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Alcohol Use During Pregnancy and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, the blood alcohol content in her fetus can reach higher levels than in her own blood system. This alcohol can cause malformations in the developing fetus. Although the risk of serious malformations increases with the quantity of alcohol that the mother consumes, no level of alcohol use during pregnancy is considered to be safe, for even drinking as little as one drink a week, or consuming 4 or more drinks on a single occasion, has been associated with developmental abnormalities in children [ref, ref, ref].

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is the name given to the full range of abnormalities that can occur in a child exposed to alcohol during pregnancy. However, it is possible for some children to develop just a few of these abnormalities without having the full syndrome. The degree to which a child is affected is at least in part proportional to the amount of alcohol that the mother consumes during the pregnancy, especially during the first trimester when the fetus' organs are forming.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is characterized by the following traits:

  • Physical features
    • Thin upper lip
    • Flattened philtrum (which is the groove that runs from the bottom of the nose to the middle of the upper lip)
    • Small eyes
    • Short nose with a low nasal bridge
    • Small birth size and stunted growth
  • Neurological and psychological features:
    • Smaller brain size and various structural abnormalities of the brain
    • Lower IQ, sometimes to the point of mental retardation
    • Problems with coordination and fine manual skills
    • Learning disabilities
    • Impulse-control problems
    • Attention-deficit and hyperactivity problems
    • Behavioral problems

The problems associated with FAS tend to be permanent and individuals with this condition often face many difficulties well into adult life, such as high rates of mental illness and Substance Dependence [ref], having significant school difficulties, and getting involved in criminal activities [ref]. Being raised in a stable household seems to lower the risk of these negative outcomes [ref].


Alcohol Withdrawal

Lab Tests for Alcohol Use