For many women, pregnancy is one of the most amazing times in their lives. For women who are struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, however, it can make a challenging situation even more complicated.
Women who are pregnant and struggling with addiction face many obstacles. The judgment by others, the pressure of having to worry about another human being, and family and friends giving advice can be overwhelming for anyone.
The truth is that no one can understand how difficult this situation is unless they have been there themselves.
The good news is that there is help available when you are ready. All you have to do is reach out. Professionals are available to help you get clean and begin the process of providing the life you want for your baby. Get help today; don’t let your infant suffer from any more of the harmful effects that are caused by substance use during pregnancy.
To help you find what you are looking for, you can click on any of the topics below to skip to that section:
- The growing problem of pregnancy and addiction
- Drug use during pregnancy
- Risks associated with using drugs while pregnant
- Rehab options available to pregnant women
- Getting help
The Growing Problem of Pregnancy and Addiction
The rate of children who are born addicted to drugs has steadily grown over the years. For example, when a mother is addicted to opioids during her pregnancy, the baby experiences withdrawal symptoms once it is born. These withdrawals are called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) or neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS).
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there were 1.5 babies per 1000 born that displayed symptoms of NAS or NOWS in 2004. Just 10 years later, this number exploded to more than 4 times that figure, with 6.5 babies per 1000 displaying symptoms of NAS or NOWS in 2014. The costs associated with caring for these babies also grew more than 600%, from $90.9 million in 2004 to $563 million in 2014.
Opioids are not the only drug that is currently increasing in use during pregnancy. Some studies show that up to 18% of women drink alcohol in their first trimester of pregnancy. While this number steadily declines as the pregnancy continues, many critical things occur for the baby during that first trimester and drinking alcohol in excess can cause significant and lifelong problems for the baby.
According to a 2000 study done by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 51.1% of pregnant women who were treated for substance abuse reported drug abuse during their pregnancy. By 2010, this number increased to 63.8%.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information found that approximately 6% of pregnant women use illicit drugs and 8.5% drink alcohol while they are pregnant. A study done by the California Health and Human Services Agency showed that nationwide, about one-third of all children entering the foster system do so because of drug use by their parents.
Drug Use During Pregnancy
Consuming alcohol or illegal drugs while pregnant is bad for both the unborn baby and the mother. Medical complications and other issues can arise during pregnancy.
Even without a current pregnancy, drug or alcohol abuse by itself is dangerous. It can cause severe addiction or even death. When the person struggling with addiction is also pregnant, the problems become a lot more complicated.
According to NIH, it is estimated that over 10% of all children born each year in the United States are affected by illicit drug or alcohol use. In many states, if pre-delivery drug use is suspected, the hospital may do a drug test on the mother and newborn once it is delivered. If either of them tests positive for drugs or alcohol, state agencies such as Child Protective Services or Social Services may be notified.
When these agencies get involved in your life, it becomes an extremely serious situation. They can take away your newborn baby. They can also remove any other children that live in your home. Every state has different laws governing what actions can be taken and by whom. However, the legal consequences and emotional devastation of having families divided is traumatic no matter where you are located.
Don’t let the seriousness of this potential situation scare you away from receiving help. The best time to get clean is right now and taking proactive steps today can ensure that you are able to keep your baby when it is born.
Risks associated with using drugs while pregnant
Most illegal drugs have specific risks associated with their use during pregnancy. However, illegal street drugs are not the only substances that can cause harm to your unborn child. Alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco can also cause birth defects; their use should be reduced or completely eliminated when pregnant. Even some legally prescribed medications can have disastrous effects during pregnancy.
The following list will give you a good idea of some of the hazards associated with substance use during pregnancy:
Alcohol: Once consumed, alcohol passes from the mother’s blood to the baby through the umbilical cord (or through breast milk after the child is born). Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and low birth weight. It can also cause fetal alcohol syndrome and many other lifelong complications. These include learning disabilities, low IQ, poor reasoning and judgment, hyperactivity, poor memory, and increased difficulty in school. It can also cause vision and hearing issues, problems with the heart, and abnormalities in the kidneys and bone structure of the child.
Caffeine: Small amounts of caffeine may be safe for some pregnant mothers, but it is not for others. Caffeine is associated with many birth defects. It may also cause early labor. Regular caffeine consumption throughout pregnancy may also cause low birth weight.
Tobacco: Smoking cigarettes while you are pregnant increases the likelihood of the infant having serious health problems. Many pregnant women who continue to use tobacco throughout their pregnancy go into labor early or have children with low birth weight. Studies have found that smoking while pregnant or after the baby is born also increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Marijuana: Smoking marijuana while pregnant may cause premature birth. It may also increase the difficulty of getting pregnant. Additionally, some children develop lifelong learning difficulties or have trouble concentrating later in life if their mothers smoke marijuana while pregnant.
Cocaine & Crack: Using cocaine while pregnant can greatly increase the risks of miscarriage. Additionally, women may develop skin infections, anemia, or malnutrition while pregnant. After the birth of their child, they are more likely to experience postpartum depression or anxiety and may struggle with thoughts of suicide. Cocaine use during pregnancy can decrease the amount of blood and oxygen that are delivered to the unborn child, which can cause developmental disabilities and heart problems.
Heroin & Opiates: Using heroin while pregnant can cause a number of complications for both the mother and the unborn child. Women may experience something called placental abruption, which cuts off the supply of oxygen and food to the baby and can cause heavy bleeding. This can be very dangerous or even deadly for both the mother and her unborn child. Infants are also at a higher risk of being stillborn or developing severe mental and developmental disabilities later in life. Babies who are born to mothers who used heroin during pregnancy often show signs of neonatal abstinence syndrome and have a very difficult time going through withdrawal from the drug after they are born.
Methamphetamine: Babies born to mothers who used methamphetamine during pregnancy may develop heart and brain abnormalities, along with many other birth defects. A research study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse showed that children born to methamphetamine-dependent mothers were more likely to have motor difficulties, neurobehavioral problems, and issues such as high stress levels and slow learning abilities.
Prescription Medication: It is not safe to continue using many prescription drugs while you are pregnant. It is critical that you make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as you discover you are pregnant, or before you plan to become pregnant, so you can discuss any prescription drug use and other important issues. Some prescription drugs are only safe to take during certain parts of pregnancy, while others can cause serious problems for both the mother and the unborn child during any trimester. Do not stop taking your prescriptions without consulting with your doctor first but make an appointment as soon as possible.
Rehab treatment options available to pregnant women
Struggling with drug or alcohol abuse is hard enough on your own. When you add pregnancy into the mix, a bad situation can get much worse. If you want to make a change for the better for you and your baby, there are many options available to you. There are several different treatment choices available to you if you are pregnant and ready to make that change. If a rehab program is best for you, you can expect to enroll in one of the following programs:
Detox: For pregnant women, medically supervised detox is an important first step of recovery. The detox process can be difficult for your body to go through even when you aren’t pregnant. It is important that you complete the step of ridding your body from harmful substances under the care of your doctor, a rehab center, or another professional to minimize the risks to your unborn baby.
Residential (Inpatient) Treatment: This type of treatment program involves living at a treatment facility and receiving around-the-clock help. There are many treatment programs in the United States today that even specialize in the care of pregnant women. This level of treatment is the best option for many people, especially because there couldn’t be a better time to focus on being healthy and breaking free from your addiction for good.
Intensive Outpatient (IOP)/Partial Hospitalization: With this level of care, you will not live at the facility. Instead, you may find housing nearby at a sober living facility or somewhere that provides a healthy support network. You will be busy attending classes and meetings at the rehab facility for most of each day. This is a great option for someone who has already completed a residential program and is looking to transition smoothly back into society.
Outpatient Treatment: An outpatient program is a good choice for people who are well along the path to recovery but still want some additional support. Similar to the IOP option above, you will attend classes, meetings, and counseling from a nearby program. This program typically involves less of a time commitment than intensive outpatient programs. Over time, you may end up only needing to attend the program 1-3 days a week for just a few hours each time.
If you are pregnant and are struggling with a drug addiction or alcohol abuse, the time to get help is now. Why take the chance of risking your life or the life of your unborn child by continuing down a path that is unhealthy and can cause lifelong problems for your baby? Make the decision to get sober today.
Once you make this difficult decision, you have many options when it comes to treatment, including your doctor, rehab centers, national hotlines, support groups, and more.
Contacting your doctor or OBGYN can be a good first step. They may be able to help you begin the detox process, point you toward other local resources, and provide information about the pregnancy.
Some rehab centers specialize in treating pregnant women who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Depending on your location, insurance coverage, and goals, you may be able to find a center near you that can provide specialized care for you and your unborn baby. You may even want to consider traveling to a specialized rehab center to receive treatment; many people find that completely removing themselves from their current situation helps them immerse themselves more fully in their treatment.
Several national hotlines can also help you find treatment and other information:
Individual therapy is another option that can be incredibly useful, flexible, and encouraging. The American Psychological Association offers a directory of therapists in your area that specialize in certain types of therapy, including addictions. Many of these counselors may accept your insurance coverage.
Support groups can help you maintain your sobriety. Group just for women or mothers can be especially helpful because you will be able to relate to the group members, receive advice, and feel heard and understood. Sober Mommies and other organizations even offer online support groups which can be useful while you are adjusting to life as a new mother.