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Competency 1: Introduction to FASD

Comparative Effects of Alcohol and Other Substances on the Developing Fetus

Commonly abused substances include:

Pack of cigarettes and bottle of prescription drugs
  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Heroin
  • Methadone
  • Cocaine
  • Marijuana
  • Prescription drugs

Of these, alcohol produces by far the most serious neurobehavioral effects in the fetus.39 The table shows various effects of different substances. Only alcohol can produce all of the noted problems. In addition, combinations of substances (e.g., alcohol and tobacco) can produce more serious effects than either substance alone. Many women use multiple substances.

  Alcohol Tobacco Opioids Amphetamines Cocaine Marijuana PCP
Growth deficiency X X X X X X X
Behavior problems X X X   X X X
Cognitive problems X X X     X X
Motor deficits X X         X
Developmental delays X       X    
Facial anomalies X           X
Physical defects X     X X   X

Source: Briggs, G. G., Freeman, R. K., & Yaffe, S. J. (2002). A reference guide to fetal and neonatal risk: Drugs in pregnancy and lactation. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; Plessinger, M. A. (1998, March). Prenatal exposure to amphetamines: Risks of adverse outcomes in pregnancy. Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America, 25(1), 119-138; Fraser Askin, D., & Diehl-Jones, B. (2001). Cocaine: Effects of in utero exposure on the fetus and neonate. Journal of Perinatal and Neonatal Nursing, 14(4), 83-102.

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