Six Facts about Prenatal Alcohol and Drug Use

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) has designated May 12 -18, 2013, as NCADD Alcohol & Drug-Related Birth Defects Awareness Week.  It is designed to increase knowledge about the effects of drugs and alcohol in newborn babies.  We want every child to be healthy, so it’s important to understand how illicit substances can affect growth and development.  Here are six facts everyone should know.

  1. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) are used to describe a range of developmental problems in newborns that are caused by alcoholism or heavy drinking during pregnancy.  They may include behavioral problems and intellectual delays, but also physical issues, such as growth deficiency and changes in facial features.
  2. FASDs are 100% preventable.  If a woman does not drink alcohol during pregnancy, FASDs are not a factor.
  3. In the US, about 20% of pregnant women report that they smoke cigarettes, 18% drink alcohol, and 6% say they’ve used an illicit drug at least once while carrying their pregnancy to term.
  4. Many children who experience prenatal alcohol exposure may not meet the definition of FASDs, but still have neurodevelopment problems and birth defects.
  5. Pregnant women and women of childbearing age can get help if they believe they are suffering with alcoholism or drug use.  The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a treatment facility locator or you can contact the NCADD for additional resources.
  6. If you know a child that may have FASD, there are treatment options available.  The parent should ask for a referral to someone who specializes in FASDs, such as a clinical geneticist, developmental pediatrician, or child psychologist.  There is no “cure” for FASD, but some treatment options can reduce some of the effects.  Examples of treatment include behavior and education therapy, parent training, and medication.

Margarette Burnette is a freelance writer based in Acworth, Georgia.