Are adults affected by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs)?
Yes, FASDs are lifelong disabilities. They do not disappear as children grow up.
Are all adults affected in the same way?
No, just as there is a spectrum of effects in childhood, there is also a spectrum of effects in adults. Some adults are severely affected; they experience difficulties with meeting the challenges of day-to-day life and may be involved in problem behavior. At the same time, there are individuals who appear unaffected or experience only minor effects.
What do we know about physical features of FASD in adults?
The physical features usually related to prenatal alcohol exposure can be seen in adults. Many researchers think, though, that they are less pronounced at this stage of life.
What do we know about brain structure and function in adults with FASD?
The brain continues to be affected by prenatal alcohol exposure in adults. Studies have shown that brain size in general is smaller Specific areas related to functions we know are affected such as memory also are smaller.
Studies have shown that prenatal alcohol exposure also affects how the brain works. For instance, exposed adults have more difficulty solving problems involving math or visual attention than other adults. For more information, please see:
What do we know about intellectual functioning in adults with FASDs?
Adults with FASDs continue to have problems with intellectual functioning. Areas such as learning, memory, planning, and math problem-solving are affected in exposed adults. Individuals most affected as children probably will continue to be affected as adults. These difficulties may affect their ability to move toward more independent lives
What do we know about FASDs and day-to-day functioning in adults?
Studies have shown that alcohol-affected adults often have problems with the challenges of day-to-day life. They may have difficulty finishing high school, be less likely to be employed, and more likely to live in a dependent living situation. Studies of individuals with FASDs who have already been referred for clinical treatment show they are likely to have more severe problems.
As part of our project, we did a study of adults living in the community who have FASDs. In this study, we did not find any difference in high school graduation or independence of current living situation when exposed and non-exposed adults were compared. We did find that young adults in the most severely affected group reported having fewer jobs after high school. Exposed adults were less likely to be involved in work or educational activities than those in the comparison groups. For more information on our study, please go to
There also are reports of exposed individuals who have had support and guidance at this time and have made successful adjustments to adult life.
(LINK to section on examples of transition to adulthood)
What do we know about behavior problems in adults with FASDs?
Studies of behavior problems have been based for the most part on individuals with FASDs who have been referred to clinics for help. These studies suggest that individuals with FASDs are likely to have problems with mental health, substance abuse, and involvement with the legal system.
We found fewer negative results in our community sample of individuals with FASDs. This sample includes adults with a range of fetal alcohol exposure and effects. The exposed adults did have higher scores on some behavior problems and some substance use variables than the non-exposed group. In most cases, though, their scores were similar to those of a disability contrast group of students in Special Education classes in high school. For more information on the results from this study, please go to:
What interventions are available for adults with FASDs?
Researchers have recently begun studying interventions for adults with FASDs. Dr. Leigh Tenkku has developed a program offering additional support to young adults with FASDs by providing mentoring relationships, family support, and therapeutic home visits. The goal of this program is to help young people with FASDs learn life skills that will help them in the transition to adulthood. Other intervention programs are being developed as well. Dr. Mary O’Connor has developed a program that focuses on reducing alcohol use in adolescents. Dr. Therese Grant is working on interventions for mothers with FASDs.
For more information on these programs, please see:
Working with Adolescents and Young Adults:
Growing into Young Adulthood (Tenkku)
Working with Affected Women (Grant)
Project Step-Up (O'Connor)
Two National Meetings in Atlanta in 2011
Research Society on Alcoholism
June 25-29, 2011
National Prevention Network – Prevention Research Conference
September 20-23, 2011
FASD 2011 Webcast Available & Advance Notice for Adolescents and Adults with FASD 2012
NOFAS Georgia Executive Director (Volunteer)
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