What Is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Our actions, especially when it comes to substance abuse, affect everyone around us. One serious example of this is known as “fetal alcohol syndrome” (FAS). This syndrome occurs when a mother is pregnant and continues to drink alcohol throughout the pregnancy. Moreover, her choices can have a lasting impact on the child that goes into adulthood.

For a woman struggling with substance abuse, it’s best to seek addiction treatment before becoming pregnant. A second best option is to seek help as soon as she learns of her pregnancy. Many recovery centers offer treatment programs dedicated to helping women overcome a substance use disorder (SUD). These can help her begin her healing journey and do what’s best for her and her child.

In short, the only surefire way to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome is to abstain from alcohol during pregnancy. Otherwise, FAS will have serious effects on the child into their adult life.

What Are the Effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Fetal alcohol syndrome causes several health complications for the fetus and its development. Low birth weight, cognitive disabilities, and developmental problems are only a few of FAS’s detrimental effects.

When harmful substances are consumed by the pregnant woman, they reach the fetus by way of the placenta. The placenta regulates much of the baby’s health in the womb, including nutrients and proper blood flow. Unfortunately, a woman’s alcohol consumption restricts the flow of oxygen and nutrients for the fetus’ environment. Moreover, alcohol can cause physical problems in the fetus because of its inability to break down the substance.

Beyond just the physical, these nutrition and oxygen deficiencies can result in long-term neurological damage for the fetus. Some FAS symptoms are treatable, but many are not; these will stay with the child into their adulthood.

What Does Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Look Like in Adulthood?

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a condition that can affect an individual far beyond infancy and childhood. In fact, many people with FAS have difficulty as a result of the condition into adulthood and the rest of their lives. Studies show that FAS is also extremely difficult to diagnose in adulthood. This is due to lack of research on the topic, no specific genetic test, and the lack of supportive services.

Physical Effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

The physical effects of fetal alcohol syndrome are the most observable symptoms of this condition. Anecdotally, many adults with FAS are smaller in stature than others. This is due to developmental and growth deficiencies caused by the condition.

Additional physical effects of FAS that are apparent in adulthood may include:

  • Organ defects
  • Bone growth issues
  • Flattened philtrum (groove in the upper lip)
  • Smaller head circumference
  • Smaller than normal eye openings
  • Small or absent palpebral fissures (the space between the corner of the eye closest to the nose)
  • Thinner upper lip
  • Low and short nose bridge
  • Flattened cheekbones
  • Small jaw

Some of these physical defects may be very minor or even unnoticeable. Other defects, however, can signify brain damage in the individual.

Psychosocial Effects of FAS

A recent study performed in Sweden examined the lasting effects of FAS into adulthood. Their findings showed that “children with FAS have quite diverse psychosocial outcomes in adulthood, considerably worse than for majority population peers.” These outcomes included higher likelihoods of:

  • Receiving special education
  • Being unemployed
  • Receiving a disability pension
  • Being admitted to hospital treatment for alcohol abuse and psychiatric disorders
  • Being prescribed psychotropic drugs

Mental and Neurological Effects

Physical symptoms are not the only way FAS can impact a person’s life. Many people with this FAS also experience mental and developmental problems. For one, FAS can directly damage the central nervous system (CNS). This often results in structural and neurological deficiencies lasting into adulthood. Many individuals with these FAS symptoms require specialized care in both childhood and adulthood.

Other neurological effects of FAS observable in adulthood include:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Poor memory
  • Hyperactivity or impulsivity
  • Poor social skills
  • Trouble completing tasks
  • Higher susceptibility to certain mental health disorders
  • Increased risk of drug and alcohol use and addiction

Some individuals with fetal alcohol syndrome may show no signs or symptoms of this condition after infancy. However, many people with FAS will struggle with this condition for the rest of their lives. Is it worth the risk?

Behavioral Repercussions of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in Adulthood

In addition to the physical, psychosocial, and neurological effects of FAS, adults with FAS are more at risk of the behavioral effects of this condition. Some of the significant behavioral effects of FAS are the increased risks of legal trouble, criminal offenses, and incarceration. Crimes committed by those with FAS are often due to the condition’s developmental and mental effects. But because FAS is so difficult to diagnose, it’s often not considered in rehabilitation or reentry into society programs.

A person with FAS may also have trouble keeping steady employment, difficulty finding and keeping housing, and finance management. But with the right help and support, many people with FAS are able to lead productive and relatively independent lives.

Preventing and Treating Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

The best way to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome is for the mother to abstain from alcohol during pregnancy. There is no amount of alcohol that is considered safe while pregnant. If you are a woman who is pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant and are struggling with alcohol dependence or addiction, the best decision you can make for your unborn child is to seek treatment.

There are treatment programs that are designed specifically for the unique needs of pregnant women and mothers struggling with addiction. You should look for a program with comprehensive care that includes detox, residential treatment, and aftercare planning. For more information about the programs at Pinnacle Recovery, reach out to one of our highly trained team members today. It’s never too late to start your healing journey.