Research: Suicide risk in adolescents with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders

First published: 24 January 2019



The teratogenic effects of prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) have been extensively documented over the course of 45 years of research and psychiatric problems are pervasive in this population. In adults with PAE, suicidal risk is high but less is known about the suicidal risk in adolescents with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). This study describes the prevalence of suicidal ideation and serious suicide attempts in a sample of 54 adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 years with FASD.


Adolescents were diagnosed with FASD using the Updated Clinical Guidelines for Diagnosing Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. The Children’s Interview for Psychiatric Syndromes was used to identify those adolescents who experienced suicidal ideation and/or who had made a serious suicide attempt in the last 12 months.


The prevalence of suicidal behaviors in this sample was high with 35.2% of teens reporting incidences of suicidal ideation and 13.0% reporting at least one serious suicide attempt in the past year. This finding is in contrast to the 17.2% and 2.4% for ideation and serious attempts, respectively, reported in the general U.S. adolescent population. Alarmingly, 29.2% of males with FASD reported a serious suicide attempt which was 19½ times higher than national norms for males. No females reported attempts. Number of home placements and the presence of a depressive disorder contributed to study outcomes.


Findings demonstrate the significant risk for suicidality in this population, particularly adolescent males, and the need to assess and treat this life threatening behavior.

Click here for access to full research report.

One comment

  1. hi Maddie: I am reading too many of these stories and I need to stop actually. It can get obsessive but not generative. It’s these stories that inspire me to think about how to make life meaningful for the group of young people who have been in the system and/or are struggling with PAE.

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