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What Is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Fetal alcohol syndrome or FAS is a disease with immediate and secondary effects. This disease can manifest at any stage of pregnancy but can be difficult to diagnose. We’ll discuss the causes and effects of FAS, as well as treatment options for both mother and baby.

The Definition

Fetal alcohol syndrome is the definition for a group of conditions and symptoms that occur together. A serious fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, FAS is typically found in people whose mothers drank alcohol when they were pregnant.

What Causes Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Drinking any kind of alcohol during even the earliest stages of pregnancy causes FAS. When pregnant, everything a woman consumes, including alcohol, is passed through the umbilical cord to the developing baby.

Being in development renders the baby incapable of processing alcohol through organs like the liver. As a result, alcohol passed from the mother’s bloodstream to the baby will be more concentrated, and the baby will be exposed to that alcohol for longer.

As well, when alcohol is passed to the baby, it interferes with their ability to receive the optimal nutrition and sufficient oxygen needed for normal development.

How Does FAS Affect Physical Health?

FAS affects physical health in many ways because it interferes with normal fetal development. Because alcohol is capable of killing various fetal cells, physical abnormalities in facial features and other areas can be common. These abnormalities include:

  • Small head
  • Wide-set or narrow eyes
  • Growing problems, leading to height that’s shorter than average
  • Lower than normal weight
  • Finger, limb, and joint deformities
  • A noticeable ridge between the upper lip and nose
  • Suckling and sleep problems during infancy

Babies and young children experiencing any of the above physical problems should be examined by a medical professional. Early diagnosis of FAS can ensure a child receives needed treatment. As well, the younger a child is when diagnosed, the higher the projected success of treatment for fetal alcohol syndrome will be.

How Does FAS Affect Mental Health?

Because alcohol can kill brain cells, problems with mental health can also manifest with FAS. These problems can be mild to intense in severity and have secondary effects on one’s life years later. Problems with mental health that can arise from FAS include:

  • Poor memory
  • Poor concentration, focus, and attention
  • Learning disorders
  • Hyperactivity
  • Poor judgment
  • Reasoning and problem-solving difficulties

The mental health effects of FAS can lead to social and behavioral problems when interacting with others. Children with FASDs (fetal alcohol spectrum disorders) can experience:

  • Difficulty when making plans or working toward goals
  • Various problems in school
  • Difficulty getting along with others
  • Impulse control problems
  • Issues with switching between tasks
  • Inability to adapt to change

What Are the Secondary Effects of FAS?

Secondary effects are those that occur later in life. These effects occur apart from FAS but manifest as the result of having the disorder. Some example of secondary effects are:

  • Getting in trouble with the law
  • Being unemployed for long periods
  • Engaging in high-risk sexual activity
  • Having trouble keeping employment
  • Problems living independently
  • Substance abuse and addiction

All of the above effects can be mitigated with early diagnosis of FAS. It’s recommended that diagnosis occur when a child is six years of age or below. As well, ensuring that a child’s home environment is stable, supportive, and loving during school years will have significant benefits. The same is true when parents seek support from social services and special education for their child.

Treatment Options

There is no cure for FAS, but treatment options are available. Prescribed medication can help children with FAS to manage their symptoms more effectively.

Another treatment option is educational and behavioral therapy, which can help children learn social skills and appropriate behavior and assist with learning in school. Parents of children with FAS also receive training, which helps reinforce the education their child receives in treatment.

Risk Factors

Any amount of alcohol, especially during the first trimester, can interrupt key developmental stages. However, the higher the volume of alcohol you consume, the higher the risk that your baby will develop FAS and its secondary effects.

Another risk factor is consuming alcohol before knowing you are pregnant. This is why it’s so important to stop drinking alcohol even if you only think you may be pregnant. If you are already pregnant or trying to become pregnant, stop drinking immediately to reduce your risk.


Although there is no cure, fetal alcohol syndrome is totally preventable when you abstain from alcohol completely. This means not drinking from the time you think you are pregnant, as well as throughout your pregnancy. If you’re sexually active but are having unprotected sex, consider not drinking at all during childbearing years. If you are dependent on or addicted to alcohol, it’s important to get help as soon as possible.

Early Intervention Is Key

In order to prevent the progression of addiction and the start of FAS in your baby, early intervention by medical and addiction professionals is absolutely crucial. Below is important information to help you determine your level of alcohol dependency.

Are You Struggling to Stop Drinking During Pregnancy?

Are you struggling with stopping your alcohol consumption? This is one of many signs of developing addiction. If you are experiencing any of the addiction signs below, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as you can:

  • Spending increasing amounts of time with new friends who drink a lot
  • Sudden and intense changes in mood
  • Trying to stop drinking, but being unable to do so
  • Defensive attitude when asked about your activities
  • Spending a lot of time thinking about drinking or how you will obtain alcohol
  • Neglecting home, school, or work obligations in order to drink or recover from drinking
  • Withdrawing from loved ones
  • “Blacking out” or not being able to remember blocks of time
  • Withdrawing from activities you used to enjoy

If you think you have a problem with alcohol and either are or suspect you might be pregnant, getting help for addiction is the best thing you can do for yourself and your baby.

Complete and Holistic Addiction Treatment

Drinking any alcohol during pregnancy can lead to the development of fetal alcohol syndrome, or FAS, in your baby. Addiction to alcohol can negatively affect health and life for the long term.

Whether you are pregnant or suspect that you may be, addiction treatment from Adelante Recovery Center offers safe and medically supervised detoxification and a variety of holistic treatment options including group and individual counseling. These options ensure you receive the tools needed for lifelong sobriety and a healthy lifestyle.

When you’re ready to seek help, Adelante Recovery Center is just a phone call away at (949) 427-9099.

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If you or a loved one are in need of help with addiction, contact us today. Our professional and friendly addiction specialists are able to answer your questions and get things moving in the right direction.