FASD The Course > Module 1: Historic Perspectives on Alcohol and Pregnancy > 5. England's Gin Epidemic
Module 1: Historic Perspectives on Alcohol and Pregnancy
England's Gin Epidemic
Want to sell something? Lower the price. Makes perfect sense - except when it's gin.
The Gin Epidemic in England in the 1700s is believed to have led to alcohol-related
birth defects. When the gin tax was lifted, the price went down. Drinking went up,
and so did infant deaths.2 In 1751, the government imposed sales restrictions.
In time, the problem was recognized more. In 1834, a British House of Commons report
stated that "infants of alcoholic mothers often have a starved, shriveld and imperfect
look."3 About 30 years later, a French physician described children exposed to
alcohol: small head, peculiar facial features, and "nervousness."2
Near the end of the 19th century, many researchers began to examine the effects of
alcohol on the fetus. For example, in 1899,
Dr. William Sullivan compared the pregnancy outcomes in 120 alcoholic prisoners with
28 of their blood relatives. The infant death rate was 20 percent higher among the
women with alcohol problems.2 Such studies continued into the early 20th century.