14 Minutes

Edited & clinically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
Fact checked

Babies born to mothers who consumed alcohol while pregnant may have birth abnormalities and developmental problems. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are a collection of abnormalities that can occur when newborns are exposed to alcohol (FASDs). A wide range of physical, behavioral, and learning issues are among them. Fetal alcohol syndrome is the most serious kind of FASD (FAS). If you drink alcohol while pregnant, you run the risk of harming your child. When a newborn is exposed to alcohol while still in the womb, it develops mental and physical problems.

Alcohol in the mother’s blood can travel via the placenta to the infant, causing this to happen. Alcohol may harm cells in your baby’s brain, spinal cord, and other sections of their body, as well as disturb their growth in the womb because they can’t metabolize it as effectively as you can. The pregnancy may be lost as a result of this. Surviving babies may face lifelong difficulties.

FASDs (fetal alcohol spectrum disorders) are a range of disorders that can affect a child whose mother consumed alcohol while pregnant. Physical issues, as well as behavioral and learning issues, might occur as a result of these impacts. A person with FASD frequently has a combination of these issues.FASD is a broad term that refers to a variety of conditions. These illnesses can be moderate or severe, and they can result in physical and mental problems in children. FASDs can be any of the following:

  1. Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)
  2. Birth malformations caused by alcohol
  3. A neurodevelopmental disorder caused by alcohol
  4. Partial fetal alcohol syndrome
  5. A neurobehavioral disorder associated with prenatal alcohol consumption.

FAS is a severe case of the disease. FAS patients may have issues with their vision, hearing, memory, attention span, and learning and communication abilities. While the defects differ from person to person, the harm is often irreversible. There is no known safe amount of alcohol to ingest during pregnancy. If you drink while pregnant, your kid may develop fetal alcohol syndrome.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome can cause a variety of issues in children, including medical, behavioral, educational, and social issues. The kind of issues people face is determined by the type of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome they have. One or more of the issues might be:

  1. A smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip, for example, is an abnormal facial feature. 
  2. The head size is small
  3. The height that is shorter than average
  4. Low body mass index 
  5. Coordination issues 
  6. Excessive vigilance 
  7. Attention and memory difficulties 
  8. Learning problems and academic difficulties 
  9. Delays in speech and language 
  10. Low IQ or intellectual impairment 
  11. Poor thinking and decision-making abilities 
  12. As a newborn, you may have had issues with sleep and sucking. You may also have had vision or hearing impairments. 
  13. Heart, renal, or bone problems are some of the most common.

In the United States, alcohol is the greatest avoidable cause of birth malformations, including wine, beer, and liquor. When a pregnant woman consumes alcohol, part of it crosses the placenta and reaches the fetus. A growing fetus’ body does not metabolize alcohol in the same manner that an adult does. Because they lack a fully formed liver capable of processing or breaking down alcohol. Because alcohol is more concentrated in the fetus, it can prevent enough nutrients and oxygen from reaching the fetus’s essential organs. This can lead to:

  • Miscarriage: During the first few months of pregnancy, you may lose your baby. 
  • Stillbirth: During the second half of your pregnancy, you may lose your baby in the womb. 
  • Preterm labor: Drinking alcohol might cause your baby to come prematurely. Premature newborns are prone to a variety of health issues. Breathing problems and other complications associated with undeveloped lungs are common. 
  • Defects in the womb: Some newborns are born with issues with their hearts or kidneys. Others may have vision or hearing problems, as well as other health difficulties.

Damage can occur within the first few weeks of pregnancy, when a woman may not even realize she is pregnant. If the mother is a heavy drinker, the danger rises. While a pregnant woman drinks during the first trimester, when the baby’s brain is developing, some of the most serious complications occur. The second and third trimesters, on the other hand, are not without risk. Even moderate doses of alcohol might disrupt the brain’s development at that time. There is no such thing as a “safe” amount of alcohol for pregnant women to consume. There is also no time when it is regarded as safe to consume alcohol while pregnant.

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a disorder that can affect a person long after they are born. In reality, many persons with FAS struggle into adulthood and for the remainder of their life as a result of the disorder.

Effects on the body

One of the most noticeable symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome is its physical manifestations. As a result of the development and growth issues caused by FAS, many persons with the disorder are lower in stature and shorter than others. Adults may have other physical symptoms of FAS, such as: 

  1. Organ failures 
  2. Difficulties with bone growth 
  3. A philtrum that has been flattened (groove in the upper lip) 
  4. Head circumference is smaller 
  5. Eye apertures that are less than typical 
  6. Palpebral fissures are tiny or non-existent (the space between the corner of the eye closest to the nose) 
  7. A lower lip that is thinner 
  8. The nose bridge is low and short. 
  9. Cheekbones that have been flattened 
  10. Jaw is tiny 

Some of these physical defects might be minor or even undetected. Some facial deformities, on the other hand, may signal a person’s cerebral dysfunction.

Effects On The Mind And The Nervous System

FAS may affect a person’s life in more ways than just physical symptoms. Many people who suffer from this ailment also have major mental and developmental issues. Fetal alcohol syndrome can cause structural and neurological problems by directly damaging the central nervous system. As the individual grows into a child and adult, these impairments might create a variety of problems. In reality, many people with FAS require specialist treatment to manage their symptoms. The following are some of the mental impacts that might arise as a result of FAS: 

Do hangovers cause anxiety?

  1. Learning disabilities, poor memory, hyperactivity, low IQ, impulsivity, poor social skills, difficulty completing tasks, increased susceptibility to certain mental health disorders, increased risk of drug and alcohol abuse and addiction, mental retardation, and hearing disorders.
  2. After infancy, some people with fetal alcohol syndrome may show no signs or symptoms of the illness. Many persons with FAS, on the other hand, will live with the disease for the remainder of their lives.

Secondary Consequences of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Adults with fetal alcohol syndrome are at a greater risk of the secondary consequences of the disorder, in addition to the physical and mental symptoms outlined above. The increased likelihood of legal difficulty is a prominent secondary impact of FAS. Individuals with fetal alcohol syndrome are more likely to be arrested and incarcerated than those who do not have the illness. According to research, up to half of all persons with FAS will have run-ins with the police at least once in their lives. Individuals with FAS are more likely to commit crimes as a result of the condition’s developmental and mental impacts. A person may steal because he or she does not grasp the notion of ownership, for example.

Other side effects of FAS include difficulties having regular work, difficulty locating and retaining housing, and money management. According to research conducted by the University of Washington, 79 percent of persons with FAS struggled to find stable work. Many people with FAS require specific attention in order to function normally. Many persons with FAS may live productive and reasonably independent lives with the right support.

Problem behaviors that develop later in life as a result of fetal alcohol syndrome (secondary impairments) include: 

  1. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) 
  2. Aggression, indecent social behavior, and breaching norms and regulations.
  3. Misuse of drink or drugs 
  4. Depression, anxiety, and eating disorders 
  5. Problems with continuing in school or finishing it 
  6. Problems with living independently and finding work 
  7. Sexually indecent conduct 
  8. Accidental death, violence, or suicide are all common causes of death in young people. 

There is no way to tell if a child has fetal alcohol syndrome without a lab test. Many of its symptoms are similar to those of ADHD. Doctors look for atypical facial traits, lower-than-average height and weight, a small head size, concentration and hyperactivity issues, and poor coordination when diagnosing fetal alcohol syndrome. They also want to know if the mother drank when she was pregnant, and if so, how much she drank.

Although fetal alcohol syndrome symptoms cannot be cured, early detection and treatment can help a child’s growth and outlook. According to research, children do better when they:

  • Are diagnosed before the age of six?
  • During their school years, they live in a loving, nurturing, and stable environment.
  • Aren’t subjected to violence
  • Receive special education as well as social services.

These recommendations can aid in the prevention of fetal alcohol syndrome:

  1. If you’re attempting to conceive, avoid drinking alcohol. If you haven’t already, quit drinking as soon as you find out you’re pregnant, or even if you suspect you’re pregnant. It’s never too late to stop drinking while pregnant, but the sooner you do so, the better for your child.
  2. Continue to abstain from alcoholic beverages throughout your pregnancy. In children whose moms do not drink during pregnancy, fetal alcohol syndrome is fully avoidable. If you’re sexually active and having unprotected intercourse during your childbearing years, you should consider giving up alcohol. 
  3. Many pregnancies are unplanned, and complications can arise as early as the first weeks of pregnancy. Get help before you get pregnant if you have an alcohol problem. Seek professional assistance in determining your level of alcoholism and developing a treatment strategy.

FAS, unfortunately, does not have a cure. Although the syndrome is a permanent and incurable illness, it can be managed. Early intervention treatment may aid a child’s development if he or she is identified with FAS. Treatments can be tailored to an individual’s needs as they get older, and may include:

  1. Medications that are designed to alleviate some of the symptoms of FAS, such as depression.
  2. Therapy to aid in the achievement of both behavioral and educational objectives
  3. Parental or caregiver education
  4. In addition, counseling services for parents or caregivers of children with FAS are provided. If a mother’s alcoholism persists after the birth of her kid, rehabilitation treatments can assist with addiction recovery.

Although FAS is incurable, some symptoms can be managed. The earlier a diagnosis is made, the more time there is to make progress. A child with FAS may require numerous doctor or expert visits, depending on their symptoms. Very young children can benefit from special schooling and social assistance. Speech therapists, for example, can work with toddlers to help them learn to speak.

In your own home

A secure and loving home will benefit children with FAS. They may be more sensitive to regular interruptions than the normal child. If children with FAS are exposed to violence or abuse at home, they are more likely to have problems with aggression and substance abuse later in life. A consistent routine, basic rules to follow, and prizes for good conduct work well for these kids.


There are no drugs available to treat FAS. Several drugs, on the other hand, may help to alleviate symptoms.

The following drugs are among them:

  1. Antidepressants are used to cure depression and negativity.
  2. Stimulants are used to treat inattention, hyperactivity, and other behavioral issues.
  3. Anxiety and violence are treated with neuroleptics.
  4. Anxiety is treated with anti-anxiety medicines.


Behavioral training could also be beneficial. Friendship training, for example, teaches children social skills for connecting with their classmates. Self-control, logic, and recognizing cause and consequence may all benefit from executive function training. FAS children may also require academic assistance. A math tutor, for example, could assist a student who is having difficulty in school. Parents and siblings may also require assistance in dealing with the difficulties that this disease might bring. Talk therapy or support groups can provide this assistance. Parents can also obtain parental training that is specifically customized to their children’s requirements. Parental training teaches you how to communicate with and care for your child in the most effective way possible.

Other treatment options:

Outside of the medical system, some parents and their children seek alternative remedies. Massage and acupuncture are examples of these (the placement of thin needles into key body areas). Movement activities such as exercise or yoga are also used as alternative treatments.

In order to raise awareness about fetal alcohol syndrome. Here is a list of a few famous people that suffer from FAS.

Jim Carrey

Everyone adores Jim Carrey, the famed Canadian-American comedian who is widely regarded as Hollywood’s funniest man. He is, however, suffering from FAS because he frequently demonstrates his lurching mannerism, which is frequently caused by Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. In various interviews, he discussed her mother’s alcoholism, which caused him to have FAS, but he also appreciates her contributions to his accomplishment. The only thing he regrets is that his mother did not seek treatment for alcoholism before he was born. He is now a supporter and giver of alcohol treatment clinics and residential treatment centers, and he frequently participates in FAS and alcohol addiction awareness and fundraising events. “While alcoholism is detrimental for both men and women, it is worse for pregnant women,” he asserted in one of his interviews.

Daniel Radcliffe

Daniel Radcliffe, the well-known Harry Potter actor, had FAS-related learning impairments. A common indication of FAS is partial dyslexia, which he was diagnosed with. He claims he still has difficulties tying his shoelaces and frequently laments the fact that his mother was wealthy at the time of his birth and could have gotten him into a luxury alcohol treatment clinic, which would have saved him a lot of hardship. He currently works with groups that assist Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and alcohol treatment institutions, and he frequently participates in events to raise awareness.

Bernie Sanders

This may come as a surprise, given that FAS is frequently linked to slowed brain development and growth. Even though he suffers from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Bernie Sanders is regarded as one of the most bright and astute senators in the United States. His weak social skills and lack of impulse control, on the other hand, are frequently associated with FAS. As a result, Sanders not only supports groups that help victims of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, but he also funds alcohol treatment institutions. He also urged his fans to seek therapy at alcohol treatment clinics if they are pregnant to avoid Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in their children.

Reese Witherspoon

Reese Witherspoon, a Hollywood award-winning actress, and producer, has FAS as a result of her mother’s alcoholism at the time of her birth. She struggled with learning in her early years, which is a hallmark of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. It’s also been said that, like her mother, Reese is an alcoholic with a history of visiting luxury treatment institutions. She’s frequently mentioned as one of the celebs who’ve checked into high-end rehab facilities.