Josh Chandler | December 5, 2018

Pregnancy and Addiction: How it Affects Mother and Child

Pregnancy and addiction is a common reality for many long-term addicts, not just in the U.S. but across the globe. Here’s how it affects mother and child.

Pregnancy can be one of the most exciting times in a woman and her family’s life. There is lots of glowing, talk about the future, and musing about favorite baby names.

For someone struggling with addiction, however, pregnancy can encompass a terrifying state of fear, stress, and even sadness.

Managing pregnancy and addiction is an undoubtedly complex issue. Both the woman and her unborn child need support during this time.

Let’s get into it.

Effects On The Mother

In general, drug use presents numerous health risks. However, these risks become exacerbated when a woman is pregnant. That’s because the body experiences greater hormonal fluctuations during this time.

When pregnant women take drugs, they have an increased chance for developing concerning medical ailments like:

  • blood-borne infections
  • sexually transmitted diseases
  • stroke
  • heart attacks

All these diseases can also impact the child.

Effects on The Baby

If a mother uses drugs during her pregnancy, the child can be born physically dependent on these substances.

Additionally, some babies can experience neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Symptoms of NAS include:

  • tremors
  • appetite and eating problems
  • colic
  • poor coordination

In severe cases, babies can experience acute withdrawal symptoms for up to four to six months after their birth. Such babies may be born with heart problems, high blood pressure, or seizures.

If a mother abuses alcohol during her pregnancy, the child may be born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). FAS symptoms can include:

  • learning disabilities
  • cognitive functioning deficits
  • facial structure abnormalities
  • emotional functioning issues
  • communication problems
  • a difficulty with concentration and comprehension

There is currently not a cure for FAS.

Beyond those diagnosable and chronic conditions, other risk factors associated with using drugs during pregnancy include:

  • placental abruption
  • sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • stillbirth
  • growth defects
  • hyperactivity
  • intellectual difficulties
  • behavioral problems
  • premature birth

To date, there is no research indicating that drug use- at any capacity- is safe for pregnant women and their children.

Laws and Pregnancy and Addiction

Tennessee is the only state that considers prenatal substance abuse as a criminal act of child abuse or neglect. However, prosecutors can still try to convict mothers with endangerment or neglect. Sometimes, the court will offer women the decision between serving time in jail or enrolling in a rehab program.

That said, many states require that healthcare providers screen and report prenatal drug exposure. These findings can be used as evidence in determining the child’s welfare.

In some states, prenatal drug exposure can substantiate as evidence for terminating parental rights.

Finally, some states, including Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, enforce that pregnant women enter into an inpatient treatment program.

Treating Pregnancy and Addiction

If a mother can abstain from drug use before the end of the first trimester, there is a better chance the child will be born healthy.

That’s why it’s so critical that struggling mothers seek support and treatment. Women who struggle with addiction need a sense of safety and community. They also need to know that they are not alone.

Getting sober while pregnant can feel scary. This is especially true if the pregnancy is unplanned or if the woman has an extensive history of drug use. That said, if the pregnant mother wants a healthy baby, sobriety is essential.


Pregnant women need specialized detox programs to protect both themselves and their child.

In detox, the body weans itself from the substances. Trained professionals provide round-the-clock supervision and structure. Sometimes, replacement medication may be prescribed to ease withdrawal symptoms.

Regardless, it’s essential that pregnant women receive medical supervision during this time. Depending on the substance or mother’s medical history, going cold-turkey could cause life-threatening consequences.

Substance Abuse Treatment

Detox alone is not treatment. It’s only the stabilization. Detox can last anywhere from a few days to over a week depending on:

  • types of drugs used
  • the woman’s mental health history
  • the woman’s medical history
  • other prescribed medications
  • miscellaneous complications

After completing detox, it is advised that women enter a formal substance abuse treatment. In these programs, they will learn the essential life skills to manage a sustainable life in recovery.

Many pregnant women struggling with addiction face shame and stigma. In treatment, women can feel safe and supported. They can focus on their recoveries while also providing the best care for their unborn children.

Treatment timelines vary. The woman’s treatment team will work with her to collaborate to decide the best approach to take.

After Giving Birth

While many women can and do stay sober during their pregnancy, some of them relapse soon after the child is born.

Compounded stress, lack of sleep, and adjusting to the significant changes can all be triggering factors that increase the desire to use.

That’s why it’s so critical that new mothers implement an action plan for success during the early years. An action plan may include taking parenting classes and attending support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. It may also include receiving therapy or taking psychiatric medication.

Addiction is a chronic disease. While having a baby can be magical, it is never a cure for addiction. Therefore, women must be taking care of their recovery on a daily basis.

Final Thoughts

Living with pregnancy and addiction require medical attention and support. With the appropriate treatment and care, women can build the lives they want- and the lives they want their babies to have.

Do you or a loved one struggle with addiction? You don’t need to struggle anymore! Contact us today to speak with an addiction specialist.

Addiction,Drug Addiction,Mental Health,
Josh Chandler
Josh Chandler
After growing up in Chicago and North Carolina, Josh chose to get help with substance use disorder and mental health in California because of the state's reputation for top-tier treatment. There, he found the treatment he needed to achieve more than five years of recovery. He's been in the drug and alcohol addiction rehab industry for four years and now serves as the Director of Admissions for Resurgence Behavioral Health. Josh remains passionate about the field because he understands that one phone call can alter the course of a person's life.

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