The link between Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and Addictions

April 19, 2018

The 2018 Australian and New Zealand Addiction Conference will be held on Monday 28 and Tuesday 29 May with optional workshops on Wednesday 30 May at the QT Gold Coast.

Miss Jessica Hannan, National Projects Officer/Occupational Therapist at the National Organisation for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders joins us at the Conference to discuss ‘The link between Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and Addictions’.


Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is the leading cause of non-genetic developmental disability in Australia. FASD is the term used to describe the permanent physical and/or neurodevelopmental effects that result from alcohol being consumed during pregnancy. FASD is a complex disorder affecting multiple domains of functioning including working memory, motor skills, affect regulation, language and attention.

As a result of the damage cause to the central nervous system due alcohol consumption during pregnancy, individuals with FASD have an increased vulnerability to certain risk factors for substance abuse problems. There are potential explanations for the high prevalence of substance abuse and addictions within the FASD population such as biological vulnerability to substance use, individuals with FASD may use substances to self-medicate and individuals with FASD tend to have difficulties with impulse control, making them susceptible to developing a substance abuse disorder.

Despite limited epidemiological studies assessing the prevalence of addictions and substance abuse with individuals living with FASD, the literature does indicate a disproportionate number of individuals with FASD will have a problematic substance use disorders at some stage in their life. Service providers have been responsive in reporting that that the FASD population places greater demand on treatment service providers, given that they suffer from multiple co-morbid mental health illnesses.

Prenatal alcohol exposure exposes three generations to the harmful effects of alcohol (the mother, the fetus and the fetus’ germ line). Increased risk of substance abuse increases the risk of for additional cases of FASD and increase in generational FASD. It is therefore imperative that the message of FASD and addictions is spread. Without the awareness within the community, we are putting our future generations at risk of FASD.


Jessica Hannan Bachelor Health Science/Masters of Occupational Therapy Jessica Hannan is the National Projects Officer as well as a practising paediatric Occupational Therapist on the NSW South Coast. She is passionate about spreading the message about FASD due to working with children from numerous populations living with the disorder.

For more information on the upcoming 2018 Australian and New Zealand Addiction Conference please visit the conference website.





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