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Teratogenic Effects of Alcohol and Smoking

The teratogen is an umbrella term for substances that can have adverse effects on the physiological development of an embryo. The effects are usually caused by the toxic effects of the agents in question, and can result in abnormalities and birth defects, including malformation, growth and development retardation, functional disorders, and even pregnancy cessation and death. Usually, the mother is affected by a teratogen that can be found in her environment during her pregnancy.

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There are a variety of actions that can lead to the embryo or the fetus being affected by a teratogen, including taking medication prescribed by a physician, consumption of drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes, maternal infections, radiation, and being exposed to toxic chemicals. The severity of the impact depends on the type of the teratogen involved, the amount of it in the organism and at which development stage the embryo was affected. In general, almost 5 percent of all birth defects are caused by such substances.

Assessment of the Situation

In the situation provided, a girl continues drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes despite being pregnant. While she may believe that here actions will not affect her unborn child, in reality, she is putting him through a lot of risks. There is no precise information about the age of the subject, but it can be assumed that she is relatively young, which imposes additional strain on the pregnancy. Teratogens can cause harm to the fetus as early as 10 to 14 days after conception when a shared blood supply is established.

From that point onwards, if we assume that she is consuming the mentioned above substances throughout the pregnancy, they can cause the unborn child’s neural tube to develop incorrectly, resulting in congenital abnormalities. Other severe issues include damage to the central nervous system, which is sensitive to toxic influences during the entirety of pregnancy.

Dangers of Teratogens

Alcohol, in particular, is broken down slower in the fetus’ body, and can be retained by it longer, resulting in the fetal alcohol syndrome. The unborn child can gain neonatal abstinence syndrome, which is withdrawal, and the dependence remains after birth. Alcohol can also induce deformities and other symptoms, such as poor development of the optic nerve and cross-eyes, malformed ears and head, small jaw, caved-in chest, heart and brain defects, incomplete development of various organs, including genitalia.

Additionally, the child can suffer from growth, coordination and mental retardation. Smoking is no less dangerous and increases the risks of spontaneous miscarriage and premature birth, placental abruption (and thus danger to the mother herself), and deformities as well. Smoking during pregnancy has also been tied to the sudden infant death syndrome. Nicotine (considered to be one of the most significant reproductive toxins), cyanide, carbon monoxide, and a number of other toxins found in cigarettes have been shown to have severe consequences on the development of a fetus. These outcomes include reduction of blood flow and oxygen transfer to the fetus, delays and abnormalities in the brain development, behavioral deviations, etc. Similarly to alcohol, nicotine can lead to neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Dealing with the Issue

In combination, smoking and liquor consumption is extremely dangerous to the development of a child, and may require the mother to take steps to deal with them as soon as possible to mitigate some of the possible conditions that her child will suffer from as a result. On a personal level, she should stop consuming alcohol immediately. While full prevention of the fetal alcohol syndrome and defects caused by smoking would require her to have stopped taking the teratogens before pregnancy, by stopping now she might be able to limit the amount of possible damage done to the fetus.

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There are medications which can be prescribed to a child after the birth to treat the withdrawal symptoms and a number of cognitive and behavioral problems, but ultimately a lot of the problems caused by the teratogens cannot be resolved entirely, and would cause constant medical attention throughout the child’s life.

One of the most important things that can be done on a societal level to prevent smoking and alcohol drinking during pregnancy is improving the national awareness. The evaluated girl poignantly did not know about the negative consequences of the teratogens she took, and this situation is very common in the world. It is thus vital to educate women and men, who are equally responsibile for the child, about the numerous side-effects of their bad habits.

If a woman already has the habit, she should receive support during pregnancy and after to abstain, and protect the child from birth defects. The state should, in turn, provide coaching services to future mothers and fathers to not only educate them about what is safe and what is harmful to their unborn child but also counsel them on how to go through with the pregnancy to exclude any possible threats. Finally, on a national level, a healthy culture should be propagated.


Ultimately, a lot is in the hands of the parents it is their duty to be responsible and carefully consider what consequences their actions will have on the health, well-being, and future life of their children, and those around them.

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