A 2010 study reported that substance abuse during pregnancy has increased over the past three decades in the United States, affecting approximately 225,000 infants. While using illegal substances during pregnancy is heavily warned and advocated against, the consequences of this action have not been properly reported. Assumptions may include a predisposition to deformities in newborns or a heightened chance of danger when giving birth, but what exactly happens to a mother and future child when exposed to an addictive drug? Most to all of the research regarding this phenomenon deals with opiates and narcotics such as heroin, oxycodone, methadone and buprenorphine. Unfortunately, this all too common issue has various and serious side effects.
First of all, there are the ramifications that the mother directly experiences from addiction. A person may begin using a substance for experimental or recreational purposes. However, if the reward that one receives is positively reinforced over time, the individual will develop a dependency to that feeling. Over time, the unwavering need for a substance will eventually impact daily obligations and healthy social interactions with others. Furthermore, as symptoms such as cravings, withdrawals and tolerance for the substance increase, a person will have a higher risk of succumbing to dangerous outcomes, from intense pains if one has too little or overdose if one has too much. Specifically, hard drugs like heroin have a short half-life, so a user may take multiple doses daily to maintain the drug’s effects. In short, this kind of behavior is not a suitable environment for a fetus to grow.
Many instances of drug abuse and addiction are characterized as selfish and egocentric. Once an individual deems a particular substance as the highest importance in his or her life, the addict will put satisfying this deeply personal need above all else. When this kind of mindset is wired in the brain, it can be difficult to take into account the details of bringing another life into the world. A soon-to-be mother may not think about what the newborn will need, especially in terms of its nutrients before birth. In reality, a maturing fetus will consume all of the addictive substances that the mother consumes.
A well-established classification in this field is known as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). This cardinal consequence that results from addiction during pregnancy encompasses a group of problems, specifically in the newborn who comes into contact with the addictive substance. Each case of this syndrome is evaluated on an individual basis. The circumstances of one mother may completely differ from another mother. Considering this, a clinician will assess the type of drug used by the mother, the amount of the drug taken, the duration of use, the specific impacts of the substance and if the baby was born premature or not. Symptoms usually become apparent within one to three days after a birth, but in some cases can appear over a week at the most.
According to the United States National Library of Medicine, the symptoms of NAS include:
- Skin discoloration or mottling
- Poor eating or feeding habits
- Excessive or high-pitched crying
- Excessive shaking or trembling, also known as tremors
- Nasal congestion and sneezing
In addition, research has also compiled evidence concerning the use of other substances during pregnancy, including cocaine, alcohol, tobacco and marijuana. A large proportion of these substances cause some type of growth restriction and even spontaneous abortion. Specifically, mothers who use cocaine typically require adapted prenatal care and extra supportive care due to issues like premature births, placental abruption and other inherited abnormalities. Consuming alcohol while carrying creates similar side effects as well as mental retardation and even a unique condition known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Unique impacts of prolonged tobacco use during pregnancy also include ectopic pregnancy, placental insufficiency, childhood respiratory disease and other behavioral issues. Marijuana use has also been shown to lead to fetal growth restriction and withdrawal in some cases as well.
The expanding research of this eye-opening information should inspire a moratorium on substance abuse to prevent the harm of many future mothers and children for generations to come. If you or someone close to you is suffering from substance abuse or addiction while pregnant or planning to conceive, the next step is to contact one of Sovereign Health California’s service representatives. At Sovereign, our team treats both the illness at-hand and the underlying factors involved. Chat online or call (866) 819-0427 today for immediate assistance.
Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer