Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
Alcohol was introduced to Inuit by the whalers. Prior to that, alcohol was unknown but traditional Inuit prenatal nutritional knowledge advised pregnant women not to consume berries at certain times of the year because of natural fermentation. Alcohol consumed by a mother during pregnancy may result in a baby being born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). This permanent condition affects the physical, emotional, psychological, and behavioral development of an individual and is 100 per cent preventable.
FASD is an umbrella term that includes a range of effects that can occur in an individual whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. These effects may include physical, mental, behavioural and learning disabilities with lifelong implications. Children with FASD often display such characteristics as extreme hyperactivity, aggressiveness, poor judgment, and speech and language difficulties. The nature and extent of the damage to the baby depends on many factors such as when the mother drank during the pregnancy; the pattern and frequency of alcohol consumption (for example binge drinking); the use of other drugs and other biological features of the fetus and the mother.
Alcohol abuse is an indirect measure for the potential for FASD. Binge drinking is a problem within Inuit communities, especially among young people. A study conducted by researchers with the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières in two communities in the south Baffin region of Nunavut determined that youth aged 11 to 20 are two to three times more likely to take drugs and drink alcohol than their peers in southern Canada, and that girls, as young as age 14, are more likely to binge drink that boys. These concerns, combined with a very young and quickly growing population, reinforce the need for pro-active, culturally relevant FASD prevention interventions and supports for pregnant mothers-to-be.
Alcohol and drug abuse are also risk factors in the spread of sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, and can be a contributing factor for Inuit FASD. The results of the 2012 Aboriginal Peoples Survey (APS) reveal that heavy drinking — defined as five or more drinks a day, one or more times per week — are self-reported to be as high as 23 per cent among Inuit females in and outside Inuit Nunangat.