Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Fact Sheet

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Fact Sheet – Women who consume alcohol while pregnant can give birth to infants who have a condition known as fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS.) FAS belongs to a range of conditions known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs.) These disorders can range in severity from mild to severe and can result in a number of physical and mental birth defects and impairments.

Types of FASDs include:

  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)
  • Partial fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Alcohol-related neurodevelopment disorder
  • Neurobehavioral disorder associated with prenatal alcohol exposure
    alcohol-related birth defects

FAS is the most severe form of FASDs. Individuals with FAS may have difficulties with hearing, vision, attention span, and the ability to learn and communicate. Most of the damage is irreversible.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Fact Sheet: Causes

When a woman who is pregnant consumes alcohol, some of the alcohol passes through the placenta to the unborn child. The body of a developing fetus cannot process alcohol in the same way an adult can, and therefore, the alcohol is more concentrated in the fetus and can prevent oxygen and nutrition from getting to the child’s vital organs.

Damage is often done in the first few weeks of pregnancy because a woman may not know she is pregnant. The risk increases if the mother is a heavy drinker and continues to drink throughout pregnancy.

According to research, alcohol consumption tends to be the most harmful during the first trimester of pregnancy. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that alcohol use at any time during pregnancy can also be hazardous to the fetus.


Fetal alcohol syndrome can consist of a wide range of problems, so there are many possible symptoms. These may include the following:

  • Small head
  • A smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip and/or a very thin upper lip
  • Small, wide-set eyes other abnormal facial features
  • Below average height and weight
  • Lack of focus and hyperactivity
  • Poor coordination
  • Delayed development and problems with thinking, speech, movement, and social skills
  • Poor judgment
  • Problems seeing or hearing
  • Learning disabilities
  • Intellectual disability
  • Heart problems
  • Kidney defects and abnormalities
  • Deformed limbs or fingers
  • Mood swings


A physical exam of the infant may reveal a heart murmur or other heart problems. As the baby grows, there may be other signs. These include:

  • Slow growth rate
  • Abnormal facial features or bone growth
  • Vision and hearing problems
  • Slow at learning/speaking language
  • Small head
  • Poor coordination

To diagnose fetal alcohol syndrome, a doctor must determine if the infant has abnormal facial features, slower growth than normal, and central nervous system problems, which could be physical or behavioral. They have exhibit hyperactivity, lack of focus, and learning disabilities.

What is Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND)?

An alcohol-related neurodevelopment disorder (ARND) refers to a range of disabilities in neurodevelopment and behavior, adaptive skills, and self-regulation due to confirmed prenatal alcohol exposure. However, individuals with ARND do not have the facial abnormalities of fetal alcohol syndrome but instead have some of the developmental disabilities including structural or functional central nervous system dysfunction (e.g., brain damage) in accordance with behavioral and learning problems.

What is Neurobehavioral Disorder Associated with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (ND-PAE)?

A youth with ND-PAE will have problems in three areas:

  • Thinking and memory, where the child will have difficulty planning or may soon forget material he or she has already learned.
  • Behavior problems, such as tantrums, moodiness (e.g., irritability) and difficulty turning attention from one task to another.
  • Challenges with daily living, which can include difficulty bathing, dressing, and playing with other children.


A woman can prevent fetal alcohol syndrome by not consuming alcohol during pregnancy. If you’re a woman with an alcohol use disorder who would like to get pregnant, seek help from a doctor or addiction treatment center. Even if you are a social drinker, keep in mind that any drinking during the first trimester of pregnancy is risky.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Fact Sheet: Treatment

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Treatment for alcoholism often involves first entering a medical detox program, a process in which a patient is supervised around-the-clock for several days while the body rids itself of alcohol and toxins.

After detox, patients should undergo long-term rehab on either an inpatient or outpatient basis or a combination of both. Our treatment programs include behavioral therapy, group and individual therapy, family counseling, 12-step meetings, and group support, as well as holistic services such as meditation, yoga, and music and art therapy.

Our medical and mental health professionals specialize in addiction and provide our clients with the tools they need to recover from alcohol and maintain long-term wellness and sobriety.

After discharge, former patients can take advantage of aftercare planning services and alumni activities which promote longstanding recovery and peer support.

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