The Effects of Drug Addiction On Pregnancy

When someone uses drugs illicitly, she is putting herself into severe mental and physical danger, of causing damage to her mind and body. Not only is she at risk of developing the usual adverse effects of drug abuse, such as organ failure. She is also prone to get addicted to illegal drugs, and eventually to have an overdose. Healthy women are not spared from these, but they can be potentially more life-threatening for a pregnant woman – and her unborn child.

Ravindu Gunatilake, MD says that “the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classified drugs into five categories according to the degree of risk they pose for the fetus if they are used during pregnancy. Drugs were classified from those with the least risk to those that are highly toxic and should never be used by pregnant women because they cause severe birth defects.”


Possible Drug Abuse Side Effects On The Pregnant Women

Pregnant women consume illegal drugs because they think it will help alleviate their physical pains, such as muscle spasms and painful bones. Drugs and alcohol may provide relief temporarily, but they inevitably cause more problems, including stroke, sexually transmitted diseases, and heart attack.

Furthermore, whatever a pregnant woman takes inside her body also goes towards the growing and developing fetus inside her. Therefore, when she consumes drugs, she passes half or more of these chemical substances to the fetus. Although it is engulfed and protected by the woman’s placenta, drugs, and other substances can actually go through it. Another vital connection that the mother has with the fetus is the umbilical cord. Everything – food, drugs, and illnesses – that a mother has is practically shared with the fetus. And this ultimately endangers both the mother and the unborn child.


Possible Side Effects Of Drug Abuse During Pregnancy

According to the National Survey On Drug Use And Health of 2012, 5.9 percent of pregnant women in the United States in the age range of 15 to 44 years old was addicted to different forms of illegal drugs. This proves that despite the warnings on the dangers of drug use, still, some women engage in illicit drugs even when they are expecting a baby.

Douglas Sanberg, MD explains that “almost all drugs pass the placenta and appear in the fetal circulation, although often the concentration of the drug is a great deal higher on one side of the placenta than on the other.” He also added that “the placenta is actively involved in the transport of certain substances-sodium, for example- which may explain the gradient of concentration found.”

Additionally, the National Institute On Drug Abuse reports that although other factors affect the growth and development of the fetus, illicit drug use during pregnancy does cause detrimental and often long-term damaging outcomes on the unborn child. Some of the known side effects include:

  • Problems involving the baby’s behavior and characteristics
  • Decreased birth weight
  • Developmental abnormalities, e.g., impaired attention and focus, difficulty reading and speaking
  • Decreased fetal arousal

More Information From NIDA 

Below is a list of specific drugs and their corresponding side effects from prenatal drug use.

  • Methamphetamine: placenta abruption, decreased fetal development, abnormalities in heart and brain, higher risk of premature birth
  • Inhalants: unintentional abortion, malformations of the fetus
  • Opioids: unintentional abortion, decreased birth weight
  • Cocaine: decreased birth weight, premature delivery, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Potential Side Effects Of Prenatal Drug Use On The Baby

Physical dependence is among the most common result in babies when their mothers are drug addicts. They become used to the chemical substances introduced to them while they were in the womb, and when they are born, they are prone to suffer from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, which is characterized by the baby developing colic, eating problems, seizures, and poor motor skills. This is seen mostly in children whose mothers have consumed marijuana, cocaine, or heroin.

In more severe cases, these children also become addicted themselves to the drugs that their mothers consumed while pregnant, and they suffer from withdrawal symptoms for about six months. Ultimately, they might develop seizures, heart problems, and high blood pressure.

For instance, according to Lauren Villa, MPH, “clinical studies have shown that MDMA [methylenedioxymethamphetamine] exposure in utero in the first trimester may lead to behavioral changes down the line, such as long-term memory problems and impaired learning.”

Cure For Mothers

Without a doubt, prenatal drug use has negative side effects on the unborn child, but there is still hope that these babies can be born healthy and without abnormalities. That is if the mother decides to stop taking drugs within the first trimester. If you are a mother who is struggling with drug addiction, or you know someone who is battling with the disease right now, please remember that there is an opportunity to stop and recover. All you need to do is acknowledge that you need help and then commit to working with therapists, counselors and fellow mothers like you who are willing to overcome their addictions for their good and the good of their children.

Medication may be needed to manage withdrawals and maintain sobriety. Psychotherapy is also a treatment of choice for many mental health professionals, as this encourages mothers to think positively and look forward to a better day ahead.

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