Struggling with Substance Abuse or Addiction during Pregnancy
Friends of mine who are mothers and addicts in recovery say that one of the most horrifying experiences of their lives was using during pregnancy. They knew what they were doing might hurt their unborn children, but they could not stop. Addicts are who and what they are, and an addict will not just stop using because they are educated about the risk addiction or substance use and abuse poses to an unborn child. Even among those who are not addicts, many women continue to use alcohol or other medications, drugs, or potentially dangerous substances throughout their pregnancy, even when they know about the potential dangers.
In the U.S., the Surgeon General advises that pregnant women or women who may become pregnant should completely abstain from alcohol consumption due to the severe potential health risks to the fetus. Yet because women may not plan their pregnancies, a large number use in the first trimester, before they know they are pregnant.
At present, fully half of all pregnancies are described by women themselves as unplanned. Among unmarried women in their twenties, seven in 10 pregnancies are unplanned.
In other words, 70% of young women will live the same lifestyle they lived before getting pregnant, smoking, drinking, and possibly using or abusing medications or drugs for at least the first four to eight weeks of a pregnancy, simply because they did not plan or know they might be pregnant. This is a critical period in a fetus’ development. Healthy living, when it is even a possibility that you may become pregnant, is of the utmost importance for your future baby’s health.
Drug addiction, very different from substance use or abuse, is a complex psychological condition as well as a physical one. During pregnancy, addiction becomes a serious health risk for both mother and baby, yet it isn’t always possible or healthy to try to stop using substances cold turkey during pregnancy. Pregnant women and their unborn children need specialized care.
Further complicating issues after birth, mothers may start having trouble coping with the stress of a newborn, a situation that is only compounded in its difficulty to treat by substance abuse or addiction.
Each year more than 500,000 pregnancies in the United States are complicated by psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, and psychosis, which often develop, recur, or worsen during and after pregnancy. Furthermore, 13% of all psychiatric hospital admissions for women occur during the first postpartum year.
Once a child is born, the mother must remain careful about what substances she uses. She should never use drugs or alcohol while breast-feeding because these can pass through her breast milk to the child. The baby may become drowsy, have trouble breathing, and may not eat well.
For anyone with a powerful addiction to drugs, the best option is residential drug addiction treatment, and there are treatment facilities that specialize in treating pregnant women. Because of the potential serious consequences to both mother and child, early diagnosis of substance abuse or addiction, and treatment, is imperative for the health and well-being of all involved.
Substance abuse and drug addiction during pregnancy are serious health and social issues that require an interdisciplinary health care team to treat. If you are pregnant or may become pregnant, it is important to find nonjudgmental, comprehensive care for your welfare and that of your unborn child.