baby feet in hands on blackAccording to the Surgeon General’s Advisory on Alcohol Use in Pregnancy, when a pregnant woman drinks, so does her baby; thus, women, their partners, families, and friends need to understand that no amount of alcohol has been proven safe during any stage of pregnancy. Alcohol causes abnormalities when it crosses from the mother’s bloodstream through the umbilical cord into the unborn child. Children who were exposed to alcohol as a fetus experience a range of physical and mental problems that last a lifetime.[i] These children often have bone defects and a slower growth rate. Even though alcohol can cause different parts of the fetus to develop abnormally, alcohol is particularly dangerous for brain and nerve cells. Other physical problems include facial deformities plus vision and hearing problems.[ii]


Of all substances that are abused, alcohol causes the most serious and long-lasting, physical, mental, and behavioral disabilities in unborn babies. The term “Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders” (FASD) describes a broad spectrum of possible effects that can occur in any person whose mother drank alcohol at any time during pregnancy.[iii] The problems caused by FASD are not curable, but they are 100 percent preventable. That is, the problems can be prevented before they begin by eliminating alcohol use during pregnancy.


Children born with FASD may suffer from learning disabilities, language difficulties, attention deficits, and hyperactivity. Difficulties with memory, impulsive behavior, poor social skills, and judgment may affect whether these children understand the consequences of their behavior.[iv] These problems contribute to higher rates of involvement with foster care or adoption services and, also, the criminal justice system.[v] As adults, they may be unable to live independently.


Children born with FASD may need medical care all their lives. The average lifetime cost associated with FASD is estimated to be $2 million per affected person. Each year, alcohol hurts an estimated one in every 100 babies born; the projected total is 40,000 babies in this country. Disabilities resulting from alcohol-exposed pregnancies cost the United State more than $6 billion each year.[vi]


Parents and professionals can help a person with an FASD reach a higher level of achievement. Identifying and building on strengths may be reinforced by using short-term consequences, simplifying the person’s environment, and providing plenty of one-on-one attention.


SAMHSA, a leading national voice on FASD, has developed publications on many FASD topics as well as training and technical assistance materials. A Public Education Program Manual provides materials and suggestions for organizing local prevention groups. SAMHSA also maintains a fully searchable database containing nearly 9,000 print and multimedia FASD resources.

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