Screening and recording of alcohol use among women of child-bearing age and pregnant women

Can J Clin Pharmacol. 2009 Winter;16(1):e242-63. Epub 2009 Apr 16.


A woman's alcohol use during pregnancy is one of the top preventable causes of birth defects and developmental disabilities that are known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). The social and economic burden of FASD is substantial. Lifetime direct tangible costs per individual related to health care, education and social services in Canada have been estimated to be $1.4 million. Screening women of child-bearing age and pregnant women and recording their alcohol consumption is a practical process to identify and evaluate women at-risk and to identify potentially exposed infants. The FASD Advisory Workgroup proposes the following three levels of screenings which should be done on consenting women: Level I screening involves practice-based approaches that can be used by health care providers when talking to women about alcohol use, such as motivational interviewing and supportive dialogue. Level II screening includes a number of structured questionnaires that can be used with direct questioning (TLFB) or indirect /masked screening (AUDIT, BMAST / SMAST, CAGE, CRAFFT, T-ACE, TWEAK). Level III screening includes laboratory-based tools that can be used to confirm the presence of a drug, its level of exposure and determine the presence of multiple drugs. There are challenges and limitations in the use of the screening and assessment tools outlined. For example, the single question about alcohol use and the various questionnaires rely on a woman to provide details about her alcohol use. There is no consensus on the appropriate screening to use across Canada as each provincial / territorial jurisdiction, health care organization and healthcare provider uses a variety of formal and informal screening tool. In addition, there are inconsistent processes across Canada for the recording of the alcohol use in a woman's chart and the transfer of the information to the infant and the child's health records. The FASD Advisory Workgroup proposes eleven recommendations to improve the screening and recording processes for alcohol use in women of child-bearing age and pregnant women.

Publication types

  • Practice Guideline
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / epidemiology
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / etiology
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Mass Screening*
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Care*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Women's Health*