Topics > Alcohol > Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) are a group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. These effects can include physical problems and problems with behavior and learning. Often, a person with an FASD has a mix of these problems.

Cause and Prevention

FASDs are caused by a woman drinking alcohol during pregnancy. There is no known amount of alcohol that is safe to drink while pregnant. There is also no safe time to drink during pregnancy and no safe kind of alcohol to drink while pregnant. To prevent FASDs, a woman should not drink alcohol while she is pregnant, or even when she might get pregnant. This is because a woman could get pregnant and not know for several weeks or more.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011


Key Facts on Alcohol and Pregnancy

There is no safe amount or type of alcohol during pregnancy.  Any amount of alcohol, even if it’s just one glass of wine, passes from the mother to the baby.  It makes no difference if the alcohol is a liquor or distilled spirit such as vodka, or beer or wine.

A developing baby can’t process alcohol.  Developing babies lack the ability to process, or metabolize, alcohol through the liver or other organs.  They absorb all of the alcohol and have the same blood alcohol concentration as the mother.

Alcohol causes more harm than heroin or cocaine during pregnancy.  The Institute of Medicine says, “Of all the substances of abuse (including cocaine, heroin, and marijuana), alcohol produces by far the most serious neurobehavioral effects in the fetus.”

Alcohol used during pregnancy can result in FASD.  An estimated 40,000 newborns each year are affected by FASD, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, with damage ranging from serious to subtle.

1 in 100 babies have FASD, nearly the same rate as Autism.  FASD is more prevalent than Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, SIDS, Cystic Fibrosis, and Spina Bifida combined. Alcohol use during pregnancy is the leading preventable cause of birth defects, developmental disabilities, and learning disabilities.

National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, 2013

FASD Fact Sheet-English and Spanish (CDC)

CDC Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Information-Spanish (CDC-2012)

Preventing FASD: Healthy Women, Healthy Babies (SAMHSA-2007)

The Physical Effects of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (SAMHSA-2007)

Addressing Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (SAMHSA-2014)

Integrating Sustainable FASD Services in Your Existing Service Setting (SAMHSA-2014)

Module 10K: Fetal Alcohol Exposure (NIAAA)

National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
This organization provides thorough and in-depth information and resources on FASD and the risks associated with drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

MOFAS – Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
This organization provides education, training, and resources on FASD in Minnesota.