What Happens to Adults Born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

What Happens to Adults Born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a category of diseases brought about by alcohol consumption during pregnancy. According to the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, approximately 1 out of 100 babies is born with a condition that falls under the spectrum. This makes it more prevalent than several childhood disorders (including Autism and Cerebral Palsy) combined. 

The most common and severe type of FASD is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which bears the consequences of a mother’s alcoholic habits during pregnancy. The exposure to the harmful substance affects the growing fetus, who develop facial and growth problems while in the womb. They also suffer from a bevy of brain problems, such as: 

  • Poor concept of time
  • Behavior or impulse control problems 
  • Concentration difficulties 
  • Trouble planning or setting a goal 
  • Problems in switching from one activity to another 
  • Difficulty finishing tasks 
  • Difficulty in school 
  • Trouble adapting to change 
  • Poor social skills 

Because of these conditions, an afflicted child faces a lot of secondary disabilities when he/she grows up. Here are some of the common complications that adults with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome face on the daily:

1. Mental Health Problems 

Apart from causing mental handicaps, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome also comes with certain brain anomalies. These problems can lead to developmental and psychiatric disorders in an adult afflicted with the said disease. 

A small study published by Famy et al has enumerated the common mental conditions (and their percentages) in adults suffering from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome:

Mental Condition Percentage (out of 23 qualified subjects)
Major Depressive Disorder 44% (11 participants)
Psychotic disorders 40% (10 participants)
Avoidant personality disorder 29% (6 participants)
Bipolar I disorder 20% (5 participants)
Anxiety disorders 20% (5 participants)
Antisocial personality disorder 19% (4 participants)
Eating disorders 16% (4 participants)
Dependent personality disorder 14% (3 participants) 
Dysthymic disorder 4% (1 participant)

Of these participants, 18 received psychiatric treatment.

With these results, it is clear that Fetal Alcohol Syndrome that comes with mental health that can disrupt normal adult living.  As such, researchers recommend extending medical and psychiatric assistance to these individuals as soon as they are diagnosed. 

2. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is defined as a pattern of behaviors earmarked by impulsivity, hyperactivity, and severe inattention. A study of Australian researchers has shown that up to 94% of people who were exposed to alcohol during their mothers’ pregnancies exhibited the said disorder. How this happens remains unclear to experts. However, ADHD symptoms can hamper studies, employment, and other activities.

3. Alcohol or Drug Abuse

Impairments seen in people with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome make them more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors, such as alcohol or drug addiction. For one, they are already biologically vulnerable to the substance. After all, studies show that alcoholism tends to run in families. Experts also believe that FASD can occur for generations since alcohol can affect the developing fetus’ germline as well. 

People with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome also have a tendency to self-medicate, which increases their tendency to abuse painkillers. They may end up taking illegal substances if they are no longer able to get the ‘high’ they need from ‘less powerful’ drugs.

Lastly, alcohol’s effects on the brain have given them little, if no impulse control. With these factors combined, there is no surprise that people with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome have a higher tendency to abuse alcohol or drugs. The above-mentioned study by Famy et al has also shown that as much as 60% of the sample population reported substance dependence. 

The high figures are also seen in other studies. According to Grant et al, 68% of women with FASD who were confined for treatment abused alcohol, while as much as 79% took illegal drugs. 

4. Inappropriate Sexual Behaviors 

Sexual misconduct is common in people with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome due to the impairments brought about by the condition. These individuals are inherently impulsive and lack inhibition. Additionally, they have poor memory and planning. With these dysfunctions, a lot of these people engage in inappropriate sexual behaviors – with most of them going to jail due to such infractions. 

5. Educational Problems

Concentration difficulties and trouble adapting to change are just some of the problems encountered by people with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Because of these challenges, they may find it hard to finish school – if they can stay enrolled at all. A study by Streissguth et al has shown that as much as 61% of the participants reported a disruption in their respective school experiences. 

6. Employment Problems

According to an article published in the National Organization for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome website, as much as 50% of adults with FASD find it difficult to look for a job. A whopping 60% on the other hand, can’t hold down their jobs. These employment difficulties may be due to the lack of focus and understanding – just some of the hallmark effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. 

7. Troubles with the Law 

Because of the brain damage brought about by Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, people with the said disorder are at a higher risk of being involved in the legal system – whether as the victim – or the offender. According to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, diagnosed individuals are 19 times more likely to be incarcerated – compared to those who don’t have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. 

The same pattern was seen in the study of Streissguth et al, where 60% reported getting in trouble with the law, with as much a 50% being confined in jail or prison. 

Unfortunately, the above-mentioned adverse outcomes are 2 to 4 times more likely to happen in children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome than those without. The said condition has no treatment – all the experts can do is to help these people cope with the complications as stated above. 

The Takeaway

If you know someone who may have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, he/she should be referred to healthcare professionals and social workers immediately. 

With that being said, prevention is still better than cure. For women who wish to drink while they are pregnant – don’t. There is no safe amount, as there is no safe time to consume alcohol during pregnancy. Save your unborn child from the above-mentioned complications of fetal alcohol syndrome by abstaining from alcohol NOW. 


Latest posts by Raychel Ria Agramon, BSN, RN, MPM (see all)

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