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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
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Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a lifelong condition resulting from drinking alcohol while pregnant. [1] The unborn child’s development may be hampered by maternal alcohol usage during pregnancy, leading to physical and mental abnormalities.

What Is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

The disorder known as fetal alcohol syndrome affects people exposed to alcohol while their mothers were pregnant with them. 

Fetal alcohol syndrome has long-lasting effects, including issues with the mind and body, learning, memory, attention span, communication, social skills, vision, and hearing problems that can all occur in FAS patients.

Alcohol impact

If a woman is pregnant or suspects she could be pregnant, she should abstain from drinking to prevent FAS. This is because it could take pregnant women up to 4–6 weeks to discover she is carrying. Because brain development continues throughout pregnancy, abstaining from alcohol will benefit the mother and the unborn child.

The Causes of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

When a person is exposed to alcohol before birth, fetal alcohol syndrome may develop. This is because the umbilical cord allows the mother’s blood alcohol to reach the infant. Alcohol use is not known to be safe during pregnancy or when attempting to conceive. Additionally, there is never a safe moment to drink while expecting.

Because a developing fetus‘ liver cannot handle alcohol the same way as an adult’s liver, any amount of alcohol can have many negative effects on an unborn baby. Alcohol consumption when a child is still developing can destroy healthy cells, damage nerve cells, lower placental blood flow, rob the fetus of oxygen and nutrients, and cause fetal brain damage.

What Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Looks Like In Children

Along with poor coordination, impulsivity, speech and hearing impairments, learning, attention, memory, and problem-solving difficulties are common in children with FASDs. School habits, mental issues, and social issues frequently worsen as children with FASDs age. In addition, prenatal alcohol exposure results in many children with FASD requiring special education due to secondary disabilities, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, or other mental health disorders

Children may be born with alcohol-related congenital disabilities due to alcohol exposure.

Such deformities may include: 

  • Small head size, small eyes, an extremely thin upper lip, a short, upturned nose, and a smooth skin surface between the nose and top lip are examples of facial characteristics.
  • Joint, limb, and finger deformities
  • Small brain size and head circumference
  • Abnormalities in the heart, kidneys, and bones

Inform your child’s doctor if you drank alcohol while pregnant to help lessen the chance of long-term difficulties for children with fetal alcohol syndrome. Don’t wait for issues to occur before reaching out. 

What Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Looks Like In Adults & Adolescents

Fetal alcohol syndrome has numerous physical repercussions that last far into adulthood. However, adults may not notice these impacts as much compared to children. Adult-onset physical symptoms of FAS frequently include:

  • Short height
  • Smaller than average head circumference
  • Narrow upper lip
  • A smaller brain

Adults with FAS frequently experience mental health issues; 90% of those with the disease experience these issues [2]. Other behavioral issues arise, like impulsivity, anger, attention and memory problems, and executive dysfunction.

Additional Physical Implications

One of the most noticeable indications of fetal alcohol syndrome is its physical repercussions. For instance, many FAS sufferers are shorter than average in height due to the disease’s effects on growth and development.

Adults may notice other physical consequences of FAS, which may include:

  • Organ development problems
  • Flattened cheekbones
  • Small jaw
  • Small eyes 

Implications For Mental Health Concerns

Fetal alcohol syndrome is linked to cognitive conditions known to impact mental health. The identification and treatment of people with FASD depend heavily on mental health specialists. Since fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) manifests in practically every affected person slightly differently, accurate diagnosis of the condition can be challenging.

For instance, sometimes, people with fetal alcohol syndrome are misdiagnosed due to similarities between the side effects of FAS and other disorders. Nevertheless, the declining mental health of individuals who suffer from drinking during pregnancy is evident. 

44% of adults with FAS experience depression, and 40% experience psychotic symptoms [2]. A testament to just how troublesome FAS is. 

Other Implications of Adult Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

FAS‘s impacts can be particularly challenging to manage. FAS makes executive dysfunction a real issue for adults living with the disorder. 

Adults with FAS frequently require assistance managing issues like housing, job, transportation, poor judgment, and money management. The implications of this disorder go beyond trouble with social cues and situations. 70% of adults with FAS are unemployed, and 60% experience substance use disorders themselves.[2]

Substance use disorders in those with FAS tend to exacerbate problems further. If you grew up with FAS and struggle with alcohol or substance abuse, seek addiction treatment from specialized medical professionals

FAQs About Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Below are some frequently asked questions you may find helpful. 

What happens to adults with fetal alcohol syndrome?

Adults with FASDs have a high incidence of personality disorders, psychiatric disorders, behavioral problems, issues with alcohol and drugs, and legal issues. Additionally, they are less likely to graduate from college, find steady work, and live alone. [3]

Does FAS get worse with age?

Children with FASDs have several physical, neurological, and neurobehavioral characteristics that will last throughout adulthood. But throughout time, some characteristics might deteriorate or alter.

What are two lifelong effects of fetal alcohol syndrome?

Without the proper assistance, people with FASD are at a greater risk of developing negative conditions such as mental health issues, legal issues, behavioral issues, disruptions of the educational process, and substance abuse.

Does alcohol affect facial features?

As a result of alcohol’s drying effects, drinking causes your skin to lose nutrients and fluid essential for healthy-looking skin. Consequently, your skin may appear wrinkled, lifeless, and gray or bloated and puffy.

What is the life expectancy of a child with fetal alcohol syndrome?

On average, people with FAS are projected to survive 34 years, roughly 42% of the life expectancies of their general population peers. [4] Life expectancies can increase depending on early diagnosis and support.

What are some personality traits of someone with fetal alcohol syndrome?

Some personality traits include social isolation, hyperactivity, stubbornness, passiveness, impulsiveness, and social withdrawal.

Is FASD similar to autism?

Both of these FAS and autism have the potential to impair mental health, growth, behavior, and social capacities. FASD sufferers frequently exhibit several autistic-like characteristics. One study found that up to 72% of children with fetal alcohol syndrome have autism. [5]

Can adults with fetal alcohol syndrome live a normal life?

Many individuals with FASDs enjoy productive lives and use coping mechanisms, even though many still deal with lifelong health conditions and disabilities.

If a woman is pregnant or suspects she could be pregnant, she should abstain from drinking to prevent FAS

Support is here for you

If you are struggling with substance use disorder due to the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome, we are here for you. There are ways to cope with your disorder that won’t harm you further. Contact us today to explore treatment options

Sources:

  1.  Moore, E. M., & Riley, E. P. (2015, September). What happens when children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders become adults? Current developmental disorders reports. Retrieved December 29, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4629517/ 
  2.  Moore, E. M., & Riley, E. P. (2015, September). What happens when children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders become adults? Current developmental disorders reports. Retrieved December 29, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4629517/ 
  3.  Moore, E. M., & Riley, E. P. (2015, September). What happens when children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders become adults? Current developmental disorders reports. Retrieved December 29, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4629517/

Medical Content Writer

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Amanda is a prolific medical content writer specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment. She graduated Magnum Cum Laude from Purdue University with a B.S. in Social Work. As a person in recovery from disordered eating, she is passionate about seeing people heal and transform. She writes for popular treatment centers such as Ocean Recovery, Epiphany Wellness, The Heights Treatment, Infinite Recovery, New Waters Recovery and adolescent mental health treatment center BasePoint Academy. In her spare time she loves learning about health, nutrition, meditation, spiritual practices, and enjoys being the a mother of a beautiful daughter.

Last medically reviewed January 10, 2023