A Brief History of Awareness of the Link Between Alcohol and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder


Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a medical term used to describe a range of mental and physical disabilities caused by maternal alcohol consumption. The role of alcohol as a teratogen and its effects on the cellular growth of the embryo and the fetus were not determined on scientific grounds until the late 1960s. However, the link between alcohol use during pregnancy and its harms to offspring might have been observed frequently over the many thousands of years during which alcohol has been available and used for social and other reasons.

Methods and Results:

Using sources ranging from the biblical Book of Judges (pre-1700) up until the first public health bulletin (1977), we seek to provide an overview of the academic debate around early historical accounts ostensibly attributed to the awareness of alcohol as a prenatal teratogen as well as to describe the social and political influences that sculpted developments leading to the public recognition of FASD.


Our analysis provides a brief overview of the discourse regarding historical awareness of the detrimental effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on fetal development leading to the formal recognition of FASD as a distinct clinical entity. Further research will be required to fully appreciate the scientific, medical, and societal ills associated with prenatal alcohol exposure.

Publication Type: Journal Articles

Year of Publication: 2018

Topics: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

Authors: Jasmine Brown, Roger Bland, Egon Jonsson, Andrew Greenshaw

ISSN: 0706-7437

ISSN (online): 1497-0015

Journal Title: The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry