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Competency 1: Introduction to FASD

Effects of Alcohol on the Developing Brain, Continued

Effects of Alcohol on Specific Brain Function

Alcohol can affect specific parts of the brain in ways that impair several functions.33,34

Specific parts of the brain impaired by alcohol, such as the frontal lobes, hypothalamus, cerebelum, basal ganglia, hippocampus, and corpus callosum
  • Corpus Callosum. The corpus callosum connects the two hemispheres of the brain, allowing the left and right sides to communicate. Prenatal alcohol exposure can cause abnormalities such as thinning or complete absence. These have been linked to deficits in attention, intellectual function, reading, learning, verbal memory, executive function, and psychosocial functioning. 34
MRI images of brain

Source: Mattson, S.N.; Jernigan, T.L.; and Riley, E.P. 1994. MRI and prenatal alcohol exposure: Images provide insight into FAS. Alcohol Health & Research World 18(1):49–52.

  • Hippocampus. The hippocampus is involved in memory, but its precise function is uncertain. Alcohol can change the fibers and cause cell reduction. Some persons with prenatal alcohol exposure have deficits in spatial memory and other memory functions associated with the hippocampus. The hippocampus also acts as a mood control center. Damage to the hippocampus can affect the ability to respond appropriately to emotions, such as anger. 34
  • Basal Ganglia. The basal ganglia are nerve cell clusters involved in motor abilities and cognitive functions. Heavy prenatal alcohol exposure can reduce basal ganglia volume. This can affect skills related to perception, such as the ability to manage time or inhibit inappropriate behavior. 34
  • Cerebellum. The cerebellum is involved in both motor and cognitive skills. The cerebellum tends to be smaller in people with an FASD. Damage to the cerebellum can cause learning deficits and problems with motor skills, such as balance and coordination. 34
  • Frontal Lobes. The frontal lobes control executive functions, such as planning and problem solving. They also control impulses and judgment. Frontal lobes can be smaller in individuals prenatally exposed to alcohol. Persons with an FASD may have poor impulse control and self-monitoring. They might engage in risky or illegal activity to fit in with peers. 34-36

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