Skip to main content


Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) is the name for the problems that alcohol can cause for an unborn child. 

What problems are caused by FASD?

A child may have a number of different problems. For example:

  • Difficulty getting along with other people
  • Hyperactivity and poor attention
  • Being born small
  • Problems eating and sleeping
  • Inability to understand and follow instructions
  • Learning difficulties especially with numeracy
  • Poor coordination
  • Difficulty controlling behaviour
  • Lower IQ
  • Problems with language
  • Poor problem solving and planning
  • Poor short term memory
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)

FASD is the greatest cause of developmental delay in children.  

What is fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)?

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a specific condition that can happen when a mother drinks heavily during her pregnancy.  The signs of FAS are:

  • The baby is born smaller than normal or underweight
  • The baby has abnormal facial features
  • The central nervous system is damaged
  • There are physical birth defects, such as an abnormally small head or eyes, minor outer ear a­­bnormalities, and problems with the heart and genitals


What is the difference between FAS and FASD?

FAS can be diagnosed when the baby is born, because of the visible physical changes it causes.

With FASD the baby looks normal. FASD may not be diagnosed until the child is 9 or 10, when more obvious developmental problems make it easier to identify. For example, problems with language, numeracy and behavioural problems like hyperactivity, repeating the same mistake, poor social skills and judgement.

FASD is more common than FAS. International evidence says that for every case of FAS there are at least 10 cases of FASD.


FAS and FASD are only caused by alcohol. If you don’t drink while you are pregnant, your baby will not develop these conditions.

Can FASD and FAS be cured?

No. The problems caused by FASD and FAS are permanent and irreversible. Diagnosing and treating the symptoms early can help a child affected by them to manage better. They are lifelong disorders.


Read more

The evidence linking alcohol, FAS and FASD

service finder

Where to get help

Find your nearest support group, by selecting your county below