FASlink Fetal Alcohol Disorders Society

Comparison of the effects of drugs on prenatal development

Prenatal alcohol exposure seems to have a more devastating long-lasting effect on the child than other street drugs (that have been studied-ed.). It is often difficult to identify the harm caused by illicit drugs because they are frequently taken in combination with alcohol. (Alcohol the drug is often seen as benign, not as "bad as" other drugs since it is legal. This chart provides a dear visual that this is not true.-ed.)

Low Birth Weight
Impaired Growth
Facial Malformation
Small Head Size
Intellectual & Developmental Delays
Hyperactivity, Inattention
Sleeping Problems
Poor Feeding
Excessive Crying
Higher Risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
Organ Damage, Birth Defects

Alcohol destroys cells in the fetus, causing malformations. (These physical changes contribute to leaming and behavioral cfrfferences that continue into adolescence and adulthood - ed.) Some effects of cocaine tend to diminish over time, and long-term damage may not be as severe as was originally predicted. Test Scores of children exposed to heroin show their physical and psychological development are usually within normal range.

Sources: US Department of Health and Human Services, 1994: Day et al., 1994