Fetal alcohol syndrome is among the most common known causes of mental retardation and as such, it is a major public health problem.
Dr. Ed Riley
Department of Psychology
San Diego State University
Center for Behavior Teratology
6363 Alverado Court, Suite 209
San Diego, Ca 92120
Dr. Carrie Randall
Medical University of South Carolina
Institute of Psychiatry
Center for Drug & Alcohol Programs
171 Ashley Avenue
Charleston, SC 29425-0742
Fetal alcohol syndrome is among the most common known causes of mental retardation and as such, it is a major public health problem. The purpose of this lecture is to provide a basic overview of what we know about the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure. It is certainly not meant to be comprehensive but rather to give a broad overview of current knowledge in the area, and of ongoing human and animal research in the area. Heavy prenatal alcohol exposure can result in the fetal alcohol syndrome and both changes in brain structure and behavior have been reported in these children. Importantly, current data indicate that individuals exposed to heavy doses of alcohol in utero, but without the facial characteristics of FAS, can also suffer from similar brain and behavioral changes. Animal models have proven to be an excellent research tool in this field, as there appears to be good concordance between the animal and human data. The animal models provide a means to examine mechanisms of alcohol damage, to control for factors not possible in most human studies, and to help answer important clinical questions. Fetal alcohol effects are preventable, and every child born with a defect related to prenatal alcohol exposure indicates a failure of the health care system. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a devastating developmental disorder that affects children born to women who abuse alcohol during pregnancy. Although FAS is entirely preventable, and in spite of our increasing knowledge about the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure, children continue to be born exposed to high amounts of alcohol. It's consequences affect the individual, the family, and society. Its costs are tremendous, both personally and financially. Effective treatment and prevention strategies must be developed and made available. Fetal alcohol syndrome is among the most common known causes of mental retardation and as such, it is a major public health problem. The purpose of this lecture is to provide a basic overview of what we know about the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure. It is certainly not meant to be comprehensive. For more a detailed overview, the references at the end of the presentation might be helpful. It is important to remember that as the mother consumes alcohol and her blood alcohol level rises, that alcohol is freely crossing the placenta and the embryo or fetus is being exposed to the same blood alcohol levels. This is a program ongoing in Seattle and which has been replicated in other communities. It began in 1991 to test the efficacy of an intensive, long term paraprofessional advocacy with high risk mothers who abused alcohol or drugs during pregnancy. Women became involved when they give birth to a child who was exposed to alcohol or drugs prenatally. They received intensive interaction with a case worker who acts as an advocate, getting them in touch with appropriate services. The results are impressive, with fewer subsequent children born exposed to alcohol or drugs, reduced foster care placement and a reduction in the dependence of welfare. Other positive outcomes are an increase in family planning and child well-being.
West, J.R., Chen, W-J. A., & Pantazis, N.J. (1994) Fetal alcohol syndrome: The vulnerability of the developing brain and possible mechanisms of damage. Metabolic Brain Disease, 9, 291-322.
Ramanathan R; Wilkemeyer MF; Mittal B; Perides G; Charness ME. Alcohol inhibits cell-cell adhesion mediated by human L1. Journal of Cell Biology, 1996 Apr, 133(2):381-90.
Klintsova AY. Cowell RM. Swain RA. Napper RM. Goodlett CR. Greenough WT. Therapeutic effects of complex motor training on motor performance deficits induced by neonatal binge-like alcohol exposure in rats. I. Behavioral results. Brain Research. 800(1):48-61, 1998
Grant, T.M., Ernst, C. C., and Streissguth, A.P. Intervention with high-risk alcohol and drug--abusing mothers: I. Administrative strategies of the Seattle model of paraprofessional advocacy. Journal of Community Psychology, 27, 1, 1-18, 1999
Ernst, C. C. Grant, T.M., Streissguth, A.P. and Sampson, P.D. Intervention with high-risk alcohol and drug--abusing mothers: II. Three-year finds from the Seattle model of paraprofessional advocacy. Journal of Community Psychology, 27, 1, 19-38, 1999
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