About Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is caused by alcohol use during pregnancy. No amount of alcohol is known to be safe for an unborn child at any stage in its development. Alcohol consumed by the mother during pregnancy easily crosses the placenta and can cause a range of developmental defects that result in both physical diseases and intellectual disabilities. In particular, individuals with FASD are affected by different types and varying degrees of cognitive impairment, including poor executive function, difficulty understanding the consequences of actions, and inability to learn from mistakes. In adolescence and adulthood, such deficiencies substantially increase the potential for these individuals to experience alcohol and drug abuse, unemployment, homelessness, violence and crimes. It is common for people living with FASD to become victimized by others by for example confess to illegal actions committed by others and therefore come into conflict with the law, to end up in the courts, and eventually to be incarcerated.

FASD is of growing concern around the world. Most recent estimates show that FASD affects 2% to 5% of all newborns in the industrialized countries of Europe and North America, and the rates may be significantly higher in some developing countries and certain defined populations. Epidemiological studies have demonstrated that FASD is more prevalent in populations challenged by poor socioeconomic conditions and in cultures in which awareness of FASD is limited and alcohol use during pregnancy is a social norm. The physical and intellectual impairments associated with FASD have an impact not only on the lives of affected individuals and their families, but also on systems of health care, education, social welfare, and justice in countries throughout the world.

The IHE began doing research and engaged in knowledge transfer activities in the field of FASD in 2008. Since then researchers at the Institute have developed more than 25 publications, of which 10 are published in peer reviewed journals.


  1. May, P et al (2007). The epidemiology of fetal alcohol syndrome and partial FAS in a South African community, Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 88: 259-271.
  2. May, P et al (2011). Prevalence of children with severe fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in communities near Rome, Italy: New estimated rates are higher than previous estimates, Int. J. Environ Res. Public Health. 8: 2331-2351.
  3. Stade B., Beyene J., Buller K., Ross S., Patterson K., Stevens B., Sgro M., Ungar W., Watson W. and Koren G. (2011). Feeling different: The experience of living with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, The Canadian Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 18(3): e475-85.
  4. Riley EP., Infante MA. & Warren KR. (2011). Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder: An overview, Neuropsychology Review. 21: 73-80.
  5. Streissguth AP., Bookstein FL., Barr HM., Sampson PD., Kieran O’Malley MB. & Kogan Young J. (2004).Risk factors for adverse life outcomes in fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effects, Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. 25(4): 228-38.