Alcohol abuse and alcoholism extend much further than the person who drinks, and it can also affect the person’s loved ones and anyone around them. An example of this is fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), which occurs when a mother is pregnant and continues drinking throughout her pregnancy. This can have a lasting effect on a child that lasts throughout their entire lifetime. 

If you’re pregnant and can’t stop drinking, it’s imperative that you seek treatment for alcohol abuse to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome. Not only is alcohol dangerous for you as an individual, but you’re risking potential long-term damage to your child. 

What Is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Pregnant woman denying a glass of wine

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) that occurs as a result of a mother consuming alcohol during her pregnancy. The condition will lead to various health complications in the fetus, including mental retardation, low birth rate, and other developmental problems. 

Fetal alcohol syndrome occurs when substances ingested by the mother during pregnancy reach the fetus through the placenta. A mother consuming alcohol will cause the fetus not to receive the necessary nutrients or oxygen while in the womb. It might also lead to physical issues in the fetus because of the fetus’ inability to break down alcohol. 

The lack of oxygen and nutrition could result in physical and neurological damage in the unborn child. Although some symptoms of the condition are treatable, others will last throughout their lifetime. 

Effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Later in Life

Fetal alcohol syndrome can affect an individual far beyond their infancy and childhood. Unfortunately, many of those with fetal alcohol syndrome have difficulty in their lives because of the condition. It’s not something that gets better with time or treatment. 

Physical Effects

The most prominent symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome are the physical effects. Many of those with the condition are much smaller in stature and shorter than others. This is because of the growth and developmental problems caused by the syndrome.

Other physical effects attributed to fetal alcohol syndrome in adulthood include:

  • Bone growth problems
  • Organ defects
  • Smaller head circumference
  • Groove in the upper lip (flattened philtrum)
  • Small or absent palpebral fissures, which is the space between the corner of the eye and closest to the nose
  • Unusually small eye openings
  • Thin upper lip
  • Small jaw
  • Flattened cheekbones
  • Short or low nose bridge

Although some of these effects could be minor or go unnoticed, some deformities in the facial area may signify brain damage in the person. 

Neurological and Mental Effects

Although physical symptoms can have severe effects, they’re not the only issues a person with fetal alcohol syndrome might have to deal with. Many of those with the condition could experience significant developmental and mental problems as well. 

Fetal alcohol syndrome is responsible for damage to the central nervous system, causing neurological and structural deficiencies. The deficiencies may cause a whole host of issues as a person develops into a child, teen, or adult. Many individuals with the condition need specialized care to cope with the syndrome. 

The most common mental effects caused by fetal alcohol syndrome include:

  • Poor memory
  • Learning disabilities
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity
  • Low IQ
  • Trouble completing tasks
  • Poor social skills
  • Hearing disorders
  • Mental retardation
  • Increased risk of alcohol and drug abuse or addiction
  • More susceptible to developing mental health disorders

Some people with the condition may show no signs or symptoms after infancy. However, some will struggle with fetal alcohol syndrome throughout their lives. 

Secondary Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Effects in Adulthood

On top of the mental and physical effects of fetal alcohol syndrome, adults with the condition are also at an increased risk of secondary effects. One of these secondary effects is the risk of legal trouble. The condition leads to a significantly higher rate of incarceration than individuals without it. Nearly half of all those with FAS will experience run-ins with the law, and crimes committed are due to the mental and developmental effects. 

Other secondary effects someone might endure is finding and keeping housing, maintaining a steady job, and managing their money. A study released by the University of Washington estimates that 79 percent of people with FAS had difficulty with stable employment. 

Fortunately, fetal alcohol syndrome doesn’t mean you’ll live a challenging life. Many are able to cope and lead relatively independent and productive lives. 

Preventing Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

The only way to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome is to cut alcohol out of your life. If you’re planning on having a child or you’re pregnant, there is no safe amount of alcohol you can consume. It’ll be in your and your unborn child’s best interest to stop drinking immediately. Here are some other guidelines to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome.

  • Don’t consume alcohol if you’re trying to get pregnant: If you haven’t stopped drinking, you must stop as soon as you’re pregnant or if you’re thinking about getting pregnant. As was mentioned above, there is no safe amount. It’s never too late to stop drinking while you’re pregnant, but the sooner, the better for your baby. 
  • Continue avoiding alcohol through the duration of your pregnancy: Fortunately, fetal alcohol syndrome is 100 percent preventable in children whose mothers abstain from alcohol during pregnancy. 
  • Consider abstaining from alcohol during your childbearing years: If you’re sexually active and having unprotected sex, it’ll be in your best interest to stop drinking. Most pregnancies are unplanned, and damage can occur even in the earliest days of your pregnancy. 
  • If you’re struggling with alcohol addiction, get help now: Seeking professional help to overcome an addiction to alcohol can help you and your baby. 

Pregnant Women Abuse Statistics

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that one in 10 pregnant women abused alcohol, while another one in 33 reported binge drinking. The study found the prevalence was highest in pregnant women between the ages of 35 and 44 who were married and college-educated. This is a severe problem in the United States, but what’s worse is that it’s preventable. 

Treating Alcohol Addiction During Pregnancy

If you’re struggling with an addiction to alcohol, you must seek treatment. Even if you try to stop alone, you open yourself up to the risk of fatal withdrawal symptoms like seizures or delirium tremens (DTs). If you want to protect yourself and your unborn child, you must check into treatment. No matter the situation, the clinicians will treat you with empathy and provide you with the help you need. It’s never too late to make the call.

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