Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders occur when a baby is exposed to alcohol before birth. This can cause a host of problems for the physical and cognitive development of children.

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Research shows that alcohol abuse in pregnant women may have severe health consequences for infants. This is due to the ease with which substances can pass through the placenta and reach the fetus.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) are a group of disorders that may arise for babies exposed to alcohol prior to birth. FASD issues may include behavioral, physical, and cognitive problems.

Read more about health conditions caused by alcohol abuse.

What Are Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders?

Everything a pregnant woman ingests will be passed on to the baby. This applies to toxic substances such as alcohol which pass through the mother’s blood and into the fetus.

A baby’s body cannot break down alcohol as quickly as a fully developed human can, and as a result, alcohol levels may remain abnormally high in their bodies.

Alcohol consumption can have severely detrimental effects on a child’s development and can lead to physical deformities, learning disabilities, hyperactive behavior, and other issues.

These conditions are called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD).

Common symptoms of FASD may include:

  • low birth weight and growth problems
  • facial features such as smooth philtrum (smooth upper lip)
  • problems with the central nervous system
  • intellectual impairment
  • hyperactivity
  • poor sleep
  • vision or hearing abnormalities
  • problems with the kidneys or heart
  • low IQ
  • high-pitched cry
  • seizures
  • language delays

Typically, a healthcare provider will diagnose FASD based on the appearance of the baby and whether the mother had a past history of substance abuse.

A doctor will examine the child for facial deformities or other signs of alcohol withdrawal. If the child is older, a learning test or other developmental test can be administered to diagnose FASD.

Types Of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

There are several different diagnoses that a healthcare provider may make based on the symptoms exhibited by the baby.

Below you can find some of the most common conditions that fall under the umbrella term of FASD.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

Fetal alcohol syndrome is the most severe FASD. Symptoms can include physical defects such as small head and brain, limb deformities, or abnormally small eyes and a thin upper lip.

FAS can also cause several neurological and behavioral issues including moodiness, learning problems, poor social skills, and poor impulse control.

Diagnosing FAS can be difficult because there is no lab test that will point to FAS.

Absent the facial deformities listed above, many of its symptoms may be attributed to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND)

This disorder is attributed to intellectual disabilities and behavioral problems such as poor academic performance, as well as difficulties with judgment and impulse control.

People with ARND are also difficult to diagnose due to the late onset of their symptoms. However, doctors may conduct cognitive tests in some cases to catch the condition early on.

Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD)

Children diagnosed with ARND may have problems with their hearing, bones, kidneys, heart, or other organs due to fetal alcohol exposure.

Neurobehavioral Disorder Associated With Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (ND-PAE)

A person with ND-PAE will have problems in thinking and memory, severe tantrums or irritability, and trouble with day-to-day activities such as bathing and playing with other children.

Children are usually not diagnosed with ND-PAE unless their mother consumed more than 13 alcoholic drinks per month during the pregnancy.

Other Dangers Of Alcohol Addiction For Pregnant Women

No amount of alcohol use is safe during pregnancy. Below you will find some of the other complications that may arise from drinking alcohol while pregnant.

Dangers to the mother may include:

  • miscarriage
  • stillbirth
  • alcohol seizures
  • malnutrition
  • increased risk of liver and breast cancer
  • depression
  • spousal conflicts
  • anxiety and other mental health disorders

Treatment For Children With FASDs

While there is no known cure for children born with FASD, there are several treatment services that can improve developmental outcomes for the child.

Treatment options typically include early intervention services between the birth of the baby and three years of age. Services may include therapy that assists the child with talking, walking, and interacting with peers.

Some of the medications that may be used to treat FASD include:

  • stimulants to treat symptoms such as hyperactivity and attention problems
  • anti-anxiety medications used to treat symptoms of anxiety
  • antidepressants to treat sleep problems, irritability, and antisocial behaviors

It’s important to discuss early intervention services with a pediatrician as promptly as possible for children at risk of developmental disabilities

Treatment Options For Alcohol Addiction

If you or a loved one are addicted to alcohol, help is available in the form of evidence-based substance abuse treatment.

Treatment services for alcohol abuse may include:

Attending a reputable treatment program will help prevent the range of effects that may result from alcohol withdrawal.

Find A Treatment Center For Alcohol Abuse

Call Bedrock Recovery Center today for more information on our inpatient treatment program for alcohol addiction. We can also provide referrals for social services and special education.

The behavioral health professionals on our team can answer your questions about binge drinking and the risk factors of drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/facts.html
  2. National Institute of Health (NIH) — Alcohol’s Effects on Health https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health
  3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) — Alcohol and Your Pregnancy https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-and-your-pregnancy#:~:text=Is%20it%20all%20right%20to,know%20that%20she%20is%20pregnant.
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse — Substance Use While Pregnant and Breastfeeding https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/substance-use-in-women/substance-use-while-pregnant-breastfeeding
  5. National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS) — Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (PFAS) https://nofas.org/recognizing-fasd/

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

Published on: August 23, 2023

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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