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What Role Do Men Play in FASD ?

Every time we do training or make a presentation we can count on one question being asked: “Does drinking by men cause FASD ?” The answer is a clear no. Fetal alcohol syndrome and other alcohol-related birth defects can only be caused by maternal drinking during pregnancy. While a great deal of attention has been given to the influence of maternal drinking on pregnancy outcome, research, information and data on the possible role of male drinking is limited.

As stated in Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: Diagnosis, Epidemiology, Prevention, and Treatment a report of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, “the possible biophysiological contribution of paternal alcohol consumption to an adverse pregnancy outcome is not well understood. The animal literature suggests that male exposure to alcohol might result in some damage to sperm, and thus affect the fetus. Data from animal models suggest that paternal alcohol exposure may affect organ weights, hormone secretion, and immune response in the offspring (Abel, 1993; Abel and Blitzke, 1990; Abel and Tan, 1986; Cicero, 1994; Hazlett et al., 1989), but paternal consumption of alcohol does not cause FASD .” It has also been suggested that low-birth weight, premature births and some learning disabilities may be associated with male drinking prior to conception, but there is no research that clearly supports this information.

What we do know is that women who abuse alcohol tend to associate with men who also drink excessively. We know that a woman is much more successful in her ability to stop drinking and to stay sober if her male partner, as well as family and friends, also stop drinking. So, the role of men in the prevention of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders is significant—all prevention efforts should address both men and women, parents, friends, family members and the community- at-large. While a male’s drinking cannot cause FASD, it can certainly attribute to children being born with FASD, and their support for their partner to stop drinking can decrease the likelihood of women continuing to drink during pregnancy.

Posted Summer 2002