Effects of Drug Addiction During Pregnancy?

You’ve tried to quit with no success. Every day you wake up hungover, feeling dejected, guilty, useless, and gripped with self loathe. Your conscience is killing you. You desperately want to be clean, to stay away from meth, alcohol, cocaine or whatever substance it is that you are abusing. You simply can’t, however much you try. Every time those guilt feelings come, you run to meth or alcohol for your consolation.

I had never encountered the ugly face of drug addiction until a chance meeting with an old friend I had schooled with in high school. Here was a woman in her early 20’s who had literally been reduced to a drug addict. Her daily routine entailed waking up and getting high. Life to her had lost meaning. Simple tasks such as taking a shower, eating a proper meal, or even going for a refill of birth control pills had become a herculean task.

I ran into her in one of the dark alleys backstreet visibly dejected and stressed. In her hands were a pregnancy test stick. Staring back at her were 2 bright pink lines which indicated beyond any reasonable doubt that she was pregnant. She couldn’t believe it. What would she do? Clearly, managing her own life was a tall order. How could she manage a baby? How could she carry the pregnancy to term with her debilitating drug addiction?

What were the chances of her carrying the pregnancy to term? There seemed to be only one solution – becoming clean. She had to be sober for the sake of her child. She had to put her house in order. She had to take control of her life and make a major sacrifice. But we all know how it is with drug addiction. The will to be clean and live a sober life is there but the strength to actually go through with it is what many people struggle with.

You see, most of these people literally depend on drugs. When they try to quit, the withdrawal effects are so severe that they have no option but to go back to using meth, cocaine, alcohol, or whatever drug it is that they are hooked on. I couldn’t help but sympathize with her. I offered to take her to a rehabilitation center and agreed to pick her the following morning.

At last, we were going to address this drug problem head on. The following day, when I went to pick her up in the morning, she was drunk to a stupor. It suddenly occurred to me that she was in for tough times ahead in so far as her pregnancy is concerned. Like my friend, many women out here are struggling with drug addiction. The situation is further compounded where a pregnancy is involved.

Deep down you want the best for your unborn baby but you simply lack the will. You desperately want to quit but somehow, for one reason or the other, can’t go through with it. While there are few miraculous cases of women who give birth to healthy babies while using toxic drugs throughout the pregnancy, the truth of the matter is that drug abuse is dangerous to your pregnancy.

Dealing with drug abuse during pregnancy requires that you first accept you have a problem and put in place measures to be sober for the sake of your baby. The truth of the matter is, drug addiction during pregnancy can lead to a number of serious complications. When you use drugs during pregnancy, you stand a higher risk of experiencing certain very serious complications. These complications include:

Stillbirth and Miscarriage

Think of the devastating effects of your pregnancy ending in stillbirth or losing your pregnancy via miscarriage because of drug addiction. Is it something you would wish for your baby? Does the thought jolt you back to reality? A miscarriage simply refers to the loss of your prenatal baby before you reach the 24th week of pregnancy. Approximately, 15% of all pregnancies across the globe end in miscarriage. Other than alcohol and drug abuse, miscarriage is also caused by chromosome problems, eating disorders, various diseases, as well as infections.

On the other hand, stillbirth is a situation where you give birth to a baby with no sign of life after the 24th week of pregnancy. How heart wrenching can that be? How painful is it to carry pregnancy and give birth to a baby with no sign of life? The pain is immeasurable and something that you wouldn’t wish even to your worst enemy. The primary cause of still birth is abnormalities with the placenta. The use of alcohol, toxic drugs, and smoking have been found to greatly contribute to cases of stillbirth.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDS)

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) refer to a number of disorders that are primarily caused by consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. What happens is that when you consume alcohol during pregnancy, the baby accesses the same alcohol through the umbilical cord. Remember that the umbilical cord is how the baby gets nourished while in the womb.

Alcohol also travels the same way hence affecting your baby. While some say that drinking alcohol in moderation during pregnancy is okay, the truth of the matter is that no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy. Add to that the fact that consumption of alcohol is majorly responsible for FASDs, it would be in your best interest to desist from alcohol completely.

Premature Labor and Birth

When an infant is born 3 weeks before the due date or any time before you reach the 37th week of pregnancy, it is considered premature. Consequently, premature labor is brought about by drug addiction and can also be triggered by health problems such as kidney disease, heart disease, as well as diabetes.

Characteristics of premature infants include:

  • Difficulty in eating or drinking
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Underdeveloped organs
  • Inconsistent body temperature

Placenta Abruption

Placenta abruption, just as the name suggests, refers to a situation whereby the placenta detaches itself from the uterine before labor kicks in. Contrary to popular belief, placenta abruption is not triggered by physical causes such as direct impact to your abdomen, falling, or being engaged in a motor accident. Placenta abruption occurs as a result of abusing drugs such as meth, cocaine, as well as alcohol and smoking.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)

Are you addicted to opiods while pregnant? If yes, your baby is at a higher risk of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). What happens is that your baby becomes dependent on opiods too. The baby accesses the opiods through the placenta and after its birth, with no further access to opiods, it suffers severe withdrawal symptoms which could lead to death in the worst case scenario. The most common neonatal abstinence syndrome symptoms include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Seizure
  • Blotchy itchy skin
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea

Consequently, children with neonatal abstinence syndrome are also born underweight and tend to be smaller in size compared to children born normally through a healthy pregnancy.

What Birth Defects Are Attributable To Drug Addiction During Pregnancy?

If you are addicted to drugs during pregnancy, you have high a chance of giving birth to babies with one or more of the following birth defects.


Also known as small head circumference, this is a condition whereby your baby’s brain is not fully developed at birth. It’s an indication that your baby’s brain did not grow or rather develop properly while in the womb.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) refers to the sudden death of your infant before it reaches one year anniversary. In other words, your infants dies within one year of being born. Simply put, babies who are born to mothers who abused drugs while pregnant have a higher chance of dying of sudden infant death syndrome compared to those born from mothers who never abused drugs while pregnant.

Behavioral and Developmental Problems

The alcohol and drugs that you abuse during pregnancy could seriously damage your baby’s central nervous system. This damage to your baby’s central nervous system could affect your baby’s ability to learn and grasp things in school as well as have a negative effect on their behavior as they grow up.

Impact of Drug Abuse to both the Mother and Prenatal Child

We’ve already looked at serious complications as well as birth defects that are as a direct result of drug abuse. The effects are devastating and should be a wakeup call to any pregnant mother out there to desist from abusing drugs. Different drugs affect the mother and baby in different ways. Let’s take a look at the impact of various drugs to mother and child. Shall we?


As earlier discussed, abuse of alcohol during pregnancy can lead to FASDs. Fetal alcohol syndrome disorder has no cure. The only remedy is if there is an early intervention which can help mitigate the risks on baby’s development. The impact of alcohol to the mother during pregnancy include liver damage, kidney damage, high blood pressure, premature birth, increased risk of cancer, bone loss, as well as a weakened immune system. The risk to the baby is fetal death, fetal alcohol syndrome, neurodevelopmental disorders, and a number of alcohol related birth disorders.


Harmful chemicals in Marijuana are passed from the mother to the baby through the placenta. Owing to the fact that most pregnant mothers abuse marijuana together with alcohol and tobacco, researchers have found it extremely difficult to specifically pinpoint the effects of marijuana on the prenatal child. That said, consumption of marijuana poses a number of risks to both the mother and the child.

The risks to the mother include memory problems, insomnia, rapid heart rate, depression, anxiety, and lung problems. The risks to your child include withdrawal symptoms, low birth weight, still birth, behavior problems, premature birth, and development problems.


If you are using heroin and a couple of other opiods such as codeine, oxycodone, or hydrocodone, you can rest assured that your baby has a higher risk of being born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Due to the severe withdrawals symptoms associated with opiods and the fact that the baby also becomes dependent on them, a pregnant woman cannot fully quit taking opiods. What doctors do is that they slowly reduce the dosage a pregnant woman can take.

Risks of taking opiods to the mother include heart and lung affection, kidney disease, respiratory failure, liver disease, as well as infections informed by the use of shared needles. The risks to the child include low birth weight, still birth, NAS, SIDS, placenta abruption, and premature birth.


Tobacco contains two dangerous chemicals: nicotine and carbon monoxide. These 2 chemicals pass through the placenta to the baby and could cause serious health problems such as low birth weight, stunted growth, SIDS, learning problems, behavioral problems, ectopic pregnancy, and increased risk for addiction. The risks to the mother include lung damage, nausea, diarrhea, increased blood pressure, increased heart rate and increased risk of cancer.

Crystal Meth

As a pregnant woman using meth and other amphetamines, you are bound to expose yourself to the following risks:

  • Hyperthermia
  • Rapid breathing
  • Weight loss
  • Seizure
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Fever

The risks to the baby include:

  • Brain abnormalities
  • Low birth weight
  • Miscarriage
  • Placenta abruption
  • Heart defects
  • Behavioral problems
  • Small head circumference
  • Premature birth

Why Do Mothers Avoid Seeking Help?

Unfortunately, with all the aforementioned risks to both the mother and the baby, pregnant women still avoid seeking help for one reason or the other. For some, the shame of being branded a drug addict makes them recoil and desist from seeking help. Others are just in denial that they are actually drug addicts while others simply bring up excuses of exorbitant costs associated with rehab.

Some mothers also fear that by admitting that they are actually addicted, there kids will be taken away. In the same breath, they also worry about being persecuted considering that the drugs they are abusing such as heroin or cocaine are outlawed in various states of the US.

Add to that the social stigma most of them grapple with and you will understand why most moms stay and suffer in silence. A good number of people in the society view mothers who abuse drugs as monsters, failures, and an embarrassment to motherhood. This social stigmatization, the guilty feeling, and self loathe keep moms away from seeking help.

It’s Not All Gloomy

I need you to understand that you need not be ashamed. What you are going through now is something that many women like you have gone through and came out victors. You first need to accept that you have an addiction problem, understand that your baby deserves better and his/her well-being should come first. Talk to people who were once drug addicts, understand their journey, and listen to their success stories of how they overcame.

Join a support group, check into rehab, read as much as possible on the effects of substance abuse on your child. It won’t be easy. You will have to contend with withdrawal symptoms and many a day, you might feel shitty and want to die. But for the sake of your baby and yourself, you need to have a strong resolve and understand that it’s no longer about you, but about the well-being of your baby. A few months from now, you will be happy you made the decision to be clean for the sake of your child! It is possible! You can do it! Hang in there.