Screening in treatment programs for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders that could affect therapeutic progress

Therese M Grant, Natalie Novick Brown, J. Christopher Graham, Nancy Whitney, Dan Dubovsky, Lonnie A. Nelson


Grant, T., Novick Brown, N., Graham, J., Whitney, N., Dubovsky, D. , & Nelson, L. (2013). Screening in treatment programs for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders that could affect therapeutic progress. The International Journal Of Alcohol And Drug Research, 2(3), 37-49. doi:10.7895/ijadr.v2i3.116 (

Aims: While structured intake interviews are the standard of care in substance abuse treatment programs, these interviews often do not screen for cognitive impairments, such as those found in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) and other brain-based developmental disorders. The research reported here supports a brief interview protocol, the Life History Screen (LHS), that screens clients unobtrusively for adverse life-course outcomes typically found in FASD, so as to guide follow-up assessments and treatment planning.

Design: Two-group observational study.

Setting: A three-year case management intervention program in Washington State for high-risk women who abuse alcohol and/or drugs during pregnancy.

Participants: Group 1: No prenatal alcohol exposure (N = 463); Group 2: Diagnosed with FASD (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder, fetal alcohol effects, or static encephalopathy) by a qualified physician (N = 25), or suspected of having FASD (reported prenatal alcohol exposure and displayed behaviors consistent with a clinical diagnosis of FASD) (N = 61).

Measures: The Addiction Severity Index (ASI) was administered to participants at intake. We analyzed eleven ASI items that corresponded to questions on the LHS in order to assess the potential of the LHS for identifying adults with possible FASD. The Life History Screen itself was not administered.

Findings: Analysis of group differences between the diagnosed FASD and suspected FASD groups supported our decision to collapse the two groups for the main analysis. The Life History Screen shows promise as an efficient pre-treatment screen, in that core items are significantly associated with FASD group membership on factors involving childhood history, maternal drinking, education, substance use, employment, and psychiatric symptomatology.

Conclusions: The Life History Screen may have utility as a self-report measure that can be used at the outset of treatment to identify clients with cognitive impairments and learning disabilities due to prenatal alcohol exposure.


FASD; fetal alcohol syndrome; fetal alcohol spectrum disorders; substance abuse treatment; screening

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