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Detoxing from Substances while Pregnant
Is it possible to detox while pregnant? This is a very important question considering the dangers of drug and alcohol use for pregnant women. If you or a loved one are looking to get sober for pregnancy, then congratulations; you are taking the best first step.
By educating yourself on the process of detox for pregnant women, you can ensure that your recovery process happens safely. Pregnancy is a big life event and change. Knowing that you are struggling with an addiction to alcohol or drugs while pregnant adds to the stress. Fortunately, you do not have to figure it all out alone. In fact, you will want to lean on others as much as you can.
Browse our content to learn the effects of substance use and determine what a pregnancy-safe detox looks like.
- Addiction in Pregnancy
- Using Drugs While Pregnant
- Drinking Alcohol While Pregnant
- Commonly Abused Drugs During Pregnancy
- Using Marijuana While Pregnant
- Using Stimulants While Pregnant
- Using Opioids While Pregnant
- Going to Rehab While Pregnant
- Detoxing From Drugs While Pregnant
Addiction in Pregnancy
When you understand how addictions work, it can help motivate you to find the appropriate help for yourself and the child growing inside of you.
Addiction is a powerful disease. It affects millions of Americans and far too many mothers. What makes it so dangerous is the dramatic effect drugs and alcohol have on your brain. Abusing these substances will fundamentally change how you function in the world. You will notice a shift in your behavior, emotions, and often even your appearance.
So, how does drug or alcohol use transform into addiction?
The main culprit is the chemical changes that occur in the brain. According to DrugAbuse.gov, “our brains are wired to increase the odds that we will repeat pleasurable activities. The neurotransmitter dopamine is central to this.
Drugs produce much larger surges of dopamine, powerfully reinforcing the connection between consumption of the drug, the resulting pleasure, and all the external cues linked to the experience. Large surges of dopamine “teach” the brain to seek drugs at the expense of other, healthier goals and activities.”
Addiction causes your brain to turn against you. The pleasure that drugs and alcohol provide becomes something you seek compulsively. This can trap you in a vicious cycle, and often you need more and more of the substance to get the same effect.
Addiction can also contribute to other mental health issues like depression and increased anxiety. The chemical changes lead to behavioral changes that often can leave you feeling isolated. This emotional rollercoaster is why a strong support system and consistent treatment are so vital.
Quitting is not as simple as just stopping the drug, and as a pregnant woman, there are even more precautions you need to be mindful of before getting to the point of attempting to stop. Now let us explore what addiction does to pregnant women in particular. There are many different situations, and depending on what drug you are taking, you may need to take different steps.
Using Drugs While Pregnant
If you find yourself pregnant and using, you are not alone. As you’ll see below, according to the National Institute of Health, pregnant substance abuse continues to be a growing concern.
We all know that substance abuse on its own is dangerous, but that danger intensifies when you become pregnant. In fact, research has found that pregnant women are actually at an increased risk of substance abuse. Pregnant women most commonly abuse substances like tobacco, cannabis, and alcohol.
Here are some of the statistics that you should know according to the NIH, Women are at the highest risk for developing a substance use disorder during their reproductive years (18–44), especially ages 18–29.
A 2012 study found that 5.9% of pregnant women use illicit drugs, 8.5% drink alcohol and 15.9% smoke cigarettes. There has been an increase in opiate use during pregnancy. Between 2000 and 2009, the United States saw a five-fold increase in opiate use in pregnancy, coincident with an “epidemic” of opiate prescription misuse.
This problem has resulted in hundreds of thousands of developing children being exposed to illicit substances. This presents several concerns for all those involved with the pregnancy, as addicted mothers often can face relapse even if they abstained during pregnancy.
The gift of parenthood is a great motivator for beginning the process of recovery, but as you go through that process it’s important to be reminded of why you started. Each substance affects pre-born children differently and it is important to know the risks associated with each.
Drinking Alcohol While Pregnant
Have you ever heard that it is okay to drink a little during pregnancy? There is a lot of misinformation and harmful advice associated with drinking during pregnancy.
Some women believe that there is no harm because they got away with the occasional drink, but this is far from the case. Particularly for women already battling substance abuse, drinking during pregnancy should be avoided at all costs.
There is a lot you need to know about the effects of alcohol as you look to detox while pregnant.
Excessive alcohol use poses a variety of risks for you and your baby. The fetus growing inside of a pregnant woman is impacted by every choice she makes.
Alcohol consumption is also the most well-researched substance abuse risk that affects pregnant women.
According to Alpha.org, “alcohol consumption by pregnant women is the leading cause of preventable congenital disabilities and developmental disabilities in the United States.”
If you were to drink while pregnant, some of the secondhand impacts on the developing child might include:
- Small head size
- Low body weight
- Hyperactive behavior
- Poor memory
- Learning disabilities
- Vision or hearing problems
- Poor reasoning becomes worse.
Alcohol use leads to an increased risk of miscarriage, infant mortality, and stillbirth. This illustrates the power of alcohol dependence and is only a sampling of the effects of secondhand consumption.
Not only are fetal alcohol disorders completely preventable, but they also have long-term effects that can define a child’s whole life.
Combine the long-term effects drinking has on the pregnant woman herself with what it immediately does to the fetus, and you have to question if it is worth the risk.
Commonly Abused Drugs During Pregnancy
Next, let’s take a look at the other common substances abused during pregnancy and why they are harmful. Pregnant women should avoid substances like marijuana, cocaine, and opioids at all costs, and below, you will learn why.
“Weed is pretty harmless. Can I continue to use that?” This is a common question. Marijuana use during pregnancy, regardless of the method of use, may cause issues.
Marijuana can pose a variety of health risks for pregnant women, including:
- Preterm labor
- Low birth weight
- Adverse effects on the developing brain
- Lack of motivation
- Foggy and unclear thinking
The risks associated with marijuana use do not stop for the developing fetus; they can carry into adolescence.
Long-term Marijuana effects on children who were exposed to marijuana in utero include:
- Behavioral problems
- Academic problems
- Reduced attention span and ability to focus
Stimulants like Cocaine, Meth, Adderall, and Ritalin can have devastating effects on pregnancy as well if abused.
According to the NIH, these effects include:
- Premature rupture of membranes
- Placental abruption, where the placenta prematurely separates from the uterus
- Preterm birth
- Low birth weight
Of all stimulants, the use of meth also poses the most risks, with the most severe being the infant’s death at birth (stillbirth). If you are using meth while pregnant please seek help now. Do not continue to allow time to go by without getting into a meth addiction rehab program.
Opioid use has many of the same risks as stimulant, marijuana, and alcohol consumption. What makes opioid use especially heartbreaking is the risks of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).To put it simply, NAS puts the fetus through withdrawal symptoms following delivery. According to the NIH, NAS symptoms include feeding difficulties, tremors, loose stool, seizures, and respiratory distress.
No mother wants their child to go through those things. Unfortunately, addiction does not often give mothers a choice, and the urge to use overpowers them.
Learning how to safely detox while pregnant can be a matter of life, or begin a prescription of monitored Medication Assisted Treatment can help you prevent your new baby from going through this difficult situation.
Going to Rehab While Pregnant
Now that you understand the entirety of the risk associated with substance abuse during pregnancy, where do you go from here? Treatment is the only solution for pregnant women that suffer from addiction.
A lot of pregnant women want to seek treatment because they realize their addiction directly impacts another person.
You may be someone that has been seeking a positive change, and pregnancy was the catalyst.
Whatever the motivation, treatment is the best choice you can make at every stage of pregnancy.
The decision to enter treatment may take you to surprising places. It could be the way you find a support group and connect with women like you.
The treatments most effective for pregnant women typically feature behavioral counseling. This allows you to work on harmful behaviors in a controlled way, and in the process, undo the conditioning addiction created.
Treatments based on behavioral therapy are particularly effective for pregnant women dealing with alcohol abuse.
According to the NIH, “brief interventions, particularly those that utilize motivational interviewing, have been shown to reduce prenatal alcohol use.”
Another perk? There are even more options. The article goes on to explain that “some additional interventions to reduce prenatal drinking that has recently been described include screening via non-healthcare community workers, counseling by midwives, and multimedia and educational efforts aimed at improving awareness.”
Treatment allows you to overcome what may have felt like an impossible hurdle. In pursuit of recovery, you lose nothing but the weight of addiction. You can look forward to a safe pregnancy and a healthy baby. Now let’s discuss how you can go about detoxing while pregnant.
Detoxing from Drugs While Pregnant
Ultimately, it is completely possible to detox while pregnant. In fact, you must do so if you struggle with substance abuse.
What you need to know is that detoxing while pregnant must be done under medical supervision. This allows healthcare professionals to ensure you and your baby stay safe.
Fortunately, you can undergo a medically supervised detox at any stage of your pregnancy. The only exception is for pregnant women dealing with opioid abuse.
The reason for this exception is that opioid detoxification can more commonly lead to relapse.
The better option for opioid users is to undergo opioid maintenance treatment, which integrates medication and other techniques to safely ween the user off of opioids.
Medically Reviewed By:
Dr. Patricia Sullivan MD MPH on 3/24/2022
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