Pregnancy and Addiction

The gift of childbirth can be a rewarding but challenging experience for the expectant mother. About 6 percent of pregnant women in the United States use illicit drugs, according to a 2012 study. Drug rehab for pregnant women is available to help the recovery process for themselves and the child. Substance use during pregnancy can have impactful effects on the mother and the fetus. Drug detoxing while pregnant can be life-saving, though it’s essential to find a center that fits your needs. This intimidating journey does not have to be a lonely one for you and your child.

Why Do Pregnant Women Sometimes Struggle with Addiction? 

It’s been noted that substance use affects women differently than it does for men, especially in the ways the brain changes. If a woman has experienced domestic violence, they are more likely to develop a substance use disorder. Women struggling with addiction often use smaller amounts with shorter periods, in addition to sex hormones that make them more sensitive to the effects. Women have reported using addictive substances to:

In a 2021 study, it was reported that approximately 50% of pregnant women use prescription, nonprescription, and illicit drugs at some point in time during pregnancy. Although underreported, this use is increasing. Hormones and stress play a major role in the development of substance use in pregnant women. The various physical and psychological changes during pregnancy are marked by stages. However, these can cause the mother to rely on unhealthy coping mechanisms. Pregnant women struggling with addiction will often put their fix ahead of the child.

The perinatal period (the period just before, during, and 12 months after pregnancy) is a critical stage to determine the symptoms of use, but it can be difficult to pinpoint. Suicide is one of the main causes of death of pregnant women during the perinatal period. A 2019 survey in the US suggested that there were higher rates of depression in postpartum women in comparison to non-pregnant women. This could lead to an increased risk of self-medication, as most women don’t seek mental health treatment. Postpartum depression has been linked to reduced maternal sensitivity, which can directly affect the development of the child. 

What Makes Their Struggle Different from Others Struggling With Addiction?

This struggle is different from others due to the assortment of factors and symptoms in pregnancy. A percentage of pregnant women experience co-occurring mental disorders along with a substance use disorder. Individuals with co-occurring disorders typically experience more persistent symptoms and should be treated for both. In a seminal study published by Kendell, it was discovered that women were 22% more likely to be admitted to a mental health facility within a month after birth.

drug detoxing while pregnant

According to NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse), 5% of pregnant women use one or more addictive substances.  Most women report using addictive substances to deal with stress and other negative emotions, usually prompted by life events like a divorce, death, or depression. Postpartum depression can occur after birth, which can increase the risk of substance use to alleviate the disorders. Luckily, addiction treatment facilities can treat both.

More than one in three women experience physical abuse from an intimate partner, often leaving them vulnerable to increased mental and physical health issues. In addition, women of color are more likely to experience abuse (Ex. stalking, violence, rape) than any other racial group. This could lead these individuals to self-medicate or underreport these critical issues. Not to mention the legal issues that could present themselves if a mother is deemed unfit to raise a child despite seeking treatment.

How Can Addiction Affect the Unborn Child?

“Feeding for two” is a common expression with expectant mothers. The harmful effects of substance use can directly affect the unborn child through the mother’s placenta. The placenta is the bridge between the mother’s health and the vital supply of nourishment for the child, such as oxygen and nutrients. Substance use can directly influence the development of the child’s brain in the long term.

There are tiny hair-like vessels in the placenta that connect to the uterus. These vessels directly connect to the blood flow between the mother and child, traveling through the umbilical cord. Additionally, addictive substances can be transferred through the mother’s breast milk.

The type of substance used plays a factor due to the variety of side effects. For example, in tobacco, nicotine and carbon monoxide travel through the bloodstream to build up in the placenta. The frequency and amount of addictive substances used determine the severity of the adverse health effects. Addictive substance use can have long-term effects on the mother and the child. These effects can increase the risk of:

Tobacco and the Effects on the Unborn Child

Tobacco use during pregnancy poses a buffet of long-term health effects for both the mother and unborn child. The most consistent side effect of smoking during pregnancy is low birth weight — the ratio suggests the more the mother smokes, the less the child will weigh. Miscarriages, premature birth, and various birth defects of the heart/brain are common with pregnant smokers. The carbon monoxide and nicotine in tobacco smoke are noted to reduce oxygen supply to body tissue and restrict the blood vessels. Even secondhand smoke can be quite harmful to the expectant mother and fetus.

Alcohol and the Effects on the Unborn Child

According to the CDC, between 2011 and 2013, 1 in 10 pregnant women report alcohol use during pregnancy. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a persistent risk for those struggling with alcohol use disorder. Heavy alcohol use during pregnancy can directly affect the nutritional status of the drinker and the fetus. Alcohol use during pregnancy has been known to increase the risk of issues such as low birth weight, microcephaly (small skull size), reduced social intelligence, and behavioral problems. Newborns from alcohol-dependent mothers are more likely to die shortly after birth.

Marijuana and the Effects on the Unborn Child

Marijuana and/or CBD are commonly used addictive substances during pregnancy. Marijuana use during pregnancy has been linked to long-term effects such as impaired memory, low birth weight, behavioral issues, and reduced attention span. Marijuana is being used more frequently, although use has been linked to smaller babies. It should be noted that adolescents who experiment with marijuana experience developmental issues later in life and could correlate with marijuana use during pregnancy.

Opioids and the Effects on the Unborn Child

In a 2019 self-reported study by the CDC, it was discovered that approximately 7% of women reported using prescription opioids during pregnancy. Additionally, 1 in 5 of those women reported misuse. Opioids like heroin are depressants that manipulate the central nervous system, copying the receptors in the brain. Individuals struggling with opioid use often experience malnutrition and unexpected weight changes. 

Heroin use during pregnancy can cause premature/underweight birth and even separation of the placenta from the uterus. Later on, the child could experience developmental issues such as disruptive behavior and cognitive issues. Opioid use during pregnancy has been linked to neonatal abstinence syndrome, a severe set of withdrawal symptoms affecting the child.

Drug Detoxing While Pregnant and Other Treatment Options for Pregnant Women

Drug detoxing while pregnant under medical supervision can be an excellent option for those seeking treatment. Since each case is specific, drug detox while pregnant is an important evaluation to decide where to move forward in the recovery process. The detoxification stage is beneficial for both the mother and the fetus by cleansing the body of addictive substances. After the drug detox stage, the individual could expect to be treated through:

When drug detoxing while pregnant, the expectant mother must have access to other resources such as therapy and a support system to address the root of the addiction. Quitting cold turkey could pose harmful risks for the mother and unborn child. Despite the use of the drug methadone during opioid addiction treatment, newborns might require treatment to ease withdrawal symptoms.  In the case of alcohol detoxification, medication like benzodiazepines can be associated with fetal risks for birth defects.

Drug rehab for pregnant women can be particularly difficult due to social stigma and the lack of child care at treatment facilities. The responsibilities of motherhood can be taxing, such as work and home care, often bringing more stress than the relief of recovery.  Although, there are rehabs for pregnant mothers that target their specific needs such as natal care and parenting education. In general, more can be done to incorporate programs in treatment facilities to address the complications of drug detoxing while pregnant.

Find Support through Sana Lake BWC

Rehab for pregnant mothers should be a safe and effective environment for healing. Sana Lake BWC is the premier source of recovery treatment for those struggling with addiction. The day-to-day fight for healthy alternatives should not be an obstacle for you and your child. If you or a loved one are combating addiction, please reach out to us today. A rebirth is waiting for you on the horizon.