Pregnancy and Addiction Treatment
Pregnancy and addiction may not seem like they go together, but for some, these become co-existing conditions. Addiction treatment takes many forms since there is no one method that works for everyone. Your drug of choice, genetic makeup and health profile are just a couple elements that make every addiction unique. In some cases, that health profile includes a pregnancy, and that pregnancy must be considered in the treatment plan.
Along with physical considerations, a pregnancy changes the mental and emotional impact of addiction treatment as well. Addiction is a mental illness, and during the treatment for it, other mental illnesses may be revealed. While pregnancy is not an illness of any sort, it does have an emotional impact on the situation. Those emotions are real and must be dealt with in the scope of addiction recovery for a successful outcome.
Addiction During Pregnancy
Understanding which came first, addiction or pregnancy, is like the chicken and the egg story. Sometimes it is almost impossible to know the answer. When it comes to pregnancy, though, the order of events becomes unimportant once the two conditions co-exist.
The statistics of drug abuse and pregnancy seem to show that younger women are more likely to be pregnant and addicted to drugs at the same time. The rate of illicit drug use among pregnant women aged 15 to 44 is about 5.4%. However, when we consider the drug abuse rate of pregnant women aged 15 to 17, it is much higher at 14.6%. In comparison, only 3.2% of pregnant women aged 26-44 are active drug users.
The emotional impact of pregnancy on younger women also tends to be more pronounced. There are more unplanned pregnancies among teenagers than in older age groups. These girls face social stigmas and parental disapproval, along with a decreased sense of self worth. These emotional issues can lead to mental illness like anxiety or depression, and of course, addiction or continued drug use.
Although the rate of drug use among women aged 15 to 44 who are not pregnant is much higher than the pregnant group at 11.4%, there is still great cause for concern. Addiction is a dangerous disease with potentially fatal outcomes. Pregnancy is a condition that puts a lot of pressure on several systems of the body, but it can offer the best outcomes in a healthy woman. Addiction and pregnancy together are a dangerous combination for mother and fetus.
Common Addictions During Pregnancy
Certainly, no one plans to become pregnant while they are addicted to drugs, and we might also assume that no pregnant woman sets out to develop an addiction before she gives birth. Unfortunately, both of these things happen sometimes. And while the coexistence of addiction and pregnancy is not common, there are some commonalities among the cases that present themselves.
Cocaine, alcohol and opiates are the three most commonly abused substances among pregnant women since 1999. After 2000, however, alcohol abuse decreased while drug use increased. Common addictions during pregnancy include:
Addiction is a serious disease that requires help to overcome. Even the most thought-out pregnancy can add stress to your life, and stress is a common trigger for drug abuse or recovery relapse. Given these facts, it is understandable that if you are suffering from addiction, pregnancy is likely to exacerbate your situation, making it seem impossible to overcome the addiction.
Side Effects of Addiction on Pregnancy
The development of a person from a few cells is a complicated process that can be adversely affected by the slightest imbalance. At the earliest stages of pregnancy, drug use can kill the fetus. Later though, once a certain amount of growth has taken place, drugs can interfere with the development of vital organs — including the brain.
Here are some specific consequences that can be directly related to certain substances:
- Heroin. Taking heroin during pregnancy increases the chances of having a low-weight baby who is born prematurely. The lungs are the last major organ to develop, so premature birth puts a baby at risk of not being able to breathe on its own. Low blood sugar, intracranial hemorrhaging and death are also possible.
Since the fetus is exposed to heroin through the placenta when the mother is addicted, it can be born addicted to heroin itself. Once out of the womb and no longer exposed to the drug, the baby will go through withdrawal symptoms, which can be deadly. Those symptoms include fever, diarrhea, irritability, joint stiffness and convulsions.
- Cocaine. The first risk of cocaine use during pregnancy is miscarriage. Cocaine can also affect the placenta, the fetus’ lifeline, and cause severe bleeding. A baby exposed to cocaine in the womb is more likely to be born severely premature or dead. The baby might also be born with a small head and stunted growth. Learning disabilities as well as defects in genitals, kidneys and brain development are also possible.
Cocaine is transmitted through the placenta to the fetus, which means the baby could be born addicted to cocaine. Withdrawal symptoms include tremors, muscle spasms, difficulty feeding and sleeplessness.
- Marijuana. Marijuana use during pregnancy reduces the amount of oxygen available to the fetus, stunting its growth and development. Marijuana tends to be used in combination with tobacco and alcohol, compounding the negative effects on the baby and skewing study results. Babies exposed to marijuana in the womb are more likely to be born premature, under weight or stillborn. Marijuana is also associated with behavioral issues, learning problems and developmental delays.
- Methamphetamine. The primary side effect of meth use for the mother and fetus is an increased heart rate. That can make it more difficult for the mother to sustain the physiological changes of pregnancy, which already put an increased burden on her heart. Babies exposed to meth in the womb get less oxygen during their development and are more likely to be born under weight. Premature labor and miscarriage are also side effects of using methamphetamine during pregnancy.
- Alcohol. A baby exposed to alcohol in the womb can be born with abnormal facial features and a small head. Poor coordination, hyperactivity, attention deficit and poor memory are also associated with alcohol exposure. As they grow, babies exposed to alcohol in the womb tend to have trouble in school. They may have learning disabilities, slower development of speech and language skills and a low IQ. These babies also experience problems with their bones, kidneys, vision, hearing and heart.
It is clear that the use of any drugs during pregnancy is not a healthy choice. While some drugs have fewer side effects on the baby, none of them are good. A baby whose mother took drugs while she was pregnant will experience mental and physical issues as a result for its entire life.
Pharmacology and Physiology
Pregnancy is a unique physiological condition during which a woman’s body grows another human being inside of it. Just considering that basic concept makes it clear that physical changes must take place. A body that was sustaining and nourishing one life is now supporting two. If you struggled to get the nutrients required for healthy life functioning before, it will seem impossible once you are pregnant.
Poor health is a given with almost anyone addicted to substances. Drugs make you take risks you wouldn’t otherwise consider, some of which are detrimental to your life. They also consume your focus, so making a healthy meal or getting a good workout lose priority on your daily to-do list. In addition, drugs put stress on your vital organs by increasing your heart rate, depressing breathing, disrupting proper digestion or any number of other effects. Over time, drugs erode your overall physical health.
Pregnancy, while not a disease, makes physical demands on a woman’s body as well. The mother gains weight because of increased blood and fluids needed to support the fetus. She also stores more fat and protein to nourish herself and help the fetus develop. Eventually cholesterol levels rise as part of the development process, too. The added weight and fluids put more stress on the heart and lungs — as one might expect from carrying around the extra weight.
Drug Use May Have Different Effects During Pregnancy Than Before
With all of the changes to a pregnant woman’s body, her reaction to medication is unpredictable. With her increased amount of body fat, a pregnant woman circulates fat soluble substances faster than normal. However, her increased percentage of plasma means some drugs travel through the bloodstream more slowly and at a lower concentration. Certain hormonal fluctuations affect the speed of digestion, which in turn reduces the rate of effectiveness of drugs that do not bind to proteins for distribution throughout the body.
Taking any drugs during pregnancy is a big risk, even those over-the-counter items that might not have produced any side effects before. Doctors closely monitor any medication intake during pregnancy because your system is completely altered, and the drug’s effects could be quite different.
The other consideration during pregnancy is the connection between the mother’s system and the fetus. From the moment the embryo attaches to the wall of the uterus and the placenta grows, that fetus is hardwired right into its mother. Whatever she eats, the baby is exposed to. Whatever toxins make their way into her body, through food, drink or even the air that she breathes, the fetus will feel it.
Your body metabolizes a certain amount of substances every day. Some of them are healthy, and many of them are not. At reasonably low levels, these chemicals make it through your system and are excreted without having much effect. Alcohol, for instance, is actually a toxin, but if you consume it in small quantities, it does not kill you. If you drink 4 ounces of a 40% alcohol solution, like vodka, your body can neutralize the toxicity. However, if you drink 40 ounces of a 40% alcohol solution, the toxin can overwhelm your body and cause it to shutdown.
A pregnant woman who drinks 4 ounces of vodka transfers a percentage of that alcohol to her fetus through the placenta. That fetus only weighs a small fraction of the mother’s weight — between .5 ounces and 8 pounds depending on how far along she is in her pregnancy. While 4 ounces of alcohol may not overwhelm a grown woman, it represents a huge danger to a tiny fetus.
Addiction Treatment During Pregnancy
Addiction is a serious disease that should be treated as soon as possible. The longer the addiction continues, the harder it might be to give it up, so getting help immediately is the best solution. No matter what damage may have been done to your health so far, ending the addiction as quickly as possible will help to prevent future damage. Many of the health effects of drug abuse can be reversed with proper treatment.
Identifying an addiction during pregnancy, regardless of which condition came first, can be even more overwhelming. You may think that focusing on one issue at a time, and putting off addiction treatment until after the birth, is a good idea. No matter what your circumstances are, however, it is important to seek addiction treatment right away and coordinate that treatment with the doctor who is overseeing your pregnancy.
Prenatal care is very important to the health of your unborn baby and should be sought from a qualified medical professional. You may not want to share your drug habits with your doctor because of the shame or embarrassment you feel. It is imperative, however, that your doctor have this information so they can guide your pregnancy appropriately and protect the health of you and your unborn baby.
Common Issues of Addiction Treatment During Pregnancy
Body chemistry is the biggest issue of addiction treatment during pregnancy. In fact, it is the overall issue concerned with anything you do while you are pregnant. While your body is in a vulnerable state, it is difficult to know how it will react to any type of drugs or the withdrawal from them.
Detox is usually the first step in addiction treatment, and in many cases, it shocks the system to suddenly be without your substance of choice. The body’s chemistry has adapted to the presence of this substance over time. When the substance is suddenly removed all at once, there are usually adverse effects on the body.
During pregnancy, the risks of drug withdrawal are even more significant because of the new balance of chemicals your body is maintaining to support the pregnancy. Some methods of treatment for addiction include substituting your substance of choice with another drug that is less addictive but has similar effects on your body and brain. That safer drug can then be tapered off slowly without the severe withdrawal symptoms of doing it all at once.
It is never a good idea to go through drug detox without medical supervision. During pregnancy, medical attention is necessary to not only monitor and assist you through detox, but it’s also so you can establish a treatment method that is appropriate for your condition. Depending on what drug you are addicted to, there are a number of treatment options to be considered. It is imperative to seek treatment from an expert in drug addiction treatment during pregnancy.
Addiction treatment during pregnancy also has to take the fetus into consideration. While the mother goes through withdrawal, the fetus will suffer similar effects as well. The fetus is very delicate while it goes through the development process, and even once it is born, the baby cannot withstand the same severity of symptoms that the mother can. This is why intrapartum and postpartum management are so important when dealing with addiction during pregnancy.