Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) are conditions that can occur in a child after exposure to alcohol during the mother’s pregnancy.
These effects are common causes for non-genetic intellectual disability and can have a variety of other life-long effects including developmental delays, physical defects, and behavioral problems.
While FAS and FASD are not curable and cannot be reversed, treatment interventions are available to help care for and improve the cognitive and behavioral function of those impacted by prenatal alcohol exposure
Causes Of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Fetal alcohol syndrome is a narrower diagnosis than fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and is the most common and severe condition within FASD’s scope.
FAS and the other conditions that fall under FASD have the same cause: a developing fetus is exposed to alcohol. When an expectant mother drinks, the alcohol is transferred from the mother to the fetus through the placenta.
While the risk of alcohol exposure is greatest during the first trimester, when many structures are in their earliest stage of development, elevated blood alcohol levels are dangerous at any stage of pregnancy and remain harmful after birth if transferred through breast milk.
Other Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
Ranked from most to least severe, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders include:
- fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)
- partial fetal alcohol syndrome (pFAS)
- alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND)
- alcohol related birth defects (ARBD)
- neurobehavioral disorder associated with prenatal alcohol exposure (ND-PAE)
Diagnosing Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Clinicians may use psychological, speech-language, or other occupational therapy assessments to diagnose someone with FAS.
In order for an individual to be diagnosed with FAS, they must display all of the following:
- growth deficiency with prenatal or postnatal weight or height at or below the 10th percentile
- distinctive facial features including small eyes, thin upper lip, a short upturned nose, and smooth philtrum (level skin between the nose and upper lip)
- neurological or functional impairment to the central nervous system, observed as problems with learning, memory, attention, communication, vision, or hearing
- confirmed or unknown/suspected alcohol use by the mother during pregnancy
Unfortunately, FAS often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed as other mental health disorders like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
As a result, many individuals never receive the correct care and therapy as they struggle with lifelong physical, social, behavioral, and developmental disabilities and deficits.
Symptoms Of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
FAS can cause a wide range of specific effects that may vary from person to person depending on their particular circumstances and the severity of their prenatal alcohol exposure.
FAS may cause additional distinctive abnormalities and growth problems such as:
- joint, limb, or finger defects
- small head/brain size
- vision/hearing difficulties
- heart defects
- decreased physical growth
Central Nervous System Defects
Central nervous system (CNS) problems associated with FAS may include:
- poor coordination
- intellectual disabilities/retardation
- learning disabilities
- memory impairment
- difficulties with reasoning and problem-solving
- reduced attention span
- poor judgment
- mood swings
Social & Behavioral Deficits
Those diagnosed with FAS face predictable social and behavioral challenges that may include:
- difficulty in school
- difficulty interacting with peers
- low social skills
- poor adaptability to changing circumstances
- poor impulse control
- difficulty making, focusing on, and achieving specific goals
Treating Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
It is vital that healthcare or social services professionals diagnose individuals with FAS as early in their lives as possible to arrange access to treatment experts and other special education and public health resources.
Early intervention services can have a significant impact on the quality of life for those with FAS, minimizing many developmental and behavioral challenges.
Treatment programs for FAS may include:
- behavioral therapy
- educational therapy
- speech therapy
- physical therapy
- parent training and coaching
Alcohol Addiction Treatment
There is no safe amount of alcohol that can be consumed during pregnancy, and alcohol abuse (and binge drinking in particular) pose a risk to developing babies and pregnant women alike.
If a woman has difficulty giving up alcohol consumption during pregnancy, addiction may be present and professional treatment could be necessary.
During treatment, physical, behavioral, social, and mental elements of alcohol addiction can be addressed through treatment options such as:
- medication-assisted treatment
- behavioral therapy
- motivational enhancement therapy
- peer support
- alternative therapies like art, yoga, or nature therapy
If you or someone you love needs care for alcohol use disorder, please contact Northeast Addictions Treatment Center to learn about our substance abuse services today.
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