Fetal alcohol syndrome is a lifelong condition. Teenagers with fetal alcohol syndrome may experience behavioral, cognitive, and physical challenges.

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Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) are a group of conditions that can occur when a fetus is exposed to alcohol while still developing in the uterus. Of the disorders that fall under FASD, fetal alcohol syndrome represents the most severe end of the spectrum.

Fetal alcohol syndrome affects not only newborns but also people for the rest of their lives, including in their teenage years.

If you’re the parent of a teenager with fetal alcohol syndrome, you likely have a lot of questions. We’ve gathered information to help you feel prepared talking with your teenager’s doctor.

Learn more about fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD).

Fetal alcohol syndrome refers to the effects of alcohol exposure in the womb. People with fetal alcohol syndrome may have growth defects, cognitive difficulties, and central nervous system problems.

Many times, doctors diagnose fetal alcohol syndrome long before a person becomes a teenager. But since there is no cure for this condition, many of its effects continue to impact teenagers.

Symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome in teenagers vary from teen to teen.

Some common symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome in teenagers include:

Fetal alcohol syndrome is the result of prenatal alcohol exposure.

Diagnosing fetal alcohol syndrome can be difficult for doctors because there is no one medical test for this condition.

There are also several other disorders, like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Williams syndrome, that can have some of the same symptoms.

To make a fetal alcohol syndrome diagnosis, doctors will look for:

  • a history of alcohol exposure during pregnancy
  • central nervous system problems, like issues with attention and hyperactivity, or poor coordination
  • facial features common in the condition
  • lower than average height, weight, or both

Treatment for fetal alcohol syndrome can include:

  • Medical care: In addition to routine doctors’ visits, teenagers with fetal alcohol syndrome may require visits with medical specialists to address auditory, visual, behavioral, and other concerns related to the disorder.
  • Medications: No medication has specifically been approved to treat fetal alcohol syndrome, but some medications may be used to manage symptoms like high energy levels, trouble concentrating, or depression.
  • Behavioral and educational therapy: In addition to educational therapy and behavioral therapy for the teenager, parents may benefit from therapy to help them understand and cope with their teenager’s unique needs.
  • Alternative treatments: While research into acupuncture, yoga, animal therapy, and other alternative treatments is lacking, anecdotal success stories may lead people to try these methods. It’s important to discuss any alternative treatments with your child’s doctor first to ensure they won’t interfere with any other treatments.

Fetal alcohol syndrome in teenagers is completely preventable by avoiding alcohol while pregnant.

How alcohol affects a fetus depends on the quantity of alcohol, frequency, and timing during pregnancy.

People may be more affected by prenatal alcohol exposure if the birthing parent:

There is no cure for fetal alcohol syndrome, but symptoms can be managed. Therapies and treatments during a person’s early years may help them reach their fullest potential.

Other factors that may improve the outlook for teenagers and adults with fetal alcohol syndrome include:

  • getting a diagnosis before 6 years old
  • engaging with special education and social services
  • living in a stable, loving home environment during the school years
  • not having exposure to violence

What difficulties can teenagers with fetal alcohol syndrome experience in school?

Teenagers with fetal alcohol syndrome may experience trouble at school because of vision, hearing, or cognitive problems. They may also experience attention or behavioral difficulties.

What are some other conditions besides fetal alcohol syndrome that fall under the umbrella of FASD?

Other conditions that fall under the term “FASD” include:

  • neurobehavioral disorder associated with prenatal alcohol exposure (ND-PAE)
  • alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND)
  • alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD)

How can fetal alcohol syndrome impact the face?

People with fetal alcohol syndrome may have a smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip, called a smooth philtrum. They may also have:

  • a smaller head
  • small and wide-set eyes
  • a very thin upper lip

Fetal alcohol syndrome begins with prenatal alcohol exposure. It affects people for their entire lives. Teenagers with fetal alcohol syndrome may experience behavioral, cognitive, and physical limitations.

While there is no cure, resources are available for people with fetal alcohol syndrome. It’s important to talk with your teenager’s doctor if you believe they may have this condition but have not yet received a diagnosis, or if you believe other supportive measures are needed.