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Pregnancy And Substance Abuse - The Hard Facts

How Common Is Substance Abuse During Pregnancy?

Pregnancy can be a beautiful time in a woman’s life. But there are often factors that make the experience difficult. Economic situation, health concerns, relational instability, and other circumstances can cause significant pressure. These stressors may cause a woman to turn to substance abuse to relieve the pain—even if she is or becomes pregnant.

Substance abuse during pregnancy is more common than you might think. According to a study in Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, about 30% of individuals struggling with addiction are women. Moreover, the majority of these women are of “child-bearing age,” that is, between 15–44 years old. Surveys record about 4.4% of women taking at least one illicit substance during pregnancy, and the majority of those between the ages of 15–17.

What these statistics show is the prevalence of substance abuse among pregnant women. Additionally, both her and her baby are exposed to dangerous health risks, some of which are outlined below.

How Does Substance Abuse Affect The Child?

In order to keep both mom and baby safe during pregnancy, she must avoid alcohol and substance use. A healthy lifestyle is hard to maintain but it’s essential in order to avoid detrimental consequences.

Pregnant women who engage in substance abuse such as heroin, marijuana, cocaine, hallucinogens, alcohol, or methamphetamines expose themselves and their child to major health risks. Among these, the American Journal of Perinatology has shown that “alcohol was the most common substance associated with fetal anomalies.” Some of these fetal defects are listed below, but there are also more common conditions that are just as harmful.

Most Common Effects Of Substance Abuse And Pregnancy

  • Low Birth Weight: If a woman engages in substance abuse while pregnant, it can result in the low birth weight of the baby. Often times, the baby’s weight could be under five pounds. What this results in is high risk of cardiovascular (heart), respiratory, vision, and intestinal complications. In the baby survives, they can experience diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease later in life.

  • Small Head Circumference: In addition to low birth weight, a smaller head circumference can occur as a result of slow development in the womb. This condition implies a poorly developed brain, skull, and likely cognitive growth.

  • Development and Behavioral Issues: Because substance abuse during pregnancy can decimate an infant’s central nervous system, behavior and motor skills can be negatively affected. For example, poor academic performance, drowsiness, aggression, attention disorders, and other behavioral problems are only a few of the possible repercussions.

  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS): SIDS is the sudden and unexpected death of an infant who is under one year old. Substance abuse by the mother during pregnancy increases the risk of SIDS, leading to higher rates of infant mortality.

Other Physical Effects Of Substance Abuse During Pregnancy

Apart from the most common effects above, here is a sample of some of the additional physical conditions that substance use during pregnancy can cause:

  • Physical disabilities
  • Risk of premature birth
  • Respiratory complications
  • Miscarriage
  • Stunted fetal development
  • Complications with the placenta
  • Congenital heart conditions
  • Clubfoot or cleft lip

As clearly seen, a pregnant woman struggling with substance abuse is putting herself and her unborn baby at risk. And while a recovery program can’t guarantee a healthy pregnancy at any given stage, it can increase the odds. Why wait?

What Does Substance Abuse Reflect About The Mother’s Health?

Oftentimes, individuals struggling with addiction have poor health and other co-occurring disorders. The same goes for pregnant women and substance abuse. Without a nutritious diet and keeping one’s mind healthy, it can negatively affect mom and baby. This is the “put on your own oxygen mask first” principle. A pregnant woman must take care of herself first before she can attend to her growing child.

It’s not uncommon for women suffer from loneliness or low self-esteem during pregnancy. This can be a result of other circumstantial hardships, including economic, employment, housing, and relational instabilities. In turn, some women turn to drugs or alcohol often because it’s the only coping mechanism they know.

What If The Mother Was Already Struggling With Addiction?

If substance abuse has been in yours or your loved one’s life before pregnancy, it’s best to take the necessary precautions. Even if you plan to abstain from substances use during your pregnancy, you may still need to reach out for external support.

During pregnancy, women struggling with addiction are more vulnerable to forming a co-occurring disorder. This is due to the physical and hormonal changes occurring in the body. These changing factors can exacerbate or amplify an already existing addiction. Therefore, professional consultation is strongly recommended.

The more physical, mental, and emotional support you can get during your pregnancy, the better! This may look like reaching out to friends and loved ones for accountability. It may also look like returning to a therapy or support group you haven’t attended in a while. In more serious cases, and if you’re currently engaging in substance abuse, it’s best to get professional help right away.

Treatment Options For Pregnant Women

There is a lot of stigma that goes along with pregnancy and substance abuse. But the sooner you seek help, the better. Qualified professionals will ensure that you receive special methods of treatment to prioritize your own health. Furthermore, they’ll be able to monitor the the health and well-being of your baby.

Medically-assisted detox may be a good place to start. This can minimize imminent risks and facilitate professional monitoring during the process. After medical detox, residential treatment might be the best next step depending on your particular situation. The stage of your pregnancy, you and the baby’s health, and taking co-occurring disorders into account will help determine what this journey looks like.

If you or a loved one is pregnant and has questions about substance abuse and addiction, reach out to one of the team members at Impact Recovery Center today. Get the support you need and start your healing journey.