What Is FASD?

Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders is an umbrella term used to describe a group of conditions that affect a person due to prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE).

It is probably the most common preventable cause of non-genetic learning disability and, as such, individuals may also be living with a number of complex, lifelong, physical, mental, psychological and emotional difficulties due to the exposure to alcohol as a foetus.

What Causes FASD?

FASD can be caused broadly in two ways, either directly or indirectly. Where there is direct damage, the alcohol is taken into the system and directly impacts the cells as they are developing. The second way is that it modifies how the genes which make us all up are expressed, and so normal development may or may not happen. That leads to malformation or abnormalities.


What Are The Characteristics?

There are a range of characteristics that you can see in someone who has FASD. The classic that most people focus on are the facial characteristics, which tend to be small eyes, a thin upper lip and philtrum. They are rare, occurring in about five to ten percent of the whole spectrum of presentation, only developing in a short window during the early part of pregnancy. However, the brain is invisible in terms of what it looks like, but it is developing throughout pregnancy. FASD can lead to problems with:

  • Memory

  • Planning

  • Organisation

  • Managing emotions

  • Impulse control

  • Focus

As society demands more of these individuals, the less they are able to manage. The later it presents, the more likely it is going to be put down to bad behaviour, bad parenting, both of which may be inappropriate in a group where actually what you need to be looking for is...  'Why is the brain not working properly?'

What Is The Impact Of Having FASD?

There are many recognised affects on the lives of individuals with FASD, and these require timely support, preferably from an early age. If FASD is not recognised or diagnosed, individuals could be placed at a higher risk, which may have lifelong implications that can cause significant stress on the individual and those supporting them, be it family or caregivers. Some of the common examples of these are disengagement with education, services and relationships. These secondary conditions could place them at a higher risk of mental health issues; things like suicide and substance abuse, and also involvement in the criminal justice system.

Alcohol exposure during pregnancy can cause irreversible damage to the structure and function of organs in the body, particularly the brain. Therefore, the characteristics of FASD cannot be cured. The needs of each individual require specialist assessment and lifelong support, which sadly is not readily available. However, timely diagnosis and support can, and has been shown to, lead to positive and more fulfilled lives.

Watch 'An Unchosen Path', the powerful video below, written by Eddie Jackson, a young man who lives with the challenges of FASD.

How Much Alcohol Does The Government Say Is Safe To Drink During Pregnancy?

There have been conflicting views surrounding this subject for some years. We hear of stories of doctors still saying a glass of red wine is ok! Some years ago, it was recommended to drink half a pint of Guinness a day to help a woman’s iron levels! Today this is hard for us to conceive. Overcoming the ideas and perceptions of many years is one of our biggest challenges.


​At FASD Awareness we follow the UK’s Chief Medical Officer’s recommendation that, "If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all to keep risks to your baby to a minimum. Drinking in pregnancy can lead to long term harm to the baby".