Detox & Addiction Treatment While Pregnant

If you are struggling with drug or alcohol addiction and you are pregnant, you are not alone. It is reported that the lifetime prevalence of alcohol use disorders in women while pregnant is 19.5%. About 7.1% of pregnant women experience a lifetime prevalence of drug use disorders.1 Substance use during pregnancy can be extremely dangerous for both mom and baby, therefore it is important to obtain professional help if this condition is occurring.

The Dangers of Addiction During Pregnancy

Addiction to any type of substance while pregnant can be harmful for both the mother and the unborn baby, as substances are passed through the mother to the fetus.2 The risks associated with drug and alcohol use disorders during pregnancy can range in severity and can be long-term or short-term.

For the mother, the type of substance used and method of consumption can contribute to significant health consequences.Intravenous drug use, for example, can result in endocarditis, tissue and blood infections, internal organ dysfunction, and the contraction of bloodborne diseases like HIV and hepatitis.3 Additional health problems, while dependent on the type of substances being misused, can include the following:4

  • High blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Cardiovascular complications
  • Changes in the brain
  • Overdose

A women’s unborn child can also experience health complications due to her drug or alcohol use, many of which can be life-threatening. These can include:2,4,5

  • Low birth weight.
  • Premature birth.
  • Increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Stillbirth.
  • Small head circumference.
  • Birth defects.
  • Cognitive and behavioral problems as the baby develops into a child.

Babies born to women who abused specific substances, mainly opioids, while pregnant may also be born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS. This syndrome occurs as the baby goes through the drug withdrawal process. Some of the NAS symptoms in infants include:4

  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • High-pitched crying
  • Irritability
  • Poor feeding
  • Seizures
  • Slow weight gain
  • Rapid breathing
  • Trembling
  • Vomiting

How Different Drugs of Abuse Affect a Fetus

Different drugs can cause different problems for an unborn baby. The impacts that a fetus can experience are often linked to several factors, such as what type of substance is being used and how long the substance has been used for.

Effects of Opioid Use During Pregnancy

Opioid use during pregnancy is considered a major public health crisis in America and the health consequences of it can be catastrophic to the mom and baby.6

Some of the most commonly misused opioids include:7

  • Prescription opioid medication, including oxycodone, codeine, suboxone, hydrocodone, morphine, and codeine.
  • Fentanyl.
  • Heroin.

During pregnancy, the fetus can experience the following consequences associated with opioid use:

  • Stillbirth.6
  • Pre-term birth.6
  • Maternal death.6
  • NAS.2
  • Seizures.8
  • Low birth weight.8
  • Difficulty feeding.8
  • Respiratory problems.8

In regard to the mother, opioid use during pregnancy has been linked to maternal death, overdose, and additional issues such as preterm labor or miscarriage if opioids are suddenly stopped during pregnancy.9

Effects of Stimulant Misuse While Pregnant

When stimulants, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, are abused during pregnancy, the fetus can develop the following issues:2

  • Low birth weight.
  • Smaller head circumference.
  • Irritability.
  • Tremors.
  • Hyperactivity.
  • High-pitched cry.
  • Cognitive, behavioral, and emotional problems in childhood.

Effects of stimulant use during pregnancy on the mother can include:2

  • Maternal seizures and migraines.
  • Premature membrane rupture.
  • Placental abruption (when the placenta detaches from the uterus).
  • High blood pressure.
  • Organ failure.
  • Miscarriage.
  • Complicated delivery.
  • Preterm labor.

In addition, research shows that women who use cocaine tend to use other substances, such as alcohol, and often receive poorer prenatal care than women who don’t use cocaine.2 This can increase the potential health issues a pregnant woman using this type of stimulant may experience.

Effects of Misusing Sedatives During Pregnancy

Sedatives are prescribed medications that are used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders and include benzodiazepines and barbiturates.10

While more research on sedative misuse during pregnancy is needed, current research shows that it may contribute to:11

  • Miscarriage.
  • Birth defects.
  • Neonatal toxicity (irritability, seizures, jitteriness).
  • Cognitive and behavioral problems.
  • Floppy infant syndrome (hypotonia)

Effects of Smoking Weed While Pregnant

Like sedatives, more research is needed regarding the impact of marijuana use during pregnancy.2 However, research suggests that marijuana use may:2

  • Contribute to low birth weight.
  • Increase the risk of miscarriage if used at the beginning of the pregnancy.
  • Contribute to hyperactivity and cognitive challenges in children.
  • Increase the risk for premature birth.

Effects of Using Nicotine During Pregnancy

Cigarettes aren’t the only way to consume nicotine. Vaping and cigar smoking are other methods of consuming nicotine, as well as chewing tobacco. Studies indicate that nearly 10% of pregnant women consumed nicotine within the past month.2 Unfortunately, nicotine easily passes through the placenta to the unborn baby, and concentrated levels of nicotine can be as much as 15% higher in the fetus than in the mother.2

Nicotine use during pregnancy has contributed to more than 1,000 infant deaths every year and can increase the risk of:2

  • Low birth weight.
  • Stress and drug withdrawal symptoms in the baby after birth.
  • Premature birth.
  • Miscarriage.
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Effects of Drinking Alcohol While Pregnant

Woman having a flashback

Any form of alcohol consumption during pregnancy can be dangerous and pose risks to both mom and baby. Despite what you may have heard, there is no safe amount of alcohol a pregnant woman can consume, and it is recommended that you should abstain from alcohol consumption if you are pregnant.6

Drinking alcohol while pregnant can lead to:12

  • Stillbirth.
  • Miscarriage.
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).
  • Intellectual, physical, and behavioral disabilities.

Symptoms & Effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a condition that occurs because of a fetus’s exposure to alcohol, which is passed through the umbilical cord from the mother.12 Babies who develop FAS can experience a host of medical, cognitive, and behavioral challenges that can be lifelong.12 Some FAS symptoms include:12

  • Low body weight.
  • Small head size.
  • Learning disabilities.
  • Memory and attention problems.
  • Problems with internal organ functioning.
  • Hearing and vision problems.
  • Poor coordination.
  • Physical deformities of the nose and upper lip.
  • Low IQ.

The prevalence of FAS is hard to determine. However, research estimates that out of every 1,000 live births, 0.2-1.5 babies are born with FAS; in-person assessments estimate that as many as 6–9 out of every 1,000 school-aged children meet the criteria for FAS.13

Drug or Alcohol Relapse Prevention During Pregnancy

Pregnancy and motherhood can be a time of growth and change, and it can also be a major stressor for moms, including those who are in recovery. Addiction treatment can help you stop using drugs and alcohol in a safe and supportive environment.

Relapse prevention strategies can show you how to avoid relapse and can include:14

  • Attending therapy.
  • Peer support.
  • Medications.
  • Treatment monitoring.

Postpartum Depression and Addiction

The changes that occur after childbirth can be significant. Hormonal, psychological, emotional, and physical changes that occur after a woman gives birth can contribute to the development of postpartum depression (PPD).15 PPD impacts as many as 6.5%–20% of women.15

Risk factors for PPD include:15

  • Having a risky pregnancy and/or delivery.
  • History of mental health problems.
  • Limited social support.
  • Domestic violence and conflict with your partner.
  • Lack of sleep.
  • Smoking during pregnancy.

Research shows that new mothers have high rates of alcohol and drug use and that women with PPD may be at an increased risk for substance use.15 Risk factors for postpartum substance use are largely unknown; however, the following factors may increase your risk of postpartum substance use:15

  • Being a cigarette smoker
  • Being unmarried
  • Being unemployed

If you are struggling with PPD or addiction issues, talk to your doctor immediately. Getting the help you need is imperative in preventing relapse due to postpartum depression.

Getting Help for Addiction While Pregnant

Counselor with patient

Treatment for a substance use disorder and/or a mental health disorder is available at Desert Hope. If you are pregnant or have recently given birth, professional care is important during this time of your life. At Desert Hope, we provide many different addiction treatment settings, such as inpatient rehab, outpatient therapy, and telehealth services.

By calling 702-583-7459, you can start the admissions process, determine if you can pay for rehab with health insurance, identify rehab payment options, and gather more information about what to expect in inpatient rehab. Do not allow judgment from anyone stand in the way of getting the help you and your baby need.

Time is of the essence. You and your baby deserve a high quality of life. Make the call today.

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.

You aren't alone. You deserve to get help.
Desert Hope is located in Las Vegas, Nevada, which is easily accessible from most locations in the Southwest. We offer a full continuum of care that spans from inpatient medical detox and rehab to outpatient services and sober living. Take the next step toward recovery: learn more about our addiction treatment programs near Vegas or learn about how rehab is affordable for everyone.