How Social Workers Can Make a Difference
Binge drinking and heavy alcohol use during pregnancy have increased over the past decade, according to a new study in JAMA Network Open. In fact, from 2011 to 2020, binge drinking among pregnant women increased nearly 9 percent a year, while heavy drinking increased by more than 11 percent a year, study authors found. For women, binge drinking means four or more drinks on one occasion; heavy alcohol use is defined as eight or more drinks a week.
Any alcohol use during pregnancy can cause a range of physical, behavioral, and learning problems in the baby known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). These issues can include speech and language delays, hyperactivity, and vision problems. FASDs may affect up to 1 in 20 schoolchildren in the U.S. and are the leading preventable cause of developmental disabilities.
September is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Awareness Month—a reminder that there is no known safe amount, no safe time, and no safe type of alcohol to drink while pregnant or trying to get pregnant. Social workers can make a difference by sharing this key message with clients—and by screening all adults for risky alcohol use. Alcohol screening and brief intervention (SBI) is supported by more than 30 years of research showing its effectiveness in reducing prenatal alcohol use and FASDs. Based on this evidence, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends the use of alcohol SBI for all adults in primary healthcare settings.
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 are partners in the Collaborative for Alcohol-Free Pregnancy, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initiative to encourage primary health professionals, including social workers, to use proven practice in routine care.
To learn more, visit NASW’s page on Behavioral Health. Additional clinical resources from Collaborative members are also available:
- 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
- Velasquez, M. M., Ingersoll, K., Sobell, M., & Sobell, L.C. (2015), Women and Drinking: Preventing Alcohol-Exposed Pregnancies
By Diana Ling, MA, Program Manager; and Leslie Sirrianni, LCSW, Senior Research Project and Training Coordinator; Health Behavior Research and Training Institute, Steve Hicks School of Social Work, The University of Texas at Austin