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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Other Reasons to Begin Recovery

Learn about fetal alcohol syndrome, risk factors and dangers, and where to seek efficient treatment options today.

What Is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)? 

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a condition a newborn can develop when alcohol is abused during pregnancy. The condition causes growth problems, brain damage, and other irreversible defects in the baby. FAS symptoms can vary from one child to another, and therefore each case should be treated specifically.

If you suspect that your child may be suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome, talk to your physician immediately. Early diagnosis helps reduce problems like behavioral issues and learning difficulties from developing.

What's the Difference Between Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs)?

Fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) in newborns result from exposure to alcohol during pregnancy. Although fetal alcohol syndrome is a condition, FASDs are a broader diagnosis that includes all patients with FAS. It also encompasses other people affected by prenatal alcohol exposure but doesn't meet all requirements of FAS. There are many types of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder contrary to FAS.

How Common Is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), no exact figure shows how common fetal alcohol syndrome is. Experts base these records on National Institutes of Health-funded community studies using physical examinations. Nonetheless, data on FAS diagnoses shows: 1

  • 0.2 to 1.5 babies have FAS out of one thousand live births in some areas of the U.S in 2019
  • Current reports show FAS in 0.3 out of one thousand live births in children seven to nine years old
  • Experts estimate that 1% to 5% of school children have FASDs in the U.S.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Symptoms

Children may experience mild symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome, but others may have more significant side effects. The side effects and symptoms differ between each child, but the defects are permanent. Possible signs and symptoms involve cognitive and intellectual disabilities, physical defects, and social problems in daily life. Below includes many of the common symptoms experienced and examined in children with FAS.

Physical Defects

Fetal alcohol syndrome can lead to the following occurrences in affected babies:

  • Distinctive facial features like small eyes, short upturned nose, thin upper lip, and smooth skin surface between the upper lip and nose
  • Deformities of limbs, joints, and fingers
  • Slow physical growth
  • Vision difficulties
  • Hearing problems
  • Small head circumference and brain size
  • Heart defects
  • Problems with bones and kidneys
  • Congenital disability
  • Seizures and other neurologic problems
  • Delayed development

Neurological Problems

Fetal alcohol syndrome can lead to the following developmental experiences:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Coordination and balance problems
  • Trouble reasoning
  • Hyperactivity
  • Moodiness
  • Speech and language delay

Behavioral Issues

Fetal alcohol syndrome can influence:

  • Poor social skills, such as breaking laws and rules, aggression, and inappropriate social conduct
  • Difficulties in school
  • Poor impulse control

What Causes Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

A baby’s heart, brain, and other organs begin to develop during the first few weeks of pregnancy. Drinking alcohol while pregnant puts babies at greater risk of certain complications, and drinking heavily exposed newborns to fetal alcohol syndrome.

How Much Alcohol Causes Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Any amount and type of alcohol are harmful to unborn babies. There is no safe amount of alcohol that pregnant women can consume without harming the child. This also applies to women attempting to get pregnant and women who do not know they are pregnant. Alcohol exposure during any term of pregnancy puts the baby at risk for FAS and FASDs.

Risks of Drinking When Pregnant

Alcohol enters the mother’s bloodstream and is passed to the baby through the placenta. The baby’s liver is not fully developed, so the alcohol cannot be processed. This causes the fetus to have the same or higher blood alcohol content (BAC) as the mother and for a longer time. The risks of drinking while pregnant include:

  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirth
  • Premature birth
  • Low birthweight
  • Irreversible birth defects
  • Developmental, physical, mental, and emotional disorders

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Complications

FAS comes with complications that can be managed using the available treatment approaches. Attending parent training, therapy, and pediatrician appointments will increase knowledge on how to help the child and ensure they have the resources needed to live a good life. The following complications may be observed in children with FAS:  

  • Depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other mental health issues
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Inappropriate sexual behaviors
  • Problems living independently
  • Problems with employment
  • Attention-deficiency/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Seizures

How Is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Diagnosed?

To diagnose fetal alcohol syndrome, doctors carry out a fetal alcohol syndrome assessment. The doctors will assess the history of alcohol consumption during the pregnancy and look for the following features:

  • Unusual facial features
  • Lower-than-average weight and height
  • Small head size
  • Problems with hyperactivity and attention
  • Poor coordination
  • Postnatal and prenatal growth retardation
  • Facial dysmorphology
  • Central nervous system dysfunction
  • Neurobehavioral disabilities

How Can Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Be Prevented?

FAS can easily be avoided by not drinking any alcoholic beverages during pregnancy. In addition, when trying to get pregnant or having unprotected sex, it is recommended to avoid alcohol. Pregnancies can go unnoticed for up to six weeks, so avoiding alcohol during times of possible pregnancy is important. Damage can occur in the earliest weeks of pregnancy; therefore, women need to avoid alcohol completely.

How Early Can You Tell if Your Child Has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

If the child is severely affected, FAS can be diagnosed at birth. The characteristic physical features are most noticeable between eight months and eight years of age. If you suspect that your child has FAS, an intervention as early as the age of six could make a major difference in your child's quality of life.

Does Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Last Into Adulthood?

FAS is a lifetime condition that causes permanent defects, disabilities, and disorders. According to a study, the life expectancy of those with FAS is thirty-four years. The leading causes of death include suicide (15%), nervous system disease (8%), respiratory system diseases (8%), drug or alcohol overdose (7%), and mental and behavioral disorders (4%). 2

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Treatments

Unfortunately, there is not a specific cure for treating FAS. Proper research and possible treatments are hindered due to a lack of information. For instance, alcohol consumption is commonly unknown during pregnancies, with only an estimated 33% of women reporting alcohol use. In addition, many children with FASDs are adopted or in foster care, so little is known about their pregnancies. 3

Nonetheless, timely interventions, including medications, nutritional interventions, and educational and behavioral therapies for the mother and child, can prevent acquired disabilities. Health practitioners will closely monitor the child with FAS to ensure that the medications prescribed are achieving the treatment goals. These treatment interventions include:

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Treatment


While no medicines can treat FAS directly, medicines are available to help with symptoms of the disorder, such as anxiety, inability to focus, hyperactivity, and seizures. Some of the medications may include:

  • Antidepressants for problems such as sleep irritability, anxiety, aggression, or issues in school
  • Stimulants for behavioral issues like poor impulse control, hyperactivity, or trouble concentrating
  • Neuroleptics for behavioral problems, aggression, and anxiety
  • Supplements, such as omega-3 fatty acids, choline, and vitamins


Some contemporary and holistic therapies for children with FAS and FASDs include:

  • Massage
  • Acupuncture
  • Exercise
  • Yoga

Get Treatment for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome at Genesis Recovery

Each child's quality of life is highly dependent on the timely and quality of intervention provided for them. Our professional team at Genesis Recovery assures you of the best interventions for you and your child. Contact us at Genesis Recovery to learn more about how we can help your child with fetal alcohol syndrome.


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