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Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs): Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Last Updated: November 3, 2023

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

Drinking while pregnant can negatively impact a child’s entire life. Abstaining from alcohol while pregnant is the only way to prevent it.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) are a group of conditions caused by someone drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Often called fetal alcohol syndrome, these effects can include physical problems, behavioral issues, facial abnormalities and learning disabilities in a child. With the increasing prevalence of alcohol consumption, it’s crucial to understand FASDs, their causes, symptoms and the available treatments.

What Is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome? 

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the most severe form of FASD. This condition causes physical and mental defects that affect a developing baby when a person drinks alcohol during the pregnancy. These defects are often serious, affecting every aspect of a child’s life and development. It’s a lifelong condition that has profound implications for the affected individual and their families.

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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Causes & Prevention

The one and only cause of fetal alcohol syndrome is the exposure of a developing child to alcohol during pregnancy. When someone drinks alcohol while pregnant, it quickly passes through the placenta to the fetus. In the womb, a fetus goes through many important changes, growing and developing all the organs needed to survive after birth. Alcohol is a toxic chemical that can have serious effects during these critical stages of development. 

Preventing fetal alcohol syndrome is very straightforward — only requiring complete abstinence from alcohol during pregnancy. Because most people do not realize they are pregnant for several weeks, it is best to stop drinking if you are planning to become pregnant or if there is a chance you may have conceived.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Symptoms

Fetal alcohol syndrome symptoms can vary widely among children. They often encompass a mix of physical, behavioral and learning problems.

Physical Symptoms:

  • Distinct facial features, such as a smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip
  • Small head size
  • Shorter-than-average height

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Hyperactivity
  • Lack of focus
  • Poor coordination
  • Social withdrawal

Learning and Cognitive Symptoms

  • Learning disabilities
  • Poor memory
  • Speech and language delays

It’s essential to note that the severity and combination of these symptoms can differ from one child to another. Predicting what symptoms will occur is impossible; however, as a general rule, the more alcohol you use during pregnancy and the earlier you use it, the more severe symptoms are likely to be.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Diagnoses

Diagnosing fetal alcohol syndrome should only be done by a trained doctor. It can be difficult to diagnose, as there is no single test that definitively detects fetal alcohol syndrome. Instead, doctors often look at a range of physical and behavioral symptoms. 

Doctors will typically diagnose fetal alcohol syndrome by conducting a thorough examination of the child’s facial features, growth and central nervous system. Additionally, doctors will inquire about the parent’s alcohol consumption during pregnancy. In some cases, additional tests like imaging studies or developmental tests might be needed.

Treatment and Management of FAS

Fetal alcohol syndrome is permanent and irreversible. Treating and managing this condition typically focuses on enabling someone to reach the highest level of functioning they can instead of increasing their level of functioning.

Early intervention can help improve the child’s quality of life and development. Treatment is tailored to each child’s specific needs and can include medications, behavioral therapy, physical therapy and educational interventions. A team of specialists, including pediatricians, therapists and special education teachers, often work together to design an individualized treatment plan that meets the child’s specific situation.

Questions To Ask Your Doctor

If you suspect your child might have fetal alcohol syndrome, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional. Some questions to consider include:

  • What tests will be conducted to diagnose FAS?
  • What treatment options are available?
  • How can I support my child’s development at home?
  • Are there any local support groups or resources you recommend?
  • What is the long-term outlook for my child?

Get Help for Alcohol Addiction and Prevent FAS From Affecting Your Child

If you’re struggling with alcohol addiction and are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, it is vital that you seek help immediately. Drinking during pregnancy can have a devastating effect on the health of your child, leading to permanent disability and a shortened life span.

At The Recovery Village Kansas City, we provide comprehensive, individualized treatment programs designed to help you overcome alcohol addiction and maintain sobriety throughout your pregnancy. Remember, the best way to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome is to abstain from alcohol during pregnancy. Contact us to help give your child the best future possible.


US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs).” May 22, 2023. Accessed August 23, 2023.

MedlinePlus. “Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.” May 6, 2022. Accessed August 23, 2023.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Basics about FASDs.” November 4, 2022. Accessed August 23, 2023.

Cook, Jocelynn L., et al. “Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder: a guideline for diagnosis across the lifespan.” CMAJ, February 16, 2016. Accessed August 23, 2023.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “FASDs: Treatments.” April 20, 2023. Accessed August 23, 2023.