How to discuss alcohol use with women of childbearing age is a topic in women’s health that is getting more attention and focus. Within FASD prevention circles, we have understood that women and their partners may not know about the risks of alcohol consumption during pregnancy or may drink before they realize they are pregnant.  Thus, they benefit from discussion of what they know, what the evidence says and options for action.

Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral (SBIR) has long been known as an approach to guide clinicians when assessing risky alcohol use. But is the SBIR model the best approach to discussing alcohol with women of childbearing age and their partners? What are the approaches currently used across Canada? How should we discuss alcohol with women and who should do it? What works best according to the evidence?

The Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health (CEWH), the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA), and the University of British Columbia Midwifery Program have teamed up to answer these questions. The Dialogue to Action on Discussing Alcohol with Women project has three high-level objectives: to identify current approaches; to summarize and share the available evidence; and, to promote best practices.

Nancy Poole of CEWH and Audrey McFarlane of CanFASD and Lakeland Centre for FASD at the Dialogue to Action regional meeting in Edmonton.

In order to meet their first objective, project researchers are currently conducting 12 regional meetings across Canada with physicians, midwives, nurses, and service providers in, sexual health clinics, violence against women services, alcohol and drug services, and Indigenous health services.

They are learning what is already being done and sharing what is known about promising practices and existing resources that can guide discussions and referrals. Participants are suggesting resources and tools – such as webinars, guidelines, policies and programs – that will be helpful in conducting meaningful discussions and support in their communities with women who use legal substances – or soon to be legal, like cannabis.

One early emerging idea arising from this project is that “screening” may be currently placed in the wrong location in the mnemonic list of SBIR.  Starting with brief information sharing and support (the relationship first), followed by screening/referral can be more engaging, trauma-informed, collaborative and person-centred. The rearranged approach prioritizes eliciting and appreciating individual needs and perspectives.

So the list might become BISR or even BISBIRT – repeating the conversation about substance use and ideas for action after screening as well as before it.

Participants from a regional meeting in Winnipeg, MB, discuss approaches to discussing alcohol with women that are working in their communities.

This project is one of several projects addressing FASD in Canada being funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada. You can learn more about all the projects here: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/news/2017/05/fetal_alcohol_spectrumdisorderincanadanewprojectfunding1.html

Read more:

Conversations on alcohol: Women, their partners, and professionals – April 23, 2017

Preconception Interventions: Trending or Mainstream? – July 21, 2016

Alcohol and FASD: It’s not just about women  – June 6, 2017