By Ross Walker

Many people may disagree with me, but one of the behaviours that I find really irritating is parents who allow their young children to have a sip of alcohol.

Most people see this as harmless and have no concern. Well, think again, because the evidence is mounting that allowing your children to have even small sips can sensitise their brains to alcohol, increasing their risk of alcohol abuse in adolescence and early adulthood. Probably even more disturbing is the recent study looking at the potential risk for future alcoholism in the children of mothers and grandmothers who consumed as little as four glasses of alcohol during their entire pregnancy, especially during the second trimester. This study, albeit in rats, were given the equivalent of one standard drink per day for four days during the rat equivalent of the second trimester. They then studied the preferences for and, sensitivity to alcohol in the children and grandchildren of these rodents.

Disturbingly, there was a much higher rate of alcohol abuse and altered sensitivity to alcohol in the offspring and grandchildren of the low dose exposed mothers and grandmothers.

It is especially the second trimester when the foetus develops the pleasure-reward centre in the mid brain and even small doses of alcohol can affect this vital part of the growing brain. It also appears from human studies that exposure to any alcohol, especially during the first decade of life, may alter sensitivity to alcohol and increase the risk for alcohol abuse.

Two alarming statistics have emerged.

Somewhere between 10-15% of women consume alcohol during pregnancy.

Around 40% of 8-10 year old children have drunk or sipped alcohol.

Another concern is that many women only find out that they are pregnant after the eight to ten week stage when many vital organs are developing and we are not sure if some of the damage has already been done when women have consumed alcohol prior to finding out they are pregnant. The foetal alcohol syndrome, which occurs in heavy consumers of alcohol, has been well described and includes varying degrees of facial and other body abnormalities along with potential intellectual impairment.

To date, there are no major studies demonstrating the effect of excessive alcohol in males and defects in sperm number and size, but it is only logical that there could possibly be an issue, as alcohol, especially in high doses, is a cellular poison for all cells in the body.

In our modern world, alcohol in various doses is a common aspect of our lives. The problem is that it appears from well conducted research projects, that when it comes to the growing foetus and the growing child, any alcohol is a no-go zone.

In many ways, what you do to your own body is your business, but in the case of pregnancy it may become someone else’s business for generations to come.