Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) – its relevance to forensic adolescent services

Ernest Gralton (Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist, Adolescent Developmental Disabilities, St Andrew’s Healthcare, Northampton, UK)

Journal of Intellectual Disabilities and Offending Behaviour

ISSN: 2050-8824

Publication date: 8 September 2014



There needs to be an increased recognition of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) in services that deal with young people with disruptive and offending behavior, not just those services that deal with adolescents with a recognized intellectual disability. The paper aims to discuss these issues.


This is a general review of the current available evidence on FASD and how it is likely to predispose affected young people to have contact with secure mental health services and the criminal justice system.


FASD is likely to have become a more common cause of intellectual disability and behavioral disturbance but the history of significant alcohol exposure in utero if often missed. There is evidence that the hyperactivity is less responsive to psychotropic medication and may represent a different condition to conventional ADHD. However the majority of those affected are in the low normal IQ range.

Research limitations/implications

There is so far very limited research in what is likely to be a relatively common disorder with significant costs to criminal justice, mental healthcare and social services. Epidemiological information from the UK is lacking and urgently needed.

Practical implications

Professionals who work with mentally disordered young people need to be more aware of FASD and its potential contribution to the problems and disabilities in their population.

Social implications

Social workers, foster carers and adoptive parents need to be more aware of FASD and how it can contribute to the breakdown of social care.


There is currently no other review of FASD and the implications for criminal justice, secure mental health and social care for young people.



Gralton, E. (2014), "Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) – its relevance to forensic adolescent services", Journal of Intellectual Disabilities and Offending Behaviour, Vol. 5 No. 3, pp. 124-137.

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