It is well-known that pregnancy requires women to take precautions and practice healthy behaviors in order to promote the development of their growing babies. Unfortunately, some women may abuse drugs and alcohol during pregnancy, which can have significant consequences for the baby. Here, learn about the prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse during pregnancy, as well as the risks of substance abuse during the prenatal period.

How common is substance abuse during pregnancy?

The prevalence of substance abuse during pregnancy depends upon the particular substance. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has reported data on the prevalence of drug and alcohol use during pregnancy. According to NIDA and data from other reputable sources, woman abuse substances in the following rates during pregnancy:

Marijuana: 7% of women use marijuana at some point during pregnancy, and 12.1% use the drug during the first trimester.

Alcohol: : The latest data from the CDC show that 14% of pregnant women consume alcohol, and 5% report binge drinking.

Opioids: According to a CDC report, 7% of women use prescription opioids during pregnancy, and 20% of those who use these drugs abuse them. Furthermore, a recent study found that between 2010 and 2017, the number of babies born addicted to opioids increased from 4.0 cases per 1,000 births to 7.3 per 1,000 births, suggesting that opioid abuse during pregnancy is on the rise. Keep in mind that heroin also falls under the category of opioids.

Methamphetamine: Studies show that as many as 4.8% of women use methamphetamine during pregnancy.

There are variations in the reported prevalence of cocaine use during pregnancy, but studies using hair testing and analysis of the newborn’s meconium show that as many as 15.4% of women use cocaine during pregnancy, but in some samples, only 1.7% of women test positive for cocaine.

Consequences of Substance Abuse During Pregnancy

While the exact prevalence of drug use during pregnancy can be difficult to determine, the reality is that there is evidence that substance abuse occurs during this time, and it has a negative impact on the developing baby. The negative consequences of substance abuse during pregnancy vary based upon the type of substance.

Consequences vary per types of substance

According to NIDA, women who use drugs and alcohol during pregnancy place their babies at risk of the following problems:

  • Babies born to women who abuse alcohol are at risk of fetal alcohol syndrome and alcohol-related birth defects, which can result in lifelong consequences for the child, including coordination problems, difficulty controlling emotions, challenges with socialization, and difficulties at school and work.
  • Babies whose mothers use heroin during pregnancy are at risk of NAS (neonatal abstinence syndrome), as they can become addicted to heroin and undergo withdrawal after birth. Babies who suffer from NAS experience a range of symptoms, including high-pitched crying, gastrointestinal problems, irritability, and seizures.
  • Stimulants like methamphetamine and cocaine can cause a higher risk of a range of problems when used during pregnancy, including placental abruption, miscarriage, pre-term birth, low birth weight, small head circumference, cognitive problems and poor emotional regulation during childhood, and problems like anxiety, depression, attention issues, and social withdrawal. Stimulant use has also been linked to withdrawal, as babies born to stimulant-abusing mothers may display symptoms like irritability and tremors after birth.
  • Findings on marijuana use during pregnancy are mixed. Heavy marijuana use during the first and second trimester is associated with low birthweight and smaller size. Some studies show that marijuana use may lead to premature birth, but some studies do not find an increased risk of pre-term birth. There is a risk of miscarriage when marijuana is used in early pregnancy, and some research shows that children who are born to mothers who used marijuana during pregnancy struggle with hyperactivity and attention problems during childhood.

Addressing Substance Abuse During Pregnancy

Although there are some mixed findings regarding the extent of the dangers of substance abuse during pregnancy, the reality is that there is enough evidence that drugs and alcohol can harm a growing baby. Some substances are more harmful than others, but ultimately, no amount of drug or alcohol abuse is safe during pregnancy.

Stopping drug and alcohol use is important

If you are pregnant, it is important to stop drug and alcohol use as soon as possible. In fact, given the risks of substance use during pregnancy, experts recommend that women abstain from drugs and alcohol as soon as they start trying to become pregnant.

Seek treatment to ensure the best outcome for your baby

If you are using drugs and alcohol during pregnancy and find that you are unable to stop, it is important to seek treatment to ensure the best outcome for your baby. With proper intervention, you can enter recovery and reduce the risks to your growing baby. For example, studies have consistently shown that medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction reduces drug abuse among pregnant women, and buprenorphine in particular has been found to improve outcomes for both mothers and babies. Entering a treatment program under the supervision of a prescribing doctor can reduce opioid use and the risks that opioids present to growing babies.

Substance use disorder treatment during pregnancy reduces substance-abuse-related pregnancy risks

Additional research has demonstrated that seeking substance use disorder treatment during pregnancy reduces the risk of low birth weight and pre-term delivery. Unfortunately, pregnant women may avoid seeking medical care for addiction, because they are worried that providers will judge them negatively or report them to authorities.

While it can be difficult to reach out for help, keep in mind that medical providers have the best interests of you and your baby in mind. They are trained to recognize and treat addiction during pregnancy, to reduce harms to the growing baby. If providers can prevent complications through quality treatment, there is a lower risk of negative outcomes, compared to if you fail to seek treatment.

If you’re pregnant and looking for support for a drug or alcohol addiction, is here to help. We offer addiction treatment in a 100% remote format via our telehealth platform, so you can receive addiction care from the comfort and privacy of home. This can be especially helpful during pregnancy, when fear of stigma can deter you from seeking help in a public setting. Visit our website or call us at 844-914-0279 to speak to an admissions representative.