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Module 2: Effects of Alcohol on the Fetus

Brain scan showing alcohol-related brain damage

Alcohol-Related Brain Damage

Alcohol can damage the developing brain when it crosses the placenta. Since the brain develops throughout pregnancy, alcohol exposure at any time can cause brain damage. Types of alcohol-related brain damage include:

  • Small head (microcephaly), usually below the 10th percentile.
  • Damage to or absence of the corpus callosum, an area of the brain that contains nerve fibers that bridges the two hemispheres of the brain. MRIs have shown completely missing areas of the brain in individuals with an FASD.5,6
  • Abnormal cysts or cavities in the brain.
  • Neurologic problems, such as seizures, tremors, and poor fine motor skills.
  • Patterns of dysfunction on psychometric tests.

This damage can lead to developmental delays, learning disabilities, and behavior problems, such as:

Confused faces
  • Mental retardation
  • Attention deficits
  • Hyperactivity
  • Poor impulse control
  • Student solving math problem
  • Problems in social perception
  • Speech and language delays or deficits
  • Poor capacity for abstract thinking
  • Specific deficits in math skills
  • Problems in memory, attention, or judgment
  • Problems with cause and effect
  • Problems anticipating consequences
  • Problems changing behavior or response in different situations

Multimedia Video: Susan J. Astley, PhD, describes how alcohol affects the developing brain and includes the definition of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

Multimedia Video: Paul Connor, PhD, discusses the structural changes to the brain caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol and its relationship to the child's behavior.

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