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What Is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Learn about fetal alcohol syndrome in this Howcast video featuring addictions specialist Paul J. Rinaldi, Ph.D.


The question that comes up is around what's called fetal alcohol syndrome. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a very serious problem that's caused by mother's drinking heavily while carrying a fetus. Alcohol goes through the placental barrier and actually affects the child while developing in the placenta. Children with fetal alcohol syndrome can have distinctive physical features, that include a very thin upper lip and very small and wide set eyes and sometimes a large forehead.

The fetal alcohol syndrome is essentially a disorder. It affects the central nervous system of a child permanently. As children grow, they can have intellectual disabilities. They can develop behavioral problems. They also, as they grow older, have a higher propensity to use alcohol problematically. So fetal alcohol syndrome is an extremely serious disorder, again, caused by alcohol use while the child's in utero.

Another thing to keep in mind with fetal alcohol syndrome is the timing in which the woman drinks heavily. Earlier in the pregnancy is when the brain is starting to develop, and the earlier in the pregnancy that there's heavier drinking, the higher likelihood there is that fetal alcohol syndrome will develop.

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