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Alcohol is now the leading known cause of mental and physical birth defects in the United States. Every year hundreds of children are born with a pattern of physical, mental developmental and functional problems known as the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).
Reduction of drinking of women of child-bearing age must therefore be one of the top priorities.
In a national survey conducted by the CDC, research shows that while there has been a declining trend in the rates of alcohol use during pregnancy between 1988 and 1995, in 1999 significantly more women reported a pattern of risky drinking. It bears stressing that although it is general knowledge that drinking during any period of pregnancy could be harmful for the fetus most are unaware that it is during the first trimester of pregnancy that the fetus is most vulnerable to damage.
Most women of childbearing-age lack knowledge on what level of drinking is classified as risky drinking. It is therefore important to get the proper information on what constitutes risky drinking for these women of childbearing-age. This research paper will examine the extent of alcohol pattern of women of childbearing age so that FAS can be prevented. A close review of the literature on this subject matter will reveal that there is no comprehensive information on drinking patterns among pregnant women. Also that study on what constitutes risky drinking is limited to past-month drinking which is incomplete. Further, the lack of clear consensus among the researchers on what is the extent of risky drinking by pregnant women is also glaring
Thus, until now the threshold for risky drinking during pregnancy is still not yet available. It is the task of this research to get the needed information on drinking patterns, the drinks consumed on a particular occasion, the number of drinking days and amount of alcohol consumed per occasion.
The participants were taken from the National Alcohol Survey which was conducted by the Alcohol Research Group. Based on the research, a total of 7612 adult men and women from all of the 50 states and the District of Columbia were participants. As a measure of ensuring the widest possible demographic grouping the survey also included an over-sample of blacks and Hispanics as well as low population states such as North Dakota, Hawaii, Wyoming and Alaska. Based on these samples, a total of 1601 women were included in the study. Out of this number, complete information on pregnancy or likelihood of pregnancy is available only for 1504 women. This study will give focus on 1504 women where information on pregnancy or likelihood of pregnancy is available.
How Many Were Chosen
Out of the total of 7612 respondents interviewed by the Alcohol Research Group, only 1504 became subjects of this research. These women were further categorized into three: a) those who are pregnant; b) those who are likely to be pregnant but are not currently so; and c) those who are not pregnant and are not likely to be pregnant in the next 5 years. Thus, out of the 1504 respondents, 72 were pregnant, 511 were currently not pregnant but reported being likely to be pregnant in the next 5 years, and 921 women were neither pregnant nor likely to be in the next 5 years.
The method used for gathering information on alcohol use and problems, pregnancy and likelihood of future pregnancy was computer-assisted telephone interview (CATI). To ensure the accuracy of information to be gathered from the interviewees, the interviews were conducted on the telephone by trained interviewees. Pregnancy-related questions were also asked such as: ‘Are you currently pregnant?” or ‘Is it likely that you will become pregnant within the next 5 years.’
The following data were also taken: a) alcohol use; b) overall frequency of drinking in the past year c) frequency of consuming different amounts in a day.
After examining the quantity of alcohol consumed by the interviewees, the specific risky drinking patterns were likewise examined. The frequency of drinking, number of days of heavy episodic drinking, number of drinks on a usual drinking occasion, time spent drinking on a typical drinking day and proportion of drinking with meals in the past year.
Also, considering the possibility that drinking may occur prior to knowing that one is pregnant, the examination for risky drinking was extended to beyond drinking in the past month to include drinking within the year.
The results of the study showed that more than half of each group of women reported being drinkers in the past year. Specifically, 5 7% of pregnant women, 71% of women likely to be pregnant but not currently so, and 64% of the remaining women had consumed at least one whole drink in the past year. Based on the interview, there were substantial differences in the alcohol use among these three groups of women with the pregnant women being the least likely to drink in the past year. Though pregnant risky drinkers averaged the lowest number of drinking days of all groups of risky drinkers, the measure of their alcohol consumption appeared similar if not higher than of all other risky drinkers. This only means that the number of drinking days is not the sole factor to be considered to be classified as a risky drinker.
Also, using the classification of the CDC reports, less than 10% of all the three groups of women were classified as past-month risky drinkers. However, using the past-year drinking method, the results will reveal that the proportions increased threefold to 16% for pregnant women and 23-39% for the two other groups of women.
The study will also reveal that over 5% of pregnant women and 7% of non-pregnant women of childbearing age consume alcohol at levels that can be classified as risky drinking by the CDC. This rate of risky drinking is higher than those reported by the CDC (2-3%). Thus, it can be inferred that more pregnant women and non-pregnant women are classified as risky drinker.
In sum, the result of this study shows that women of reproductive age do not use alcohol excessively. This however does not mean that they are not risky drinkers. Based on the past-year drinking method, even pregnant women can be considered as risky drinkers. It is therefore important that these women be informed not only of the importance of the risks associated with drinking during pregnancy but also on what are the levels of drinking that are considered risky. Based on the interviews, the women interviewed lack a clear understanding not only of the risks associated with drinking while pregnant but also of the assessment of the level of drinking that is considered as risky. Thus, in assessing risky drinking in childbearing-age women, the quantity alone of the alcohol is not the sole factor to be considered but their drinking patterns as well.