Recovery Begins Here
Call 24/7 (844) 318-7500
We’re open every day 24/7
Get help now
Free & confidential
(844) 318-7500

An Overview of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Alcohol is considered the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States, according to a recent Forbes article, but it has fallen into the shadows of opioid use in recent times. Alcohol is classified as a depressant and is often viewed differently than other drugs because of its legal status. 

Alcohol use can create adverse effects on our bodies and minds, and abuse and even death are attributed to the use of the substance. A national survey s

hows that 88,000 people (62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes each year in the country. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health also reports that 6.2 percent of adults over age 18, and another 2.5 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds have alcohol use disorder (AUD). 

Unfortunately, with such a high number of people consumed by alcoholism, it means they often cannot stop their consumption of alcohol even during pregnancy. In a year, you can count on an average of 6 million women pregnant in the country. In that same breath, alcoholism affects a little more than 5 million women at any given moment. 

Despite these numbers, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that one in 10 pregnant women in the United States report drinking alcohol, and another third of them engage in binge drinking. The report is defined as at least one drink of any alcoholic beverage in the past 30 days.

One in 10 pregnant women in the United States ages 18 to 44 reported drinking in the past 30 days. One of the most significant risks plaguing these women is not an injury to themselves, but rather congenital disabilities and developmental disabilities in their babies. There could be other pregnancy problems such as miscarriage, stillbirth, or premature births. Among the pregnant women who consume alcohol, the 35-to-44 age group lands at 18.6 percent, college graduates 13 percent, and unmarried women 12.9 percent.

The effects of alcohol during pregnancy are widely studied today, but one thing that is clear is the adverse consequences that can occur as a result of drinking. A majority of the women interviewed said they were aware of the dangers of alcohol and what it means for their unborn fetus, but they were unable to overcome their urges. Treating addiction alongside pregnancy is a delicate and complicated task, and women often find it more difficult to get the help they need without being judged. Let’s take a look at the facts of fetal alcohol syndrome and how it can be prevented.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) are characterized as a group of conditions that may occur in a person whose mother drank during pregnancy. The effects will vary but can include physical problems or problems with behavior and learning. It is common that a person with FASD has a combination of these problems. In some cases, it is unclear and complicated to diagnose it definitively. FASD often overlaps with other developmental disorders such as ADHD and autism. 

Cause and Prevention

FASDs are directly correlated with women who drink alcohol during pregnancy. The alcohol that the mother ingests is transferred through the blood to the umbilical cord. Anytime a woman drinks, her baby is consuming alcohol as well. There is no safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy or when you are trying to get pregnant. Additionally, there is not a time where drinking may be safer while pregnant. All types of alcohol, including beer or wine are equally harmful to a fetus.

The best prevention method for women to avoid FASD is to abstain from alcohol while pregnant or attempting to get pregnant. Some women may not know for up to four to six weeks that they’re pregnant; in the United States, nearly 50 percent of pregnancies are unplanned.

Signs and Symptoms

FSADs point to a wide range of effects that could happen to someone if their mother drank alcohol while pregnant. The conditions have the potential to range from moderate to severe and rely on several factors to make that determination. 

Someone who has FASD could have one or several of these symptoms:

  • Shorter-than-average height
  • Smaller-than-average head size
  • Abnormal facial features
  • Poor coordination
  • Low body weight
  • Poor memory
  • Difficulty with attention
  • Hyperactive behavior
  • Difficulty in school (particularly with math)
  • Learning disabilities
  • Intellectual disability or low IQ (intelligence quotient)
  • Delays in language or speech
  • Sleep and sucking problems as an infant
  • Poor reasoning and judgment skills
  • Vision or hearing problems
  • Issues with heart, kidneys, or bones

Ready to get Help?

Talk to a treatment expert

Types of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

Various terms are used to describe FASD. The primary difference is the type of symptoms that are displayed. 

  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS): FAS is the most common on the FASD spectrum. Death of a fetus is the most extreme possibility of consuming alcohol during pregnancy. Those with FAS may have abnormal facial features or problems with the central nervous system (CNS). They also may have problems with learning, memory, attention span, communication, or hearing. They could also have a mix of these problems. Often, they have difficulty getting along with other children at school.
  • Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND): Those with ARND may struggle with intellectual disabilities and problems with behavior or learning. It is normal for them to struggle in school and to perform poorly. They will demonstrate difficulties in math, attention, memory, judgment, and abysmal impulse control.
  • Alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD): Those with ARBD will have heart, kidney, bone or hearing problems. Or they can have a mixture of these.
  • Neurobehavioral disorder associated with prenatal alcohol exposure (ND-PAE): ND-PAE is a condition recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in 2013. To be diagnosed with ND-PAE, a child will have problems in three areas: a) thinking and memory, b) behavioral outbursts such as severe tantrums or mood issues, and c) trouble with daily living, which can include activities such as bathing and dressing appropriately for the weather. They also may have problems in their interactions with other children. To be diagnosed with ND-PAE, the mother must have consumed more than the minimum levels of alcohol before the child’s birth, which APA defines as more than 13 alcoholic drinks per month of pregnancy, or two alcoholic drinks in one sitting.


Unfortunately, people who are diagnosed with FASD are confined to their diagnosis for a lifetime. There is no known cure, but new research has shown that early intervention can improve how a child develops. There are many programs available that include medication and behavior and education therapy. As with addiction treatment, there is not a single approach that will work for each child. A tailored treatment path is necessary for improvement, and it will require follow-ups, monitoring, and to adjust as the treatment progresses.


Basics about FASDs | CDC. (n.d.). Retrieved from

CDC Newsroom. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Alcohol Facts and Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Alcohol and Public Health: Alcohol-Related Disease Impact (ARDI). (n.d.). Retrieved from

Fisher, N. (2019, February 23). The Alcohol Crisis In America Has Been Overshadowed By Opioids, But Can No Longer Be Ignored. Retrieved from

Have Questions? Call 24/7.
Calling Is Free & Confidential.

(844) 318-7500

COVID-19 Advisory: We are accepting patients and offering telehealth options. Click here for more information.