National Drug Strategy
National Drug Strategy

Intergovernmental committee on Drugs working party on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Monograph

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders in Australia: An Update

June 2012

Introduction

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Table of contents

Alcohol consumption is common among Australian women. Approximately one-third of adult women report drinking at least weekly and this pattern is most frequently reported by women of childbearing age. Although most of these women drink at safe levels, a minority will develop significant problems such as alcohol abuse or dependence; 11 percent drink at risky levels for alcohol-related harm over a lifetime, 30 percent drink at risky level for risk of injury on a single occasion and 5 percent of women report drinking daily (AIHW 2011). For women who drink at these levels and become pregnant there is special concern for the women and their unborn babies. This is because alcohol is a teratogen responsible for the range of abnormalities in the child that comprise the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). At their November 2004 meeting, members of the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy (MCDS) agreed that the Inter Governmental Council on Drugs (IGCD) should form a working party to provide advice about FASD, specifically of recent developments, both in Australia and internationally, that would inform policies to address issues associated with FASD, including identification of best practice approaches to reduce the incidence of FASD, particularly in Aboriginal communities.

A working party was established in 2006 comprising nominated jurisdictional representatives, clinicians and public health experts. One task of the working party was to update the 2002 Literature Review by the National Expert Advisory Committee on Alcohol, the findings of which are contained within this monograph. Information about the epidemiology of FASD, the economic and health service impacts of FASD, and international clinical services relating to FASD are also discussed.

Note: Whilst the umbrella term Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) comprises a range of disorders, much of the research in the field has focused on the more visible end of the spectrum, namely Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). This is mainly due to difficulties associated with diagnosis of the other disorders that comprise FASD, particularly Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder. Consequently, much of the following document refers to FAS, with information on FASD included as appropriate and where available.

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