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Keywords:

  • Alcohol use patterns;
  • childbearing-age women;
  • pregnancy;
  • risky drinking

ABSTRACT

Aims  We examined risky drinking and alcohol use patterns associated with prenatal effects of alcohol exposure in women of childbearing age, using various definitions of low-risk drinking.

Design  Computer-assisted telephone interview (CATI) methodology was used to gather information in a cross-sectional survey on alcohol use and problems, pregnancy and likelihood of future pregnancy.

Setting  Participants were respondents in the 2000 National Alcohol Survey (NAS, N10, response rate 58%) which includes men and women from all 50 states of the United States and the District of Columbia.

Participants  A total of 1504 women aged 18–39 years were included; 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.

Measurements  Various alcohol use patterns in the past 12 months including average volume, amount per session, drinking with food and time spent drinking were assessed.

Findings  Seven per cent of childbearing age women exceeded guidelines used to classify women as risky drinkers in the past month. Thirty per cent were classified as risky drinkers when these guidelines were extended to past-year drinking. Examination of specific alcohol use patterns revealed that while under 10% of risky drinkers reported past-month heavy episodic drinking, 30% or more reported heavy episodic drinking and exceeding daily limits for alcohol consumption in the past year.

Conclusions  Public health professionals should note that past-year drinking in a significant proportion of women of childbearing age exceeds guidelines for alcohol use. When targeting such prevention efforts, they should thus include assessment of past-year alcohol use patterns.