Substance use has many side effects on the user, as well as the people around them. But what happens if a woman uses substances while she is pregnant? Together we will discover the dangers of using substances while pregnant, if it will develop a dependency in the child, and how to heal from all of it.
Women who use substances face a unique set of problems compared to men. One of the main concerns for women is the possibility of getting pregnant while struggling with substance use. Since substance use inhibits the ability to make healthy, rational decisions, reckless sexual behavior can often be a result.
Furthermore, being pregnant carries its own set of potential complications and diagnoses. The mother’s health must be monitored constantly while her body and emotions undergo drastic changes. Adding in substance use can create a dangerous environment not only for the mother but for the baby, as well.
Using substances while pregnant can result in the child experiencing:
Any substance that is used during pregnancy can result in the child developing a dependency. The intensity of the dependency will vary based on the types of substances the mother used, as well as the frequency and duration of the substance use.
When the mother uses any kind of substance, it is absorbed through the placenta (where the baby receives its nutrition from the mother). This can cause the fetus to become dependent, the same way the mother is.
For example, MedlinePlus explains, “Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) is a group of problems that can happen when a baby is exposed to opioid drugs for a length of time while in their mother’s womb.” Additionally, MedlinePlus states that NAS most commonly occurs when the mother uses the following substances:
Researchers go on to explain, “If the mother continues to use the drugs within the week or so before delivery, the baby will be dependent on the drug at birth. Because the baby is no longer getting the drug after birth, withdrawal symptoms may occur as the drug is slowly cleared from the baby’s system.”
Just as adults go through withdrawals after using substances, so can babies – especially if they are used to receiving those substances from the mother. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) confirms, “Babies aren’t technically born ‘addicted’ to drugs, since they can’t engage in compulsive drug seeking or continued use despite harmful consequences, hallmarks behaviors of an addiction disorder. However, newborns can be physically dependent on opioids, and go into withdrawal, just like adults.”
Using alcohol during pregnancy can have lasting effects on both the baby’s and the mother’s health. Similar to opioid use during pregnancy, using alcohol can influence the child’s health for the rest of their lives. Fetal alcohol syndrome can be one of the side effects of drinking alcohol while pregnant.
MedlinePlus explains, “Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a collection of growth, mental, and physical problems that may occur in a baby when a mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy.”
Furthermore, MedlinePlus reports that there is no “safe” amount of alcohol to drink while pregnant and, as a result, babies with FAS may experience:
Most importantly, it’s crucial to remember that it’s never too late or too early to get help for yourself or your child. However, if you feel you or your child are in danger, please contact emergency services immediately.
If you are pregnant and your doctors are made aware of your substance use, they will likely have resources available that will help you recover, as well as your child once they are born. Certain medications may be given to your child at birth to help ease the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms. Your care team will help you decide what is the best course of action to take so that both you and your baby are as healthy as possible.
If your child is older and struggling with substance use, reaching out to treatment centers, like Sage Recovery, that treat adolescents is a good place to start. Some treatment centers only take adolescents within a certain age range, so it’s important to make sure you seek out treatment that is age-appropriate for your child. Depending on your child’s age and the treatment center’s resources, you may be able to receive treatment at the same time.
The amount of treatment needed will depend on the severity, duration, and types of substances used. Clinicians will evaluate factors the following factors to determine which type of treatment is best:
For adolescents and adults who have strong support systems, outpatient care may be the best option. Whereas others may need the constant structure of a residential treatment program, like Sage Recovery’s.
Here at Sage Recovery, we know how difficult it can be to take the first step in healing from substance use. That’s why we focus on encouraging our patients’ overall, holistic health so they can support themselves and their family accordingly. Whether you and your child need individual counseling, family counseling, group counseling, outpatient treatment, or residential treatment, we’ve got you covered. Our entire staff is trained to provide trauma-informed care, so you can be sure that you and your family will be treated with dignity and respect as you heal. When you’re ready to heal healthily, reach out to us at (512) 306-1394. We’re ready to walk alongside you and your family every step of the way.