Reducing harm caused by alcohol


Health experts campaign for better understanding of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

This 9 September, International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) awareness day, health advocates are campaigning for better communications to help prevent FASD, and better support for those with or caring for someone with the life-long condition.

Supporting this call, today MSPs are to participate in their first post-lockdown Members’ debate, recognising the impact of Alcohol Fetal Spectrum Disorders. The motion has been lodged by Kenneth Gibson MSP, who has a long-standing interest in the issue.  It highlights that Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is the most common, non-genetic cause of learning disability in the Scotland, and that it is entirely preventable.

It is estimated that up to 1 in 20 children in Scotland are affected by FASD.[1]

Exposure to alcohol during pregnancy is the only cause of FASD, so it is vitally important that the risks of drinking in pregnancy are well known and understood by those thinking of starting a family.

A study from Glasgow[2] which examined the meconium of newborn babies identified that 42% had some level of alcohol exposure from their mothers during pregnancy, and around 15% of the pregnancies had been exposed to very high levels of alcohol.

The consequences of alcohol exposure in the womb can be profound. It can affect people’s learning and behaviour as well as their physical and mental health. Without the right help, FASD can affect their entire future.

Without support 94% of people living with FASD experience mental health problems, while 79% experience unemployment, and over a third struggle with addictions.

Getting a diagnosis and the right support is vital.  The FASD Hub Scotland, run by Adoption UK Scotland provides support for all parents and carers of children and young people who have been affected by prenatal alcohol exposure. This FASD Awareness Day they are celebrating the successes, talents and achievements of everyone living with FASD and their caregivers, as well as raising awareness of FASD.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland said, “Every parent wants the best for their child but it is difficult to make the healthy choice when awareness of the impacts of drinking alcohol during pregnancy are so low.  As a consequence, too many babies in Scotland are exposed to alcohol in the womb, with potentially serious consequences for their health and well-being throughout their lives. The message is simple: “No Alcohol, No Risk”, if you are pregnant or trying to conceive. We need to do more to communicate this through social marketing campaigns, but also through GPs, family-planning and ante-natal services who have an opportunity to talk to women and their partners about their drinking when advising on fertility or pregnancy. The alcohol industry also has a role to play and Alcohol Focus Scotland would like to see mandatory, clear and consistent warning labels on bottles and cans explaining the health risks of drinking alcohol during pregnancy.”

Fiona Aitken, Adoption UK's Scotland director said, "We are encouraged to see FASD being given attention in the Scottish Parliament. Since launch of delivery, our service has shown us the crucial and emerging need of families affected, and we hope the debate brings the opportunity to highlight the need for lifelong individual and family support, as well as a national framework that would make access to diagnostic services and assessments more straightforward for families in Scotland. It's so important to raise awareness of this widespread neurodevelopmental condition."

Wendy Sinclair-Gieben, Chief Inspector of Prisons, and former board member of NOFASD in Australia, said, “Throughout my career working in criminal justice I have seen the lifelong effects FASD can have on people, and the ways systems can treat people whose behaviour they cannot understand. Early identification and support, along with better understanding of FASD, can make it possible for people to lead healthier lives. As a country we need to look at how we support people with FASD, and a national strategy to raise understanding and normalise appropriate intervention can play a significant part in this.”

Kenneth Gibson MSP who lodged the motion said, “It’s vitally important that we recognise the profound impact that Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) can have on someone’s health and wellbeing throughout their life. That the prevalence in Scotland is much higher than previously thought is cause for concern. We must do more to ensure that the message No Alcohol, No Risk during pregnancy is well known and understood not just by prospective mothers but by partners, family and friends who can help support them. 

“For those affected by FASD, understanding the condition and getting support is key to children going on to lead healthy, happy lives. The work of the FASD Hub Scotland is a lifeline to the parents and carers who need that support.”

[1] Health Improvement Scotland, SIGN 156, Children and young people exposed prenatally to alcohol. A  national clinical guideline, 2019,

[2] Abernethy C, McCall KE, Cooper G, et al. Determining the pattern and prevalence of alcohol consumption in pregnancy by measuring biomarkers in meconium. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed. 2018;103(3):F216-F220. doi:10.1136/archdischild-2016-311686