Why Substance Abuse and Pregnancy Often Go Hand-in-Hand

Pregnancy and Substance Abuse.

Though it is a grim and miserable topic to discuss, it’s time we had a serious conversation about substance abuse and pregnancy. More importantly, it’s time we had a conversation on this topic that is focused on helping the poor women who fall prey to a substance abuse habit while also being pregnant. Such circumstances could not be more dire, and it’s hard to imagine a more terrible situation involving substance abuse.

When a pregnant mother becomes dependent on drugs or alcohol, it creates a plethora of negative phenomena and consequence. Not only is she damaging her own life and future, but she is damaging the life and future of an unborn child as well. To make matters worse, it is unclear to the mother in almost all cases if she should even come down off of the substances and get clean whilst pregnant.

Getting off of drugs while pregnant and going through detoxification and withdrawal could be just as dangerous to the unborn baby’s life as staying on them. Finally, doctor’s might prescribe maintenance drugs or “medication-assisted” routes, but such medicines only trade one addiction for another, and such drugs are just as toxic to an unborn child as illegal narcotics are.

A Growing Problem Across the Nation

According to federal government reports, while the number of pregnant women seeking help for an alcohol habit has actually gone down (a true victory there), the numbers of pregnant women seeking help for a drug habit since the year 2000 has gone up, and significantly too.

According to Pamela Hyde, administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:

“Pregnant women must have access to prevention, support and recovery services that meet their specialized needs…”

“Any kind of substance use by pregnant women can result in miscarriage, premature birth, or a variety of behavioral and cognitive problems in the children they carry. Pregnant women must have access to prevention, support and recovery services that meet their specialized needs. These include community programs for both pregnant and postpartum women that can help ensure their full recovery and better lives for them and their children.”

While SAMHSA offers a Services Grant Program for Residential Treatment for Pregnant and Postpartum Women, a significant percentage of women choose not to get any help at all. They struggle immensely in coping with the shame, regret, and guilt attendant with such a situation, and very often will not even disclose that they are using drugs until the very last minute.

Circumstances of Pregnancy and Substance Abuse

As one can imagine, life would have to be pretty rough for a pregnant woman to engage in substance abuse. But we need to look deeper into this, and not be so quick to play the blame game. There are many factors that could be present.

People who abuse drugs and alcohol are far more likely to engage in unsafe and unwise sexual intercourse, hence an increased likelihood of unintended pregnancy. Furthermore, pregnant mothers may begin self-medicating on substances in an effort to handle present stress, physical discomfort, or life trauma. Another factor is rape cases and unknown pregnancies, in which case an addicted woman does not know she is pregnant until the unborn fetus is already as dependent on substances as she is.

A Solution

The best solution for pregnant women who are addicted to drugs is to get off of drugs. As risky and traumatic as this sounds, and yes, it is a roll of the dice, the ultimate outcome is a mother who is clean from drugs and an unborn fetus who is also clean and who will likely survive. If this process is done correctly, slowly, in increments, and with professional help from a doctor who does not insist on heavy medication, it will likely be successful.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.