Adults born with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) tend to encounter a series of uphill battles. FAS is a group of related symptoms that occur caused by excessive alcohol exposure in the womb.
Each year, thousands of babies in the U.S. are born with FAS, a developmental condition that is entirely preventable. FAS occurs when a pregnant woman consumes an excessive amount of alcohol. Common symptoms that may be the result of FAS include delayed childhood development of motor skills and cognitive abilities growing slower than other children their age, mental retardation, and certain facial abnormalities.
Some other common effects of FAS include the following:
- Thin upper lip
- Flattened cheeks
- Smaller skull and jaw
- Smaller eyes
- Drooping eyelids
- Low birth weight
- Poor language development
- Memory problems
- Hearing disorders
A fact that is often unaddressed is that persons with fetal alcohol syndrome face a high risk for developing a substance abuse disorder themselves. According to research from 1996, drug or alcohol addiction was experienced by 30% of people aged 12 years and older. Among adults with fetal alcohol effects (FAE), more than half (53%) of males and 70% of females had experienced substance abuse issues—more than five times that of the general population.
Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Use During Pregnancy
In the long term, FAS can lead to a host of secondary conditions and issues that tend to make life more difficult for individuals who suffer as well as their caregiver(s).
The most common conditions secondary to FAS include:
- Mental disorders, such as ADD, depression, and certain psychotic conditions
- Academic challenges related to learning difficulties and an inability to work well with others
- Legal problems related to poor anger control
- Drug and alcohol use and addiction
Secondary Conditions of FAS During Adulthood
The effects of fetal alcohol syndrome can be particularly challenging to navigate during adulthood when an affected individual is expected to take care of him or herself. Adults who suffer from effects related to fetal alcohol exposure frequently need help with employment, housing, transportation, and management of daily life.
Unfortunately, a large number of persons affected with FAS will never receive the support and resources they need to be successful in vital areas of life. According to a University of Washington study of persons with FAS aged 6-51, nearly 80% had employment problems. Also, more than 60% of those over age 12 had legal issues, and 35% had substance use disorders.
As those who experience FAS reach adulthood, both they and their caregivers will likely encounter additional challenges. Specialized coaches and counselors may be needed to help these persons live happily and somewhat independently.
There are several secondary effects that most individuals with fetal alcohol syndrome encounter, such as the following:
- Disrupted academic success
- Inability to live independently
- Difficulty raising children
Unfortunately, FAS is not always easy to identify, and it may take years for an individual or their doctor to recognize symptoms. Persons who are not diagnosed until later in life will not have benefited from therapy and other resources aimed at helping those who experience FAS at an early age.
Furthermore, it may be challenging for a person to receive these services once he or she has become an adult, as most of these therapies are for children. Finally, at this point, diagnoses may be amplified by substance abuse, mental health conditions, or other problems that may cause FAS to manifest differently or worsen symptoms.
Prevention of FAS
When a woman drinks during a pregnancy, the blood travels through her body and into the placenta to the developing fetus. Because the body of a fetus cannot metabolize alcohol as fast and efficiently as an adult, the alcohol will remain in their small bodies for much longer, and this is what is believed to result in FAS.
Women who drink excessive amounts of alcohol while pregnant increase the risk of their infant developing FAS, but importantly, no amount of alcohol use is considered safe. If a female is pregnant, the only way to ensure that FAS doesn’t develop is to abstain from alcohol use altogether.
Treatment for Substance Abuse
As adults, those who have a substance use disorder themselves can receive professional treatment at a specialized facility, such as Just Believe Recovery. We offer a comprehensive approach to substance abuse and addiction treatment that includes evidence-based services clinically-proven to be beneficial for the process of recovery.
We employ highly-trained addiction professionals who provide those we treat with the resources and support they need to sustain long-term wellness and sobriety. For those with co-existing mental health conditions, such as FAS, we offer integrated treatment programs featuring psychotherapy and counseling designed to address both disorders simultaneously.