Brief Intervention Reduces Prenatal Alcohol Use


TORONTO — A single-session intervention can reduce prenatal alcohol use among at-risk pregnant women, especially those with higher reported alcohol consumption at baseline, Dr. Grace Chang reported at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.

Also, partner participation significantly enhances the intervention's positive effects.

The findings suggest that “screening and assessment with a validated instrument embedded into a patient information form can provide clinicians with important information about a woman's risk status and need for some type of intervention,” said Dr. Chang of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. And providing at-risk women and their partners with alcohol education and behavior management tools early in pregnancy can significantly affect subsequent risk behaviors, she said.

To assess the impact of a brief psychoeducational intervention on women identified as being at risk for alcohol consumption during pregnancy, Dr. Chang and her colleagues randomized 304 pregnant women who met predefined alcohol risk criteria and their partners to receive a diagnostic interview and the single-session intervention or the diagnostic interview alone. Potential study participants were gleaned from Boston-area obstetrical practices based on their responses to a prenatal health and habits survey, which included questions about diet, smoking, exercise, stress, and drinking.

The predefined risk criteria for study enrollment included a total score of two or more on the four-item T-ACE alcohol screening instrument and any alcohol use in the 3 months before study enrollment (while pregnant), consumption of at least one drink per day in the 6 months before study enrollment, or drinking during a previous pregnancy. The T-ACE instrument asks four questions: How many drinks does it take to make you feel high (Tolerance)? Have people ever annoyed you by criticizing your drinking (Annoyed)? Have you ever felt you ought to cut down on your drinking (Cut down)? Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover (Eye-opener)? The need for more than two drinks as a response to the tolerance question is worth two points, while positive answers to the remaining questions are each worth one point.

All of the study participants were at less than 28 weeks' gestation at the time of the diagnostic interview and intended to carry their pregnancy to term, and all were required to select a partner to participate in the study with them. Potential participants were excluded if they were under current treatment for alcohol or drug abuse or substance abuse-related medical illness, if they had current physical dependence on alcohol requiring medically supervised detoxification, if they were unable to complete the study questionnaires, or if they intended to terminate their pregnancy before gestation.

Study participants were, on average, at 11.5 weeks' gestation at the time of the study, and nearly half expected their first child. About 79% of the subjects were white, and 80% were married. Their median age was 31.4 years, and the median education level was a 4-year college degree.

At baseline, all of the pregnant participants underwent a diagnostic interview to measure daily drinking before the study, temptation to drink in certain social situations, and awareness of prenatal health behaviors. The partners underwent a separate interview to gauge their own drinking habits, their perception of their pregnant partners' drinking, and their knowledge of prenatal health behaviors.

Those partner pairs randomized to the intervention met with one of two trained nurse-practitioners or Dr. Chang for a single 25-minute session with four components: knowledge assessment with feedback, contracting and goal setting, behavior modification, and summary. The knowledge assessment and feedback component included a discussion of both partners' thoughts and misperceptions about prenatal health behaviors relative to alcohol use.

“We did not discuss the women's actual alcohol consumption in the presence of her partner unless they disclosed it voluntarily, for reasons of privacy and safety,” Dr. Chang said. “But the knowledge assessment was the springboard for the discussion of alcohol use during pregnancy.”

In the goal-setting and contracting component, the discussion focused on prenatal drinking goals. “It was not uncommon to hear women say their goal was to have 'just one drink' per week—and the women in the study were generally older and well educated. This would lead to a discussion of the surgeon general's advisory that no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy,” Dr. Chang said.

In the behavior-modification segment, the pregnant subjects were encouraged to think about circumstances, such as social events, that might invite the temptation to drink during pregnancy and to develop a list of alternative behaviors, such as having something to eat or a fake drink, Dr. Chang said. “We also asked the partner to list plans for personal behavior changes that could support the pregnant woman, such as drinking less or socializing differently.” Finally, the intervention was summarized on paper and provided to the partners.


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