BOTH Indigenous and non-Indigenous children of mothers with an alcohol-use disorder have the same risk of intellectual disability, a Curtin University study has found.
The study, published in the journal of Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology highlights the effects of maternal alcohol-use disorder during pregnancy on the intellectual development of offspring.
National Health and Medical Research Council post-doctoral research fellow and lead author, Colleen O’Leary says the proportion of intellectual disability due to maternal alcohol-use disorder is higher for Indigenous children, but all children of mothers with an alcohol-related diagnosis have a three-fold increased risk of intellectual disability.
“Many Australians assume that alcohol and pregnancy and FAS are issues only for Aboriginal people, but that’s actually not the case,” Dr O’Leary says.
“If pregnant women drink heavily or have an alcohol problem then they have the same risks, no matter who they are.”
The study identified that just over 10,500 non-Aboriginal births (from 41,000) and 7,800 Aboriginal births (from 23,000) throughout 1983-2001 were to mothers with an alcohol-related diagnosis recorded on health datasets.
“Out of all the children in Western Australia who have an intellectual disability; our study found the proportion that can be attributed to maternal alcohol-use disorder is around 3.8 per cent,” she says.
“1.3 per cent of the non-aboriginal children could have their intellectual disability due to maternal alcohol use disorder, and for aboriginal children it is much higher, 15.6 per cent.”
“The risk is the same for the two groups of children but the difference is the fact that more Aboriginal women have had an alcohol-use disorder recorded while they have been in hospital or in contact with mental health or drug and alcohol services than non-Aboriginal women.”
Dr O’Leary says the study shows alcohol disorders in pregnancy are under recognised.
“There are likely to be more women who could be classified as having an alcohol-use disorder who have not been detected in our study,” she says.
“So the proportions are likely to be higher if we were able to more accurately identify alcohol-use disorders in health settings.”
Depending on the studies, Dr O’Leary says anywhere between 35 to 60 per cent of women report drinking during pregnancy.
“The National Health and Medical Research Council drinking guidelines advise that women who are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant should not drink alcohol, and yet women are choosing to ignore this advice,” she says.
Dr O’Leary says for people to recognise that it is the safest choice not to drink during pregnancy, more information needs to be disseminated to women and the wider community.