Years of research into pregnancy and substance abuse (including tobacco, alcohol, prescribed medications, or illicit drugs) indicate the effects of various substances on unborn infants can be harmful. A primary reason for these impacts is many of these substances pass through the placenta. Therefore, when a woman uses substances during pregnancy, consequences are passed on to her unborn child. Current studies also indicate that smoking tobacco or marijuana, taking prescription pain medications, or using illegal drugs during pregnancy can double or triple the risk of stillbirth. Also, when used regularly during pregnancy, some substances can lead to neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), in which the baby experiences withdrawal symptoms upon birth. The type and severity of these symptoms depend on the drug used, how long and how often it was used, and whether the infant was born full-term or prematurely.  

What Is Substance Abuse in Pregnancy? 

Put simply, substance abuse in pregnancy happens when a woman uses drugs or alcohol while she is pregnant. As noted above, drugs of any kind (including over-the-counter medications) have a direct impact on the growing and developing fetus. Unfortunately, the risks extend beyond illicit drugs. Caffeine, alcohol, over-the-counter (OTC) cold medications, OTC pain medications, and prescription medications all put an unborn child at risk. While some risks may be mild, some drugs can lead to brain structure changes in the fetus that can persist into early adolescence. Some substances, such as cocaine, have effects on a fetus that can last a lifetime. Often, the concern for the impact of substances on an unborn child can motivate expecting mothers to seek help to overcome substances immediately. 

What to Do if You Are Abusing Substances and Pregnant

When a woman uses drugs or alcohol during pregnancy, it can lead to significant risks for her unborn baby. Choosing to seek addiction treatment early is a vital step towards achieving sobriety and ensuring a healthy pregnancy. It is also essential to seek treatment in an environment where providers understand the unique challenges associated with providing comprehensive addiction treatment during pregnancy. Currently, there are only a few effective therapies for substance use during pregnancy. These treatments involve primarily behavioral therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and contingency management. Motivational interviewing models are also highly effective and have been shown to reduce alcohol and substance use during pregnancy. 

The behavioral counseling methods above have proven successful for a wide range of substances, including alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, and cocaine. Standard pharmaceutical interventions have not been analyzed extensively due to unknown risks to the unborn child. Methadone is frequently used for pregnant women with opiate use disorders. Methadone maintenance has been shown to offer greater relapse prevention, reduce risk-taking behaviors, enhance prenatal care, and improve neonatal outcomes. However, medication-assisted withdrawal (detoxification by gradually reducing the dose of an opioid substitute medication) has been associated with elevated relapse risk and higher fetal mortality rates. 

Reach Out to Casa Serena for More Information

Substance use during pregnancy remains a dangerous problem that can lead to harmful effects on the mom and her unborn child. If you are pregnant and using substances, seeking treatment in a professional setting like Casa Serena, where our women-only programs are focused on the unique needs of women seeking treatment, is vital to you and your baby’s health and safety. As with all addiction treatment, early and comprehensive support and guidance offer the greatest opportunities for success. If you are unsure how to begin your recovery journey, contact your primary care provider, OBGYN, or the admissions team here at Casa Serena. Our caring and compassionate team is here to help you take the first steps towards a future free from addiction. If you are ready to learn more about our women-only treatment programs, contact us today. 

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