Fetal Alcohol Syndrome - pg. 5

Is FAS a Significant Problem?

FAS is the leading known cause of mental retardation. In the United States:

  • Prevalence of FAS is estimated to be between 0.5 and 2 per 1,000 births.
  • Prevalence of FAS, ARND, and ARBD combined is at least 10 per 1,000, or 1 percent of all births.
  • Based on the above rates of FAS, ARBD, and ARND, FAS affects at least 40,000 newborns each year.
  • The cost to the nation of FAS alone may be up to $6 billion each year.
  • For one individual with FAS, the lifetime cost is at least $2 million.

Drinking Among Pregnant Women

In the United States:

  • 1 in 30 pregnant women reports high-risk drinking (7 or more drinks per week, or 5 or more drinks on any one occasion).
  • 1 in 9 pregnant women binge drinks in the first 3 months of her pregnancy.
  • 1 in 30 pregnant women drinks at levels that increase the risk of FAS.
  • More than 1 in 5 pregnant women report alcohol use in the first trimester, 1 in 14 in the second trimester, and 1 in 20 in the third trimester.
  • Those who are unmarried and over 30 tend to have the highest rates of alcohol use in pregnancy. However, in 2004, the rate of past month binge drinking among pregnant women age 15 to 17 (8.8%) was more than twice that of pregnant women age 26 to 44 (3.8%).
  • Among women of childbearing age entering substance abuse treatment, 4% were pregnant. Eighteen percent of pregnant women entering treatment say that alcohol is their primary substance of abuse Alcohol use during pregnancy varies by race.

Identified Risk Factors

A profile of 80 women in Washington State who have given birth to a child with FAS reveals several risk factors for drinking during pregnancy:
  • 96% had at least one mental illness.
  • 95% had a history of sexual or physical abuse.
  • 61% had less than a high school education.
  • 77% had an unplanned pregnancy, 81% had no birth control, and 92% wanted some form of birth control.
  • 59% had an annual gross household income less than $10,000.
The study also identified factors that had helped pregnant women avoid alcohol. These included mental illness treatment and large social support networks.

What Problems Do People With An FAS Face?

People with FAS are vulnerable to a range of difficulties, such as failure in school, substance abuse, mental illness, and involvement in the criminal justice system. A University of Washington study shows the percentage of people age 6 to 51 with FAS who had difficulties in the following areas:
  • 94% had mental health problems.
  • 23% had received inpatient care for mental illness.
  • 83% of adults experienced dependent living.
  • 79% of adults had employment problems.
  • 60% of those age 12 and older had trouble with the law.
  • 35% of adults and adolescents had been in prison for a crime.
  • 45% engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior.
  • 43% had disrupted school experiences (e.g., dropped out).
  • 24% of adolescents, 46% of adults, and 35% overall had alcohol and drug problems.

Can FAS Be Prevented?

The most important statistic to remember about FAS is that it is 100% preventable. The only cause of FAS is prenatal exposure to alcohol. If a woman does not drink during pregnancy, her baby will not have FAS. Individuals who already have FAS should receive an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment, prevention, and support services. FAS prevention and treatment strategies present an opportunity to address FAS, raising hope for families everywhere.

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