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The Effects of Substance Abuse ...

I am Pregnant and I am an Addict?

Using drugs during pregnancy poses obvious health risks to both the mother and child, but oftentimes the extent and exact level of danger which is presented is vastly underestimated and overlooked. 

While drug use will cause withdrawal symptoms in both the mother and child after the child is born, there are many other far more severe symptoms which both will experience, any of which may be permanent or fatal; being unaware of these can lead the mother to continue abusing the substance, refrain from not abstaining from the substance, or think that even a little or moderate usage is okay, and can be the gravest danger of all. Furthermore, different drugs taken during the pregnancy  can be especially damaging to the development of the fetus (the type of damage varies  depending on which stage of the pregnancy the substance was taken as well as the type of substance taken). 

The following is an outline of the stages of pregnancy fetal development, how each stage of pregnancy is affected by substance abuse, and the health risks incurred by the mother fetus; this outline is followed by a list of specific drug types, and an explanation of the specific dangers presented by each.


The first 10 weeks:

    The first ten weeks of pregnancy are the most critical for the development and health of the fetus – during the first ten weeks, the primary organs and systems of the fetus are formed, and drug use during this time will produce the most harmful and destructive effects. Alcohol and some drugs used at this stage can affect the development of the limbs, heart, central nervous system, and facial features, and cause malformations of these.


The second and third trimesters:

    Drug abuse or alcohol will harm fetal growth and is the most dangerous effect posed to the fetus during this time – this may result in a low-weight child at birth, a premature birth, or stunted growth overall, which may result in severe health or development  problems or even death.  Drug or alcohol use during the second and third trimesters will also affect the development of organ systems (including vision and hearing related organs and kidney) and central nervous system, and contribute to the increase behavioral of and/or cognitive abnormalities.


Effects on the pregnant woman
     The physical affects which drug and alcohol abuse may have on the health of the pregnant woman include sudden bleeding, poor appetite and sleeping (both of which will also affect the development of the fetus), and premature delivery; the mental effects which this abuse may have include increased difficulty in making decisions or plans, increased difficulty in recognizing or coping with changes brought about by the pregnancy, and risky behavior (this not only includes further drug or alcohol abuse but also unsafe sex, which in turn may lead to infections or transmitted diseases, and dangerous acts such as drunk driving).

As you can see, engaging in drug and/or alcohol use during pregnancy will have severely and dangerous effects on both the fetus and mother which extend far beyond premature birth or low birth weight; the following is a more detailed list of the effects which each specific substance will cause.



Heavy or even moderate drinking during pregnancy significantly increases the risk of the fetus developing a combination of physical and mental symptoms which make up fetal alcohol syndrome; these symptoms unfortunately are permanent, difficult to overcome in certain cases, and disabling, and will require significant amounts of medical attention, psychiatric treatment, and special education. 

Physical symptoms of this syndrome include heart defects, facial deformation (such as small eye openings), small skull (microcephaly), central nervous system (CNS) problems, poor coordination, below average height and weight, and vision and hearing problems; mental symptoms will include learning and behavioral problems such as speech and language delays, difficulties with mathematical skills, memory, attention, and judgment, a low IQ, mental retardation, and hyperactive behavior – if un-treated or un-addressed, these often will lead to psychiatric problems, criminal behavior, unemployment, and incomplete education later on in.

Cocaine, Crack & Methamphetamine

These will have powerful and dramatic stimulating effects on the mothers central nervous, causing her heart rate to soar, blood pressure to escalate, and the constriction of blood vessels; when taken during the first 2 trimesters of the pregnancy this will may cause the stunted growth in the fetus – it may also increase the risk of premature birth, miscarriage, and a condition known as abruptio placentae (the partial separation of the placenta from the uterus wall)


Heroin & Other Narcotics

The use of heroin and other narcotic substances during any stage of pregnancy will cause low birth weight bleeding within the rain (intracranial hemorrhage), low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), and respiratory problem; the children of mothers who use heroin and other narcotic substances are very often likely to be born with withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability, vomiting and diarrhea, and joint stiffness.  Women who use these substances have a greater risk of becoming infected with the HIV virus from dirty needles, and run a high risk of passing the virus on to their babies.



The use of pcp during any stage of pregnancy will cause the fetus to have tremors and general withdrawal symptoms after birth.

Substance abuse of any kind during a pregnancy will have potentially devastating and lifelong consequences for the unborn child and present additional health risk to the mother as well – if you are pregnant and unable to abstain from using, please seek treatment NOW.  If you believe that there are few treatment programs which specifically address the need of pregnant, women you are wrong – many treatment programs do have special needs and programs for pregnant women (even if this may not be stated upfront first thing on their brochure, website, etc.), and there will be no better time to do it than now. AA and NA meetings are free!  


Be Safe

Be sure and let your OB/GYN know everything you are taking as well as the Pediatrician who will be present at your new baby's delievery. Your OB/GYN can help you stop the substance you are abusing safely during pregnancy if stopping narcotics is an issue for you and your new baby. For some, completely stopping narcotics is not feasible.  For others who are at high doses, cold turkey may not be the way to go, but a taper instead.  These are things your doctor needs to know to make your birth experience as safe as it can be.  We are all different with different needs.


Remember the placenta of your growing baby is connected to your own body.  Everything you take in to your body affects your unborn child much more so that it affects you due to the tremendous differenece in body weight.  If you weight 150 lbs, then imagine what the dose you take does to a 1-6 lb fetus?  Education alone can be a motivation to do what is healthy for your baby, and also what is healthy for you!


submitted by worried878 

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Start Date
Jan 09, 2010
by worried878
Last Revision
Jan 09, 2010
by worried878