Addiction Treatment for Pregnant Women

Learn about pregnant women and addiction, symptoms, signs, and how to get ready for treatment.

Pregnant Women and Addiction

The term “addiction” is common to the general public and is also prevalent among pregnant women. Estimates show that over 2% of pregnant women use addictive drugs.1 The effect of substance use in pregnant women cannot be overemphasized because of the various complications during and after pregnancy.

Prescription drugs are common among pregnant women since doctors may prescribe some vitamins and minerals supplements to help ease the discomfort that accompanies pregnancy. However, abuse of such drugs can cause complications in the mother and baby. Pregnant women and addiction are like parallel lines that should never meet because of the fatal implications it causes to the development of the fetus.2


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Learning More About Drug Use and Pregnancy

Dangers of Drug Use During Pregnancy

The use of illicit drugs poses a threat to the health of pregnant women and infants.3 During the development of a fetus, oxygen, nutrients, and vitamins needed for nourishment come from the mother through the placenta.4 Chemicals from harmful substances such as cocaine, marijuana, and others can pass through the placenta easily and affect the fetus as it grows.

These substances can also cause after-birth complications for infants. Alcohol during pregnancy can also impose fatal consequences on the health of pregnant women. Studies have shown that pregnant women who take in alcohol during pregnancy experience miscarriages and stillbirths. Meta-analysis has also shown that 10% to 15% of women in Canada and the United States are involved in alcohol consumption during pregnancy while 3% binge on it.5
Alcohol Abuse Stats Report for Pregnent Women

Common Addiction in Pregnant Women

The following are substance use disorders that pregnant women often go through.


One of the leading causes of birth deformities is alcohol consumption during pregnancy. The consumption of alcohol during pregnancy can lead to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or FAS. FAS causes low birth weight, small head size, distinctive facial features, and behavioral issues, among all other features. Women with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome face damage to the brain and growth problems.6

Though defects caused by FAS might vary from child to child, these defects aren’t reversible. Exposure to alcohol causes a shortage in oxygen supply to the fetus causing brain damage. Other developmental issues also arise because the baby’s liver is not fully developed to process alcohol. According to Merck Manual, 50% of pregnant women exposed to alcohol experience miscarriages and are likely to give birth to babies with low birth weight.


Tetrahydrocannabinol is a substance in marijuana that causes harmful effects on the mother and the baby. Pregnant women and addiction have become a global issue mainly because of the threat it poses to the health of babies. However, more research is still being carried out on the side effects of marijuana use during pregnancy. National Institutes of Health Order Publications reports that women exposed to marijuana at the early stage of pregnancy have up to 2.3 times greater chance of having stillbirths.7 Due to this fact, pregnant women have been warned to refrain from using marijuana. Marijuana has also been said to cause slow growth and behavioral issues in babies after birth.


Substance use while pregnant has been said to cause an increase in the mortality rate among infants and children. Tobacco contains harmful substances that can disrupt the supply of oxygen to the fetus, leading to miscarriage. Substance use while pregnant can:


Cocaine is an addictive substance that can cause harm to the baby during pregnancy and even after pregnancy. It affects the central nervous system, including the brain and the spinal cord. It can also affect the nerves responsible for touch and sight and the person’s behavior with the substance use disorder, causing a feeling of restlessness, anger, nervousness, and anxiety. Substance use while pregnant would have severe implications on the mother with the following symptoms:

Apart from causing harm to the mother, it also causes severe damage to the unborn baby. This is because some of these substances get to the fetus through the placenta. After birth, certain physiological and psychological defects arise, which might persist in the long run. Substance use while pregnant can cause the following implications to the baby:


This is an illicit drug that acts as a nervous system depressant. Pregnant women exposed to this substance are exposed to infectious diseases through shared needles. This substance can cause withdrawal syndrome in the unborn child after birth resulting from opioid dependency. It causes low birth weight and other birth deformities.

Prescription Drugs or Opioids

Opioid medications are effective analgesics, but they can affect the state of health of the fetus.8 Research was conducted using data from a Slone Epidemiology Center Birth Defects Study.
Results indicate that use of opioids while pregnant can trigger premature birth. 3.9% of babies with neural tube defects used opioid medications during pregnancy. Mothers who have an opioid use disorder during pregnancy are more likely to give birth to babies dependent on opioids.9 This can cause Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.
Pregnent Teens Drug Abuse Stats

Risks of Addiction During Pregnancy


This occurs when a fetus dies after the 20th week of pregnancy. It could happen before or during delivery. The use of substances reduces the oxygen that gets to the deficit resulting in stillbirth.


This is a sudden loss of pregnancy before the 20th week of the pregnancy. Symptoms include bleeding, abdominal pain, nausea, and leg cramps. This spontaneous pregnancy loss can cause emotional distress and a feeling of sadness. Exposure to alcohol and harmful drugs at the early stage of pregnancy cause toxic substances to get to the growing fetus, cutting the oxygen supply and leading to the death of the fetus.

Preterm Birth

Preterm birth, also called premature birth, occurs before the 37th week of pregnancy. It’s associated with complications that include immature lungs, immature liver, slow weight gain, and difficulty in temperature regulation.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)

Substance use during pregnancy causes the baby to be exposed to certain chemical substances. This might result in NAS when the baby withdraws from these chemical substances. Withdrawal symptoms include seizures, diarrhea, etc. Research is still being carried out on pregnant women and addiction withdrawal symptoms management.

Birth Defects

Birth defects associated with pregnant women and addiction to alcohol and drugs aren’t far-fetched. Addiction to alcohol and drugs during pregnancy can cause a wide range of defects, including small head size, low body weight, poor coordination, poor memory, vision problems, etc.

Maternal Mortality

Pregnant women and addiction have been studied and researched over time. Research shows that pregnant women exposed to alcohol and drugs are at risk of dying during or after pregnancy. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 800 women die from preventable causes linked to pregnancy and childbirth. Substance use while pregnant can lead to high blood pressure during pregnancy, resulting in maternal death before or after pregnancy.

The Dangers of SUD and Childbirth

Deadly Syndromes

What Is Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)?

Substance use during pregnancy causes the baby to be exposed to certain chemical substances. This might result in NAS when the baby withdraws from these chemical substances. Withdrawal symptoms include seizures, diarrhea, etc. Research is still being carried out on pregnant women and addiction withdrawal symptoms management.

Withdrawal Symptoms at Birth

What is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome?

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome results from drinking alcohol during pregnancy. This condition causes growth issues, brain damage, and defects that are not reversible.10

Birth Defects Associated with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders (FASDs)

FASDs have become a worldwide challenge. FASDs are a group of symptoms associated with alcohol fetal syndrome. They occur in children as a result of exposure to alcohol during pregnancy. There are variations in the occurrence of these symptoms in babies.11 Symptoms can include abnormalities in appearance, short height, small head size, and other psychological and neurological problems. Several forms of FASDs include:

1. Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (PFAS): A child with partial fetal alcohol syndrome only experiences one or two symptoms of FASDs. It may include growth delay and damage to the central nervous system. It’s not as severe as FAS.

2. Static Encephalopathy: Static Encephalopathy is a chronic condition characterized by non-progressive brain disorders in children.

3. Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND): Children with ARND experience poor motor skills, poor coordination, hyperactivity learning, and thinking problems.

4. Neurobehavioral Disorder Associated with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (ND-PAE): Children whose mothers were involved in alcohol intake during pregnancy are more likely to experience brain damage which could cause neurological problems in their behaviors.

Learn More About FASD

Risks for Children

Heart Disease

The risk of having a heart-related condition, in the long run, is high in children with FASDs associated with pregnant women and addiction. Heart issues begin to build up during the development of the fetus in the womb on exposure to alcohol. Research on pregnant women and addiction has shown that alcohol abuse during pregnancy can induce serious heart problems and defects in children.12 Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is detrimental to the growing fetus in the uterus, causing different complications. This includes atrial and ventricular abnormalities, valve formation problems, and a higher risk of developing heart disease in adulthood.

Renal Dysfunction

According to Nikan Research Institute, impaired renal acidification is associated with fetal alcohol syndrome. Due to the high excretion of zinc from the child’s body, this could cause zinc depletion in the body leading to zinc deficiency. Studies have also shown that children with FAS have different renal dysfunctions, including potassium excretion.

Learning Disabilities

Alcohol exposure plays a significant role in behavioral and cognitive problems in children, leading to difficulty in learning, antisocial behaviors, and depression.

Memory Impairment

National Library of Medicine stated that prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) is connected to retrospective and prospective memory impairment. Children with FAS were tested with a computerized task alongside children with no syndrome. Results showed that children with alcohol syndrome made more prospective memory errors than the others.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders (FASDs) Stats

Treatment for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs)

In treating FASDs, it’s important to note that a child might not show the same birth defects as another. For example, a child might have minor facial features problems while the other might reflect slow growth and brain damage.

It’s important to address each person’s specific birth defects as appropriate. There’s no known cure for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. However, research has shown that an early intervention treatment can improve the child’s growth and development. Such interventions include:

Types of Treatment for FASDs

1. Physical and psychological therapy: Due to defects in facial, general appearance, and brain damage, symptoms associated with FADS might be corrected.

2. Medications like antidepressants, stimulants, and neuroleptics can be prescribed to treat hyperactivity and poor concentration symptoms.

3. Protective factors: The use of protective factors can help to impact positive changes in children with Fetal Alcohol Disorder. These factors include:

Treatment for Addiction

Treatment for drug or alcohol Addiction

Drug or substance addiction is a serious condition that would take a long time to treat. Treatment of substance addiction is often personalized as different treatment strategies are administered to different people. The next step for a person with alcohol or substance use disorder is to get treatment to avoid complications. There are four types of addiction treatments.


This is a first step treatment needed for people with a substance disorder. To get started with other treatments, the chemical substance accumulated in the body needs to leave the body over time. This would help the person cope with withdrawal symptoms and discomfort. This is possible with the selective use of some medications that would help reduce the physical symptoms of withdrawal. Seeking professional help through hospitals and clinics is also essential for effectiveness.

Inpatient Addiction Treatment

This kind of treatment offers an intensive treatment service; it’s long-term and involves the prolonged stay of clients in the place of treatment. Treatment is highly structured with different activities to help the residents adopt a new life.

Outpatient Addiction Treatment

In this kind of treatment program, the individual only visits the place of treatment based on appointments. It costs less, and it’s recommended for people who have jobs, are self-employed, or people with external support. Many outpatient programs also offer counseling and medication supervision services. Therapy sessions are also an important part of outpatient addiction treatments. Having family members around during therapy appointments can also serve as a motivation to get over drug addiction.

Short-term Residential Treatments

Short-term residential treatments provide intensive but very brief treatment on a short-term basis.

Women should avoid alcohol and addictive substance use during pregnancy, affecting both them and their babies. Mothers need to be better enlightened on the complications of substance use during and before pregnancy. This article provides relevant information about pregnant women and addiction, including birth defects, risks, and complications associated with substance use. You’ll also find addiction treatment information and the next steps to take.