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Substance Abuse Support for Pregnant Women
Pregnancy can be a wonderful and joyful stage in a woman’s life; however, it is a period of time that can also come with serious risks and dangers.
One of the risks and dangers associated with pregnancy is alcohol and drug use because of its potential adverse effects on both the mother and the developing fetus.
Because the effects of addiction can be devastating for the pregnant woman and unborn child, pregnant women need access to quality substance abuse treatment without fear of stigma or shaming.
Fortunately, it is not uncommon to find rehab facilities that are specialized for pregnant women, offering treatment services such as medical detox with fetal monitoring, dual diagnosis treatment, and family services and childcare.
Addiction in People Who Are Pregnant
Addiction can occur during pregnancy for various reasons, many of which relate to the everyday physical and mental stress during this delicate time.
And while addiction and substance abuse can be expected in pregnant women, most women do not develop substance use disorders after they become pregnant.
In most instances, the pregnant woman had a problem with substance abuse before she became pregnant, then had difficulty stopping their substance use during pregnancy.
Pregnant women may experience great difficulty in trying to stop using drugs or alcohol during this time of heightened stress and hormone levels, which is why they must have access to compassionate and non-judgmental addiction care.
Scope of Substance Abuse for Pregnant Women
Substance abuse is a growing health issue among women who are pregnant.
According to a 2020 study by Columbia University, overdose is now a leading cause of death among pregnant women during and shortly after pregnancy.
Statistics related to substance abuse and pregnant women include:
- Approximately 4.4% of women report abusing at least one substance during their pregnancy.
- A baby is born with NAS (neonatal abstinence syndrome) every 24 minutes in the United States.
- Approximately 20-30% of women report drinking alcohol at some point during their pregnancy.
- 7% of women report using prescription opioids during pregnancy, and 1 in 5 of those report misusing or abusing opioids during pregnancy.
- Overdoses are responsible for 1 in 6 deaths that occur during pregnancy.
- The most commonly used substances during pregnancy are cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana, followed by cocaine and prescription opioids.
Risk Factors for Addiction in Pregnant Women
Pregnancy can be an extremely difficult time for many women, regardless of the circumstances that led to their pregnancy.
For some, the challenges and difficulties of pregnancy can lead to a dependency on drugs or alcohol as a way of coping or self-medicating.
Risk factors for addiction in pregnant women include:
- History of substance abuse: Women who have previously battled alcohol or drug addiction are at a higher risk of relapse during pregnancy.
- High-stress levels: Pregnancy can be stressful, and some women may turn to substances to cope with stress, increasing their risk of addiction.
- Mental health disorders: Pregnant women with anxiety, depression, or other mental illness issues are more likely to self-medicate with substances.
- Unplanned pregnancy: Unintended pregnancies can lead to increased stress and a higher risk of substance use and addiction.
- Limited social support: Pregnant women who lack substantial support systems may be more susceptible to addiction as they struggle to manage the challenges of pregnancy.
- Intimate partner violence: Pregnant women experiencing domestic violence may use substances to cope.
- Lack of prenatal care: Women who do not receive proper prenatal care may be less informed about the risks of substance use during pregnancy and may be more likely to develop an addiction.
Signs of Substance Abuse in Pregnant Women
If someone that you love is pregnant and exhibiting any of the signs below, try to talk to them and get them into a treatment program as soon as possible, for both their sake and that of their unborn baby.
Signs of substance abuse in pregnant women include:
- Changes in physical appearance
- Mood swings and emotional instability
- Withdrawal from social activities
- Financial difficulties
- Neglect of responsibilities
- Legal problems
- Relationship issues
- Unexplained absences
- Tolerance and withdrawal symptoms
- Cravings and compulsive use
Effects of Substance Abuse in Pregnant Women
Substance abuse during pregnancy, even in a single instance, poses many risks for the mother and can also be detrimental to the development of her growing fetus.
Some potential effects of substance abuse in women who are pregnant:
- Preterm labor and premature birth: Premature birth refers to babies born before 37 weeks gestation. This condition can lead to postpartum depression, anxiety, PTSD, or bonding issues with the baby after birth.
- Risk of miscarriage: In addition to losing the baby, miscarriage can result in grief, PTSD, anxiety, and depression.
- Effects on body systems: Depending on the substance, use of it may affect a woman’s heart function, lung function, liver function, or other areas of the body. A pregnant woman’s body is already working hard to support the growth of the fetus, which means her health may be at risk.
- Overdose risk: Pregnant women may take a break from substance abuse when they learn they are pregnant but may return to substance use. This cycle can lower their tolerance, potentially increasing their chances of a drug overdose.
Effects of Drug and Alcohol Abuse on the Unborn Baby
Abusing drugs or alcohol while pregnant can have severe consequences for the growing fetus, potentially resulting in serious injury and even death.
Seeking help and treatment can minimize these risks and ensure the best possible outcomes.
Some of the effects of substance abuse on an unborn baby can include:
- Low birth weight: Babies exposed to substances in utero are likelier to be born with a lower birth weight, which can lead to various health problems and developmental delays.
- Premature birth: Substance abuse increases the risk of premature birth, which can result in a range of complications for the baby, including respiratory issues, underdeveloped organs, and difficulty maintaining body temperature.
- Birth defects: Exposure to substances during pregnancy can lead to various congenital disabilities, including heart defects, cleft lip or palate, and abnormalities in the brain and nervous system.
- Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS): Babies exposed to opioids during pregnancy may experience withdrawal symptoms after birth, known as neonatal abstinence syndrome. NAS can lead to excessive crying, irritability, seizures, and difficulty feeding.
- Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS): Pregnant women who consume alcohol can cause their babies to develop fetal alcohol syndrome, characterized by facial abnormalities, growth deficiencies, and central nervous system damage.
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS): Babies exposed to substances during pregnancy have an increased risk of SIDS, sudden and unexplained death during the first year of life.
- Miscarriage or stillbirth: Substance abuse increases the risk of miscarriage or stillbirth, which can have significant emotional and psychological effects on the mother.
What to Expect in Addiction Treatment Centers for Pregnant Women
Specialized alcohol and drug treatment centers or programs for pregnant women should be reputable, accredited, and use evidence-based treatments.
The best facilities will offer individualized treatment plans, specialized treatment options, and services for pregnant women and new mothers.
Fetal Monitoring During Medical Detox
Pregnant women attempting to detox from alcohol or opioid addiction should never do so on their own or without the supervision of medical providers.
Detoxification from these substances can put the pregnant mother in great physical distress, putting the baby in equal distress.
While in rehab, pregnant women can utilize medications like methadone or buprenorphine to help detox at a rate that is safe for them and their babies.
Prenatal Care During Inpatient Rehab
Inpatient or residential treatment centers for pregnant women must provide some level of prenatal care and medical support for women as they progress through their pregnancies.
Some recovery centers for pregnant women are even equipped for women to give birth on-site and remain for a period of time as they care for their newborns.
Dual Diagnosis Care
Dual diagnosis treatment aims to treat a person’s addiction simultaneously with any co-occurring mental health or behavioral health disorders.
Treating both disorders simultaneously can be important for pregnant women, who often experience various mental health issues during pregnancy, including severe depression and anxiety.
Support Groups for Pregnant Women With Addiction
Rehab centers for pregnant women often offer various types of support groups and group therapy, where women can share their experiences with each other.
This kind of group support can provide accountability, a sense of community, and companionship while in recovery.
Recovery support groups for pregnant women with addiction can also be found online and in virtual settings.
Family Services and Childcare
Some inpatient drug rehab centers allow women to bring their children with them during their stay as long as they are below a certain age.
These rehab centers usually provide some form of childcare while the mothers are in therapy or appointments and may even provide therapy to the children as well.
Rehab Aftercare for Mother and Baby
Rehab aftercare for mothers and their babies usually occurs in an outpatient program after the mother has successfully completed an inpatient program. x
Aftercare can include treatment services like case management, relapse prevention support, ongoing individual or family therapy, and group counseling or peer support groups.
Mothers are at a heightened risk of relapse after giving birth due to the risk of postpartum depression, so they must continue their recovery in aftercare.
Sober Living Connections
Pregnant women need sober living conditions to return to after leaving an inpatient rehab program.
Sometimes this means a sober living home where people can stay and live with others who are also on their own recovery paths. Some rehab facilities that treat pregnant women may partner with sober living homes or offer referrals to nearby sober housing.
How to Help a Pregnant Woman Manage Substance Abuse
Seeking help for a pregnant woman battling addiction or substance abuse can be complicated and delicate. Here are some steps to take to talk to a pregnant loved one about their drug or alcohol use.
1. Tell Them Your Concerns About Their Substance Use
Let your loved one know that you are concerned about their substance use and how it may affect them and their unborn baby. Your loved one must know that you are helping them because you are concerned but are not judging them for their substance use.
Be sure to avoid saying any judgmental statements and offer them an equal opportunity to share their own thoughts and concerns.
In listening to their concerns, try to understand their substance abuse’s potential root or cause, as this can prove helpful during their treatment.
2. Offer to Support Their Recovery Journey
A recovery journey is rarely easy for anyone and may be especially difficult for pregnant women or new mothers. Giving whatever support you can will likely mean a great deal to your loved one, as they may feel lonely or overwhelmed.
3. Help Them Find Rehab Centers for Pregnant Women
Your loved one may not be aware that programs are specialized for pregnant women, and there may even be options nearby.
Since most specialized programs for pregnant women are inpatient or residential, your loved one may also need help with transportation to their chosen treatment facility.
Benefits of Addiction Treatment for Pregnant Women
Participating in professional addiction treatment during pregnancy can benefit both mothers and their unborn babies.
With early intervention and compassionate, quality treatment, women and their children can move on to lead healthy and addiction-free lives.
Some of the benefits of substance abuse treatment for pregnant women include:
- Improved infant outcomes: Treatment during pregnancy reduces the risk and severity of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) and leads to better overall outcomes for the infant.
- Better prenatal care: Addiction treatment can help pregnant women access better prenatal medical care, which is crucial for the health of both the mother and the baby.
- Reduced maternal risks: Addiction treatment lowers the risk of maternal infections, malnutrition, and harm related to drug-seeking behavior.
- Access to additional support services: Many programs provide comprehensive support services to eligible pregnant individuals, ensuring a well-rounded approach to care.
- Improved mental health: Treatment can help address mental health disorders that may co-occur with substance use, supporting the mother’s overall well-being.
Cost of Pregnant Women’s Rehab Programs
It is not uncommon for pregnant women to struggle financially, as they may be limited in their work or may have other children to care for.
Pregnant women do, however, have options to help pay for their treatment.
Health Insurance for Pregnant Women
Medicaid is available to pregnant women and those who are caregivers to children under 18, and in many instances, is completely cost-free.
Women can apply for Medicaid online through their state government office and can start receiving benefits in as little as a few days, depending on their state and individual circumstances.
Pregnant women may also use private insurance or insurance through their employer if they have those options available to them.
Payment Plans at Pregnant Women’s Rehab Centers
Some rehab centers offer payment plans or other types of financial assistance, such as sliding fee scales, facility scholarships, or connections to private lenders.
These types of financial assistance can be especially helpful for women with inadequate or no insurance.
Barriers to Addiction Treatment for Pregnant Women
Deciding to seek professional addiction treatment is often the biggest hurdle that people must overcome before getting the help they need for substance abuse.
This hurdle can be even more significant for pregnant women, who may face harsh criticism for their substance use.
Some of the barriers that prevent pregnant women from seeking addiction treatment include:
- Stigma and shame: The fear of being judged or stigmatized for substance use can discourage pregnant women from seeking help.
- Fear of criminal punishment: Pregnant women who use substances may avoid seeking treatment due to the fear of legal consequences, such as arrest or loss of custody of their children.
- Financial difficulties: The cost of drug and alcohol addiction treatment can be a significant barrier for pregnant women, especially if they lack insurance coverage or face other financial hardships.
- Limited availability of resources: Pregnant women with substance use disorders may struggle to access necessary support services, such as childcare or transportation, that would enable them to attend treatment sessions.
- Mental health challenges: Co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety, can make it difficult for pregnant women to seek help and engage in treatment.
- Domestic violence: Pregnant women who are experiencing intimate partner violence may be unable to access treatment or may fear repercussions from their partner if they attempt to seek treatment.
Resources for Pregnant Women Seeking Addiction Treatment
Women may feel lonely or isolated during pregnancy or in the period after their baby is born. Fortunately, many resources are available to provide community, education, and support.
Resources for pregnant women seeking addiction treatment include:
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): Besides a national helpline and treatment center database (gov), this organization hosts many other mental health and substance abuse resources.
- National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare (NCSACW): This organization is a national resource center for parents, children, and families affected by substance abuse and also provides a mental health treatment center locator.
- Text4Baby: This educational app recommended by the CDC provides text updates about what to expect during pregnancy and postpartum and resources for seeking help.
- Postpartum Support International (PSI): This organization provides a non-emergency hotline, online support groups, a directory of perinatal healthcare providers, and many more mental health resources for pregnant women and new moms.
- MotherToBaby: This resource provides valuable information to pregnant and breastfeeding women regarding the use of certain medications and drugs. It also connects women to clinical pregnancy studies they can apply for.
- American Pregnancy Association: A valuable resource on many pregnancy topics, this organization also offers a live helpline where pregnant women can call with questions or concerns.
In addition to the above national resources, there are likely resources local to your city and state as well. Check with your healthcare or treatment providers for local resources and organizations that assist pregnant women with substance abuse.
Find Help for Pregnant Women Who Are Battling Addiction
Pregnancy can be a challenging experience for many women, even without the additional dangers and risks of substance abuse.
But help is available to pregnant women who are ready to seek treatment and manage their substance abuse.
When you are ready to find a specialized program for pregnant women in your area for either yourself or a loved one, visit the treatment facility locator through SAMHSA at findtreatment.gov.