Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) Overview

Drinking during pregnancy can result in a child being born with a range of disorders known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD); the most severe effects of prenatal alcohol exposure is fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

Pregnant woman holding red wine glass
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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

FAS is the leading known preventable causes of mental retardation and birth defects. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a lifelong condition that causes many physical and mental disabilities, including abnormal facial features, growth deficiencies, and central nervous system problems.

Individuals with fetal alcohol syndrome can also develop a wide range of secondary conditions that include mental health problems, disruption of education, legal problems, inappropriate sexual behavior, drug and alcohol problems and problems with daily living.

Secondary Conditions

FAS is an incurable, permanent condition which can affect every aspect of a fetal alcohol syndrome child's life, as well as the lives of family members. Although there is no cure for FAS, there are some protective factors that can be implemented to lessen or prevent the development of secondary conditions associated with FAS.

People with FAS sometimes experience problems with learning, memory, attention span, communication, vision, hearing or any combination of these effects. These conditions can cause difficulties in school and problems getting along with others.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) is an umbrella term for a wide range of effects of a child whose mother drank alcohol during the pregnancy. FASD is used to describe conditions that occur in individuals who have been diagnosed with some, but not all, of the symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome.

Children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders who do not have the facial abnormalities associated with FAS, for example, can still have mental retardation and disabilities just as severe as those who have the classic facial signs of fetal alcohol syndrome.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Is Completely Preventable

Fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are completely preventable. If a woman does not drink alcohol during pregnancy, her child will not develop FAS defects. Women who drink should stop immediately if they plan to get pregnant or find out that they are pregnant.

Women who drink heavily should take measures to prevent becoming pregnant, because they may not realize they are pregnant for several weeks or more.

Women who become pregnant and find that they have difficulty in trying to stop drinking can seek help from their healthcare provider, a drug and alcohol treatment program or a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

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  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. "Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders" 2 May 2006.
  • University of Virginia Health System. "High-Risk Newborn." 

By Buddy T
Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.