FASlink Fetal Alcohol Disorders Society
Birth Moms

Birth Moms - A Personal Perspective
Economics of Beverage Alcohol

by Bruce Ritchie - 2005
When people say unkind things about birth moms who have children with FASD, it is usually out of ignorance of the nature of addictions, frustration about the unnecessary injury to a child and/or a feeling of helplessness.

I stayed with my son's birth mother, a Family Physician, through hell and back for 4 years. I attended countless AA meetings (for alcoholics) with her and Alanon meetings (for families and friends of alcoholics) for myself. She also attended the Doctors on Chemicals program. She was involuntarily committed 5 times under the Mental Health Act as a danger to herself and others during the pregnancy. I did everything legally (and humanly) possible to protect my son, and he still has FAS.

I believed the doctors when they said alcoholism is a disease, little different than cancer. Would I leave a wife because she had cancer? Certainly not. Then why would I leave her because she had a different disease? We object to the justice system's misguided attempts to cure brain injury with punishment by jailing our FASD kids. Is there any difference in the concept of treating addiction by prison.

That whole period of my life was filled with insanity. Men are "fixers". If it is broken, we are absolutely determined to fix it. We become extremely frustrated if it can't be "fixed" by us. I did eventually leave with my son when he was 4 months old and he was in great danger. My son's birth mother died 6 years ago at age 45, still "unfixed". My son is now age 15. If I wrote the truth about those years, they would have to sell the book in the fiction section because nobody would believe the truth.

I direct my anger for the injuries to my son, not at my wife (because she was a victim too) but at the beverage alcohol industry and its distributors of death and destruction. It takes time and education to stop blaming the victim and start targeting the real villain. And it takes those who have walked in those moccasins to help others to that understanding too.

Nobody chooses to become addicted to alcohol or tobacco just as nobody chooses to get cancer. Whether the disease comes from genetics or environmental toxins (physical or psychological) is irrelevant. These are medical / biological issues that have to be dealt with, not moral decisions.

Jailing a pregnant alcoholic is not the solution. However, I do believe that involuntary committal in a treatment hospital along with family supports is probably the only thing that will work in many cases. Addiction, by its very definition, means that voluntary decision-making has been removed. It is the chemical that is making the decisions, not the addict. The addict cannot hope to make rational, free-will decisions until the monkey is off his or her back first.

Involuntary committal does infringe on some individual rights, such as the right to commit suicide on the installment plan or faster. Your right to swing your fist ends before it connects with my nose. The mother's right to drink alcohol ends before it reaches the placenta. In order to live in any society, tribe, family or other social grouping, we accept certain limitations on our personal freedom.

And this debate is not about abortion. Right or wrong, abortion is about preventing a child from being born. In the case of a child who is going to be born, both the child and society have the right to protect their investment in a healthy beginning. That means we have a vested interest, right and responsibility to both the mother and the child.

If we really want to deal with these issues, then we MUST build more treatment facilities for pregnant women. We MUST provide family supports, probably with the children and spouse living there as well. We must change the environment the recovering addict will go to after the treatment program. Fail to change the environment and you set them up for the same old triggers to cause a relapse. We need to provide ongoing supports for the family.

And we need to get our governments into rehab for their addiction to alcohol taxes that go to the general treasury and not directly to dealing with the problems booze causes.

And we must make the beverage alcohol industry pay the entire tab. As it is, they pay far less than 1% of the total damages caused by their products. "If you want to play, you have got to pay".

During the pregnancy with my son, total taxes and profits to government from the sale of the booze used would be less than $10,000.

  • Estimated lifetime cost of one FASD individual to the taxpayer = $3,000,000+
  • Estimated FASD related personal costs for the past 15 years raising my FASD son = $1,800,000+
  • Very conservative projected loss of lifetime income by my son (today's dollars) = 45 years X $60,000+ = $2,700,000+
  • Projected future costs to family members = $1,000,000+
  • Total financial cost = $8,500,000+
  • My son's lifetime loss of personal growth, enjoyment, creative contribution to society = incalculable - perhaps loss of another Sistine Chapel, or symphony or scientific discovery.
  • Lifetime income loss to my son's birth mother as a Family Physician = $4,000,000+
  • Her premature death at age 45 caused by long term alcohol addiction = incalculable.
  • Loss of a brilliant, talented, physician to society = incalculable.

Contribution to these costs by the beverage alcohol industry = $10,000 to governments = $10,000 / $12,500,000 = 0.08%

Contribution to these costs by the beverage alcohol industry = $0 to the victims

"If you want to play, you have got to pay". 0.08% of the real cost is not enough.

It is time the beverage alcohol industry paid the real cost of the products to the victims. Even better, they should cease manufacturing and marketing their toxins.