Most of us have heard that fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) can cause problems for a developing fetus. What we’re now learning is that FAS might cause a large number of problems throughout a person’s life.
Fetal alcohol syndrome is complex, although its cause isn’t. It can occur when pregnant women drink alcohol. The alcohol in their systems reaches their fetuses through their umbilical cords.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention use the term Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) to explain that different people experience different fetal alcohol-related problems at different severity levels. Just some of the physical symptoms of FASD include:
- shorter heights, smaller head sizes, and lower weights
- facial abnormalities
- coordination problems
- problems with kidneys, bones, and the heart
- hearing or vision problems
- problems with sucking or sleeping as an infant
Unfortunately, these problems persist throughout a person’s life. Recent studies have found that people with FASD have a higher incidence of autoimmune diseases and early onset dementia. People with FASD seem to age faster than people without the disorder and appear to require more frequent hospitalizations and emergency room visits.
These side effects indicate how alcohol and drugs can hurt us, even before we’re born. They point to the need to take care of ourselves and others around us.
But even if fetal alcohol spectrum disorders occur, there is available help. The earlier this help arrives, the most effective it can be. Children who display the characteristics of FASD or other conditions and receive early help (before they are three years old) have a better chance of leading healthier, more productive lives.
The same goes for addiction treatment. If people receive help early on in their alcohol abuse or drug abuse, it increases their odds of a successful recovery. It might even prevent fetal alcohol spectrum disorders from ever occurring.