Skip to main content

FASD Center

Frequently Asked Questions about FASD

Definition and Causes

Issues for Families

Definition and Causes

What is FASD?

The term ‘Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders’ (FASD) describes a range of birth defects that can occur in any baby whose birth mother drank alcohol anytime during pregnancy. ‘FASD’ is not a diagnosis, but refers to a group of conditions. Even though each condition—or disorder—has unique features, all FASD can result in physical, mental, and behavioral problems, as well as learning disabilities. Possible diagnoses within the spectrum include Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND), Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS), Static Encephalopathy/Alcohol-Exposed (SE/AE), and Neurodevelopmental Disorder Associated with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (ND/PAE). Other terms used less often include Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD) and Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE). For more information:

For more information:

What causes FASD?

FASD can happen only when a pregnant woman consumes alcohol. The alcohol in a pregnant woman’s body crosses into the baby’s blood, which can damage the brain and lead to an FASD. For more information:

How common is FASD?

The prevalence of the full spectrum of FASD in the general population is estimated at 9.1 per 1,000 live births, though a review of in-school screening and diagnosis studies suggest that the national rate could potentially be closer to 50 per 1,0001. Overall, FASD affect an estimated 40,000 babies every year in the United States. For more information:

  • FAS affects between 5 and 20 per 10,000 live births. Among some Native American tribes, the rate is as high as 15 to 25 per 10,000.
  • FAS, ARND, and ARBD combined affect at least 100 per 10,000 live births.

For more information:

1 May, P. A., Gossage, J. P., Kalberg, W. O., Robinson, L. K., Buckley, D., Manning, M., & Hoyme, H. E. (2009). Prevalence and epidemiologic characteristics of FASD from various research methods with an emphasis on recent in-school studies. Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews, 15(3), 176-192.

How is FASD prevented?

FASD is 100% preventable. The only sure way to prevent FASD is to totally avoid alcohol while trying to get pregnant, during pregnancy, or after having unprotected sex when it is possible to get pregnant. Current research shows that no amount of alcohol is sure to be safe to drink at any time during pregnancy. For more information:

Does heavier drinking during pregnancy cause more harm to the baby?

No amount of alcohol during pregnancy is guaranteed to be safe. However, it is true that women who drink heavily during pregnancy increase the risk of alcohol-related harm to their babies. For more information:

Back to Top

Issues for Families

How is FASD diagnosed?

Diagnosing FASD can be difficult. If a birth mother drinks during pregnancy, being honest about her drinking will help her doctor avoid a wrong diagnosis. For the child, the earlier the diagnosis, the better the outcome. A doctor can make a diagnosis alone, but may also seek opinions from other experts. The best treatment for FASD will involve a range of healthcare professionals, such as psychologists, speech pathologists, social workers, and certain kinds of therapists. For more information:

Can FASD be cured?

No, FASD cannot be cured, but with proper diagnosis, treatment, and a support network of family and friends, many people with an FASD can learn coping skills and have an improved quality of life.

Is FASD genetic or hereditary?

There is no evidence that FASD is hereditary or genetic. In other words, FASD does not "run in the family."

Can drinking by the father cause an FASD?

Current science shows that an FASD can only happen when a pregnant woman consumes alcohol. Science does not yet show that the father’s drinking prior to conception can cause an FASD. However, there is science that shows that a father’s drinking can affect the genes of the next generation or the one after that 1-3. This process is called epigenetics. The best way a father can help prevent FASD is to help the mother avoid alcohol while she is pregnant, which may require him to reconsider his own drinking habits.

1Haycock, P.C. (2009). Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders: The epigenetic perspective. Biology of Reproduction, 81(4), 607-617.
2Hegedus, A. M., Tarter, R. E., Hill, S. Y., Jacob, T., & Winsten, N. E. (1984). Static Ataxia: A possible marker for alcoholism. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 8, 580-582.
3Tarter, R. E., Hegedus, A. M., Goldstein, G., Shelly, C., & Alterman, A. I. (1984). Adolescent sons of alcoholics: Neuropsychological and personality characteristics. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 8, 216-222.

Can FASD be passed along through breast milk?

Alcohol in breast milk is not linked to FASD. However, when a woman who is breastfeeding drinks alcohol, some of that alcohol does enter her breast milk. Research shows that alcohol in the milk can harm a child's development, sleep, and learning. For more information:

What costs are associated with FASD?

The estimated lifetime cost of caring for a person with an FASD is between $1.4 million and $1.5 million. For one individual with FAS, the most severe form of FASD, the lifetime cost is estimated at $2 million. The overall costs of FAS for our nation as a whole may be as high as $6 billion each year. These estimates do not include costs such as time lost from work, the burden on families, and poor quality of life. For more information:

What are the main concerns for parents and family of a child with an FASD?

Parents of children with an FASD face unique challenges. A child with an FASD may get into trouble or act out, they may need to be told things many times, and they may do things without understanding the consequences. When they get older, they may not be able to live alone. However, studies have shown that early diagnosis and a stable, positive environment can improve the outlook for people with an FASD. Several groups have developed materials to help parents and family members. For more information:

Adoptive parents can refer to:

How many service providers does a child with an FASD need?

Children and adolescents with an FASD are often involved with multiple service providers and systems. In one example, a young child with an FASD interacted with more than 30 different service providers.

Many Doors, No Master Key illustrates the numerous services needed by an actual child with FAS (named Brandan) and his family. When Brandan was a toddler, he and his family interacted with more than 30 service providers in a number of service systems (health, education, social and community, and legal and financial). The number of services increased from his toddler years to his elementary school years.

While Brandan’s case cannot be generalized to every child with an FASD, these slides do offer an accurate representation of the importance of coordinated, multi-systemic care in assisting children and families coping with an FASD. Families and caregivers are encouraged to use these slides in presentations on FASD, or as educational tools when working with providers or educators, so that everyone assisting the child understands the broad range of services need to help him or her achieve success.

Many Doors, No Master Key: Resources Needed for Brandan, Age 1-2 Years

Many Doors, No Master Key: Resources Needed for Brandan, Elementary School Years

What is the Affordable Care Act and how can it help individuals with an FASD and their families?

The ACA is a United States federal statute signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010. Together with the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, this statute represents the most significant regulatory overhaul of the country's healthcare system since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965.

The goals of ACA are to increase the quality and affordability of health insurance, lower the uninsured rate by expanding public and private insurance coverage, and reduce the costs of health care for individuals and the government. The ACA provides a number of mechanisms—including mandates, subsidies, and insurance exchanges—which expand coverage and affordability. The law also requires insurance companies to cover all applicants within new minimum standards and offer the same rates regardless of pre-existing conditions or gender.

Implementation of the ACA presents an exceptional opportunity to extend health insurance and additional services, including FASD prevention, to additional female populations, especially to poor and near-poor female individuals who do not currently have health insurance.

The Health Insurance Marketplace was launched on October 1, 2013 to comply with the ACA. By debuting the Health Insurance Marketplace, a major element of the ACA has been set in motion. The Health Insurance Marketplace allows you to find quality health coverage. The Marketplace can assist you if you do not have coverage, or if you have it but want to consider other options. In addition, you can learn if you can lower your insurance costs based on your income by comparing coverage options side by side. Coverage for consumers began January 1, 2014.

For additional information refer to the links below:

Back to Top

Download FASD FAQs in Adobe PDF format. PDF icon