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Drug Abuse While Pregnant: What Are The Risks?

Drug Abuse While Pregnant: What Are The Risks?

Written by: stodzy | Date: October 31, 2017

Drug use of any kind during pregnancy is strongly cautioned for soon to be mothers- even substances like caffeine are warned against. According to the Substance Abuse Administration, an estimated 18% of pregnant women between the ages of 18 and 44 abuse drugs during their first trimester, and about 6% during the second and third.

Drug abuse of any kind, during any stage of life, is dangerous and should be avoided or treated immediately, but pregnancy increases the dangers of drug abuse for both the child and the mother. The chemicals and reactions that occur in your body while using illegal drugs add stressors to the body and force it to work extra hard to function normally. All of this combined with the growth of a baby wreak havoc on your system and are potentially fatal. Here are the risks you will face when you abuse drugs while pregnant:

Premature Birth

The use of drugs, especially those such as opioids or strong prescriptions, can force a mother into early labor. Basically, the body feels overwhelmed and tells itself that the womb is no longer a safe and nourishing place for the baby to grow, and the mother will deliver the baby before it’s reached full term. This can result in a wide array of mental and physical complications for the child, as well as a stillbirth, or an early death soon after delivery. Although premature birth is not uncommon and is usually manageable, when it’s under high-stress circumstances, the likelihood of damage to the child and mother is much higher.


The stress and toxins from drug abuse during pregnancy often leads to miscarriage-typically in the first semester, but can also occur in later weeks. The more developed the child, the more dangerous a miscarriage can be for the mother. Substances like tobacco, nicotine, and alcohol have been known to cause miscarriage, and illegal drugs increase the risk dramatically. Similar to the occurrence of a premature birth, the body does not feel equipped to handle the process of growing a child and will force a miscarriage as a response.


When the unborn child is exposed to substances repeatedly during pregnancy, it may become dependent on the drug and suffer withdrawal upon birth. Some symptoms of withdrawal in a newborn include tremors, sleeplessness, muscle spasm, difficulty eating, and diarrhea. Its extremely dangerous for a newborn child to be dependent on drugs, and the process of withdrawal can lead to fatality. In cases where the child can overcome the dependency, the previous damage that occurred in the womb and soon after birth can affect the child longterm and even into adulthood, and many studies relate drug use during pregnancy to conditions like ADHD, OCD, Autism, and physical challenges.

pregnant woman drinking alcohol

Are Certain Drugs Related to Specific Risks?

There have been countless studies done on the correlation between drug use and pregnancy, and although the general consensus is that it has obvious risks and side effects, there are some specific risks tied to certain drugs:

  • Heroin: Heroin crosses the placenta to the baby, and has a high risk of causing dependency on the baby. It is also related to low blood sugar, behavioral issues, and premature birth
  • PCP and LSD: These hallucinogens change the behavior of the mother, which put the mother at risk for harming herself and the baby. Even if this doesn’t happen, hallucinogens during pregnancy cause muscle degeneration, improper memory growth, and tremors.
  • Methamphetamine: In both the mother and the child, meth increases the heart rate and can cause the baby to lose oxygen, suffer from extreme withdrawal, and puts the mother at risk of miscarriage and placental abruption.
  • Cocaine: Cocaine, especially during the early stages of pregnancy, is linked to miscarriage and placental bleeding. It also lowers circulation in the fetus leading to poor brain growth and function.
  • Marijuana: Smoking weed during pregnancy can lower oxygen levels in the fetus and result in low birth weight, premature birth, and learning issues.


There is no sure outcome for a baby or mother exposed to drugs during pregnancy. What is known is that there are clear risks and associations between harm for both mother and child when drugs are abused during pregnancy. If you are pregnant, do not use illegal drugs or abuse prescriptions.

Getting Help at Wayside House

If you are a woman struggling with addiction and mental health issues, Wayside House can help.We offer a women-only program and provide a safe, supportive environment to recover in. We have outstanding treatments and therapies that are often only found in more expensive programs. We offer inpatient rehab with various therapies, relapse prevention education, outpatient, and aftercare, as well as services for medical professionals and veterans. Contact Wayside House at 800-655-0817 to learn more.