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What Should You Do If You’re Pregnant and Addicted?

The use of illegal drugs and alcohol is harmful for any woman, but more so if she’s pregnant. As the substances go through her bloodstream, they are passed on to the unborn baby through the umbilical cord and placenta. Seeking pregnancy addiction treatment for drug or alcohol abuse is not always a popular choice. However, options are available for individuals who are motivated to get help with drugs and pregnancy. The following includes information on several types of illegal drugs and alcohol and their effects on both mother and child.


Also known as: Coke, snow, blow, white, rock, nose candy, smack, flake, powder and base. Description: A white powder that is snorted by itself, mixed with water and injected with a needle, or made into small rocks and smoked. Effects of cocaine on the pregnant mother: Cocaine remains in a baby’s body longer than that of an adult. A pregnant woman who ingests cocaine may be faced with serious health concerns. Effects of cocaine on the baby: Babies introduced to cocaine before birth can be born with a smaller head, and their growth may be stunted. Birth defects are also possible, including deformities to the genitals, brain and kidneys. Other effects include:

  • Placental abruption: This is a serious condition where placenta separates from uterine wall before birth. It can cause very heavy bleeding and be fatal for the mother and child.
  • Premature birth: This happens when the baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy, and premature babies have a much higher risk of death or other complications.
  • Low birth weight: The baby could be born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.
  • Miscarriage: The baby dies in-utero before the 20th week of pregnancy.
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS): The baby is born dependent on the drug and has symptoms of cocaine withdrawal within three days of birth. Symptoms typically include excessive crying, high-pitched crying, tremors, diarrhea, seizures and poor feeding.


Also known as: Speed, crank, meth, crystal and glass Description: An odorless, crystalline white powder that is bitter-tasting and can easily dissolve in alcohol or water. It can also be brown, yellow-gray, orange or pink. It can be compressed and taken as a pill, or it can be snorted, smoked or injected. Effects of methamphetamine on the pregnant mother: It causes an increased heart rate in the mother as well as her unborn child. Effects of methamphetamine on the baby: Studies have shown that babies born addicted to drugs will have long-term effects such as feeding difficulties and learning problems as they get older. Other ways methamphetamines can affect the baby are similar to cocaine use, including:

  • Low birth weight: Babies are at-risk for being born smaller than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.
  • Placental abruption: This sudden breaking away of the placenta from the wall of the uterus can deprive the unborn baby of oxygen and proper nutrients.
  • Preterm labor: Babies born before 37 weeks are at risk for life-threatening or lifelong learning and behavioral issues. If a baby is born before 20 weeks, he is not developed enough to survive independently.
  • NAS: These symptoms, which also include vomiting, dehydration, tight muscle tone and irritability, differ in babies who are born full-term as opposed to being premature.


Also known as: H-stuff, brown sugar, nose drops, horse, smack and junk. Description: It’s commonly a fine, white powder that can also be rose, gray, brown or black. It can be injected, sniffed or smoked. Effects of heroin on the pregnant mother: Heroin is highly addicting, so it’s easy for the mother and unborn baby to get hooked. Effects of heroin on the baby: Using this drug while pregnant not only increases the chances of the baby being born prematurely, but it also increases the likelihood of other complications, such as:

  •  Respiratory difficulties: Symptoms of respiratory problems include labored and fast breathing, fluid in the smallest airways, crackly sounds and persistent cough.
  •  Low birth weight: There’s an increased risk of the baby being born prematurely, and the earlier a child is born, the lower his birth weight is.
  •  Bleeding on the brain: Also known as a brain or intraventricular hemorrhage, this problem is where bleeding occurs in the fluid-filled ventricles of the brain. This is more common in premature babies.
  • Low blood sugar: Also known as hypoglycemia, low blood sugar at birth can cause brain damage.
  • NAS: The heroin symptoms from this condition vary depending on the potency (and type) of the drug a mother used and how well her body could break it down in her system.


Also known as: Weed, pot, reefer, joint or grass. Description: This drug is a combination of green and brown dried sticks, flowers and leaves. It is rolled into a cigarette or put in a pipe and smoked. Effects of marijuana on the pregnant mother: Much like smoking a tobacco cigarette, marijuana contains toxins that prevent the unborn baby from getting the right amount of oxygen. Effects of marijuana on the baby: Smoking marijuana increases the levels of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide in the blood, which in turn increase the chances of:

  • Miscarriage: Excess toxins in a baby’s bloodstream can cause a spontaneous delivery before 20 weeks gestation.
  • Premature birth: If a baby is born before 37 weeks gestation, he will more than likely have a low birth weight.
  • Developmental, behavioral and learning problems: These include delays in mental, motor and language development, as well as memory and verbal communications such as speaking.


Commonly used inhalants: Benzene (gasoline), butane or propane (lighter fluid, hair and paint sprayers), Freon (refrigerant or aerosol propellant), nitrous oxide (laughing gas), methylene chloride (paint thinner), toluene (gasoline, paint thinner) and trichloroethylene (spot remover, degreaser). Description: These products are found in four forms: volatile solvents, gases, aerosols and nitrates. Users sniff, snort or spray inhalants directly into their mouth or nose. Effects of inhalants on the pregnant mother: Women who inhale or sniff these chemicals quickly can get the same “high” feeling as being intoxicated. Excitement is followed by dizziness, drowsiness and a hangover. Other effects include:

  • Kidney damage
  • High blood pressure
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Risk of Miscarriage

Effects of inhalants on the baby: Inhalants can cause many problems for the unborn baby, including:

  • Kidney problems: This includes renal failure or kidney damage.
  • Smaller head size: Also called microcephaly, a baby born with this condition may have a small head as well as delayed motor and speech skills, mental retardation, facial distortions and coordination problems.
  • Behavior problems: This includes hyperactivity and aggressiveness.
  • Development delays: Besides slow physical growth, children may also have delays in movement, thinking and speech skills.
  • Toluene Embryopathy Syndrome: Similar to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, this can cause long-lasting behavioral, physical and mental problems.


Bath Salts

Also known as: Ivory wave, purple wave, vanilla sky and bliss Description: Bath salts (synthetic cocaine) come in a white or brown crystalline powder that is sold in small foil or plastic packages labeled “not for human consumption.” Similar to amphetamines, this is a designer drug people snort, shoot or mix with food or drink. Effects of bath salts on the pregnant mother: This drug can produce an increased sense of euphoria and a heightened sex drive, as well as paranoia, agitation and delirium. Effects of bath salts on the baby: Since this is a newer drug, not many studies have been conducted showing the effects on a baby. However, it seems to have many of the same effects as cocaine, including:

  • Miscarriage: There is a higher chance of a spontaneous delivery before 20 weeks gestation, and the baby is not likely to survive.
  • Premature labor: The baby being born after 20 weeks is deemed “premature labor,” but babies’ chances for survival depend on just how early they are born.
  • Irritability: Babies born addicted to bath salts will have to go through withdrawal after they are born. Irritability and sleep disturbances are often symptoms.


Also known as: Hard stuff, booze, brew, cold one and juice. Description: Alcohol comes in a variety of liquid forms including fermented beverages (beer, cider, liquor, wine and saki), distilled drinks like hard liquors (whiskey, gin, rum and the like) as well as tequila and cognac. Effects of alcohol on the pregnant mother: The same amount of alcohol that passes through the mother’s bloodstream also passes through the unborn baby’s. It flows right through his or her umbilical cord and placenta. While an adult’s liver can break down the alcohol, a baby’s liver is too small to do that. The effects alcohol has on a growing baby depend on how much, how often and at what stage of the pregnancy the mother drank. Whether the mother used other drugs, smoked or had bad health for any other reason during the pregnancy also contributes to alcohol’s effects on the baby. There is also the possibility of a genetic link that is passed down through families who drink — some babies are affected by the drinking, while others aren’t. Effects of alcohol on the baby: When you drink alcohol during a pregnancy, so does your baby. This can lead to serious health conditions for the baby that include:

  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: This encompasses a variety of conditions that include having an abnormal appearance, short height, low body weight, small head and poor coordination.
  • Birth defects: Possible defects include mental retardation, impaired growth, facial malformations, organ defects and vision and hearing problems.
  • Learning problems: Because of the potential brain damage suffered during the pregnancy, the baby may also be prone to different types of learning disabilities, as well as speech and language delays.

Laws Regarding Substance Abuse During a Pregnancy

Every state has its own policy in place regarding substance and drug use during pregnancy, which is a reason many women deny themselves healthcare during this time for fear of being arrested or facing other repercussions. Some of the highlights of these statistics and laws include:

  • Tennessee is the only state that allows assault charges be filed against a pregnant woman who uses certain drugs. There are 18 other states that consider it child abuse, and three states deem it as grounds for civil commitment.
  • A total of 15 states require medical personnel to report suspected drug abuse during a pregnancy, while four states require healthcare professionals to test for suspected drug use during pregnancy.
  • Four states prohibit publicly-funded drug treatment programs from discriminating against women who are pregnant.
  • A total of 11 states provide women who are pregnant with priority access to publicly-funded drug treatment programs, while 19 states have either funded or created drug treatment programs specifically for pregnant women.

Five Steps to Quitting

If you couldn’t quit taking drugs or alcohol before you found out you were pregnant, it’s not too late. Help is available as long as you want to know what to do if you’re pregnant and addicted to pain killers or other substances. The first thing you need to do is to admit to yourself that you have a drug problem, and you are serious about getting help. Once you’ve come to terms with that, consider these five steps to quitting: Tell your doctor or healthcare provider. No matter the legal ramifications, it’s the right thing to do for you and your baby. The sooner in your pregnancy you tell your doctor, the better off you and your child will be. If need be, now would be a good time to get on a government program that will help pay for your care and the baby’s delivery. Destroy and get rid of all drug paraphernalia. If you haven’t done this yet, do it now or get a clean friend to help you. Throw it all away: the drug kit, foil, straws, bottles, baggies, balloons and everything else. This is necessary to help you quit and stay clean for good. Cut ties with your drug dealers and friends who supplied you with drugs. This is vital if you want to stay clean indefinitely. Battling temptation with drugs and dealing with pregnancy issues will be hard enough without having these “friends” around. Delete their phone numbers and email addresses, and if need be, change your phone number. Burn those bridges and never look back. Surround yourself with those who love and support you. Even if you’ve broken ties with family and close friends, it’s OK to reach out to them for support. Tell them you’re pregnant and are serious about getting clean. If you can, move in with a family member or close friend who can be there to support you 24/7. Find and enter a rehab program. Once you are ready to begin, you will enter a rehab program designed specifically for women who are pregnant. Remember, you are now starting a new life for you and your new baby.

It’s Not Too Late

If you want to stop the alcohol abuse or drug addiction during pregnancy, contact The Ranch PA to help you find your path to recovery. Choosing the right treatment center is the first step in the journey to overcoming your addiction and answering that nagging question in your head of what to do if you are pregnant and addicted to drugs or alcohol.

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