Fetal Alcohol Disorders

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can result in a number of different physical, neurological and mental effects that range in severity. These effects fall under the term “Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)”, which encompasses all the problems that result from prenatal alcohol exposure. The most known of these effects is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE). Fetal Alcohol Effects can also be separated into two different categories: Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND) and Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD).

What is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is one of the most common causes of mental retardation and the only one that is 100% preventable. The effects are irreversible and last a lifetime.

The effects of FAS include: mental retardation, malformations of the skeletal system and major organ systems (specifically the heart and brain), growth deficiencies, central nervous system problems, poor motor skills, mortality, and problems with learning, memory, social interaction, attention span, problem solving, speech and/or hearing.

There are also facial features that are characteristic of babies with FAS. These features include: small eyes, short or upturned nose, flat cheeks, and thin lips. These features fade as the child grows up, but the child is left with a lifetime of difficulties trying to cope with other effects.

What are Fetal Alcohol Effects?

The two categories for Fetal Alcohol Effects are Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND) and Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD):

ARND describes the mental and behavioral impairments such as learning disabilities, poor school performance, poor impulse control, and problems with memory, attention and/or judgment.

ARBD describes the malformations of the skeletal system and major organ systems such as defects of the heart, kidneys, bones, and/or auditory system.

How is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome different from Fetal Alcohol Effects?

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a result of high doses of alcohol consumption during pregnancy such as binge drinking and/or drinking on a regular basis. Fetal Alcohol Effects are a result of moderate drinking throughout pregnancy. The effects of FAE are still irreversible and lifelong.

Is any amount of alcohol safe to drink?

There is no amount of alcohol that is safe to consume during your pregnancy, but the more alcohol consumed, the greater the risk to your developing baby.

How can I prevent FAS and FAE?

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Effects are 100% preventable for a woman who completely abstains from alcohol during her pregnancy. Therefore, if you are aware that you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or think you could be pregnant, you should not consume any amount of alcohol.

For more information on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, contact the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome at 1-800-66-NOFAS (666-6327) or contact

The SAMHSA FASD Center for Excellence at 1-866-786-7327

Last Updated: 09/2008

Compiled using information from the following sources:

National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, http://nofas.org/

The Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) Center for Excellence, http://www.fascenter.samhsa.gov/

American Pregnancy Association, http://www.americanpregnancy.org

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