Pregnancy and Addiction: Rehab Options for Pregnant Women

It is estimated that 5% of women use one or more addictive substances during pregnancy.1

This article discusses the prevalence of substance use during pregnancy, reviews the negative health effects that can result, and provides information for seeking treatment.

Pregnancy and Addiction

Pregnant woman in red dress holding belly

Struggling with a substance use disorder while pregnant is difficult for a woman and even more dangerous for both her and her baby. In the United States, approximately 1 in 10 pregnant women drink alcohol, while about 1 in 20 pregnant women misuse illicit substances like cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine.2,3

One study showed that there are certain risk factors that make some women more likely to misuse drugs and alcohol while pregnant, the most prominent being having depression or anxiety.4

The most commonly used substance during pregnancy is tobacco, followed by alcohol, cannabis, and other illicit drugs.5 Like oxygen and nutrients taken in by the mother and passed to her unborn child/children, these substances also travel directly from the mother to the baby via the placenta.6 The extent and severity of the potential risks of use faced by mom and baby will depend on the type of substance being used, as well as the amount and frequency of use.

Using Drugs While Pregnant

Using drugs while pregnant can create several problems for a woman and the wellbeing of her unborn child. Depending on the type of drug that is being used, both the mother and baby can experience many painful (and potentially life-threatening) effects.


As part of their ongoing efforts to tackle the current opioid epidemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have set forth new plans to improve access to opioid treatment for pregnant women.7 The use of opioids, (including prescription painkillers, heroin, and methadone) during pregnancy is linked to:7

  • Pre-term birth.
  • Stillbirth
  • Maternal mortality.
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome (withdrawal symptoms in newborns).


Research suggests that women are more vulnerable to stimulant (cocaine and methamphetamine) addiction than men.Stimulant use during pregnancy is associated with:8

  • Maternal seizures.
  • Dangerously high blood pressure.
  • Premature membrane rupture.
  • Placental abruption (separation of the placental lining from the uterus).
  • Spontaneous miscarriage.
  • Pre-term birth.


The use of benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, Ativan, and Valium during pregnancy, has increased over the past decade.9Using these substances during pregnancy is associated with spontaneous miscarriage and pre-term birth.9

Use of benzodiazepines during the third trimester specifically has been linked to floppy infant syndrome and respiratory problems/the need for a neonatal ventilator.

Consuming Alcohol While Pregnant

Alcohol use during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and a group of chronic behavioral, physical, and cognitive disabilities in the developing child, collectively known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD).10

The disorders that fall within the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum include:11

  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).
  • Neurobehavioral Disorder Associated with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (ND-PAE).
  • Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND).
  • Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD)

These types of disorders can be characterized by several mental and physical symptoms and effects. While FASDs cannot be cured, many of the residual health consequences can be improved with early intervention.12

Some symptoms and effects of these conditions can include:12

  • Low body weight.
  • Small head circumference.
  • Poor memory.
  • Learning disabilities.
  • Vision or hearing problems.
  • Abnormal facial features
  • Poor coordination.
  • Low IQ.
  • Hyperactive behavior.

It is important to know that there is no amount of alcohol that can be safely consumed during pregnancy. Abstaining from alcohol while expecting is the best way to prevent FASDs from developing.

Smoking Tobacco While Pregnant

Much research has been conducted on the dangers of smoking cigarettes. Generally speaking, women who smoke cigarettes (regardless of being pregnant or not) run the risk of developing serious, life-threatening complications, including:13

  • Coronary artery disease.
  • Stroke
  • Lung cancer.
  • Heart disease.
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
  • Reduction in bone strength (osteoporosis).
  • Diabetes.
  • Development of several other types of cancer, including those that affect the blood, bladder, cervix, stomach, and liver.

These risks are still possible even if a woman is pregnant. Smoking cigarettes while pregnant can also negatively affect the baby in many ways. Some of these risks include:7

  • Pre-term birth.
  • Low birth weight.
  • Birth defects of the mouth and lip (cleft lip and palate).
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Brain damage.
  • Lung damage.
  • Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).14

Smoking marijuana has its own set of risks for moms and their unborn babies. While some people may turn to the use of marijuana as a natural remedy for nausea during pregnancy, maternal use of marijuana is never recommended.15 Using marijuana during pregnancy puts mothers and their babies at risk for the following:

  • Still-birth.1
  • Low birth weight.15
  • An increased likelihood of smoking cigarettes or using other substances during pregnancy.15

Addiction Treatment Services for Pregnant Women

If a pregnant mother develops a dependency on alcohol or drugs during pregnancy, they are at risk of withdrawal if they drastically stop or reduce their use of drugs or alcohol. The physiological changes that occur during pregnancy can give rise to unique medical and psychological complications and specific challenges and needs for pregnant women if they do experience withdrawal during pregnancy. In some cases, it is very dangerous to undergo withdrawal through detox, and as a result, it is important to consult with a healthcare provider specializing in addiction medicine in conjunction with an OBGYN or maternal fetal medicine specialist. Finding a substance use treatment facility that is equipped to support these specific needs and provide prenatal care can have a strong, positive influence on the outcome for both mom and baby.

One of the first steps toward receiving treatment is having a individual level of care assessment conducted. This involves meeting with an admissions staff member and answering direct questions about the substance(s) that are being used, along with the quantity and frequency of the use, any co-occurring mental health disorders, any medical conditions, any prescription medication that is being taken, and information about family history. Questions about current stressors, including housing, financial, or legal issues, are also asked to help determine what resources and community support might be needed. From there, the staff members can determine which treatment program or programs may be best for the expectant mother, along with what types of counseling and medical supports they will need.

Find Help for Addiction Today at Recovery First

It is crucial that pregnant women struggling with substance use receive treatment and as soon as possible. Find the help, support, and path to sobriety you are looking for at our drug rehab in Miami. We can help you navigate the treatment admissions process, from assessing the best first steps for you to helping verify your insurance coverage for rehab and determining how to pay for rehab. Call our helpline today.

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