Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

What is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is a condition that arises when a mother consumes excessive alcohol during her pregnancy.

If woman consumes alcohol while pregnant, the child is at risk of suffering from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is a leading cause of preventable birth defects and developmental disabilities.

How does Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder occur?

Alcohol easily passes through the placenta which is the organ of the body that sustains a baby during pregnancy. Alcohol consumption during the first trimester, including before a woman realizes that she is pregnant could cause severe defects which are not curable.

How can Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder be avoided?

Women should not consume alcohol during pregnancy or if they are trying to get pregnant in order to avoid the risk of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder as there is no known safe amount of alcohol to consume in order to avoid the risks. Any amount of alcohol can harm a developing fetus and increase the chances of miscarriage.

If you suspect that your child is suffering from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, take him/her to a doctor as soon as possible as this could reduce the behavioural problems.

If you are a woman with a drinking problem and wants to get pregnant, consult a doctor for advice.

If you are a light or social drinker and feel that you will get pregnant soon, avoid alcohol.


How Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder affects Kids?

Kids who have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder share features such as small eye openings, a thin upper lip and a small philtrum which is the groove between the nose and upper lip.


What are the symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?

A small head

A smooth ridge between the upper lip and nose, small and wide-set eyes, a very thin upper lip, or other abnormal facial features

Below average height and weight


Lack of focus

Poor coordination

Delayed development and problems in thinking, speech, movement, and social skills

Poor judgment

Problems seeing or hearing

Learning disabilities

Intellectual disability

∙Heart problems

∙Kidney defects and abnormalities

∙Deformed limbs or fingers

∙Mood swings

How is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder diagnosed?

In order for someone with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder to be diagnosed, a doctor must determine that they have abnormal facial features, slower than normal growth and central nervous system problems.

The nervous system problems could be physical or behavioural and could be present as hyperactivity, lack of coordination or focus or learning disabilities.

They could take the form of hyperactivity, lack of focus or learning disabilities.

As the baby grows, there are other signs that can help confirm a diagnosis, these include:

Slow rate of growth

Abnormal facial features or bone growth

Hearing and vision problems

Slow language acquisition

Small head size

Poor coordination

What treatments are available for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?

While Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is incurable, there are treatments which are available to reduce the problems.

Depending on the extent to which the child is affected, they may need to make regular visits to the doctor or clinic. For example, speech therapists could help children learn how to speak.


While there are no specialized treatments for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, the following can be taken in order to reduce effects.

Anti-depressants can be taken in order to reduce problems with sadness and negativity.

Stimulants can be taken to boost focus and other behavioural problems.

Anti-anxiety drugs can be taken to decrease anxiety.

Neuroleptics can be taken to treat anxiety and aggression.

Behavioural training

Behavioural training will help, for instance, friendships will teach kids social skills. Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder are likely to require extra help with their school work. For instance, they could require tutors to assist them with Mathematics.

Alternative treatments

Some people may prefer using alternative treatments to treat their child. These could include Yoga, exercise and healing practices such as massages and acupuncture.

A loving home

Children who suffer from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder are more likely to develop with aggression and violence later on in life if they are exposed to such conditions or if they are victims themselves.

If there is a child whom you know who has Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, treat them with love and respect and also encourage others to do the same.

Is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder a major problem?

Yes! South Africa has the highest rate of reported children who are suffering from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and the figure stands at 8%-12%. In South Africa, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is 30%-50% more likely to occur than the next most common birth defect which is Downs’s syndrome.

Overall It has been estimated that about 2 million South Africans are affected by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder while another 5 million may have the less severe symptoms.



Drunken Driving & Walking

Drunken Driving

Drunken driving in South Africa is a serious offence and can result in severe penalties. The Automobile Association (AA) reports that the rule of drinking and driving is simple: “Don’t do it”

Getting caught drunken driving in South Africa means that you will have to appear in court and if found guilty, you could face up to as much as six years in jail. In addition to having a criminal record, you could also land fines of up to R120 000 as well as have your licence suspended.

Drunk driving is one of the biggest threats to Road Safety in South Africa,” says the AA (Automobile Association of South Africa). “More than 21,000 people have been arrested on our roads in the last year as a result of drinking and driving, and it has been shown that 50% of people who die on our roads are over the limit.”

According to Dr Charles Parry of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Group under the Medical Research Council (MRC) 40% of drivers who die on the road have alcohol levels in excess of .08 gms / 100 ml. In South Africa, the legal blood alcohol limit is less than 0.05g per 100ml while the legal breath alcohol limit stands at less than 0.24mg in 1000ml of breath.

In simple terms, this means that two drinks in one hour will put you over the legal limit.

If you are planning to drink, the general rule is to drink nothing more than 1 unit of alcohol per hour if you weigh 68kg or more.

Our bodies can only process one unit of alcohol per hour.

Below is a breakdown of alcohol units per drink type

1 x 75 ml glass of wine = 1 unit

1 x 250 ml glass of wine = 3.3 units

1 x shot/shooter = ½ unit in most instances

1 x spirit cooler = about 1.25 units

1 x beer = 1.5 units or possibly more

1 x cider = 2 units

1 x 25 ml tot of spirits = 1 unit

1 x cocktail between 2 and 4 units

Sadly while South Africa has strict rules towards drunken driving, tough sentences are very rarely given to those who are guilty of the act. Only 7% of those who are guilty ever get sentenced.

Until the laws are more strictly enforced, many South Africans are likely to continue thinking that drinking and driving as well as speeding are acceptable acts.


Drinking and Walking

In South Africa, pedestrians account for 35-40% of all road fatalities and a large reason for this in addition to drivers being under the influence of alcohol is pedestrians being under the influence of alcohol.

Unfortunately in South Africa, pedestrians who drink and walk are very rarely regulated be it in bigger cities or in smaller towns.

When alcohol is in a person’s system, it causes them to lose their sense of focus or orientation. As a result a drunken pedestrian may mistake a fast car as moving slowly or a car that is far away as being close and this could result in death.

When a pedestrian is drunk, a driver may knock or run over them through no fault of their own. Often when this happens, the driver cannot see the pedestrian or the incident happened when it was the driver who had right-of-way.

During December 2017, it was found that up to 60% of pedestrians who were killed on the roads of Cape Town had alcohol in their system.

Cape Town MEC Donald Grant highlighted: “It is very difficult with pedestrians, especially the ones who drink,” “The problem is big in the metro area where people are seen walking on the highways. This has also contributed to the high rate of deaths we have had on our roads.

We have seen people walking under a footbridge on the highway and that is the problem. We need to look at spatial planning, because people will always take the shortest route to get to their destination. When they walk drunk, that is even worse.”

In a similar way to drunken driving, drunken pedestrians are needlessly killed on a regular basis. If you are planning to drink, it is advisable not to cross busy roads. Rather make use of transport to get home and do not be the one who is driving.

Apps such as Taxify and Uber have become popular amongst those who are planning to drink heavily. These apps indirectly save lives as they have reduced the number of drunken drivers and drunk pedestrians on the road.

Underage Drinking

Binge Drinking