart problems are strongly linked to drinking alcohol, and the more you drink, the greater the risk.


Excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of mental and physical health problems.

Depression and anxiety are more common after heavy drinking.

If you have trouble sleeping, cutting back on alcohol might help. You might fall asleep more quickly after drinking, but heavy drinking can result in poor-quality sleep, meaning worse hangover effects.


Alcohol-affected choices are not always the best ones. You might think you are the life of the party, but others may be less impressed.

Serious relationship problems can be related to alcohol.

A recent Australian report found that about one-third of all intimate partner violence was linked to alcohol. If drinking is causing friction with friends, partners or family members, cutting back can make a huge difference.


Australian households on average spend the same amount on alcohol as they do on domestic fuel and power. Drinking less will make less of a dent on the annual bill.


If you are thinking about having a baby or if you are pregnant, the safest option is not to drink.

Drinking before breastfeeding is not advisable because some of the alcohol will find its way into the breast milk.

The more you drink, the greater the risk to your baby’s well-being. It is safest not to drink at all when you are pregnant.

Fathers should also think about their drinking habits. There is emerging evidence that alcohol consumption by the father can have an impact on pregnancy health, on maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy, on foetal outcomes and on infant health outcomes.


You should try to cut back on alcohol if there is a family member who has a history of dependence.

This increases your own risk of becoming alcohol-dependent too.


If you use other medications, you significantly increase the risk to your health by drinking alcohol.

For example, alcohol can combine with depressant drugs such as those used to treat pain to increase the risk of impaired driving as well as the risk of overdose.

It is important to be aware of this and seek advice from an addiction specialist or your doctor.


Studies show that alcohol intake can disrupt the brain development of young people, which can affect their capacity to learn, make good decisions and do well at school.


Older people are more likely to experience health conditions that are exacerbated by alcohol use.

Changes in the body can mean that you are more affected by alcohol. Older people are also more at risk of alcohol-related falls and injury.


Intoxication can result in a range of injuries at the workplace and on the roads. It can also lead to violent behaviour.

By drinking less and drinking slowly, you can reduce the chances of putting yourself and others at risk because of intoxication.

You should take drinks together with food, or after you have had something to eat.

Written by: Steve Allsop and Tina Lam

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  • Steve Allsop is a professor at the National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University, and Tina Lam is a research fellow there.
  • This article first appeared in The Conversation (, a website which carries analysis by academics and researchers.
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