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Guide To Pregnancy And Substance Use Disorders

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Drug and alcohol addiction can affect people of all types and can cause harmful side effects and health conditions. This is especially true in the case of pregnant women who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Substance use disorders can be incredibly harmful to both mother and child.

Unfortunately, substance use by pregnant women seems to be on the rise, with an estimated five percent of women abusing drugs or alcohol throughout their pregnancy. Many of the substances used during pregnancy can easily pass through the placenta, directly impacting the health and growth of the fetus. Thus, it’s important for women struggling with addiction to seek help before trying to get pregnant or as soon as they learn they are pregnant.

While overcoming a drug or alcohol addiction may seem daunting, it’s the best decision that can be made for both mother and child. There are several treatment options available to help pregnant women recover from a substance use disorder.

Risks Of Substance Use During Pregnancy

Studies have shown that tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drug use during pregnancy can significantly increase the risk of complications and health conditions for both mother and child. In fact, using these substances during pregnancy can double the risk of stillbirth.

Despite the risks associated with substance use during pregnancy, many women still continue to use drugs or alcohol while pregnant. Every substance a woman uses has the potential to impact the fetus, as many substances pass through the placenta. Because of this, drug or alcohol use during pregnancy can result in a number of health risks for the baby.

The risks associated with substance use during pregnancy include:

  • Placenta Abruption — This condition is when the placenta is detached from the uterine wall before birth. While rarely fatal, it can potentially cause developmental issues in the fetus. Placenta abruption is directly linked to smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, or abusing other substances during pregnancy.
  • Miscarriage — A miscarriage is when a fetus dies before the 24th week of pregnancy. Abusing substances can significantly increase the risk of miscarriage.
  • Stillbirth — A stillbirth is when the baby is born deceased and can happen anytime after the 24th week of pregnancy. Placental abnormalities are the most common cause of stillbirth, which can be triggered by substance use.
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders — This group of disorders comes as a direct result of a mother’s alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
  • Premature Birth — Drug or alcohol addiction can increase the risk of premature birth. Premature birth is when a child is born before the 37th week of pregnancy. Prematurely born children are at risk for a number of complications and will likely need to be kept in intensive care for several weeks or months after birth.
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome — This condition is when a baby is born addicted to opioids. This happens as a direct result of a mother’s opioid use throughout her pregnancy. Symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome may include seizures, diarrhea, and blotchy skin.
  • Low Birth Weight — When a mother uses drugs or alcohol throughout her pregnancy, her baby is at risk of being born with low birth weight. Low birth weight is when a child is born weighing less than five pounds and eight ounces.
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) — This condition is when a baby suddenly and unexpectedly dies before the age of one. Abusing substances throughout pregnancy can increase the risk of SIDS.
  • Behavioral And Developmental Problems — Substance use during pregnancy can negatively impact a baby’s central nervous system. This, in turn, can result in a number of developmental or behavioral issues as the child grows.

There is no safe amount of drugs or alcohol that a mother can consume during pregnancy. The more a mother uses substances while pregnant, the more likely her child is to suffer from one or many health conditions.

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Symptoms Of Prenatal Drug Exposure

The severity of an infant’s symptoms caused by prenatal drug exposure can vary greatly. The type of drugs used, how much and how often the mother used the substances, and how the mother’s body breaks down drugs can all affect potential natal and postnatal symptoms in the child.

The specific substance used during pregnancy can play a large role in the type of symptoms that may be seen in an infant. The following are commonly used drugs the specific symptoms that may result in the baby as a result of prenatal drug use:

  • AlcoholFetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS); fetal death; birth defects like bone or heart problems; neurodevelopmental disorders
  • Marijuana — low birth weight; premature birth; stillbirth; withdrawal symptoms after birth; behavioral and developmental problems
  • Tobacco — stunted growth; increased risk of SIDS; learning and behavioral issues; increased potential for addiction
  • Opioids — increased risk of SIDS; placental abruption leading to pregnancy complications; Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome; stillbirth
  • Cocaine — small head circumference; miscarriage; stillbirth; low birth weight
  • Stimulants — brain abnormalities; heart defects; stillbirth; placental abruption; miscarriage

Treatment for addiction and prenatal care can help reduce the impact that the mother’s drug use has on her child. The sooner a woman seeks treatment for a substance use disorder, the better the chance that her child will be born healthy.

Co-Occurring Disorders And Pregnancy

Individuals suffering from a substance use disorder are at an increased risk for mental health conditions. When a person has both a substance use disorder and mental health disorder, it is referred to as co-occurring disorders.

Some studies have shown that pregnant women are more at risk for mental health conditions. This is especially true if the woman also struggles with drug or alcohol addiction. Additionally, having a mental health condition may increase certain risks for the child.

The most common mental health disorders and the potential risks of each include:

  • Depression — Depression during pregnancy can result in the mother not taking proper care of herself. This can, in turn, cause negative consequences for the fetus. Additionally, depression during pregnancy may increase the risk of developmental conditions after birth.
  • Eating Disorders — Eating disorders can significantly impact a mother throughout pregnancy as well as the health of her child. Having an eating disorder while pregnant can increase the risk of low birth weight, premature birth, gestational diabetes, and miscarriage.
  • Panic Disorders — Experiencing a significant amount of anxiety while pregnant may negatively affect blood flow to the fetus. Decreased blood flow can result in developmental issues. It’s important to note that research is inconclusive as to the exact harm done by panic disorders during pregnancy.
  • Postpartum Depression — Postpartum depression occurs after the child is born. Substance use disorders can increase the risk of a mother experiencing postpartum depression.

When a woman has co-occurring disorders, she will need to participate in a treatment program that caters to dual diagnosis. Simply treating only one condition can worsen the symptoms of the other and increase the risk of complications during and after pregnancy.

Legal Consequences Of Substance Use During Pregnancy

Some women may avoid seeking treatment for addiction while pregnant in fear that they will be prosecuted. However, this should never keep a woman from getting the help she needs.

While some states will prosecute a woman for abusing substances while pregnant, many of these cases have been thrown out. Additionally, several organizations regularly campaign against sending a pregnant woman addicted to drugs or alcohol to jail.

Seeking treatment is the best way to overcome substance addiction and ensure the best possible outcome for the pregnancy. Many healthcare providers will help a pregnant woman decide on the most appropriate treatment option for her.

Getting Help For Alcohol And Drug Addiction During Pregnancy

Addiction or co-occurring disorders during pregnancy can negatively impact both mother and child. Getting help for these conditions can significantly reduce the potential risks and health conditions associated with substance use during pregnancy.

There are several treatment facilities that offer specialized treatment programs for pregnant women looking to overcome addiction. These programs offer a safe and supportive environment in which the pregnant woman can address her substance use disorder. Many rehab centers provide customized recovery plans to meet the unique needs of each patient.

Pregnant women who are addicted to drugs or alcohol may need to first attend a detox program before entering an inpatient treatment program. Depending on the severity of the addiction and the drug used, withdrawal can be dangerous or even deadly for both mother and fetus. Medically supervised detox programs can oversee the withdrawal process and ensure the safety of both mother and child.

To learn more about substance use throughout pregnancy, contact an Vertava Health’ treatment specialist today.