TIME Addiction

The Genetic Reason Why Some Drinkers Can’t Stop

482135661
Chris Clor—Getty Images/Blend Images

A new study in mice looks at the link between genetics, alcohol and the brain

Around 10% of people will develop alcohol disorders, and a new study in mice shows that having a specific genetic strand might be the reason some escalate from moderate to excessive drinkers.

Previously, scientists at the University of California, San Francisco showed that moderate drinking activates a protein in the brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which might protect against drinking too much.

In the new study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, they study what happens when that threshold into excessive drinking is crossed. When mice consumed generous amounts of alcohol for a long period of time—mimicking the human act of binge drinking—their levels of the protective protein BDNF decreased significantly in a part of their brains where decision-making occurs. One possible reason for this decline, the scientists discovered, was a corresponding increase in genetic material microRNA, including miR-30a-5p.

When the researchers increased miR-30a-5p in the mice brains themselves, BDNF went down and mice wanted to drink more, preferring alcohol to water. When the scientists inhibited the miR-30a-5p, the brains returned to normal, and so did the drinking behaviors of the mice.

Though mice studies can’t translate directly to humans, the researchers think a similar situation may be happening in human brains during alcohol consumption, and that perhaps certain people are genetically susceptible, as other research has also suggested. The researchers hope their findings will provide better data for alcoholism therapies.

TIME Food & Drink

7 Beers to Try This October

Beers
Getty Images

Prost, folks!

This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

Oktoberfest, originally a celebration honoring the marriage of German nobles, has become virtually synonymous with brews. In past years, the event has drawn a whopping seven million visitors and served almost two million gallons of beer over the span of 16 or 17 days.

(MORE: The Boozy Secret To A DIY Ombré Dye)

That’s a lot of suds. Stateside, Oktoberfest also seems to reinforce that imminent seasonal shift in beer tastes, especially when it comes to what’s on tap. Hoppy IPAs and super-crisp pilsners are swapped out for maltier fare, and just as pumpkin spice lattes fill Starbucks cups nationwide, so, too, do pumpkin ales fill our pint glasses. So, in seeking to honor Oktoberfest (as well as the changing of the seasons), we tapped, poured, tipped, and sipped in order to bring you autumn’s best beers — including a traditional German Oktoberfest, a not-so-traditional California style, and that fall favorite, pumpkin ale. Prost, folks!

(MORE: Young America’s Vices: Beer, Fast Food, & Coffee)

  1. Left Hand Oktoberfest
    Brewed in Denver, Left Hand’s top-notch Oktoberfest plays beautifully right alongside the more traditional German brews. On the nose, you’ll find sweet, orange-peel notes, but this Märzen is toasty through and through, with a super-smooth finish.
  2. Firestone Walker Brewing Company Oaktoberfest
    Yes, this is an Oktoberfest from California (the oak in the name pays homage to the brewery’s home in Paso Robles, or “pass of the oaks”). But that doesn’t mean this beer can’t hang with its Bavarian brethren. It’s malty, toasty, ever so subtly hoppy, but not at all heavy — just like an Oktoberfestbier should be.
  3. Weihenstephaner Korbinian
    While this doppelbock (a dark, full-bodied lager) may not pour at Munich’s Oktoberfest celebration, Weihenstephan (reportedly the oldest brewery in the world) still adheres to the German Berr-Purity Law of 1516. This brew is going to be the heaviest of the bunch, with exceptionally rich, toasty malts; beautiful, fruity flavors; and a smooth finish.
  4. Captain Lawrence Pumpkin Ale
    Of course, no fall beer list is complete without a pumpkin ale. Typically, though, these brews are too sweet or heavy for those looking to throw back a second round. Captain Lawrence’s version turns down the volume on the sweetness, pumpkin, and spice, leaving you with an autumnal beer that’s easy-drinking, surprisingly refreshing, and a solid option for this early fall weather.
  5. Spaten Oktoberfestbier Ur-Märzen
    It doesn’t get more traditional than Spaten’s Oktoberfest. The brewery is one of only six permitted to serve up their suds at Munich’s annual fest, which requires that all Oktoberfestbier conform to the beer- purity regulation Reinheitsgebot, dictating that no brew can be made from ingredients other than water, barley, hops, and yeast. This beer is light, with toasty malt, and finishes with a slight, hoppy bite — the perfect way to greet the season.
  6. Bell’s Best Brown Ale
    Here’s how to get your malt with a little extra oomph. This English brown ale has those same smooth, toasty qualities as the Oktoberfest beers, but you’ll find a bit more depth and complexity with this style. Notes of cocoa and even some blackberry come out to play here, but nothing in this beer overwhelms the palate.
  7. Ommegang Rare Vos
    Malty beers come out in full force this season, but if you’re seeking something that still has an autumnal vibe but doesn’t make you feel like you’re drinking bread-beer, Ommegang’s Belgian pale ale is your go-to. The floral hops are mellowed by the Belgian yeast, and the whole brew has a slightly spicy, somewhat-fruity quality. It’s a lovely, crisp beer, perfect for warmer fall days, or that late-October chill.

(MORE: A Hilarious Takedown Of Your Pumpkin Spice Latte Tweets)

TIME Cancer

Smoking and Drinking Raise Your Risk for Oral HPV

smoking lit cigarette
Getty Images

Research sheds new light on HPV risk factors

Your favorite health vices—smoking and drinking—may pave paths to HPV, two new studies find.

A new study published in a research letter in JAMA looked at detailed health profiles from 6,887 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Those people with higher levels of biomarkers for tobacco exposure in their blood and urine also tended to have a higher prevalence of oral HPV type 16. That’s a strain that causes more than 90% of HPV-related oropharyngeal—or throat—cancers, says study co-author Dr. Gypsyamber D’Souza, associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

(By the way, you can only get oral HPV through intimate oral contact—not by sharing forks or kisses on the cheek, D’Souza says. It’s unclear whether French kissing, when you’re actually exchanging saliva, also does the trick.)

The main causes of throat cancers are tobacco, alcohol and HPV, she says, but since tobacco use has declined in the U.S., HPV is becoming an increasingly important player.

“HPV is the primary causal agent of HPV-related oral cancer,” D’Souza says, and most people clear the infections on their own. “But these results suggest that tobacco may make these infections less likely to clear, and therefore smokers may have a higher risk of eventually developing oropharyngeal cancers.”

The increased risk doesn’t only come from smoking cigarettes: the researchers found an association with oral HPV-16 and tobacco exposure in general, even at very low levels indicative of secondhand smoke. People who were current tobacco users had more cases of oral HPV-16 than former users or people who had never used it.

The good news is that the HPV vaccine protects against HPV type 16, and though it hasn’t been definitively shown yet to protect against oral infection, some data suggest that it does, D’Souza says.

In other HPV-related news, a separate questionnaire study on 1,313 men published earlier this month in BMJ found that men who reported drinking more alcohol tended to also have higher levels of HPV. In fact, the biggest drinkers in the study had 69% of HPV prevalence vs 57% among the men who drank the least. (For HPV types that may increase the risk of cancer, those numbers were 35% vs 23%.)

Neither study could definitively point to a cause or mechanism, but studies have shown that smoking and drinking have immunosuppressive effects, which can promote inflammation and infection.

“What this adds to the story is an understanding of one reason why people who have not had very heavy sexual history, people who’ve had one lifetime partner . . . develop these cancers,” D’Souza says. “This cross-sectional study suggests that in some people tobacco use might be an explanation.”

MONEY Scams

5 Ways You’re Being Duped by Food & Drink Labels

Whiskey barrels
William Baker—Alamy

Think that "natural" food you're buying is made without artificial ingredients? Think again.

You might think that labels describing products as “local,” “craft,” and “natural” indeed mean that they’re local, craft, and natural. To a disturbing degree these days, you’d be wrong. Here are five examples of how food and drink labels can be vague, meaningless, or downright fraudulent, and how consumers are being duped as a result.

Liquor That’s “Local” and “Craft”
In a story about the emerging small-batch craft liquor trend, the Denver Post recently asked an interesting question: “Ever wonder how a brand-new distiller is offering 8-year-old whiskey?”

The answer is that the new company is buying the hooch, typically from an industrial factory in another state like Kentucky or Indiana. The truth is that often, according to the Denver Post investigation, the packaging and marketing of supposedly hand-crafted, locally produced whiskeys, vodkas, and bourbons are the only things actually concocted by the company on the label. In related news, a class-action lawsuit in Iowa against the makers of Templeton Rye whiskey received approval to proceed this week; the suit alleges that consumers were tricked into believing the product was made in Iowa when in fact it was made in an Indiana factory.

Critics say that most of the rapidly growing legions of new players in the craft liquor space are mere marketers, not manufacturers, and that they intentionally mislead buyers into thinking the booze is made in-house. Sometimes the language on labels is an indication—the words “produced by” rather than “distilled by” may be a giveaway that the brand doesn’t make its own product—while other times the labels are even more vague or simply false, and the hope is that no one really unearths the truth.

Thankfully, authentic craft liquor makers tend to be geeky types who dwell on every last detail of production and happily run through the process step by step on websites and tours. If you’re unsure about a brand and want to know more about how the product came to be, all you likely have to do is ask.

“Local” Farmers Markets
When you buy, say, kale at a farmers market, it’s reasonable to assume the kale is grown at the farm whose representatives are doing the selling. But perhaps you shouldn’t jump to such conclusions.

One apprentice who worked farmers’ markets for his employer in New England explained in a confession published by Modern Farmer that he was unknowingly selling kale that came from a farm in Georgia. The New England farm was also passing off Canadian asparagus and California salad greens as its own “local” produce at farmers markets. The confessor confronted his boss about the produce of questionable origins, and “he said that not all of it was coming from the farm, that some of it was coming from other farms, and I asked was it coming from local farms and he said some of it was not.”

Previous investigations, in metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles and Detroit, revealed pretty much the same: farmers passing off produce from somewhere far away as home grown and local.

“Natural” Foods
More and more, American consumers say that eating healthier diets is important to them. According to the 2014 Food & Health Survey, taste and price are be the two biggest reasons people purchase food and beverages (listed by 90% and 73% of consumers, respectively), but the healthfulness of what’s put inside one’s body is catching up as a key factor: 71% said it was very important, compared with 61% in 2012.

Quite naturally, many of these health-minded consumers are likely to be drawn to foods labeled as “natural.” There’s just one problem: The word means pretty much … nothing. Consumer Reports found that three out of five consumers check specifically for “natural” products, “despite there being no federal or third-party verified label for this term.” And this summer, the consumer advocacy group decided to do something about the fact that millions are seemingly being misled into believing the term “natural” only applies to foods that are made without pesticides, artificial ingredients, or genetically modified organisms.

“Due to overwhelming and ongoing consumer confusion around the natural food label, we are launching a new campaign to kill the natural label because our poll underscores that it is misleading, confusing, and deceptive,” Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., executive director of the Consumer Reports Food Safety & Sustainability Center, said in a statement in July. “We also don’t believe it is necessary to define natural when there is already another label—organic—that comes much closer to meeting consumer expectations and is accompanied by legal accountability.”

Any Kind of Fish You’re Buying
An alarming study released last year by the nonprofit group Oceana showed that the mislabeling of seafood sold in restaurants, sushi shops, and supermarkets happens all the time. In a study covering 21 states around the country, one-third of all samples were listed as the wrong kind of fish—the “snapper” turned out to be rockfish, for instance. Restaurants in northern California misidentified fish in a whopping 58% of the samples taken, while Pennsylvania was the worst state overall, with 56% of the seafood in grocery stores and restaurants turning out to be something other than what was listed on menus and pricing labels.

Meanwhile, a series of Boston Globe stories that predate the Oceana study also showed that restaurants and supermarkets routinely mislabel the seafood they sell. Investigators followed up that analysis with another study indicating that shoppers were regularly paying too much for seafood in supermarkets because the fish weight (and therefore, price) was inflated thanks to ice being factored in during the weighing process. In all likelihood, this means that some consumers have been charged excessively for seafood for two separate reasons—because of ice skewing the true amount they were paying for, and because they were duped into thinking they were getting a pricier kind of fish.

“Craft” Beer
Blue Moon, Shock Top, and Goose Island are beer brands that claim to be authentic craft beers, and many consumers assume that’s what they’re getting. Yet all three brands are owned by the world’s two biggest brewing companies—MillerCoors for the first two, and AnheuserBusch InBev in the case of Goose Island. In other words, these brews fall under the domain of the same companies manufacturing and marketing Coors Light and Budweiser, brands that are as mass-market and non-craft as you can get.

Amid the rapidly growing craft beer craze, it’s understandable that bigger companies would try to cash in on the trend by selling brews that appear to be made with personal care and “small batch” appeal. Just as understandably, the independent craft beer community, as embodied by the Colorado-based Brewers Association, has taken umbrage at the way that multinational corporations are trying to stealthily pass off mass-produced “crafty” beers as true craft product.

Related:
That Craft Beer You’re Drinking Isn’t Craft Beer. Do You Care?
The Demise of BK’s ‘Satisfries’ and the Sad History of ‘Healthy’ Fast Food

TIME drinking

Science Explains Why Men Get Wasted Together

146495459
Marcus Richardson—Getty Images/Flickr Select

A new study may shed light on why men seem to like getting drunk together more than women do

Male bonding over booze is a ritual as old as booze but modern science may have finally shed some light on why getting sloshed with your mates can seem like a particularly male pursuit.

Smiles are contagious in a group of men sitting around drinking alcohol, according to a study announced Tuesday in the journal Clinical Psychological Science. This suggests that booze serves as a social lubricant for men, making them more sensitive to social behaviors, like smiling, and freeing them to connect with one another in a way that a soda can’t.

Lest that strike you as laughably obvious, consider this: the effect does not hold if there are any women in the group, according to the study authors.

Researchers divided 720 “healthy social drinkers” — half men, half women, all ages 21 to 28 — into three groups. Each group received either an alcoholic drink (vodka cranberry, regrettably for any lab rats with refined taste, but so it goes), a placebo or a non-alcoholic drink. They found that, among men, smiles — and associated increases in positive mood and social bonding — tend to catch on, leaping from face to face, as it were, but only in exclusively male groups.

“Many men report that the majority of their social support and social bonding time occurs within the context of alcohol consumption,” said lead researcher Catharine Fairbairn. “We wanted to explore the possibility that social alcohol consumption was more rewarding to men than to women — the idea that alcohol might actually ‘lubricate’ social interaction to a greater extent among men.”

More importantly — get ready to never hear the end of this one, boyfriends and husbands of the world — researchers note that genuine smiles are perfectly contagious among sober women, just not sober men. A cold one merely evens the score for men, allowing them to catch smiles from each other, so long as there are no women present.

The authors don’t posit a guess as to why the presence of a woman keeps drunk men from catching smiles from one another, except to say that booze seems to disrupt “processes that would normally prevent them from responding to another person’s smile.”

Nice work, dudes. There’s nothing a girl likes more than an unsmiling humorless dolt.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

We Drink More Alcohol When We Exercise

gym treadmill
Getty Images

First we sweat, and then we swig: A new Northwestern Medicine study published in the journal Health Psychology finds that people tend to drink more alcohol on days they’ve exercised.

The study looked at 150 adults between the ages of 18-89 who used a smartphone app to record how much they exercised each day — and how much alcohol they drank for three weeks at different points of the year.

Previous studies have found that the more active among us are also the larger lushes. But this study didn’t exactly confirm that. Instead, the stronger link occurred between exercise days and the number of drained glasses, with beer being the most popular post-workout alcoholic beverage. Both physical activity and alcohol intake increased Thursdays through Sundays. Even after the researchers controlled for the fact that people have more alcohol-related social events on the weekend, that many prefer to drink primarily on weekends, and that drinking patterns often differ by season, the association still stuck.

The scientists aren’t sure why there’s such a close link, but they have some ideas. “It could be that people who are more physically active on a given day have to use all their willpower and cognitive resources to get themselves to be active, and they don’t have enough willpower left to resist the temptation of a drink at the end of the day,” says David E. Conroy, lead study author and professor of preventive medicine and deputy director of the Center for Behavior and Health at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Other possible reasons: people proud of their workout might want to reward themselves for being good, socialize further over drinks, or even (mistakenly) view alcohol as a good way to replenish fluids, the study says. But other studies show that too much alcohol can negate some of the good that exercise does — in addition to adding calories after a hard-earned burnoff, alcohol might even impair muscle recovery.

If “dehydrate to rehydrate'” is your motivation to get to the gym, you’re not alone. But it might be time to choose a different mantra.

TIME food and drink

6 Cocktails to Cure Your Ailments

Curative Cocktails
The Aztec Medicine Thomas Schauer

Life would be better if going to the doctor were like going to the bar

This article originally appeared on Food & Wine.

Life would be better if going to the doctor were like going to the bar. Way back in the days of yore, it used to be. Apothecaries, which were like pharmacists and doctors and herbalists rolled into one, often prescribed bitters and tinctures (alcohol-based infusions) to their customers. Now, sadly, your doctor won’t write you a script for Angostura—but mixologist Albert Trummer will. The man who brought the apothecary-influenced Apothéke to New York City is opening The Drawing Room at the Shelborne Wyndham in Miami this October. There, he’ll use his “little formula book” to make elixirs and cocktails designed to cure customers’ ailments.

Don’t expect to find aspirin-laced martinis or even medical marijuana-infused Manhattans on the menu. “I don’t want to compete with Pfizer,” Trummer says. His cocktails, elixirs and bitters are all made with natural (and legal) herbs, spices and fruits.

Here, a few of Trummer’s most useful prescriptions.

Ailment: Stress
Cure: Gin & Tonic from the Market
For his green market take on a classic gin and tonic, Trummer pours an herbaceous gin like Bombay Sapphire over fresh thyme, basil and cucumber. He tops it with Fever-Tree tonic water and house-made herbal bitters. Both thyme and rosemary are known to be natural stress relievers—and, of course, the alcohol content doesn’t hurt.

Ailment: Back pain
Cure: Aztec Medicine
For this painkilling cocktail, Trummer mixes muddled pineapple with Santa Teresa Rum, fresh lime juice and, the key ingredient, his own elixir #5. He makes the elixir with a tequila and mezcal base. “The Aztecs used to muddle blue agave and brew it to help relieve pain,” Trummer explains. Also in the elixir: herbs, habanero peppers (spicy peppers are known to help relieve pain) and aloe (whose curative powers anyone prone to burns will know well).

Ailment: Jet lag
Cure: Vanilla Negroni
“I practice this drink on myself because I have to fly all over the place,” says Trummer. He mixes a super-herbal sweet vermouth like one from Torino with Campari, gin and a few drops of his vanilla elixir. The vanilla doesn’t add sweetness, just the essence of vanilla. “I have two of those and I am over the jet lag,” he says.

Ailment: Insomnia
Cure: Red Wine Sangria
“No Champagne, no tequila, no mezcal,” says Trummer. “You need a red wine–based cocktail like sangria with cloves. If you do yoga on the beach and drink a couple of glasses of clove-heavy sangria, you’ll have a really good sleep.”

Ailment: Congestion
Cure: Saffron-Infused Bourbon
For people with blocked-up sinuses, Trummer serves a saffron-infused bourbon with rhubarb, celery and lavender essences. “It’s very cleansing,” he says.

Ailment: The Blues
Cure: The Healthy Brain
“I think there’s a happy hormone in Champagne,” Trummer says. To lift spirits, he recommends the occasional morning glass of Champagne with his own chocolate bitters made with cocoa beans, Cognac, a few drops of Angostura and some melted Valrhona chocolate.

More from Food & Wine:

TIME Music

Robin Thicke Admits He Didn’t Really Write ‘Blurred Lines,’ Was High in the Studio

US-MUSIC-GRAMMY AWARDS-ARRIVALS
Robin Thicke arrives on the red carpet for the 56th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on Jan. 26, 2014 Robyn Beck—AFP/Getty Images

He and Pharrell Williams both testified that Williams actually wrote the song

Robin Thicke admitted in court that he didn’t really help write the 2013 smash “Blurred Lines” — in part because he was high on the painkiller Vicodin when the song was being written.

Instead, Thicke testified, it was producer Pharrell Williams who really wrote the song. The testimony was taken from depositions Thicke and Williams made in April as part of an ongoing legal dispute with the children of Marvin Gaye over whether or not “Blurred Lines” lifted beats and rhythms from Gaye’s 1977 song “Got to Give It Up.”

Here’s how Thicke said he contributed to the writing of the song, from depositions obtained by the Hollywood Reporter:

I was high on vicodin and alcohol when I showed up at the studio. So my recollection is when we made the song, I thought I wanted — I — I wanted to be more involved than I actually was by the time, nine months later, it became a huge hit and I wanted credit. So I started kind of convincing myself that I was a little more part of it than I was and I — because I didn’t want him — I wanted some credit for this big hit. But the reality is, is that Pharrell had the beat and he wrote almost every single part of the song.

Williams said he was “in the driver’s seat” for this song, but explained that sharing credit is the norm for the music industry. “You know, people are made to look like they have much more authorship in the situation than they actually do. So that’s where the embellishment comes in.” When asked whose words were used in the lyrics, Williams answered: “Mine.”

Williams also said that it’s “Robin Thicke’s voice” that makes the song great: “Because it’s the white man singing soulfully and we, unfortunately, in this country don’t get enough — we don’t get to hear that as often, so we get excited by it when the mainstream gives that a shot.”

Thicke also admitted he lied to media outlets about the genesis of the song, like when he described the creative process to GQ: “Pharrell and I were in the studio and I told him that one of my favorite songs of all time was Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got to Give It Up.’ I was like, ‘Damn, we should make something like that, something with that groove.’ Then he started playing a little something and we literally wrote the song in about a half hour and recorded it.”

As for why, exactly, he lied, Thicke says that he “had a drug and alcohol problem for the year” and “didn’t do a sober interview.”

[THR]

TIME Scotland

Scotch Whisky Makers Aren’t Warming to the Prospect of Scottish Independence

Distillers fear secession could dampen sales of their beloved spirits

Scotch whisky makers are worried about the vote for Scottish independence on September 18.

The Scotch Whisky Association explained how a vote for independence is concerning because it is currently unclear which currency Scotland will use and what an independent Scotland might mean for access to foreign markets. Currency confusion could lower sales, putting the important industry in a tailspin, along with the rest of the economy.

As the country’s second-largest export, Scotch comprises one fourth of all of Scotland’s food and drink exports. Some 40 bottles are shipped out of the country every second, according to CNN Money. The Scotch Whisky Association also stated that 35,000 people make their living off of Scotch production.

TIME health

This Is Your Child’s Brain on Alcohol

152527192
Anthony Bradshawmdash;Getty Images

Mary Jane Rotheram-Borus is a professor of psychology and the director of the UCLA Global Center for Children and Families.

Mark Tomlinson is a professor of psychology at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

40,000 children are born each year with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders

Social scientists have calculated that detrimental effects of alcohol cost the U.S. some $223.5 billion a year. We’re talking health issues such as liver disease, impaired driving, lost work due to hangovers, and emergency room visits. Alcohol costs substantially more to Americans than the harmful effects of illicit drug use ($151.4 billion) or tobacco ($167.8 billion).

But there’s a more disturbing cost that you might be surprised to learn about that’s not even factored into those staggering numbers: fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, the conditions that can result when a mother drinks during pregnancy. (When all of the disorders are present, in their most severe forms, we call it fetal alcohol syndrome.) According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost all of these children will have mental health problems as adults and 82 percent will not live independently. During adolescence, they also face an increased risk of drug and alcohol addiction. As a result, the lifetime cost of providing services to just one person with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in 2002 was about $2 million. And 40,000 children are born each year in the U.S. with the disorders.

While both of us will have a beer or glass of wine with friends, neither Mary Jane nor Mark’s wife had a drink of alcohol while pregnant. Our friends and our doctors, along with casual reading on the subject, had impressed on us the serious risks and we decided it was not worth it. Only about 12.2 percent of pregnant women drink in the United States; however, in low- and middle-income countries about double that number of women will drink during pregnancy.

The two of us really saw the visceral impact of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders when we started working on improving mothers’ and children’s lives in South Africa. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder affects as many as one in 10 children entering first grade in South Africa, the highest reported rate in the world.

Up until the 1990s, black South Africans were partially paid for their work in fields with a “DOP” or portion of wine. Drinking alcohol continues to be a part of the daily fabric of life in the townships—including brewing (and drinking) beer or spirits at home and visiting local bars known as shebeens. Alcohol is directly related to the high unemployment rates, especially for men in the townships—up to half of the young men are un- or under-employed over their lifetime.

The impacts of a mother drinking during pregnancy are not seen immediately. Brain damage slowly shows itself when the baby is small and fails to grow, speech comes late, colors are not learned by kindergarten, and school becomes a daily challenge. As we walked through informal settlements in Cape Town and Worcester—shacks without running water or flush toilets—we saw stunted and malnourished children playing outside all day long, many with the telltale signs of the disorder. Their faces feature foreshortened chins, thin upper lips, a flat mid face, short nose, and low nasal bridge. We couldn’t help but think ahead to the problems these children will have in school and their increased likelihood for dropping out. Their futures evaporated before they had a chance to grow, because of what their mothers knowingly or unknowingly drank before they were even born.

About one in four pregnant women in South Africa drink alcohol before recognizing she is pregnant and, without intervention, women who drank before realizing they were pregnant drank much more throughout their pregnancy. Even though there has lately been much chatter about how the occasional glass of wine with dinner should be OK, there really is no known “safe” amount of alcohol to drink during pregnancy. There is also no known safe period to drink during pregnancy. Binge drinking is by far the worst thing to do while pregnant—large doses (even if infrequent) are far worse than a small amount of alcohol routinely. Unfortunately, among alcohol drinkers in America, one in four binge drink, typically on weekends. This includes women who knowingly or unknowingly binge drink while pregnant.

The variations in how and when people drink may be the reason we have not been able to eliminate the negative consequences of alcohol during pregnancy. While access to drugs is often limited in many parts of the world, alcohol is almost universally available, especially in low-income countries because it can be manufactured locally. Brief, one-time counseling sessions that focus on the vulnerability of a fetus during pregnancy can help mothers understand the risks and reduce their drinking while pregnant. At sessions we offered to expectant mothers in South Africa, the influence of alcohol on a developing brain is starkly demonstrated by cracking an egg in alcohol at room temperature—the egg poaches. A child’s brain is fried when alcohol is circulating through its body. However, most women worldwide do not have access to these interventions. Compounding the problem: local healers throughout the world often use alcohol-laced remedies to help their clients relax. Pregnant women are often encouraged to take brews that include alcohol.

Here in the U.S., alcohol is embedded in almost all of our social rituals. Mary Jane’s parents in Los Angeles never drank, but they always had liquor to offer friends who came over for dinner. She does not know a male colleague who does not fancy himself a wine connoisseur and has been flabbergasted at the amount of money peers will spend on bottles of wine. Christmas, Yom Kippur, football tailgate parties, and practically all developmental milestones (graduations, child births, deaths) are marked with alcohol.

Given that alcohol permeates our lives—and every individual responds differently to alcohol—we have a responsibility to support one another and create a culture where “yes” is not the expected answer to, “Do you want a drink?” Genetic influence when it comes to alcohol abuse is real and scary. Some people are able to drink and never develop an addiction, while for others alcohol is a daily craving that is difficult to control. Previous attempts at controlling alcohol use that frame it as a question of willpower didn’t work. We need a more community-level approaches with policies like the ones we already have with the minimum age of drinking, restriction of bars in the proximity of schools, demonstration of a legal I.D. in order to purchase alcohol, and punishment of bar owners who continue to serve intoxicated customers.

National rates of tobacco smoking decreased as a result of structural and policy changes, including higher tobacco taxes, bans on smoking in restaurants and workplaces, and limits to the ability to when and where tobacco can be bought. Alcohol use could be similarly regulated—through higher alcohol taxes, continued limits on buying liquor based on the time of day or day of the week, and limiting alcohol at sports events, especially collegiate sports, or at educational events and professional conferences. Changing social rituals – such as bringing alcohol to parties, celebrating major achievements with champagne, marking the end of a work week with getting drunk- will take much longer to shift. Perhaps we could bring premium fruit juices to dinner parties instead.

In the next year, another 40,000 infants will be born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in the U.S. Following on the heels of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness Day earlier this month, we encourage you make a personal pledge to watch out for yourself, your friends, and people you encounter casually who may be at risk of creating a child with the disorder. The price to our children, our families, and our future is too high.

Mary Jane Rotheram-Borus is a professor of psychology and the director of the UCLA Global Center for Children and Families. Mark Tomlinson is a professor of psychology at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. They wrote this piece for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser