Fetal alcohol syndrome: The origins of a moral panic

Elizabeth M. Armstrong, Ernest L. Abel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations

Abstract

Since its discovery almost 30 years ago, the fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) has been characterized in the USA, as a major threat to public health. In part because FAS resonated with broader social concerns in the 1970s and 1980s about alcohol's deleterious effect on American society and about a perceived increase in child abuse and neglect, it quickly achieved prominence as a social problem. In this paper, we demonstrate that, as concern about this social problem escalated beyond the level warranted by the existing evidence, FAS took on the status of a moral panic. Through examples taken from both the biomedical literature and the media about drinking during pregnancy, we illustrate the evolution of this development, and we describe its implications, particularly how it has contributed to a vapid public policy response.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)276-282
Number of pages7
JournalAlcohol and Alcoholism
Volume35
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Toxicology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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