- Up until the mid 1970s, it wasn’t uncommon for women to consume alcohol throughout their pregnancy, even up to two drinks per day.
- The signs and symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in adults can range from mild to severe. FAS indicators in adults are similar to those in children, although they are often more pronounced in adults.
- Adults with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome are at higher risk for addiction and co-occurring disorders. If you or a loved one with FAS is experiencing signs or symptoms of addiction as well as mental health disturbances, help is available.
Not so long ago in medical history, doctors didn’t have a complete grasp on the effects of alcohol on a developing fetus. Up until the mid 1970s, it wasn’t uncommon for women to consume alcohol throughout their pregnancy, even up to two drinks per day.
Now, we understand the implications of drinking alcohol while pregnant. One of the maladies that is caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) which can cause a range of issues from birth and well into adulthood.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Explained
Caused by exposure to alcohol while in utero, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a condition in which the affected individual experiences both physical and behavioral abnormalities as well as increased risk of mental health disorders.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a condition caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol, which can lead to a range of physical, cognitive, and behavioral impairments that persist into adulthood. FAS in adults can include growth deficiencies, facial abnormalities, intellectual disabilities, learning and memory problems, behavioral and emotional problems, and increased risk for mental health disorders.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of FAS in Adults?
The signs and symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in adults can range from mild to severe. FAS indicators in adults are similar to those in children, although they are often more pronounced in adults.
Signs and symptoms of FAS in adults can include:
Adults with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome may have a smaller head circumference than average, as well as height and weight below the normal range.
Those with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome often have distinctive facial features, including small eyes, a thin upper lip, or a smooth groove between the nose and upper lip, which is called the philtrum. Someone with FAS may have all or none of these signs, as well as other irregularities in their facial features.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome often results in intellectual disabilities. These disabilities can affect cognition as well as overall academic or occupational achievement due to challenges with learning and memory. Those with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome often experience difficulties learning and retaining new information, facts, details, and applying knowledge to practical situations.
Behavioral and Emotional Problems
Adults with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome may experience difficulties with social interactions as well as challenges with emotional and behavioral regulation. FAS may cause problems with impulse control and poor judgment which can lead to interpersonal, occupational, or legal ramifications.
Increased Risk for Mental Health Disorders
Individuals with FAS are at increased risk for mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, or other mental health disorders. Early intervention is recommended for children with FAS, but adults who have not been diagnosed or treated benefit from interventions as well.
Treatment for Adults With Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Adults with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome are at higher risk for addiction and co-occurring disorders. If you or a loved one with FAS is experiencing signs or symptoms of addiction as well as mental health disturbances, help is available.
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Frequently Asked Questions About Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in Adult
Below are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding this condition.
No. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is present at birth. However, adults who were exposed to alcohol before birth can experience lifelong symptoms and complications related to the condition.
The process for diagnosing Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in adults typically includes a combination of medical and psychological assessments, including physical examinations, medical histories, cognitive and behavioral assessments. There are no blood tests or ultrasounds that will determine whether or not an individual has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
Some individuals with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome do not receive intervention as a child, but adults will still benefit from treatment. Treatment for adults with FAS typically focuses on managing symptoms and providing support for cognitive, emotional, and behavioral difficulties. Treatment may include medication, therapy, and admission into a treatment center to overcome any mental health conditions that develop as a result of FAS.
The effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome can be lifelong and often impact daily functioning. Some adults may require ongoing assistance with activities of daily living and may face challenges in employment, interpersonal relationships, or independent living. However, with treatment and support, many adults with this condition lead fulfilling, productive, and happy lives.
Individuals with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome often experience difficulties with social interactions due to impairments in social skills, emotional regulation, and cognition, which can make it difficult to form or maintain relationships. Many adults with FAS find themselves socially isolated or struggle in social situations. However, the appropriate interventions can help those affected by FAS develop and strengthen their interpersonal skills.
Due to cognitive and behavioral challenges, some adults may struggle to understand and comply with laws. Those with FAS who are involved in court cases often need specialized assistance to navigate legal proceedings.
Friends and family can support adults with FAS by providing emotional support, offering assistance with daily living activities, and helping them access appropriate treatment and support services.
Besides direct support, one of the most important ways someone can support a loved one with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is to educate others about the condition and reduce the associated stigma.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is not an inherited condition, as it is a direct result of exposure to alcohol while in utero.
The prevalence of FAS in adults is not well-documented, as many individuals with FAS may go undiagnosed or may not seek treatment for their symptoms. However, it is estimated that between 1-5% of the population may have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
One reason that many people with FAS go undiagnosed is the shame and embarrassment associated with having a child with the condition, or the fear that the child may be taken away.
Currently, there is no cure for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). However, early intervention and ongoing support and treatment can help manage the symptoms and improve the quality of life for individuals with FAS. Treatment typically involves a multidisciplinary, holistic approach that includes behavioral therapy, medication management, and educational and social support, as well as group living arrangements.
Consumption of alcohol does not automatically mean that the child will be born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Many pregnant women consume alcohol while pregnant before knowing that they are pregnant, and no complications arise. However, any amount of alcohol puts the fetus at risk for birth defects.
The severity of FAS depends on several factors, including the amount and frequency of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, as well as the timing of alcohol exposure.
Alcohol can have significant and lasting effects on the developing fetus, especially during the first trimester of pregnancy when many vital organs and structures are forming. Alcohol exposure can interfere with the development of the brain, organs, and other tissues.
When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, it passes through the placenta and enters the fetal bloodstream. The fetus metabolizes alcohol more slowly than adults, which means that the concentration of alcohol in the fetus’s blood can be higher and remain elevated for longer periods of time.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome can impact life expectancy. Studies have shown that those with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome live an average of 34 years, which is 42% of the life expectancies of the general population in the United States.
There is no known safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Any amount of alcohol can potentially harm the developing fetus. It is recommended that pregnant women avoid drinking alcohol entirely during pregnancy.
Brown, J. M., Bland, R., Jonsson, E., & Greenshaw, A. J. (2019, March). A brief history of awareness of the link between alcohol and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Canadian journal of psychiatry. Revue canadienne de psychiatrie. Retrieved March 23, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6405809/
 Knispel, S. (2021, November 18). Thriving while living with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). News Center. Retrieved March 23, 2023, from https://www.rochester.edu/newscenter/fetal-alcohol-syndrome-fasd-survivors-thriving-499312