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Dangers of Substance Abuse in Pregnancy

Many individuals who smoke cigarettes, abuse drugs, and over indulge in alcohol struggle when attempting to quit for their own personal health. However, individuals who consistently participate in substance abuse are risking the health of both themselves and their unborn children when continuing to do so after becoming pregnant.

While many people quit smoking, drinking, or using drugs when they decide to have children, this is not always the case. According to SAMHSA, “Among pregnant women aged 15 to 44, 5.4 percent were current illicit drug users based on data averaged across 2012 and 2013.” Understanding the dangers of substance abuse in pregnancy is important for every drug user, even if they are not currently pregnant or attempting to become pregnant.

What is Maternal Substance Abuse?

According to the NLM, “Maternal substance abuse may consist of any combination of drug, chemical, alcohol, and/or tobacco use during the pregnancy.” When a person becomes pregnant, doctors recommend that certain types of food, activities, and other things which, while sometimes fine in moderation, should be avoided during pregnancy. This is because of how they can negatively affect the life of the child as well as the mother. Others should be avoided at all times, especially during pregnancy. Toxins that exist in these substances will be absorbed by both the mother and the fetus, possibly endangering both of their lives.

Unfortunately, not everyone who becomes pregnant realizes it right away. This can lead to some side effects which are unknown until it is too late to reverse them. Sometimes this kind of abuse can still occur in the delivery of a healthy child, sometimes not. In addition, other individuals realize that they have become pregnant and continue to abuse drugs, alcohol, and the like. This is normally a symptom of addiction which should be treated for the safety of both the pregnant individual and the fetus. Substance abuse during pregnancy can have many serious effects which should be avoided whenever possible with treatment (if necessary) and abstinence from illicit or dangerous substances.

Effects of Substance Abuse on Pregnancy

Certain substances have different effects on the pregnant individual and the fetus. Some of these experienced by the child can be short-term effects like withdrawal symptoms while others can affect the child throughout their entire life. The mother can also experience intense effects due to the stress of carrying a child while also ingesting these toxics.

Consider the effects of different substances and how they especially are related to pregnancy.

tobacco while pregnant.

Abusing tobacco while pregnant can cause learning and behavioral problems.

  • Tobacco
    • Tobacco is still a drug of abuse, and those who smoke constantly risk issues like cancer, chronic bronchitis, and heart disease. In addition, smoking during pregnancy can cause certain effects in the fetus (some which even continue to affect the life of the child after birth). These effects can include:
      • Low birth weight
      • Premature birth
      • Learning and behavior problems
      • Miscarriage
      • Stillbirth
  • Alcohol
    • Drinking during pregnancy is dangerous because there is no known amount of alcohol that is completely safe for both the mother and the child. Children of people who drink alcohol during pregnancy have the potential to develop Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, which cause:
      • Memory problems
      • Low birth weight
      • Small head size, shorter-than-average height, and abnormal facial features
      • Coordination problems
      • Learning disabilities
      • Sleep problems
      • Vision and hearing problems
      • Speech problems
      • Low IQ
      • Hyperactivity
      • Problems associated with the heart, bones, and kidneys
    • Stillbirth and miscarriage can also occur as a result of alcohol abuse during pregnancy.
  • Stimulants (cocaine, methamphetamine, and prescription stimulant drugs)
    • Illicit stimulants like meth and cocaine are extremely dangerous to abuse during pregnancy as they can be deadly to the mother and cause extreme side effects which also endanger the fetus. But abusing prescription stimulants while pregnant can also cause dangerous results as well. These drugs can cause addiction, stimulant-induced psychosis, and heart problems in the mother the same way abusing illicit stimulants can.
    • Some of the common effects on the fetus include:
      • Premature delivery
      • Low birth weight
      • Miscarriage
      • Stillbirth
      • Neonatal abstinence syndrome (withdrawal) including:
    • “Separation of the placenta from the uterus… lethargy, and heart and brain problems” are also issues that can be caused by methamphetamine abuse during pregnancy (NIDA).
  • Opioids (heroin, prescription opioid drugs)
    • Heroin is extremely dangerous and can lead to collapsed veins, kidney ad liver disease, infection of the heart lining s and valves, and abscesses. Abusing prescription opioids is also harmful and can become addictive. In addition, a mother who abuses these drug also puts her baby at risk of certain effects like:
      • Low birth weight
      • Miscarriage
      • Neonatal abstinence syndrome which can have deadly effects including seizures, tremors, vomiting, poor feeding, and fever (NLM).
  • Marijuana
    • Pregnant individuals who smoke marijuana often do not realize exactly how harmful the drug can be. Because it is thought of as being less dangerous than abusing other illicit drugs, many people do not realize that they can experience respiratory problems as a result of long-term marijuana abuse as well as cognitive and memory problems. In addition, children can be born with
      • Attention problems
      • Memory problems
      • Cognitive problems
      • An inability to problem solve with others of their age group
  • Inhalants
    • Abusing inhalants can cause harmful results just like abusing drugs and alcohol. It can even cause sudden death from asphyxiation. Babies born to individuals who have abused inhalants also have health related issues such as:
      • Low birth weight
      • Delayed behavioral development
      • Brain damage
      • Bone problems
      • Altered metabolism
      • Altered body composition

Avoiding Substance Abuse for a Healthy Pregnancy

There are many dangers associated with substance abuse during pregnancy, many of them experienced by the child or associated with their development. Abusing these substances can often cause miscarriage and stillbirth. It is also important to remember that becoming pregnant does not cause someone to stop being addicted to drugs; in many cases, drug addicts will continue abusing these substances even after discovering that they are pregnant, endangering both their lives and the life of the fetus.

Seeking help is the best way to ensure that the dangers of substance abuse do not affect you or your child. Remember, there is no safe way to abuse the substances listed above while you are pregnant.