Fans of The Archers – across all generations – will be aware of a developing story line about Alice Carter (née Aldridge), a young married woman who is a heavy drinker but who has recently discovered that she is pregnant. This is a very topical story line with the increase in alcohol consumption across all age groups, so The Archers is right to alert us to some of the long-term implications of heavy drinking on adult health generally, and the impact of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder (FASD) on Alice’s unborn child in particular.
Before the Covid restrictions, it was very common to see the bars filling up on a Friday evening as workers spilled out of their workplaces to celebrate TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday) as they gaily downed one alcoholic drink after another. ‘Alice Carter’ was no doubt among them as she pursued her high-octane career as an aeronautical engineer. After a number of episodes of heavy drinking, including admission to A&E as a result of binge drinking, Alice discovered she was in the early stages of pregnancy. Distraught, she begins to be aware of the damage her heavy alcohol consumption might be inflicting on the tiny foetus developing inside her, and she even considers a termination.
Alice is right to be concerned. Heavy drinking in pregnancy – especially in the early months – harms the unborn child with long-term mental and physical consequences and is a significant Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE), along with drug misuse, domestic violence and stress (high cortisol). Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder (FASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition with lifelong cognitive, emotional and behavioural challenges caused by the baby being exposed to alcohol in utero, as a result of heavy maternal drinking. :https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/alcohol-medicines-drugs-pregnant/
But there is help for Alice and others like her. A good starting point is to consult your GP or midwife, of course. There is an NHS helpline: 0300 123 1110 and online support groups, for example: https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/advice or www.wearewithyou.org.uk. or https://click.clickrelationships.org/home/all-issues/. and there are organisations like the National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS-UK). The NHS recommends that any woman who is planning to get pregnant should stop drinking alcohol, not smoke, eat a balanced diet, exercise and reduce stress to support the healthy development of the foetus. (Glover V ‘What happens in the womb can last a lifetime’: What About The Children? Conference http://www.whataboutthechildren.org.uk/downloads/the-goodman-lectures/2015goodmanlecture.pdf
But ‘Alice’ has decided to continue with her pregnancy, so it remains to be seen how the writers of The Archers will develop her story and that of her unborn baby. We must wait and see and hope that real-life ‘Alice Carters’ will stop drinking, so that they and their baby will have a happy outcome!
For more information on FASD, go to https://nationalfasd.org.uk/
Sally Greenhill November 2020