High-risk and binge drinking rates among U.S. women have increased significantly over recent years, with 1 in 10 women now drinking at excessive levels linked to alcohol-related health risks, injuries and chronic conditions.  At the same time, up to five percent of U.S. school children are living with the effects of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), a group of permanent — yet preventable—neurodevelopmental impairments and birth defects caused by prenatal alcohol exposure. The patterns of alcohol risk behaviors among women in concert with the alarming prevalence of FASD highlight the critical public health need for a cross-discipline approach to reducing risky alcohol use, preventing alcohol-exposed pregnancy, and reducing the prevalence of FASD.

As front line members of clinical teams serving women of reproductive age, social workers are positioned to take on a significant role in primary prevention of alcohol-exposed pregnancies. The Steve Hicks School of Social Work’s Health Behavior Research and Training Institute (HBRT) has partnered with the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) to represent social work practice in a new CDC cross-discipline initiative to strengthen primary prevention in health practice. As leader of the social work team, HBRT will work with NASW to develop and implement activities and work-products to inform and educate social workers about risky alcohol use; promote use of alcohol Screening and Brief Intervention (SBI) as a routine part of care; and promote science-based messaging, clinical guidelines, and continuing education resources to support SBI implementation and related clinical skills in social work practice. Critical to these efforts, HBRT will design and oversee completion of an NASW membership survey to assess relevant knowledge, attitudes, practices, and training needs among healthcare social workers. Survey findings will be used to inform design and implementation of subsequent activities and provide essential data for evaluating project outcomes.

HBRT’s nationally recognized expertise in disseminating and implementing alcohol SBI and behavioral interventions to reduce alcohol-exposed pregnancy, together with NASW’s national reach and influence among social work practitioners, create an exceptionally strong partnership to represent the discipline of social work in this new CDC initiative. Under CDC cooperative agreement, the HBRT team and NASW will work in partnership with the American Academy of Family Physicians, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and other leading health organizations to address a significant public health issue that affects women and families across practices and systems of care.