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Awareness Months


National Birth Defects Prevention Month

The March of Dimes, an international organization devoted to the discovery, treatment, and elimination of birth defects, is the driving force behind National Birth Defects Prevention Month. Birth defects occur while a baby is growing during pregnancy and can cause physical or mental disabilities, and in some cases even death. There are many different birth defects, and the March of Dimes estimates that approximately 120,000 babies are born each year in the United States with at least one. Among the most common are heart defects, cleft lip and cleft palate, Down syndrome, Spina Bifida, and FASD.

The March of Dimes is leading the way in discovering the genetic causes of birth defects, promoting newborn screening, and educating medical professionals and the public about best practices for healthy pregnancy. It has supported research for surfactant therapy to treat respiratory distress and helped initiate the system of regional neonatal intensive care for premature and sick babies. Many babies born with an FASD experience these symptoms and need this care.

Like the March of Dimes, the FASD Center for Excellence supports and promotes prevention, intervention, and diagnosis programs that are helping to eliminate alcohol-exposed pregnancies and help children and families living with FASD. The FASD Center for Excellence and March of Dimes both urge all women to have a preconception health checkup and continue with prenatal care throughout pregnancy.

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National Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

Intellectual disabilities occur for a variety of reasons, among them prenatal exposure to alcohol. The FASD Center for Excellence recognizes and supports the efforts of numerous national and local organizations that work to improve systems, services, and supports, and to educate individuals, families, and communities affected by intellectual disabilities. During Intellectual Disabilities Awareness Month, some of these organizations redouble their efforts to deliver their messages. To assist, the FASD Center for Excellence Web site offers links to Web sites that address this issue and provide helpful information to parents and families.

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Alcohol Awareness Month

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that one in six U.S. adults (ages 18 and over) engage in binge drinking, and that those who do binge drink tend to do so frequently and with high intensity.1 [Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks on an occasion for women, or five or more drinks on an occasion for men.] Excessive alcohol consumption is estimated to cause approximately 80,000 deaths in the U.S. each year.2 In addition, abuse of alcohol can lead to many other adverse health and social outcomes, including liver cirrhosis, breast and colon cancer, unintentional injuries, violence, unintended pregnancy, and FASD.3

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) sponsors Alcohol Awareness Month every year to inform Americans about the damage that excessive alcohol consumption can cause, and to encourage everyone to follow some simple guidelines:

  • Don't drink if you are under the legal drinking age.
  • Only drink alcohol in moderation.
  • If you are pregnant, or may become pregnant, don't drink alcohol. There is no known safe amount or type of alcohol to drink during pregnancy.

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National Minority Health Month

FASD Center for Excellence Strives to Improve the Health of Minority Populations

The Office of Minority Health at HHS makes a variety of resources available each April to spotlight National Minority Health Month. Unified under an annual theme, these resources are designed as a call to action and unity for the regions, the state and local offices of minority health, the health departments, and all the organizations and partners involved and invested in reducing health disparities. Materials and guides are available for professionals and consumers, and can help individuals or organizations raise awareness, convene a Town Hall meeting, register a new event, or find existing local events related to minority health issues.

Links to Learn More:


Mental Health Awareness Month

Mental Health America (MHA), like SAMHSA, is dedicated to battling the stigma, shame, and myths surrounding mental disorders. Formerly known as the National Mental Health Association, MHA is a nationwide nonpartisan public education organization launched as part of the 1999 White House Conference on Mental Health. Since 1949, MHA has sponsored and celebrated Mental Health Awareness Month. The goal is to provide education and create a more accepting environment for people to seek the help they need.

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National Recovery Month (Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month)

According to SAMHSA’s most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 23.1 million persons in the U.S. aged 12 or older needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol use problem in 2010. Of these, only 2.6 million (just over 11%) received treatment at a specialty facility, meaning that nearly 89% of those who needed treatment did not receive specialized care.5 In addition, many people seeking substance abuse treatment may already have an unrecognized FASD, as individuals with FASD experience higher rates than the general population of substance abuse issues.6

Each September, SAMHSA sponsors National Recovery Month to help raise awareness of this significant treatment gap. National Recovery Month promotes the societal benefits of prevention, treatment, and recovery for mental and substance use disorders, celebrates people in recovery, lauds the contributions of treatment and service providers, and promotes the message that recovery in all its forms is possible.

If you feel that you or a loved one has a problem with alcohol or another drug, you can follow the links below to learn more about National Recovery Month or access treatment resources near you.

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The following resources can be helpful for women who have or may have an FASD and are in recovery:


National Adoption Month

November is National Adoption Month. Since 1995, this month has been set aside to raise awareness of the importance of adopting children and youth from foster care. Many children born with an FASD become foster children, sometimes repeatedly. Initiatives such as National Adoption Month help to spotlight the need for loving families to care for these and all children who are awaiting adoption, and also provide valuable information so that prospective parents can make informed decisions about the adoption process.

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National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Month

Each November is also National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Month. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2010 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (2010 AHAR), the number of people experiencing homelessness on a single night was 649,917 in January 2010 (up 1.1% from the same survey in 2009). Overall, more than 1.59 million people spent at least one night in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program during the 2010 AHAR reporting period (up 2.2% from 2009).6

A variety of factors contribute to and result from homelessness, including lack of affordable housing, unemployment, mental health issues (26.2% of sheltered persons who were homeless in the 2010 AHAR had a severe mental illness), and substance abuse (34.7% of persons in the same survey had chronic substance use issues). Individuals with an FASD have also been shown to be at a high risk for experiencing homelessness during their lifetimes.7

Addressing homelessness is a key part of SAMHSA’s Recovery Support Strategic Initiative. To learn more about what SAMHSA and other agencies are doing to address this national issue, follow the links below.

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1CDC. 2012. Vital signs: Binge drinking prevalence, frequency, and intensity among adults—United States, 2010. MMWR Jan 10:61:1-7.

2Bouchery, E. E., Harwood, H. J., Sacks, J. J., Simon, C. J., & Brewer, R. D. 2011. Economic costs of excessive alcohol consumption in the United States, 2006. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 41:516-524.

3Community Guide Branch, Epidemiology Analysis Program Office (EAPO), Office of Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Laboratory Services (OSELS). 2010. Preventing Excessive Alcohol Use. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Exit Disclaimer Graphic.

4Institute of Health Economics. 2009. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD): Across the lifespan. Proceedings from an IHE Consensus Development Conference. Alberta, CA: Institute of Health Economics.

5Office of Applied Studies. 2011. Results from the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings. NSDUH Series H-41, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 11-4658. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

6Astley, S. J. (2010). Profile of the first 1,400 patients receiving diagnostic evaluations for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder at the Washington State Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Diagnostic and Prevention Network. Canadian Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 17(1), e132-64. Accessed July 1, 2012 at Disclaimer Graphic

7Dinning, B. L., Podruski, A., Fox, D., & Wright, A. 2004. We Cares: Practical Skills for Frontline Workers Working with Adults Affected by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. Ottawa, CA: Anne Wright and Associates, Inc.