FASDs and Secondary Conditions

Key points

  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) often lead to other disorders, called secondary conditions.
  • A person is not born with a secondary condition but might develop one as a result of having an FASD.
  • These conditions can be improved or prevented with appropriate treatments for individuals with FASDs and their families.
A psychologist counseling a teenage child in an office

Common mental health conditions

Studies have shown an increased risk for cognitive disorders (for example, memory loss), mental illness, or psychological disorders among people with FASDs.

The most frequently diagnosed disorders are

Other psychiatric problems, such as eating disorders and posttraumatic stress disorder, also have been reported for some people with FASDs.

Child looking sad in front of a parent or caregiver
People with FASDs are at increased risk for psychological disorders, like depression and anxiety.

Disrupted school experience

Children with FASDs are at higher risk for being suspended or expelled, or dropping out of school. Difficulty getting along with other children, poor relationships with teachers, and truancy are some of the reasons that lead to removal from the school setting. Many children with FASDs remain in school but have negative experiences because of their behavioral challenges.

Trouble with the law

Teenagers and adults with FASDs are at higher risk for having encounters with police, authorities, or the judicial system. Difficulty controlling anger and frustration, combined with problems understanding the motives of others, result in many people with FASDs being involved in violent or explosive situations. People with FASDs can be very easy to persuade and manipulate, which can lead to their taking part in illegal acts without being aware of it, or being victims of crimes.

Inappropriate sexual behavior

People with FASDs are at higher risk for showing inappropriate sexual behavior, such as unwanted advances and inappropriate touching. If the person with an FASD is also a victim of violence, the risk of participating in sexually inappropriate behavior increases.

Alcohol or drug dependence

Studies suggest that more than one third of people with FASDs have had problems with alcohol or drugs, with more than half of them requiring inpatient treatment.

Problems with independence

Adults with FASDs generally have difficulty sustaining employment or living independently in their communities.

  • Streissguth, A.P., Bookstein, F.L., Barr, H.M., Sampson, P.D., O'Malley, K., Young, J.K. Risk factors for adverse life outcomes in fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effects. Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. 2004;5(4):228-238.
  • Streissguth, A.P., Barr, H.M., Kogan, J. & Bookstein, F. L., 'Understanding the Occurrence of Secondary Disabilities in Clients with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE),' Final Report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), August, 1996, Seattle: University of Washington, Fetal Alcohol & Drug Unit, Tech. Rep. No. 96-06, (1996).