Maternal Substance Abuse

maternal substance abuseIn addition to the negative health impacts on addicts experiencing maternal substance abuse, equally negative effects are those on unborn children. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimates that 400,000 to 440,000 infants (more than 10 percent of all U.S. births) are subject to alcohol or illicit drug exposure. (National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare) This can lead to any number of negative effects on newborns, from low birth weight to developmental issues to a host of substance abuse-related problems that arise later in the child’s life.

Many substances are dangerous to the well-being of the fetus. Nicotine (found in cigarettes) is said to decrease the amount of oxygen they’re getting and can result in pre-term birth and respiratory problems. Mothers who drink alcohol while pregnant increase the chances of low birth weight, which can result in problems with vision and hearing, as well as many other negative effects. Cocaine, heroin, and other illicit substances are associated with developmental problems such as poor learning and language skills. In short, maternal substance abuse is destructive to both the addict and the child she’s carrying.

So, what can be done to help? The key to protecting an unborn child that has been exposed to maternal substance abuse of drugs or alcohol is to get help as early as possible. Mothers need to seek treatment for the type of substance they’re abusing and commit to the program. Luckily, there are a number of successful treatments and programs available.Read more:


Behavior Therapy

This type of rehabilitation largely relies on incentive and behavior modification. For example, pregnant women, especially when they are younger, are likely to respond positively to small monetary rewards, prizes, or other perks in exchange for abstaining from substance abuse. This approach requires vigilance, however, with regard to making sure these incentives are continuing to work and that they do not need to be modified in some way. If you think this approach will work well for you or a pregnant woman you know, seek out an inpatient maternal substance abuse program that offers this type of therapy.

Drug Therapy

Doctors need to be much more careful when prescribing medications to assist with therapy to protect the fetus, but there are some effective drugs that safely provide maternal substance abuse treatment. For heroin or other opiate addicts, methadone has long been used with success. Though babies born to methadone-using mothers must be weaned of their methadone dependency after they are born, the effects of methadone are said to be highly preferable to those caused by more dangerous illicit substances.


For alcoholic mothers, groups such as Al-Anon and Alcoholics Anonymous can be very helpful, the National Institutes of Health has a site focused on dealing with and preventing Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) and The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) substance abuse treatment website are also strong resources to turn to if you are a mother seeking a rehabilitation program.

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