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Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) - Fact Sheet

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Alcohol and Other Drugs

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) - Fact Sheet

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a group of conditions that can occur when a mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy.


Symptoms include low birth weight, distinctive facial features, heart defects, behavioural problems and intellectual disability.


During pregnancy, alcohol crosses from the mother to the baby via the plancenta, killing the cells that will form the baby's brain, organs and central nervous system.


Children exposed to drugs like alcohol and marijuana face a range of effects. When entering school, they are at an increased risk of challenging behaviours, attention and cognitive deficits, learning disabilities, language problems and possibly poor impulse control. These issues often bring them into contact with the law.


FASD exacts a heavy cost on society in terms of social services, hospital bills, court fees, prison expenses and often lifelong support for those affected.

Acquired Brain Injury is often called the invisible disability, and this is especially the case with FASD - most children and especially adults with an alcohol-related birth defect will never be diagnosed. 

Australia's first comprehensive study of the impact of excessive drinking on unborn Aboriginal children revealed devastating rates of intellectual disability. The 2011 study, conducted by the Lililwan Project in Western Australia's Kimberley region, found that half of babies there are born with disabilities from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.


The disorders within the Fetal Alcohol spectrum are said to be the most common causes of preventable birth defects in the USA, including mental retardation, growth retardation and development faults in major organs (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed, 2003).

Until recently the likelihood of children being born with alcohol-related birth disabilities has been totally ignored in Australia. Today there is screening and assessment for children who may have been exposed to alcohol in the womb, but Australian health authorities have no data to indicate prevalence rates, and there are no management strategies across the various service agencies.


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