Social Work’s Critical Role in Prevention of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
Drinking during pregnancy is more common than you might think. About one in 20 pregnant people report binge drinking in the past 30 days, and up to five percent of school children in the U.S. may have fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), a range of lifelong behavioral, intellectual, and physical disabilities that can occur in a baby exposed to alcohol before birth. People with FASDs may be at high risk for school challenges, criminal justice issues, substance use disorders, and mental health disorders.
September is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Awareness Month. As providers of mental and behavioral health services, social workers play a critical role in preventing FASDs by sharing these key messages with clients who are pregnant or may become pregnant:
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.
If you become pregnant, stop drinking alcohol. Every day matters. The sooner you stop drinking, the less health risks your newborn baby may encounter.
Stigma related to alcohol use during pregnancy can make discussing these topics with clients difficult. The good news is that universal alcohol screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT) offers a non-stigmatizing, evidence-based tool to address risky drinking, including any alcohol use during pregnancy. It is relatively simple to do, and using a validated screening instrument takes just a few minutes. Alcohol SBI is also 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).
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 in the Collaborative for Alcohol-Free Pregnancy. This CDC initiative supports health professionals across disciplines working together to promote primary prevention of alcohol-exposed pregnancies.
To learn more, visit NASW’s Behavioral Health page. Additional resources are also available:
Article 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.
This initiative, Engaging Social Workers in Preventing Alcohol- and Other Substance-Exposed Pregnancies, is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as part of a financial assistance award totaling $280,000 with 100 percent funded by CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, CDC/HHS, or the U.S. Government.