Drug Use During Pregnancy

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Most women are familiar with the warning label on medication boxes and bottles of alcohol. Pregnant women are precautioned to abstain or limit their use of these substances during pregnancy because of the severe risks involved. Another life is of concern, and therefore substance addiction becomes an even more serious matter.

The staff at Avenues Recovery have years of combined experience working with addicts who are pregnant. In this article we’ll discover exactly what are the effects of drugs in pregnancy? 

What Are The Dangers of Drug Use During Pregnancy?

During pregnancy, the fetus is nourished from the placenta; an organ developed in the walls of the uterus and connected to the baby’s umbilical cord. Oxygen and nutrients in the mother’s bloodstream pass from the mother into the baby’s bloodstream through the placenta, and help the fetus to develop. Along with the necessary nutrients that are delivered to the fetus, harmful substances that are absorbed into the blood can cross the placenta as well, entering the baby’s blood vessels and causing serious ramifications.

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Early Stages - Drug Use During First 3 Weeks of Pregnancy

The risks associated with drug use during pregnancy depend on several factors. Obviously, how large the dose and how strong the drug is will play a large role in how the fetus will be affected. There will also be different consequences depending on the stage of the fetus’s development.

During the first twenty days after fertilization, the fetus is highly resistant to birth defects, so drugs can have an all-or-nothing effect. Drug use during the first 3 weeks of pregnancy can possibly have no effect or can cause instant death to the baby.

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Drug Use During First 6 Weeks of Pregnancy


The beginning weeks of pregnancy are the most crucial to the baby’s development. During these first few weeks, the body structure and organ systems start to form, making the fetus particularly vulnerable to birth defects. If the fetus is exposed to harmful drugs during this period, there can be irreversible, long-term effects.

Effects of illicit drug use during the early stages of pregnancy include:

o   Miscarriage

o   Birth defects

o   Cancer risk


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Harmful Drugs During Pregnancy

Ignorance is not always bliss. A pregnant mother has to keep safe during pregnancy and should be aware of the drugs she should stay away from.

Drugs containing high risks include:

-          Prescription Opioids

-          Heroin

-          Marijuana

Both prescription opioids and illegal opioids, such as heroin, contribute to the current opioid drug abuse epidemic. The prevalence of this disorder, however, does not minimize the ramifications.

Research shows that smoking marijuana or other illegal drugs can double or triple the risks of stillbirth. 

Regular use of certain drugs can also cause neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) [1], in which the baby will display withdrawal symptoms at birth. Just like adults, these symptoms will vary depending on how often the mother used this drug and how her body reacted to it.

Some indications of NAS include:

-          Blotchy skin coloring

-          Excessive crying

-          Fever

-          Trembling

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Long Term Effects of Drugs While Pregnant

Unfortunately, the consequences of drug use during pregnancy don’t always end at birth. The effects could be long-term and possibly fatal to the newborn baby.

o   Birth Defects

Smoking and alcohol abuse can lead to birth defects such as cleft lip, cleft palate, or both

o   SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome)

Prenatal drug exposure increases the risk of SIDS


Pregnancy and Addiction

The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that in the United States, 5% of pregnant women have drug or alcohol addictions [2]. With another life to consider and serious implications of her addictive pastime, pregnancy is a common time for a woman to work on addressing her substance addiction.

Stopping cold turkey is very daunting, and that’s why there are many detox and treatment programs specifically designed to guide expectant moms through the recovery process. Quitting suddenly may not be the safest idea for those addicted to specific street drugs. It takes courage to recognize addiction and to reach out for the necessary help to combat it. This process might be one of the most important things that you can do for your health and for the health of your future baby.

Use of Drugs in Pregnancy - When To Say Yes

At times, certain drugs are essential for the health of the pregnant woman and baby. In such cases, a woman should consult with her doctor or healthcare practitioner about the risks and benefits of taking that specific drug. For example, a doctor may often recommend certain vitamins and dietary supplements during pregnancy.


Antidepressants are commonly used during pregnancy, with the newborn baby possibly displaying withdrawal symptoms after birth. To prevent this from happening, doctors try to gradually reduce the dose of the antidepressants during the 3rd trimester and bring it to a complete stop before the delivery date. However, if the mother has significant signs of depression as the dose is reduced, the antidepressants should be continued. Depression during pregnancy can likely lead to postpartum depression [3], a mood change that can last for months. The loss outweighs the benefits in this case. 

Addiction Treatment for Expectant Mothers

As mentioned above, a sudden withdrawal from an addictive substance is not recommended. Based on today’s research, the CDC endorses certain medications for those suffering from OUD (opioid use disorder) due to better outcomes and a reduced risk of relapse.

SAMHSA encourages women with substance abuse disorders to begin treatment with methadone and buprenorphine. Drug treatment centers use these medications to gradually reduce drug cravings and dependence on opioids and heroin, allowing those pregnant on drugs to focus on recovery and care for their babies.

Treatment For Substance Abuse in Pregnancy

If you are battling an addiction and are either pregnant or hope to become pregnant, there are many rehabs ready and equipped to give you the full support that you need at this time. Avenues Recovery recognizes the unique situation that pregnancy places you in, and we’re here to help you through it. Contact us 24/7 to hear how we can help you overcome substance abuse.

Some rewards come in small forms - like tiny, healthy bundles of joy.

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