Many drug users develop great and desperate desires to stop, yet feel incapable of doing so, even when they are near death. Pregnancy among drugs addicts, unfortunately, is no different. While a mother’s natural instinct is to protect her child, in the addict, that is often overridden by the desire to use. So, what are the consequences for your baby when you use drugs or alcohol during pregnancy?
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
Babies exposed to alcohol in utero can be born with permanent disabilities and physical abnormalities. Sometimes these side effects are severe and even deadly. Outwardly, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) can cause physical distortion in the face and body, wide-set eyes, small skull structures and below average body size. But even more severe are the physical and mental destruction — trouble seeing, hearing, learning and communicating are all common long-term effects to children who were exposed to high amounts of alcohol in the womb. Lifelong disabilities are not only possible, they are common in a child born with FAS. Damage like this is irreversible yet treatable; long- term treatment for these side effects will be emotionally and financially costly. Side effects can occur even if alcohol was only consumed in the first trimester of a pregnancy.
Effects of Marijuana
With the progressive movement of legalizing medical marijuana, the use of marijuana is skyrocketing in pregnant women. Some women reason that since it is legalized as medicine, they can use it during their pregnancies to treat uncomfortable symptoms. Marijuana happens to treat many discomforts of pregnancy such as nausea, cramping, soreness, and stress. The problem, however, is that self-medicating is still not healthy or legal so its use should be discussed with a medical professional as you would with any other prescription drug.
While use of marijuana during pregnancy may not cause obvious physical birth defects, studies have shown that babies exposed to marijuana in the womb are at higher risk for irregular brain activity which has lowered test scores in math, reading, and spelling, in comparison to kids who were not exposed. It also affects the area of the brain responsible for emotion,
While long-term effects are close to impossible to collect accurate date due to endless amounts of variables, it is clear that some exposed children show irregular functioning of the amygdala which is essentially is the brain function that regulates emotion, leaving some children more anxious and others lacking ability to show emotion.
Drug-exposed babies are not only at high risk of physical, emotional, developmental, and behavioral issues. they can also be born with a physical chemical dependency to the drugs they were exposed to. This includes alcohol, opiates, stimulants and even drugs prescribed by a doctor. After the baby is born and they are not receiving the daily dose through their mother’s body anymore, they can experience substantial withdrawals Withdrawal, we know from adult addicts can be extremely painful and even life threatening. Often these babies will experience jitters, fever, vomiting, irregular breathing and hiccupping. Removing opiates “cold-turkey” from an active user can be excruciatingly painful and sometimes physically damaging to your body. It is so dangerous that a newborn baby in some cases will have to be given more drugs after birth in order to wean them off in a safe manner.
Effects of the law
And, what are the legal ramifications of using during pregnancy? Aside from the guilt that comes with putting your child in danger, there are laws protecting children from such things. The majority of states do not have established laws mandating punishment for drug or alcohol abuse during pregnancy. Tennessee is the only state to date to have laws declaring using during pregnancy as an automatic criminal offense. However, hundreds of cases across the U.S. have charged mothers with “unborn child abuse.” The consequences may be losing temporary or permanent custody of your baby. Members of the medical profession are not held to doctor-patient confidentiality in cases of drug or alcohol abuse by mothers because it is considered putting the child at risk and automatically reportable. In some cases, the mothers are jailed while the case is being investigated.
This opens another cause for concern. A newborn baby being separated from their mother during the first few weeks in the world often causes long-term psychological issues. Severe attachment issues may manifest as depression, codependency or disassociation in relationships and can continue for life.
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.