Pregnancy & Addiction – What are the Health Risks?

Addiction poses a serious risk to the health of anyone who suffers from it. Addiction makes people susceptible to overdose and long-term complications such as heart disease and cancer. However, addiction poses a particularly large threat to a fetus when the mother continues using drugs during pregnancy. It can result in serious health risks for both the mother and the unborn child.

Substance abuse and addiction during pregnancy may lead to many complications, including premature birth, low birth weight, stillbirth, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The use of drugs and alcohol during pregnancy can also affect the development of the baby’s brain, leading to long-term behavioral and cognitive problems. It’s important to note that there is no safe level of drug or alcohol use during pregnancy. Even small amounts can have devastating effects.

Fetal alcohol syndrome

When a mother excessively drinks during her pregnancy, the fetus is exposed to alcohol as well. Children still in the womb are underdeveloped, and their livers do not process alcohol as quickly or in the same way that adults would. Exposure to alcohol causes birth defects, abnormalities and developmental disabilities in children. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a permanent condition and the children will have atypical facial features and mood, attention and anger disorders for all their lives.

Opioid Abuse

Opioids such as Heroin, Vicodin and OxyContin should never be used during a pregnancy because of the risks they pose on the baby and mother. When a woman has a dependence to an opioid, abstaining from using causes withdrawal symptoms. While withdrawal symptoms are not usually fatal to the drug user, babies in the womb have the chance of developing acute opioid abstinence syndrome. This means that when the mother stops taking the drugs, the baby also goes through withdrawal symptoms, but does not have a developed immune system to help ward away effects. Studies have shown that the babies of mothers who used drugs while pregnant were more like yo have congenital heart defects, fetal growth restriction, fetal death and preterm labor.

Marijuana Use

Many do not believe that smoking marijuana has any adverse affects on their health, however, smoking marijuana after the first trimester of pregnancy can cause birth defects, premature birth, low birth weight, behavioral and learning problems and even miscarriages. Smoking marijuana increases the levels of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide in the blood. This cuts off oxygen supply to the baby.

Cocaine Use

The consequences of cocaine use during pregnancy all depend on when in the pregnancy it is abused. During the early months, cocaine exposure can increase the risk of miscarriage. Later in pregnancy, cocaine use can lead to placental abruption, preterm birth, and fetal death. Babies exposed to cocaine can also be born dependent to the substance and suffer from withdrawal symptoms like tremors, sleeplessness, muscle spasms and feeding difficulties.

Legal Consequences for Drug Use

Currently, only one state has laws that prosecute women for using illegal drugs during pregnancy. Other states have laws that force mothers to join rehabilitation programs or threaten to take their children away.

Treating Addiction During Pregnancy

There are options for women who need to go through treatment for addiction during their pregnancies. Doctors will use maintenance therapy and medications such as Methadone to reduce withdrawal symptoms and bring as little harm to the baby as possible. Doctors can also provide prenatal care, counseling and nutritional education to those in treatment to make the rest of their pregnancy healthier. The earlier a woman seeks treatment for addiction, the better their chances of delivering a healthy baby.

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Chris Carberg is the Founder of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Founder & CEO,

Chris Carberg is the Founder and CEO of Addiction Help. Chris battled a serious addiction to prescription drugs (opioids and sedatives) and alcohol, getting clean and sober in 2005. Chris has been a founder in several health-driven internet startups but Addiction Help represents his life's work. He has dedicated his life to helping addicts like himself reach recovery and see their lives and dreams restored.