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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders (FASDs): Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Last Updated: February 28, 2024

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

The only way to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome is to refrain from drinking while pregnant.

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a lifelong condition that affects someone’s appearance, intellect and overall well-being. This condition is permanent and occurs when an expectant mother drinks alcohol during their pregnancy.

What Is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome? 

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a group of conditions that affects someone’s development before birth. This syndrome occurs when a pregnant woman drinks alcohol and can have a profound effect on the developing baby for the rest of their life. Fetal alcohol syndrome is often described as a spectrum and varies in severity for each individual affected.

FAS Causes & Prevention

There is only one cause of fetal alcohol syndrome and only one way to prevent it. Fetal alcohol syndrome is caused when someone who is pregnant drinks alcohol. One single alcoholic drink while pregnant can cause fetal alcohol syndrome. There is no safe amount of alcohol someone pregnant can drink without risking their child developing fetal alcohol syndrome.

Preventing fetal alcohol syndrome requires completely abstaining from alcohol throughout the entire pregnancy. An important way this can be missed is during the first two to five weeks of pregnancy. During this period, most women do not know that they are pregnant, and many important developmental processes take place that can be affected by alcohol. Because of this, any woman planning to become pregnant or who has the possibility of becoming pregnant should avoid alcohol.

FAS Symptoms

There are several potential symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome. These include:

  • Below average body weight
  • Poor coordination
  • Problems paying attention
  • Learning problems
  • Hyperactivity
  • Delays in learning to speak or communicate
  • Low IQ
  • Impaired reasoning ability
  • Problems seeing or hearing
  • Heart problems
  • Kidney problems
  • Facial abnormalities
  • Smaller head than normal

Most people with fetal alcohol will have a combination of several of these symptoms but may not have all of them, depending on the severity of the condition.

FAS Diagnoses

There are no specific diagnostic tests for fetal alcohol syndrome. Instead of performing medical testing, physicians will typically diagnose by assessing whether the individual was exposed to alcohol prior to birth and evaluating the appearance and behavior of the individual. A doctor may also rule out other potential explanations for the present symptoms.

Treatment and Management of FAS

Fetal alcohol syndrome is permanent, and there is no way to reverse it. Treatment primarily focuses on managing the symptoms and providing therapy and special education to help the person with fetal alcohol syndrome live as full and normal a life as possible. Some medical treatments, such as medication to treat hyperactivity, may be used. Most treatment efforts, however, will primarily center around different therapies that can help reduce delays in development.

Questions To Ask Your Doctor

If you are planning on having children and using alcohol, there are some questions that you may consider asking your doctor. These include:

  • How long should I abstain from alcohol prior to trying to conceive?
  • What are some good strategies I can use to avoid drinking while pregnant?
  • What can I do now to help my child develop as normally as possible?
  • Are there alcohol alternatives that you can suggest during my pregnancy?
  • If I am struggling to stay off of alcohol, can I have more frequent appointments with you?

Get Help for Alcohol Addiction in Georgia

Someone who struggles to stop drinking alcohol and wants to start a family should get professional addiction help as soon as possible for the sake of their future family. If you are starting a family, alcohol addiction can have a far-reaching influence, affecting your children and their future.

At The Recovery Village Atlanta, we have extensive experience helping future mothers stop using alcohol and safeguard their children’s future. Contact us today to learn how we can help you stop using alcohol and keep your child safe from fetal alcohol syndrome.


MedlinePlus. “Alcohol.” March 22, 2022. Accessed August 10, 2023.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alcohol Use During Pregnancy.” November 4, 2022. Accessed August 10, 2023.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Basics about FASDs.” November 4, 2022. Accessed August 10, 2023. 

MedlinePlus. “Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.” May 6, 2022. Accessed August 10, 2023.