Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), according to the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, is a “collection of growth, mental, and physical problems that may occur in a baby when a mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy.” It is the most severe condition within a group of conditions called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). Alcohol disrupts typical development of an exposed fetus, particularly interfering with the brain and central nervous system. Cleveland Clinic explains that this occurs in any of the following ways:
- Alcohol can kill cells in different parts of the fetus, causing abnormal physical development.
- Alcohol interferes with the way nerve cells develop, how they travel to different parts of the brain, and their functioning.
- Alcohol constricts blood vessels, which slows blood flow to the placenta (food supply while in the uterus). This causes a shortage of oxygen and nutrients to the fetus.
- Toxic byproducts are produced when the body processes alcohol. These can then concentrate in the fetus’s brain cells and cause damage.
Healthline highlights various symptoms that teenagers with fetal alcohol syndrome may experience and/ or develop over time, some of which include:
- Delayed speech and language development.
- Difficulty concentrating and short attention span.
- Difficulty telling the difference between reality and fantasy.
- Learning disabilities.
- Low IQ.
- Poor coordination.
- Poor reasoning and judgment skills.
- Poor school performance.
- Poor short-term memory.
- Low body weight.
- Shorter-than-average height.
- Microcephaly (i.e., smaller head size).
- Facial feature abnormalities.
- Decreased vision.
- Hearing loss.
Fetal alcohol syndrome can have a significant impact on the mental health of affected teenagers. Research indicates that nearly 90% of those with FAS has at least one comorbid mental health condition, such as:
- Bipolar disorder
- Anxiety disorders
- Attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Conduct disorder
- Attachment disorders
- Substance use disorders
There is no cure for fetal alcohol syndrome, but with proper support, its symptoms can be managed. Addressing the mental health needs of teenagers with FAS requires a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach. This may include specialized therapy, educational support, and interventions that focus on building executive functioning skills and emotional regulation. Additionally, it is essential to provide a supportive and understanding environment for these teenagers to help them navigate the challenges they face and improve their mental health outcomes.
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