Drug & Alcohol Addiction During Pregnancy: Treatment & Effects

Of pregnant women in the age range of 15 to 44, it was estimated that in 2019, 5.8% used illicit drugs in the last month.1

This article will discuss the effects of drugs and alcohol during pregnancy, how different drugs can affect pregnancy differently, and how to get addiction treatment while pregnant.

Effects of Drug or Alcohol Addiction During Pregnancy

The effects of drugs and alcohol during pregnancy extend beyond just the mother. Many substances are able to pass through the placenta and this means they can reach the fetus.2

Consequences for a baby whose mother used alcohol and/or other drugs while pregnant might include:2

  • Being born early.
  • Being stillborn.
  • Low weight when born.
  • Dependence on substance(s).
  • Birth defects.
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Issues with development.

A woman who is pregnant and misuses substances might postpone prenatal care or might not seek it at all because she is afraid she would be punished for her substance use.3

A woman might be arrested and prosecuted if she uses substances while pregnant.3

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

If a woman consumes alcohol while she is pregnant, her child might have a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).4

FASDs can impact individuals differently; impacts may include:4

  • Short stature.
  • Features of the face being different from normal.
  • Low weight.
  • Small head.
  • Kidney, heart, and/or bone issues.
  • Issues with seeing and/or hearing.
  • Trouble concentrating.
  • Intellectual and/or learning disabilities.
  • Hyperactivity.
  • Poor memory.
  • Poor coordination.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

A collection of withdrawal signs called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) could affect a baby after birth if the baby’s mother used opioids (e.g., heroin, buprenorphine, and/or codeine) while she was pregnant with the baby.5

NAS might also affect a newborn whose mother used other illicit drugs, other prescription drugs, alcohol, and/or tobacco.5

When a person who is pregnant uses a substance, it might go through the placenta and the fetus might become dependent on that substance.2 When the child is born and is not receiving the substance anymore, withdrawal signs might appear.5

A baby with NAS might have symptoms including:2

  • Sweating.
  • Skin that is blotchy.
  • Fever.
  • Having seizures.
  • Being irritable.
  • Shaking.
  • Issues with sleep.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Hyperactive reflexes.
  • Not feeding adequately.
  • Nasal congestion.
  • Throwing up.
  • Breathing quickly.

Extended time in a hospital might be necessary for an infant with NAS.5

A baby with NAS might receive a medication that is similar to the substance the baby was exposed to before birth, with the dose of the medication being gradually reduced.5

Impacts of Different Drugs on Pregnancy

The potential effects of drugs and alcohol during pregnancy can vary depending on the substance being used.

  • Opioids: If a woman misuses opioids when she is pregnant, possible repercussions for her unborn child include fetal convulsions, growth being inhibited, and death before birth; furthermore, she may go into labor early and/or her newborn may have NAS.6
  • Methamphetamine: If a woman misuses methamphetamine when she is pregnant, there might be a higher likelihood of problems including placental abruption, her baby being born early, her baby having brain and/or heart abnormalities, and her baby being small.7
  • Cocaine: If a woman uses cocaine when she is pregnant, issues that might result from that include miscarriage, hypertensive crisis, and early labor; additionally, the baby’s head might be small and weight might be low when born.8
  • Nicotine: There is a connection between smoking when pregnant and several issues, such as early birth, issues with the placenta, low weight when born, raised miscarriage risk, and raised stillbirth risk.9

How to Stop Using Drugs or Alcohol While Pregnant

Stopping substance use poses risks for everyone, but this is especially true for someone who is pregnant. It is important to have medical oversight as well as monitoring if someone goes through withdrawal from drugs or alcohol during pregnancy. Detoxing can have dangerous consequences for the unborn baby, and sudden withdrawal could lead to fetal distress or death.10

It is not advised for women who have opioid use disorder and are pregnant to go through medically supervised withdrawal.5 For individuals who are pregnant, treatments advised for opioid use disorder include methadone and buprenorphine, which have been demonstrated to be efficacious as well as safe.5,6

Pregnant patients will want to discuss any misuse of substances with a healthcare provider to ensure they receive the appropriate treatment for their needs.

For many people experiencing drug addiction and pregnancy, a medical detox program offers the support they need to help them stop using drugs or alcohol.

Medical Detox for Drugs & Alcohol While Pregnant

A medical detox program can offer a safe and comfortable way for a person to stop using drugs or alcohol while pregnant. Detoxification programs are offered in both inpatient and outpatient settings; however, inpatient treatment provides additional support and safety and may be recommended for addiction treatment while pregnant.

During medical detox, comprehensive medical care is provided to both the mother and the fetus. Treatment for substance use in pregnancy is dependent on what substances are being used. Certain medications may be used to ease withdrawal symptoms and make the detoxification process as comfortable as possible.

During inpatient medical detox, patients reside at the treatment facility and are monitored around the clock by medical staff. Once detox is complete, patients may choose to continue addiction treatment by transitioning to another level of care.

Some patients may find inpatient rehab appropriate for them, as it offers around the clock support and the opportunity to reside at the treatment center. Other patients may prefer to attend outpatient addiction treatment, which allows them to live at home during their pregnancy or at a sober living community.

At Greenhouse Treatment Center, we offer various levels of addiction treatment from medical detox to sober living for addiction recovery. Our facility may accept pregnant patients at the discretion of the medical director.

Are you ready to reach out for help and start the treatment admissions process? If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and are ready to take the first steps toward recovery, call us today at . Our helpful admissions navigators will help you check your insurance coverage. You can also start by completing our confidential online .

Greenhouse Treatment Center, American Addiction Centers’ drug rehab near Dallas, is ready to help you get the treatment you need today.

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