Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in Adulthood

Medically Reviewed by:
Medically Reviewed by:

Alcohol use disorder is a condition that can have an impact not only on the individual drinking but also on their loved ones. One of the biggest examples of the collateral impacts of alcoholism is fetal alcohol syndrome, usually shortened to FAS. This condition develops when a woman who is pregnant continues to drink during her pregnancy.

Just as some prescription medications can have an impact on an unborn child, alcohol can have an impact on the fetus as well. Sadly, the impact of fetal alcohol syndrome can last for the rest of that child’s life.

As soon as a woman realizes that she is pregnant, she needs to refrain from drinking alcohol at all. This includes not only women who have been diagnosed with alcoholism but also women who only drink socially.

An Overview: What Is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)?

Fetal alcohol syndrome is one subtype of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). This is a condition that develops when a mother drinks during her pregnancy. There are a variety of impacts that could stem from fetal alcohol syndrome.

Some of the most common examples include:

  • Developmental delay
  • Permanent cognitive and developmental disabilities
  • A low birth weight 

The most recognizable symptom of fetal alcohol syndrome is the absence of a philtrum. Children who have been impacted by fetal alcohol syndrome have a smooth philtrum, which refers to the raised, vertical ridges between the upper lip and the nostrils. Children who have been impacted by this condition will not have those specific ridges.

When women drink alcohol while pregnant, alcohol can reach the unborn child through the placenta. Furthermore, alcohol consumption during pregnancy could cause the baby to have a deficiency in oxygen and other nutrients that are important for his or her development. Unborn children may not have the capability to break down alcohol. The impacts of alcohol consumption while pregnant can be particularly severe.

This condition can lead to a variety of physical and neurological impacts. Some of the complications stemming from FAS can be treatable, but other impacts could last for the rest of his or her life.

The Impacts Of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome In Adulthood

Even though some of the impacts of fetal alcohol syndrome are noticeable just after birth, there are other impacts that can extend far beyond the neonatal months. There are some symptoms that someone impacted by FAS will have to live with forever.

Some of the impacts include:

Physical Complications

In addition to the smooth philtrum mentioned above, there are other physical complications that could manifest. Some of the most common birth defects and complications associated with fetal alcohol syndrome include:

  • Delayed growth
  • Short stature
  • Damage to internal organs
  • Weakened bone tissues
  • Small head circumference
  • Small eyes
  • A thin upper-lip
  • A short, low-nose bridge
  • A smaller jaw

Just like other medical conditions, the scope and severity of fetal alcohol syndrome can vary significantly. There are some children who may develop all of the symptoms listed above, but there are other children who might only develop a few of them.

Children who are born with issues impacting their facial features could also experience neurological damage.

Neurological And Mental Complications

Even though the physical issues associated with fetal alcohol syndrome might be more noticeable, central nervous system issues and mental health problems can be just as debilitating. 

It is not unusual for babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome to experience a developmental delay. Some of these issues can lead to significant neurological deficiencies. There are different types of abnormalities and disabilities that could result from fetal alcohol syndrome, and some of these issues could lead to brain damage and hearing problems. 

As a result, children who are impacted by fetal alcohol syndrome may require special care. Some children may do fine in mainstream public schools, but other children will require an individualized education plan, or IEP, as part of their special education.

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For example, some children impacted by fetal alcohol syndrome may experience significant learning disabilities. Others may be at a greater risk of developing (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) ADHD, which is marked by hyperactivity and impulsivity. Children with fetal alcohol syndrome may have a difficult time completing tasks, and they may have a hard time making friends because of social issues. 

Fetal alcohol syndrome can also make it more likely for children to develop mental health issues. For example, some children with fetal alcohol syndrome may be at risk of developing depression and anxiety, while other children with fetal alcohol syndrome may be at a greater risk of developing substance use disorder. This includes prescription drug use, illicit drug use, and alcohol use

Like the physical complications, there are some children with fetal alcohol syndrome who may not have any noticeable neurological or mental health complications. Then, there are other children with fetal alcohol syndrome who may require support for the rest of their lives because of the severity of the symptoms discussed above. 

Preventing Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Is The Key

Because some of the symptoms and complications stemming from fetal alcohol syndrome can be permanent, the best way to deal with this condition is to prevent it from happening. There are a lot of women who wonder how much alcohol they can drink while pregnant and do not develop fetal alcohol syndrome. Even though this is an active area of research, the most important thing for women to remember is that no amount of alcohol is considered safe. The goal for women while pregnant is to avoid consuming a single drop of alcohol. 

Therefore, if you or a loved one are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, it is critical to have a plan in place to reduce your chances of drinking. Even women who drink socially need to stop completely while pregnant. This is the best decision for you and your unborn child.

If you believe that you will have a difficult time abstaining from alcohol while pregnant, there are several important tips to keep in mind. Some of the keep pieces of advice you should follow to refrain from drinking while pregnant include:

1. Let People Know About Your Intentions To Stop Drinking

Interventions are a great way to stop people from drinking, and you need to let other people know that you are interested in refraining from alcohol. For example, if you let caregivers know that you intend to reduce your alcohol consumption to zero, they should support you. You need other people to hold you accountable when you want to stop drinking alcohol. Your friends and family members will support you, and they can give you the encouragement you need to refrain from drinking while pregnant.

2. Keep Alcohol Out Of The House

Pregnant women should also keep alcohol out of the house. Prenatal alcohol exposure can be devastating, leading to a wide variety of secondary disabilities. To prevent yourself from drinking, you should not have alcohol in the house at all. There is a chance that you may live with other people who want to continue drinking, but let them know that they can always go out somewhere if they would like to drink alcohol socially. You may even want to reach out to some health professionals who can brainstorm ways to make your home environment more conducive to alcohol abstention.

3. Stay Away From Certain Situations

Early on in your pregnancy, you may want to stay away from certain situations where alcohol might be present. For example, if you are invited to a party where you know there’s going to be alcohol, you may not want to attend. Or, if you know you typically drink when you go to sporting events or concerts, you may want to refrain from attending them for a while. You need to make sure you are okay staying away from alcohol even if you are exposed to other people who are drinking. This is another important part of reducing temptation.

4. Consider Exploring Something New

If you used to drink alcohol socially, you may need to find something new you can drink. That way, if you go to parties later on, other people are not going to offer you something to drink if they see something in your hand already, even if there is no alcohol in it. For example, you may want to try making some mocktails, which are cocktails without any alcohol in them. Or, you may want to try making some fruit smoothies instead. There are plenty of delicious drinks you can try that do not have any alcohol in them.

5. Invest In Other Self-Care Activities

There are some people who drink socially as a way to decompress after a long day. If you are looking for a way to decompress without alcohol, you should explore other self-care activities. For example, you may want to consider getting a massage from time to time. Or, you may want to take a trip to the spa. Keep in mind that you should talk to healthcare providers who can let you know which activities are safe for you and your unborn child. The good news is that most self-care activities should be safe even while pregnant.

Ask For Help When You Need It

Finally, do not forget to ask for help when you need it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are plenty of resources available for women who would like to stop drinking while pregnant. There are both inpatient and outpatient treatment options available, and these addiction treatment programs can help you develop skills that can help you refrain from alcohol while pregnant. You may even want to explore the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which has plenty of .gov resources available.

Because there are so many treatment options available for mental health disorders, you may want to start by reaching out to your primary care doctor. He or she can provide you with basic resources that can make it easier for you to deal with the alcohol cravings you may experience while pregnant. Then, don’t forget to ask health professionals for a referral to a mental health treatment center if you need more help with various mental health conditions.

Contacting an alcohol rehab facility like Riverside Recovery of Tampa can help you develop a plan that can make it easier to abstain from alcohol while pregnant. 

Contact Riverside Recovery of Tampa For Help With Alcohol Use Disorder

The effects of alcohol can be significant, and if you are looking for an effective treatment plan that can help you with alcohol use disorder, our team is here to help assist you in the process. 

At Riverside Recovery, it would be our plan to customize a treatment plan that can help you abstain from alcohol and improve your quality of life. We have already helped countless people, including women who are pregnant, and it would be our honor to help you as well.

Contact us today to speak to a member of our team, and learn more about the resources we have available for alcohol use disorder and more. 

  1. NIH, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism–Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

  2. Moore, E. M., & Riley, E. P. (2015). What Happens When Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Become Adults?. Current developmental disorders reports2(3), 219–227. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40474-015-0053-7
  3. Interagency Coordinating Committee on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. “Recognizing Alcohol-Related Neurodevelop[…]lth Care of Children.” November 2, 2011.
Written By:
Written By:

Riverside Recovery Editorial Team