Health Canada Information Update: FASD

Health Canada released their new information page on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). This update is a huge step forward towards increased consistency, reduced confusion, and improved understanding of FASD in Canada.


Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder describes the impacts on the brain and body of someone exposed to alcohol in the womb. It’s a lifelong disability, but is preventable with the right services and supports.

People with the disorder may need support with:

  • learning
  • memory
  • attention
  • social skills
  • motor skills
  • physical health
  • communication
  • emotional regulation

Everyone with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is unique and has areas of both strengths and challenges.

The number of people with the disorder is unknown. This is because it’s difficult to diagnose and often goes undetected. Recent studies from Canada, the US and Europe estimate that 1% to 5% of the population have the disorder.


Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is caused by exposure to alcohol in the womb. It is not hereditary.

Alcohol harms cell development. If the birthing parent consumes alcohol during pregnancy, it passes into the developing fetus. This can cause harm to the developing fetus’s brain and body.

The impact of alcohol on a developing fetus depends on:

  • how often the birthing parent has alcohol
  • how much alcohol the birthing parent consumes
  • when during the pregnancy the birthing parent has alcohol

Other factors can affect fetus development, such as:

  • stress
  • the birthing parent’s age
  • smoking or other drug use
  • the birthing parent’s nutrition

Co-occurring health conditions

More than 400 other health conditions are related to or commonly occur together with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. They can affect almost all systems in the body. The most common co-occurring health conditions can impact:

  • behaviour
  • communication
  • attention and hyperactivity
  • physical and mental development

Early and appropriate support can improve outcomes for people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. People who don’t receive support are more likely to face difficulties such as:

  • substance use
  • unemployment
  • housing problems
  • trouble with the law
  • mental health issues
  • disrupted school experiences
  • challenges with independence
  • sexually inappropriate behaviours

Accurate diagnosis is important for effective treatment. The signs and symptoms of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder are often mistaken for other conditions.