Mental and physical health challenges can be pervasive among individuals with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Comorbidity, the co-occurrence of two or more health conditions, is prevalent with researchers identifying 428 possible comorbid conditions. It is estimated that at least 90% of people with FASD experience additional mental health challenges alongside their FASD diagnosis.
Among the most common mental health challenges faced by individuals with FASD are attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), intellectual and learning disorders, mood disorders like depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and psychotic disorders. These mental health conditions add an additional layer of complexity to the lives of individuals with FASD, impacting their cognitive, emotional, and social functioning.
However, it is not just mental health challenges that individuals with FASD face. Physical health comorbidities are also common. Problems with the nervous system and senses, including issues with motor skills, coordination, and sensory processing, are frequently observed. Hearing and vision difficulties, and dental issues, such as tooth decay and malformation may require specialized interventions and support. Additionally, other congenital conditions and chromosomal differences may co-occur with FASD, further impacting overall health and well-being.
The high prevalence of comorbidities in individuals with FASD can be attributed to the range of impacts that prenatal alcohol exposure has on a developing fetus. Alcohol’s teratogenic effects can disrupt various systems and processes in the body, leading to a multitude of health challenges that extend beyond the primary diagnosis of FASD.
Understanding the complexities of comorbidities in FASD is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, it allows healthcare professionals and support systems to provide comprehensive and integrated care to individuals with FASD, addressing both their FASD-related needs and their co-occurring health conditions. By recognizing and addressing these comorbidities, professionals can develop tailored interventions and treatment plans that take into account the unique challenges and strengths of each individual.
Moreover, understanding the comorbidities associated with FASD helps to validate the experiences of individuals and their families. It reduces stigma and misconceptions by emphasizing that the challenges faced by individuals with FASD are NOT a result of personal shortcomings but rather a complex interplay of prenatal alcohol exposure and associated comorbid conditions. This understanding promotes empathy, support, and a more inclusive society that recognizes the multifaceted nature of FASD and its impact on overall health.
Green, C., & Salmon, A. FASD, Stress and Mental Health. https://canfasd.ca/wpcontent/uploads/2016/05/FASD-Stress-and-MH-EN.pdf
Weyrauch, D., Schwartz, M., Hart, B., Klug, M.G., & Burd, L. (2017). Comorbid Mental Disorders in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders: A Systematic Review. Journal of Developmental & Behavioural Pediatrics, 38(4), 283-291. https://doi.org/10.1097/dbp.0000000000000440