Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited : FEBRUARY  09 , 
| 4 Sources

More than 30 years ago scientists introduced the term, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), to describe a group of mental and physical birth defects that result from a woman drinking alcohol when pregnant.

Children with FAS are exposed in utero to various levels of maternal drinking and display distinct facial abnormalities, growth retardation, and brain damage.

FAS is an irreversible, lifelong condition that affects every aspects of a child’s life. This includes problems with memory, learning, problem solving, attention span, hearing and speech.

Pre-natal alcohol exposure remains the leading known preventable cause of physical, behavioral and neurological birth abnormalities.

The type and extent of disabilities from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome vary based on the time and length of exposure during pregnancy, as well as individual differenced in the child. There is no safe dose of alcohol or safe period to drink during pregnancy.

When brain damage is present without other physical traits and abnormalities following fetal alcohol exposure, the diagnosis most often is called Fetal Alcohol Effect (FAE). Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder is another term used to describe this condition.

How FAS Impacts a Child’s Memory & Ability to Learn

Brain damage from prenatal alcohol exposure causes individuals to suffer a wide range of neurobehavioral effects such as learning and memory deficits, attention problems, hyperactivity and reduction in IQ.

Children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome may learn a concept one day, but the next day it is gone, only to reappear unexpected at some time in the future.

FAS children may be able to recall the details of a camping trip from long ago, but not able to remember what they had for lunch. If they drop a pencil while working on a math sheet, they may have forgotten what they were doing by the time they get the pencil back.

The results of a research study published in the September 2002 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research demonstrated that children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome experience deficits in information processing and response capabilities compared to children who were not exposed to alcohol in utero.

Not only are learning, memory and behavior affected, these deficits impede a child’s ability to plan and guide behavior to achieve a given goal, which are critical in the education process.

While there is not a cure for FAS, early diagnosis and identification helps children increase their potential. Research by University of Washington Professor Ann Streissguth revealed that people diagnosed with Fetal Alcoholism Syndrome are more likely to escape social, learning and relationship problems if they are diagnosed early in life and raised in a stable and nurturing environment.

Research has increased to advance the understanding of the long-term cognitive and physical challenges of children exposed to alcohol in the womb. As a result, clinicians and behavioral scientists are finding ways to identify children early and ways to help.

Unfortunately, many women continue to consume alcohol during pregnancy because of lack of education or concern. Finding powerful new ways to reach, educate and change behavior so expectant mothers don’t drink while pregnant remains immensely challenging and absolutely critical.


- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

- National Center for Birth Defects and Development Disabilities (NCBDDD), Centers for Disease Control

- "Teaching Students with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome," Government of British Columbia, Ministry of Education

- "Prenatal Alcohol Exposure Can Damage Both Information Processing and Response Capabilities," Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, by R.W. Simmons and S.W. Jacobson 

Return HOME from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome information

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 

I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LPC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More