Study Reveals Risks of Brain Deficits Associated with Fetal Alcohol Exposure

Study Reveals Risks of Brain Deficits Associated with Fetal Alcohol Exposure

Fetal alcohol exposure occurs when a pregnant woman drinks alcohol. Alcohol use during pregnancy can lead to a variety of problems that affect fetal development. Research shows that binge drinking – meaning four or more drinks on one occasion for women, and regular heavy drinking, put the fetus at risk of developing serious problems.  A new NIH-funded study conducted on mice reveals that even low doses of alcohol can lead to severe brain deficits in unborn babies.

These findings may help explain the wide range of behavioral and cognitive deficits in individuals with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and other inherited neurological disorders.

Alcohol exposure during embryonic and fetal development can result in FASD and is a leading cause of birth defects. This study sheds light on the mechanisms underlying alcohol’s toxic effects on the fetal brain and may have broader implications for understanding normal fetal brain development, as well as neurodevelopmental disorders unrelated to prenatal alcohol exposure.NIAAA Director George F. Koob, Ph.D.

What are Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)?

FASD is a term used to describe a range of effects brought on as a result of fetal alcohol exposure. Some developmental deficits related to FASD include:

  • Slowed or stunted growth
  • Facial abnormalities
  • Organ damage – including brain damage

This brain damage caused by fetal alcohol exposure can lead to a variety of neurological defects, which can lead to physical, cognitive, social and behavioral difficulties.

Alcohol and the Brain – Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Drinking during pregnancy can cause many physical, behavioral and learning deficits in the brain of a developing fetus. One of the most serious symptoms is known as fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Infants born with FAS may display very distinct facial features, are smaller than average, and their brains may have fewer brain cells, leading to long-term cognitive and behavioral problems. Babies with FAS may also have less volume than the average newborn. This condition, known as microcephaly, has been linked to some of the following problems:

  • Vision problems
  • Hearing loss
  • Movement and balance problems
  • Delayed speech or problems with developmental milestones like sitting, standing and walking
  • Seizures
  • Intellectual disability
  • Difficulty eating or swallowing
  • Seizures

Maternal Drinking Statistics in the U.S.

  • Approximately 20 to 30 percent of women have reported drinking alcohol at some point in their pregnancy – most commonly in the first trimester.
  • More than 8% of women have reported binge drinking – most commonly in the first trimester
  • The 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that more than 9% of pregnant women reported drinking alcohol in the previous month, and two percent of them reported binge drinking in the previous month.

Research Findings

The team of researchers administered alcohol to pregnant mice in order to elevate their blood alcohol concentrations to levels that mimic those of people who drink socially or who have severe alcohol use disorder. They then examined how the unborn mice’s brains reacted to the alcohol. They found that fetal brains exposed to alcohol exhibited delays in neuron production and migration.

In order for the brain to develop correctly, newly-formed brain cells need to migrate to specific locations at specific times to create the proper connections. Any delay in this migration can change the way the brain works and affect communication among different parts of the brain.

Getting Help for Alcoholism

Pregnancy and alcohol abuse make for a dangerous combination. Do not risk the life of your unborn child; get the help you need today to stop drinking and start living a happy and healthy life.

At Get Treatment, we are dedicated to helping people who suffer from alcohol abuse disorders and alcohol addiction. We feature top-rated alcohol addiction treatment centers across the country that provide patients with individualized alcohol detox treatment programs, guidance, evidence-based treatment, and continued support for lasting recovery. To learn more about how to get started, dial 855-638-9268 for more information. One of our admissions specialists can help you find the alcohol rehab center that’s right for you or someone you love.


Erica Loret de Mola

Erica Loret de Mola is a communications major who has been writing about addiction treatment for approximately three years. As content manager and editor in chief of Get Treatment, she strives to provide the most accurate and current information available to our clients.


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