What is FAS and FASD?


John has FAS

FASD stands for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. This is not a diagnostic term, but is an umbrella term that encompasses all disabilities caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol.  There are five diagnoses under the FASD umbrella:

         Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) with confirmed prenatal alcohol exposure

         Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) without confirmed prenatal alcohol exposure

         Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS)

         Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND)

         Alcohol Related Birth Defects (ARBD)


Consensus statement on the term FASD is available from NOFAS: http://www.nofas.org/advocate/terminology.aspx


Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a group of symptoms seen in children who were exposed to alcohol before birth.  Full FAS is characterized by:

Partial FAS (pFAS) is a diagnostic classification for patients who present with:

Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorders (ARND) is a diagnostic classification for individuals who were prenatally exposed to alcohol and who do not have the facial characteristics of full FAS but who have symptoms of central nervous system damage associated with FAS.  "ARND is indistinguishable from FAS except from the facial syndrome." [Claire D. Coles, PhD, National Task Force on FAS and FAE, September 20, 2002.] 


Alcohol Related Birth Defects (ARBD) is a diagnostic classification for individuals who were prenatally exposed to alcohol and who have physical defects such as malformations of the heart, bone, kidney, vision, or hearing systems.


Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE) is a term that is no longer used.  FAE generally refers to diagnoses other than full FAS.  The term Fetal Alcohol Effects means about the same as the term Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorders.

Research shows that alcohol damage to the developing baby can cause a wide range of disabilities. Damage varies due to volume of alcohol ingested, timing during pregnancy, blood alcohol levels, genetics and environmental factors. At the mild end, damage may be the loss of some intellectual functioning (IQ), attention deficit disorder, hearing and visual problems, and higher than normal pain tolerance.


At the severe end, damage may be severe loss of intellectual potential, severe vision problems, dyslexia, serious maxilo-facial deformities, dental abnormalities, heart defects, immune system malfunctioning, behavioral problems, attention deficit disorders, hyperactivity, extreme impulsiveness, poor judgment, difficulty with memory retention and retrieval, hearing disorders, little or no capacity for moral judgment or interpersonal empathy, sociopathic behavior, epilepsy, tremors, cerebral palsy, renal failure, heart failure, death. 


Researchers have found a link between maternal alcohol use and sudden infant death syndrome.

The most problematic aspects of prenatal alcohol damage are: 


The affected person's ability to control behavior is erratic and inconsistent. One day they can function in a reasonable manner. The next day (or the next moment), they may be out of control, inappropriate, immature, forgetful, impulsive, and make unwise choices.


Important FASD Facts:

         The prevalence of full Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is estimated to be 2 per 1,000 live births (more prevalent than Down Syndrome).  

         Each year in the U.S. more than 50,000 babies are born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

         The annual cost to U.S. taxpayers for treating FAS is $5.8 billion.

         Prenatal exposure to alcohol is the leading known cause of mental retardation and developmental disabilities among babies born in North America and the Western World. [Drug and Alcohol Dependence 19: 51 70, 1987]

         Most individuals with FAS and ARND have normal intelligence. (Streissguth et al, 1996 Report on Secondary Disabilities)  

         There is no safe level of drinking during pregnancy.  (March of Dimes, American Academy of Pediatrics)

         Even one drinking binge can cause damage to the developing baby's brain.  (Science News, Vol. 158, No. 2, July 8, 2000, p. 28)

         Half of all women of childbearing age are drinkers.  Half of all pregnancies are unplanned.

 More information on the diagnoses under the umbrella of FASD: Institute of Medicine Report to Congress 1996 http://www.nap.edu/books/0309052920/html/

FASD 4-Digit Diagnostic Code: http://depts.washington.edu/fasdpn/htmls/4-digit-code.htm

FASD fact sheet from the FASD Center for Excellence (SAMHSA): http://www.fascenter.samhsa.gov/pdf/FASFactSheetfinal.pdf

Fact sheet from the Center for Science in the Public Interest: http://www.cspinet.org/booze/fas.htm

Publications on FASD from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh25-3/toc25-3.htm

Download printable handout here: http://come-over.to/FAS/PDS/WhatisFASD.pdf 

Download trifold brochure here: http://come-over.to/FAS/brochures/WhatIsFASD.pdf


Last Updated February 11, 2006 
FAS Community Resource Center