Addicted and Pregnant: How to Tell your Doctor, Treatment Options and More

Many addicted mothers-to-be are hesitant to talk to their doctor about their addiction for fear of judgement or even having their baby taken from them. Here, we outline the best way to talk to your doctor, as well as the best treatment options for both mother and baby.

pregnant and addicted

Addiction does not discriminate. Addiction can take hold of any person from any type of background in any country around the world – and pregnant women are no exception. When a woman suffering from an addiction to alcohol, opiates or other drugs becomes pregnant, the dangers associated with addiction increase because the unborn baby can now be affected as well. Serious birth defects may arise as well as complications which can be fatal for both the mother and the baby.

Complications and Birth Defects caused by Substance Abuse during Pregnancy

The effects on the mother and unborn baby depend on the particular substance to which the mother is addicted during pregnancy, but some of the most common birth defects and complications are as follows:

  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: physical and mental abnormalities caused by consuming alcohol during pregnancy. Effects can include facial abnormalities, cognitive impairment, learning disabilities and poor coordination among other symptoms.
  • Placental Abruption: a serious condition involving heavy bleeding which can be fatal to mother, baby or both
  • Low birth weight
  • Brain abnormalities, brain damage or bleeding of the brain
  • Developmental, behavioural and learning problems as the child gets older
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome: a condition in which the baby is born dependent on the mother’s substance of abuse. The baby will experience severe withdrawal symptoms which differ depending on the substance but can include seizures, vomiting, excessive crying and blotchy skin colouring among other symptoms.
  • Risk of miscarriage
  • Premature birth

The Rise of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the rate of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) per 1,000 hospital births in the US rose from 1.2 in 2000 to 5.8 in 2012 – almost doubling in four years from 3.39 in 2009. And although NAS can be found in babies due to a variety of substances, it most commonly occurs when the mother is addicted to opioid drugs such as prescription painkillers or heroin. Not surprisingly then, according to Dr Hendree Jones, Executive Director at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Horizons substance abuse treatment program for pregnant women, about 40% of the women who are treated there are dependent on opioids — mostly prescription Vicodin and Oxycontin.

Talking about being Addicted while Expecting

Many pregnant women are hesitant to speak up about their addiction for fear of being judged as a bad mother or worse – having their baby taken away from them for being an unfit parent. Scare tactics such as a threat from Tennessee government to throw mothers in jail if their baby is born with NAS do not help. However, it is incredibly important to speak to your doctor or an addiction specialist about your situation. As noted above, not speaking up could result in serious birth defects or even fatal complications.The sooner you speak to a medical professional, the sooner you can get help to beat your addiction and minimise the negative effects drug abuse will have on your unborn child.

Treatment for Addicted Women during Pregnancy

Getting clean for the health of your unborn baby is obviously important, but it is easier said than done. Speaking to a medical professional or addictions counsellor is your first step towards recovery. They will be able to guide you towards the right type of treatment for your individual case, as well as walk you through the process of stopping your substance use in such a way that the withdrawal symptoms will be minimised for both mother and baby.

In the case of opioid addiction or dependence, abruptly stopping use can cause preterm labour, fetal distress or fetal demise. It is important to work closely with an addictions professional who can administer methadone or buprenorphine to taper off the dependence to opioids in a manner that is safe for both mother and baby. Both of these drugs will still cause NAS in the newborn baby, but symptoms are usually less severe.

Special care must be taken postpartum, as the emotions of childbirth can be overwhelming for any sober mother, let alone a mother undergoing addiction treatment at the same time. This is a common time for relapse which can often result in an overdose because the mother’s tolerance to the drug has gone down during treatment through her pregnancy. Ongoing support and counselling are necessary.

Telling Your Doctor that you are Addicted during Pregnancy

Because of the dangerous effects that alcohol or drug addiction during pregnancy can have on both mother and baby, it is important to tell your doctor as soon as possible that you are suffering from addiction while pregnant.

Addiction Treatment at The Cabin Chiang Mai

The Cabin Chiang Mai is located in Northern Thailand and offers a unique and effective treatment programme. Our Western-trained and accredited counsellors have decades of combined experience working with people from all walks of life, treating all types of addictions.

When it comes to women who are addicted and pregnant, special care must be taken on account of the health of both baby and mother. Clients may be referred to one of our outpatient addiction treatment centres during pregnancy, or our residential rehab, depending on each individual situation. In either case, we will work closely with your regular medical professional to ensure the best results in terms of both addiction recovery and the health of your unborn baby.

If you or someone you know is pregnant and addicted to drugs or alcohol, it is important to seek help immediately. At The Cabin Chiang Mai, we offer a no-obligations, free assessment to see how we can help get you (and your baby) on track to a happy, healthy life free of addiction. Contact us today to see how we can help.