As rates of alcohol use are increasing nationwide and Coloradans of reproductive age continue to need accurate, tailored, and supportive information about alcohol and reproductive health, a dedicated group of Colorado experts developed a new patient education resource focused on alcohol and pregnancy. Developed by the Colorado Substance Exposed Newborns (SEN) Provider Education Work Group in collaboration with Peer Assistance Services, Inc., the new resource provides objective information to patients about the possible risks of substance use on health, including before, during, and after pregnancy.
The handout includes the following sections:
- Colorado-specific services and resources
- How alcohol can affect health
- Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs)
- Breastfeeding and alcohol use
- Marijuana use during pregnancy as well as breastfeeding
In initially searching for patient-facing resources about alcohol use and pregnancy for the Colorado Perinatal Substance Use Provider Toolkit (currently undergoing maintenance), members of the Work Group discovered that many existing resources lacked information about how to get connected to help or services, focused solely on the fetus rather than the pregnant individual, were very technical, and/or were potentially stigmatizing and shame-inducing. The Work Group discussed that while it is crucial to inform patients of the potential fetal impacts of prenatal alcohol exposure, such knowledge in and of itself does not address alcohol use, dependence, or interrelated factors. Reducing or quitting alcohol use can be difficult, and unintentionally instilling fear, guilt, or shame has the potential to trigger additional substance use.
The resource’s publication comes at a time when rates of alcohol use are increasing nationwide. A study comparing alcohol use before vs. during the pandemic revealed that the average amount of drinks per day consumed by an individual increased by 27% between February and April 2020, the number of consumers who exceeded drinking guidelines increased by 21%, and binge drinking increased by 26%. According to another study, women increased their heavy drinking days by 41% during the pandemic compared to before the pandemic.
Alcohol has had a long-standing role in culture over time in relation to social connectedness and relaxation, however is one of the teratogens with the most severe outcomes. Nationally, 45% of pregnancies are unintended. According to 2019 data from Colorado’s Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS), 67.2% of women drank alcohol during the 3 months before pregnancy, and 15.2% of women drank alcohol during the last trimester of pregnancy.
Understanding the risks associated with alcohol use decreases the possibility of experiencing harmful health outcomes.
The SBIRT in Colorado team offered expertise throughout the resource’s creation. Bethany Pace-Danley, Program Manager of SBIRT in Colorado, shared that “Understanding the risks associated with alcohol use decreases the possibility of experiencing harmful health outcomes. We are glad to have had the opportunity to collaborate on this important resource. We hope that it will increase conversations between patients and their clinicians about substance use, especially alcohol.”
There is no known safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy or when trying to get pregnant.
There is also no safe time to drink during pregnancy. If a person has consumed alcohol during pregnancy, reducing or stopping future use during the pregnancy minimizes further risk.
The Colorado Substance Exposed Newborns (SEN) Steering Committee envisions a Colorado that equitably serves all families through prevention and reduction of substance use during pregnancy and provides multigenerational support for families to thrive. Illuminate Colorado provides backbone support to the SEN Steering Committee. Illuminate Colorado additionally serves as the Colorado Chapter of the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.
Thank you to our partners at Peer Assistance Services, Inc. for their collaboration and leadership on the resource’s creation. As a program of Peer Assistance Services, Inc., the goal of SBIRT in Colorado is to promote Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment as a standard of care throughout Colorado healthcare systems.