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Drinking alcohol at any stage during pregnancy can affect the developing baby as alcohol passes through the placenta from the blood of the mother to the baby. The range of effects on a child that are caused by alcohol is called fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

Children in families where an adult abuses alcohol or drinks heavily are known to be vulnerable to a variety of negative effects. As well as the risk of being affected by FASD, these children, compared with those children in families without a parent or caregiver who drinks heavily, are at higher risk of injury, poisoning and hospitalisation, eating disorders (for females), depression and anxiety, conduct disorders, aggression, attention deficit/hyperactivity, lower educational achievement and heavy alcohol use in adolescence. Some of the reasons for these negative effects include higher rates of conflict between parents, greater absence of parents, violence against children, higher stress and economic deprivation, and less parental supervision.1

Alcohol, especially when drunk in large amounts, can also contribute to domestic violence. It seems to do this by increasing aggressiveness, particularly in people already feeling hostile towards their partners, although whether alcohol leads to violence depends on personality, cultural and situational factors.2, 3 Alcohol abuse has featured in a significant number of homicides involving couples and children in New Zealand.4

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  1. Girling, M., Huakau, J., Casswell, S., & Conway, K. (2006). Families and heavy drinking: Impacts on children’s wellbeing: Systematic review. Wellington: Families Commission.
  2. Leonard, K. E. (2005). Alcohol and intimate partner violence: When can we say that heavy drinking is a contributing cause of violence? Addiction, 100(4), 422–425.
  3. Babor, T. F., Caetano, R., Casswell, S., Edwards, G., Giesbrecht, N., Graham, K. M., et al. (2010). Alcohol: No ordinary commodity: Research and public policy (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  4. Ministry of Social Development. (2010). Learning from tragedy: Homicide within families in New Zealand 2002–2006. Wellington: Ministry of Social Development.