Addiction poses a serious risk to the health of anyone who suffers from it. Addiction makes a person susceptible to overdose and long-term complications such as heart disease and cancer. However, addiction poses a particularly large threat to a fetus when the mother continues to do drugs during pregnancy.
Fetal alcohol syndrome
When a mother excessively drinks during her pregnancy, the fetus is exposed to the alcohol as well. Children still in the womb are underdeveloped and their livers do not process alcohol as quickly or in the same way that an adults would. Exposure to alcohol causes birth defects, abnormalities and developmental disabilities in children. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a permanent condition and the children will have atypical facial features and mood, attention and anger disorders for all their lives. There is a safe level of drinking alcohol during pregnancy that should be discussed with a doctor, but to be safe most women abstain from alcohol completely during pregnancy.
Opioids such as Heroin, Vicodin and OxyContin should never be used during a pregnancy because of the risks they pose on the baby and mother. When a woman has a dependence to an opioid, abstaining from using causes withdrawal symptoms. While withdrawal symptoms are not usually fatal to the drug user, babies in the womb have the chance of developing acute opioid abstinence syndrome. This means that when the mother stops taking the drugs, the baby also goes through withdrawal symptoms, but does not have a developed immune system to help ward away effects. Studies have shown that the babies of mothers who used drugs while pregnant were more like yo have congenital heart defects, fetal growth restriction, fetal death and preterm labor.
Many do not believe that smoking marijuana has any adverse affects on their health, however, smoking marijuana after the first trimester of pregnancy can cause birth defects, premature birth, low birth weight, behavioral and learning problems and even miscarriages. Smoking marijuana increases the levels of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide in the blood. This cuts off oxygen supply to the baby.
The consequences of cocaine use during pregnancy all depend on when in the pregnancy it is abused. During the early months, cocaine exposure can increase the risk of miscarriage. Later in pregnancy, cocaine use can lead to placental abruption, preterm birth, and fetal death. Babies exposed to cocaine can also be born dependent to the substance and suffer from withdrawal symptoms like tremors, sleeplessness, muscle spasms and feeding difficulties.
Legal Consequences for Drug Use
Currently, only one state has laws that prosecute women for using illegal drugs during pregnancy. Other states have laws that force mothers to join rehabilitation programs or threaten to take their children away.
Treating Addiction During Pregnancy
There are options for women who need to go through treatment for addiction during their pregnancies. Doctors will use maintenance therapy and medications such as Methadone to reduce withdrawal symptoms and bring as little harm to the baby as possible. Doctors can also provide prenatal care, counseling and nutritional education to those in treatment to make the rest of their pregnancy healthier. The earlier a woman seeks treatment for addiction, the better their chances of delivering a healthy baby.