Article Summary #9: Comorbid Mental Health Challenges in Adults with FASD

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This Article Summary is part of our new CanFASD Connect Top Articles Summary Series. Over the next several months, we will be bringing you summaries of all the recent research papers from our list of the Top FASD Articles of 2019. This is an overview of a recent research paper called Substance use, comorbid psychiatric disorders and suicide attempts in adult FASD patients.


Researchers have established that individuals with FASD have an increased risk of comorbid psychiatric disorders and substance-related disorders. However, little is known about adults with FASD and their mental health across the life span. Almost no research has been conducted among adults with FASD above 30 years old.

The authors of the current study examined substance use, comorbid psychiatric disorders, and suicide attempts among 31 adults with FASD at a diagnostic service clinic located in a university hospital in Duisburg-Essen, Germany.

Main Findings:

  • Rates of comorbid mental disorders were much lower in this study than previous studies on adults with FASD, with only two patients (6.45%) diagnosed with a current substance use disorder
  • 55% of patients drank alcohol in the previous 30 days compared to over 70% of the general population of Germany
  • Cannabis use was more common among patients with FASD in Germany (29%) than the general population (20%).
  • 8 patients with FASD (25.8%) experienced at least one suicide attempt, which is consistent with findings from previous research on adults with FASD


  • More research using larger, more representative cohorts, is needed on the mental health of adults with FASD across the lifespan
  • Screening instruments tools should be updated and adapted to identify people with FASD who have mental health and substance use disorders.
  • Further development of education and training programs for professionals working with adults with FASD is required to improve supports and reduce stigma
  • Clinicians in psychiatric settings should be aware that patients who are seeking mental health or substance use treatment may have FASD.
  • There is a need to create awareness about the higher risk of suicidality among patients with FASD and to develop an “emergency strategy” for professionals working with patients with FASD who are at risk of suicide.
  • Evidence-based interventions should be developed to support people with FASD who have substance use and/or mental health challenges. These interventions need to consider the strengths and challenges of each individual.

Take-home message: There is a limited body of research on adults with FASD. Given the limited research, even a small clinical sample can expand the breadth of knowledge on mental health and substance use among adults with FASD.

Authors: Henrike Dirks, Lisa Francke, Verena Würz, Constance Kretschmann, Sonja Dehghan-Sanij and Norbert Scherbaum

Journal: Advances in Dual Diagnosis

Date: February 18, 2019

Read the full article (not available open access)

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