It is a commonly known fact that drinking alcohol while pregnant is not recommended – but how many people truly know why, or is the rule “Don’t drink alcohol while you are pregnant” just something that is passed down through generations and recommended by doctors without women fully understanding the reason behind the instructions?

When alcohol is consumed while pregnant, the alcohol passes through the bloodstream into the fetus via the umbilical cord. And because a baby’s body is not fully developed at this time, it cannot metabolize the alcohol properly. The alcohol stays in the baby’s system for longer and causes numerous long term problems for the child. 

Fetal alcohol syndrome 

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a developmental and behavioral disorder that results when a pregnant mother consumes alcohol. Because the baby’s liver is not completely developed, it cannot process the alcohol properly and therefore it is completely absorbed into the baby’s body. There is no cure for FAS, and children and adults alike face lifelong challenges. 

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly how common FAS is due to the fact that the disorder ranges on a spectrum – the more alcohol a mother consumes, the worse the disorder will be. So some individuals may show severe symptoms of FAS, while others may display only a select few. 

That being said, “the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other scientists estimate less than two cases of FASD in every 1,000 live births in the United States. When researchers look at the whole spectrum of disorders (FASD), the frequency may be as high as 1 to 5 out of every 100 kids in the U.S. and Western Europe.”

Signs of fetal alcohol syndrome in adults

The signs of fetal alcohol syndrome will show themselves in a variety of ways, from subtle behavioral signs to significant challenges with learning and retention. Depending on the alcohol consumption of the mother, these signs will manifest in different ways. Most commonly, they are broken down into physical, behavioral and cognitive signs. 

Physical signs of FAS include:  

  • Unique facial features, including smaller eyes, smaller head size, smooth skin between the upper lip and nose, and an unusually thin upper lip
  • A shorter than average stature and below average body weight
  • Bone deformities, most often seen in limbs and fingers
  • Vision problems
  • Challenges with hearing
  • Kidney and heart complications
  • Poor coordination

Signs of behavioral challenges because of FAS may look like: 

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Hyperactivity
  • Struggling to regulate one’s emotions and/or behavior
  • Difficulty picking up on subtle social cues
  • Challenges with empathizing
  • Resistance to change

Cognitive signs include: 

  • Difficulty focusing
  • Having a low IQ
  • Struggling to comprehend certain subjects in school, particularly math
  • Poor judgment skills
  • Difficulty reasoning or making rational decisions
  • Disorganization or lack of planning
  • Struggling to understand concepts like cause and effect
  • Trouble with memory

Not every single one of these signs will display themselves in an adult who has grown up with fetal alcohol syndrome, but knowing the signs can better help you receive the help you need. 

What can be done about fetal alcohol syndrome? 

Unfortunately, there is no cure for fetal alcohol syndrome and children and adults who live with the disorder often need treatment in order to properly address the symptoms. Treatment does not often address “fetal alcohol syndrome” in particular, but instead focuses on the symptoms, such as helping adults develop proper coping mechanisms to deal with concentration problems.

There are a variety of treatment modalities which are utilized to help those struggling with the symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome find relief, including: 

  • Medication which helps address certain symptoms – for example, according to Medical New Today “stimulants may help with attention or emotional regulation, while neuroleptics may help with aggression”
  • Behavioral therapies may help to lessen negative behaviors and help regulate emotions
  • Education interventions can decrease difficulties experienced in learning and help individuals better comprehend concepts like social cues and implement skills like organization and planning
  • Medical management via the guidance of a doctor can help address any medical complications experienced as a result of FAS

If you suspect that you could benefit from any of the above therapies, don’t hesitate to reach out to a treatment center or medical doctor to begin your journey to healing today. 

Is FAS preventable? 

Fetal alcohol syndrome is completely preventable. Some people wonder how much alcohol will cause fetal alcohol syndrome, and the answer is any amount can cause problems. In order to prevent this disorder from developing in your child, avoiding alcohol entirely – even in the early stages of pregnancy – is strongly recommended. 

Looking for support?

If you are concerned about the impact fetal alcohol syndrome may have had on your life, or are pregnant and struggling with alcohol consumption and looking for help, Real Recovery is ready. To get in touch with our staff today, contact us by calling 855-363-7325 or contact us online anytime to learn more.