Alcohol-exposed pregnancies (AEPs) are more common than you might think: according to a new study, an estimated 54 percent of children in the United States are exposed to alcohol before they’re born. The high prevalence of AEPs surprised even the study’s authors, who looked for what might be driving the trend.
The answer? Unintended pregnancies—from when women drank without knowing they were pregnant—represented an overwhelming 80 percent of the estimated AEPs.
Prenatal alcohol exposure can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs)—a range of physical, behavioral, and intellectual problems that last a lifetime. These issues may be mild to severe and can include learning problems, hyperactivity, speech and language delays, problems with vision and hearing, as well as abnormal facial features.
September is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Awareness Month—a call for social workers to lead in primary prevention by screening all adult clients for risky alcohol use, as the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends. Alcohol screening and brief intervention (SBI) is an evidence-based tool to prevent alcohol use during pregnancy and FASDs. Talking to women about their alcohol use is essential to AEP prevention. In fact, study authors found that public health efforts to help women of reproductive age abstain from alcohol could reduce AEPs by 80 percent. A key message to share with women is that there is no known safe amount, no safe time, and no safe type of alcohol to drink while pregnant.
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the NASW Foundation and the Health Behavior Research and Training Institute at The University of Texas at Austin Steve Hicks School of Social Work have partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Collaborative for Alcohol-Free Pregnancy, a public health initiative to encourage primary health professionals to use proven practice in routine care. The Collaborative website includes trainings, and resources on prevention, diagnosis, and care.
Visit NASW’s page on Behavioral Health for more resources. Additional clinical resources are available through our Collaborative partners:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Training and Resources
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Prevention Program
By Diana Ling, MA, Outreach Program Coordinator; and Leslie Sirrianni, LCSW, Training Coordinator; Health Behavior Research and Training Institute, Steve Hicks School of Social Work, The University of Texas at Austin