A client who is trying to get pregnant tells you she’s been having a glass of wine every night to unwind. “That’s ok, right?” she asks. What do you say? How much drinking is too much? Is there a level of drinking that’s “ok” for someone who is pregnant or thinking of having a baby?
If you’re not sure how to answer these questions, you’re not alone. Recent communication research shows that many healthcare professionals are surprised to learn how few drinks per week are considered excessive.
Excessive drinking includes heavy drinking (eight or more drinks a week for women, and 15 or more a week for men) and binge drinking (four or more drinks on one occasion for women, and five or more for men). In addition, there is no known safe amount of alcohol use or safe time to drink during pregnancy. There is also no safe type of alcohol to drink while pregnant, since all types of alcohol can be harmful, including wine, beer, and liquor.
Prenatal alcohol exposure has been linked to increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Alcohol-exposed pregnancies may also lead to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), a range of lifelong behavioral, intellectual, and physical disabilities that affects an estimated 2-5% of schoolchildren in the U.S.
Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT)
April is Alcohol Awareness Month—a call for social workers to learn about risky drinking, including any alcohol use during pregnancy. Social workers are uniquely positioned to discuss alcohol use with all clients and incorporate alcohol screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT) into routine care. Alcohol screening and brief intervention is an evidence-based practice that is recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and endorsed by major medical professional organizations, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Using a validated screening instrument takes just a few minutes, followed by a brief conversation with those who are drinking too much, and referral to treatment when appropriate. Simply raising the topic and asking clients about their alcohol use can have a significant impact, and research has found that 83% of healthcare professionals who routinely conduct screening and brief intervention (SBI) have seen positive behavior change in their patients.
Since 2014, NASW and the NASW Foundation have partnered with the Health Behavior Research and Training Institute at The University of Texas at Austin Steve Hicks School of Social Work and the Collaborative for Alcohol-Free Pregnancy. This CDC initiative encourages health professionals across disciplines to conduct alcohol screening for all adults, including those who may be pregnant.
To learn more, visit NASW’s Behavioral Health page.
Winter Practice Perspectives (2020): Alcohol Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT): Best Practices for the Prevention and Treatment of Risky Drinking in Girls/Women of Childbearing Age
By Diana Ling, MA, Program Manager; and Anna Mangum, MSW, MPH, Senior Health Strategist; Health Behavior Research and Training Institute, Steve Hicks School of Social Work, The University of Texas at Austin.