Days 23-25: Talking About Alcohol Use and Stamping Out Stigma

Continuing with the suggestions to change our language around FASD, Days 23 – 25 of 99 Days to FASDay focus on how to change the conversation when we talk about alcohol, away from the shame and blame.

I don’t know about you, but I’m 50/50 on having used these terms in the past. I’ve likely used admitted to alcohol use or women who choose to drink.

I have used “women who choose to drink” when referring to the women who do choose to drink because no one is going to tell them they can’t. Or the ones who follow the advice of people like Emily Oster – an economist who feels she can give misguided advice to women that it’s okay to drink. See:  A Tale of Two Books for Moms To Be  – but I digress. I don’t use the term to describe birth moms.

I don’t think I’ve ever used don’t care or bad parents.

Have you ever used these terms?

What does the Project say?

The term ‘admitted’ (to alcohol use) implies that this is a confession of wrongdoing and has a moral judgement overtone. The term ‘confirmed’ is neutral.

Using alcoholics or women who choose to drink:

Research tells us that women do not intentionally seek to harm their unborn children.

Some women may be unaware of their pregnancy when drinking heavily. Some women have addictions and mental health challenges and find quitting extremely difficult despite pregnancy.

Some women have abusive partners who pressure them to drink while pregnant.

 ~ Looking After Each Other

There is no replacement language for the following terms I have heard used: poor choices (I may have used poor choices), irresponsible or child abusers.

The Looking After Each Other Project states:

Shaming women with these words does not promote prevention efforts, but rather makes women afraid to seek services that may help them.

Day 24 of 99 Days to FASDay:

Another suggestion is to stop using 100% when referring to prevention and the “just one drink” can cause Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. FASD is preventable, but is it truly 100% preventable?

The Language Guide says:

100% preventable oversimplifies a complex issue. While theoretically possible, totally eradicating alcohol use during pregnancy, like all other alcohol related harms such as addiction, is not a likely reality.

This oversimplification removes all context in a woman’s life and defines the issue as a single, easy choice. In turn, this erodes society’s understanding and compassion for an issue with multiple factors for many women.

There are many reasons and factors why women use alcohol. Here are six:


It is also important to remember that FASD is more than a “woman’s issue”:


As for the “just one drink”:

There is no clinical evidence that one drink during an entire pregnancy causes significant harm.

There is also no clinical evidence proving lower levels of alcohol use during pregnancy to be safe.

This is why Canada supports the message that “it is safest not to drink during pregnancy”.

In 2022 new research was provided that showed there were associations with low-level alcohol use, but we still don’t have studies showing that one drink over an entire pregnancy can cause FASD. There are many factors, and using such simplistic messages can cause stress, which in turn is a big risk factor. So better to say that it is safest not to drink during pregnancy.

For more information on the research by Dr. Catherine Lebel, check out this episode of the The FASD Success Show: New Study on low levels of prenatal alcohol exposure

What about where you live? What messages have you heard?

Day 25 of 99 Days suggests how to talk about how FASD is caused:

According to the Language Guide:

When describing or defining FASD, the least stigmatizing approach is to move emphasis away from the behaviour of the birth mother and shift that emphasis to the substance of alcohol.

Each of these days (and the FASD Language Guide) is about reducing stigma. If we want women to feel safe to disclose alcohol use, then we need to create a safe environment. We need to Stamp Out Stigma.

stamp out FASD stigma

A couple of years ago I came across a Stamp Out Stigma campaign run by FASD United (when it was still called the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or NOFAS). The link no longer works, so I suspect the campaign, which aimed to stop the stigma of birth mothers, individuals with FASD and their families, is no longer active. While I thought some of the information was still relevant, it did have language that we are suggesting we now change. So I removed the information posted. If I find some time I will rework it or if you know of a current campaign, please feel free to leave a comment.


One of the 12 Wishes for My Daughter and FASD I had was to Stamp Out Stigma, Blame and Shame. It is important to change our views and language so we can help. I have updated the original wishes, as I have grown in my understanding and awareness. I do try to go over older posts to try to change previous language choices so please always feel free to let me know if you find something I missed. It helps me understand why so much “old” information is on the Internet. It is important to provide up-to-date info, but unless you go back and change old information, it will always be out there. So always check the dates of published information.

Click FASD and Stigma to view another look at FASD and Stigma from 2016 with Bonnie Buxton and Colette Philcox from NeuroDevNet.

Stigma is real. Results from a survey titled The Public Stigma of Birth Mothers of Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders supported the notion that mothers of children with FASD are highly stigmatized. The data also suggested that the public might discriminate against this population. Stigma reduction interventions should focus on contact-based strategies, rather than education-based strategies.

Another study by IRCM neuroethics experts, published in the journal Public Health Ethics found stigma against FASD can lead to prejudice and discrimination or impact the self-esteem of individuals with FASD and their families. It suggests that public health practices or policies may inadvertently increase the stigma experienced by people with FASD.

Awareness campaigns aim to prevent the only known cause of FASD, drinking during pregnancy, says Dr. Bell. In doing so, however, they may also unintentionally increase the blame towards biological mothers and impact the broader experiences of all those affected by FASD.

For example, if such campaigns fail to address social factors surrounding alcohol and neglect circumstances surrounding the behaviour (i.e., when a woman drinks before realizing she is pregnant), they could cause anxiety for women and increase reluctance to seek medical care for their pregnancy or drinking.

Read more about this study:  Medical Xpress

Stigma is real. Let’s Stamp It Out! And Change Our Language!

Click Day 26 of 99 Days to FASDay: Focus on the Positive; Let Your Red Shoes Rock to continue.

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