Health Problems to Drug-Addicted Pregnant Women
Drug addiction is a serious issue that affects millions of people worldwide. It can cause physical, mental, and social problems for the individual and their family. However, when a pregnant woman is addicted to drugs, the consequences can be even more severe and devastating. Drug addiction during pregnancy can harm the health of both the mother and the unborn child, and increase the risk of complications, birth defects, and neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).
Complications of Drug Addiction During Pregnancy
Drug addiction can interfere with the normal development of the fetus and cause various complications during pregnancy. Some of the possible complications are:
– Miscarriage: The loss of pregnancy before 20 weeks of gestation. Drug addiction can increase the risk of miscarriage by causing bleeding, infection, or placental abruption (when the placenta separates from the uterine wall).
– Preterm labor: The onset of labor before 37 weeks of gestation. Drug addiction can trigger preterm labor by causing inflammation, infection, or uterine contractions.
– Preeclampsia: A condition characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine after 20 weeks of gestation. Drug addiction can contribute to preeclampsia by damaging the blood vessels, kidneys, and liver.
– Stillbirth: The death of the fetus after 20 weeks of gestation. Drug addiction can cause stillbirth by reducing the blood flow and oxygen to the fetus, or by causing fetal distress or infection.
– Low birth weight: The birth weight of less than 2,500 grams (5.5 pounds). Drug addiction can cause low birth weight by restricting the growth and nutrition of the fetus, or by inducing preterm labor.
– Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR): The failure of the fetus to grow at a normal rate. Drug addiction can cause IUGR by impairing the placental function, or by exposing the fetus to toxins or infections.
Birth Defects of Drug Addiction During Pregnancy
Drug addiction can also affect the structure and function of the fetal organs and systems, and cause various birth defects. Some of the possible birth defects are:
– Congenital heart defects: Abnormalities in the formation or function of the heart or blood vessels. Drug addiction can cause congenital heart defects by altering the development or oxygenation of the cardiac tissues.
– Neural tube defects: Abnormalities in the closure or development of the neural tube, which forms the brain and spinal cord. Drug addiction can cause neural tube defects by interfering with the folic acid metabolism or folate intake, which is essential for neural tube formation.
– Cleft lip or palate: A gap in the upper lip or roof of the mouth. Drug addiction can cause cleft lip or palate by affecting the migration or fusion of the facial tissues.
– Gastroschisis: A defect in which some of the abdominal organs protrude through a hole in the abdominal wall. Drug addiction can cause gastroschisis by disrupting the closure or development of the abdominal wall.
– Limb defects: Abnormalities in the number, size, shape, or position of the arms or legs. Drug addiction can cause limb defects by affecting the growth or differentiation of the limb buds.
Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) of Drug Addiction During Pregnancy
Drug addiction can also cause withdrawal symptoms in the newborn baby, which is known as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). NAS occurs when the baby is exposed to drugs in utero and becomes physically dependent on them. After birth, when the drug supply is cut off, the baby experiences withdrawal symptoms such as:
– Excessive crying
– Poor feeding
NAS can affect the baby’s health, development, and behavior. It can also increase the need for medical care and hospitalization. NAS can be treated with medication, supportive care, and breastfeeding.
Prevention and Treatment of Drug Addiction During Pregnancy
Drug addiction during pregnancy is a preventable and treatable condition. The best way to prevent drug addiction during pregnancy is to avoid using any illicit or non-prescribed drugs before and during pregnancy. If a pregnant woman is already addicted to drugs, she should seek professional help as soon as possible to quit safely and effectively. Some of the possible treatment options are:
– Medication-assisted treatment (MAT): The use of medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms, and to stabilize brain function.
– Behavioral therapy: The use of counseling, education, motivation enhancement, contingency management, or cognitive-behavioral therapy to address the psychological and social factors that contribute to drug addiction.
– Support groups: The participation in peer support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Pregnant Women in Recovery (PWR) to share experiences, receive encouragement, and learn coping skills.
– Prenatal care: The regular visits to a health care provider to monitor the health of the mother and the fetus, and to receive screening, testing, and treatment for any complications or infections.
– Postnatal care: The follow-up visits to a health care provider to check the health of the mother and the baby, and to receive counseling, education, and referrals for any ongoing issues or needs.
Drug addiction during pregnancy is a serious issue that can harm the health of both the mother and the unborn child. It can cause complications, birth defects, and neonatal abstinence syndrome. However, drug addiction during pregnancy is preventable and treatable. Pregnant women who are addicted to drugs should seek professional help as soon as possible to quit safely and effectively. They should also receive adequate prenatal and postnatal care to ensure the best possible outcomes for themselves and their babies.
– American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2017). Opioid use and opioid use disorder in pregnancy. Committee Opinion No. 711. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 130(2), e81-e94. https://doi.org/10.1097/AOG.0000000000002235
– Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Preventing birth defects: Folic acid. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/index.html
– National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). Substance use in women: Drug use while pregnant or breastfeeding. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/substance-use-in-women/drug-use-while-pregnant-or-breastfeeding
– World Health Organization. (2014). Guidelines for the identification and management of substance use and substance use disorders in pregnancy. https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/107130/9789241548731_eng.pdf