The disturbing effects of substance abuse on the unborn fetus make pregnancy addiction stories the most heart-rending. Although most women would never willing endanger their babies, the nature of addiction often makes it impossible for them to do otherwise. Apart from the potential for short and long term effects on the baby, the sad outcome of women who use drugs during pregnancy is the loss of custody of their children.
Based on a national survey of substance abuse by pregnant women sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), of the four million women who gave birth in the United States in 1992, approximately 221,000 or 5% reportedly used an illegal drug during their pregnancy. The most common drugs used were cocaine and marijuana. Also, according to a CDC report, at least 10% consumed alcohol with another 3% of these women admitting to binge drinking while pregnant.
In Michelle’s story about addiction, she explains that her journey into alcoholism began early. Sadly, it was never addressed during her teenage and adolescent years. In fact, according to Michelle in her addiction story, her addiction to alcohol continued even after she became an adult, got married and gave birth to her two children. “The obsession and compulsion I had to drown myself in alcohol was all that was in my head” she confessed. This describes exactly what happens to someone with an addiction which, unfortunately, does not always disappear with a pregnancy diagnosis.
The reality is that babies in utero are subjected to the environment created for them by their mothers. That means, if women smoke, drink or abuse drugs while pregnant, these substances can pass through the placenta and into the bloodstream of the fetus. The placenta provides the oxygen and nourishment from the mother to the baby while it is in the womb. As such, toxic effects of drugs transported by this organ can result in giving birth to a drug addicted infant.
It is important that pregnant women are aware of the dangers and proactive about addressing their drug program especially during pregnancy. Many women also become pregnant while abusing narcotic prescription medication that they also need to alleviate pain. For most who use drugs, the first response after discovering that they are pregnant is typically, to immediately try to stop using these drugs. However, sudden cessation of habituated use of these drugs can result in preterm labor, extreme fetal distress or spontaneous abortion. As such, it is important to seek medical oversight to gradually reduce the daily dosage and provide an appropriate pain management substitute if necessary.
Studies show that abuse of alcohol and drugs like cocaine, heroin, and the prescription medications such as Xanax and Oxycodone during pregnancy has the potential to cause:
With addiction at such high levels among women in America today, more babies are at risk of exposure to these toxic substances. In fact, records show that more than 225,000 infants that are born in the United States annually experience prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol. Fear of judgement or worst, losing their children cause many women to be secretive about their substance abuse problem during pregnancy. Another major problem with addressing this very critical issue is the difficulty in conducting research on pregnant addicts. As a result, routine screening and educating women of child bearing age about the dangers of addiction and the importance of seeking help remain the primary method of minimizing substance abuse during pregnancy.
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