Pregnancy and Addiction: Drug Rehab Options for Pregnant Women

Addiction can affect people in a variety of circumstances, including women who are pregnant. Despite addiction being a complex condition associated with distinct brain and behavioral changes, some people instead see it as a moral failing. Such antiquated, stigmatizing attitudes can make it more difficult for people, including pregnant women, to seek the help they need.

In the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 9.9% of pregnant women reported having consumed alcohol, 5.4% had used illicit drugs, and 11.6% had used tobacco products within the month prior to surveying.1

Substance Abuse During Pregnancy

Substance use during pregnancy can cause harm to both the mother and the baby. Although it may be difficult to ask for help, it’s important to seek out treatment as soon as possible in order to minimize harm and irreversible health complications.

In this article, you’ll learn about:

  • The different treatment programs offered to expectant mothers.
  • How medical detox works.
  • Risk factors of substance abuse in pregnancy.
  • Some of the barriers pregnant women face when seeking treatment.

Addiction Treatment Programs for Pregnant Women

pregnant woman in therapy suffereing from substance abuseRegardless of which addiction treatment option you choose, finding one that is the right fit for your needs and that of your unborn child is paramount.

Addiction treatment during pregnancy should not only include medical care, but social and psychological care as well.2

This comprehensive approach integrates treatment for the patient, the baby, as well as any significant medical or mental health issues together instead of just focusing on one aspect of the issues they may be facing.

In these situations, treatment teams will consist of medical professionals and other clinicians trained specifically to work with this demographic so that they may properly create plans molded to the individual needs of their patients and their unborn babies.

A quality treatment program incorporates both group and individual therapies. In group sessions, women have the opportunity to connect with other like-minded individuals who are facing the same challenges, which contributes to a healthy peer-supportive environment. The shared wisdom of other patients on a similar recovery trajectory can help them learn necessary skills such as parenting techniques and coping mechanisms for better stress management.

Additionally, behavioral treatment sessions provide an opportunity for patients to work with a therapist to figure out what led to the abuse of alcohol or drugs to begin with and to create solutions in going forward.

Individual counseling and other educational sessions can further help mothers-to-be to gain knowledge on how to handle childbirth and medical concerns that may arise during any part of the process. Women can face many challenges with their own health and that of their baby along the way, but when addiction is added to the equation, it’s vital that healthcare providers and expectant mothers work together as a team for a healthy delivery and for long-term recovery.

The precise combination of treatment approaches that any patient will receive will, in many cases, be influenced by the type of substance being used and which evidence-based interventions are applicable.2

There are options for rehab for pregnant mothers. At American Addiction Centers, a nationwide leader in addiction treatment, we operate four treatment facilities that welcome pregnant women with substance use disorders, including Desert Hope in Nevada, Laguna Treatment Hospital in California, Oxford Treatment Center in Mississippi, and River Oaks Treatment Center in Florida.

Undergoing Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder While Pregnant

Despite the dangers, opioid use during pregnancy is not uncommon. In fact, the numbers of women giving birth while struggling with OUD increased more than 4 times between 1999 to 2014.3

Though prenatal opioid exposure is associated with several potentially adverse health effects for both mother and child, the risk of abruptly stopping opioids during pregnancy can have devastating consequences—such as fetal distress, premature birth, and miscarriage‚ and is therefore not recommended.3

The current first line of treatment for pregnant women with OUD is medication-assisted treatment (MAT) with maintenance medications rather than immediate detox and supervised withdrawal, due to improved treatment outcomes and reduced relapse risks.3

One safe and effective solution for drug detox while pregnant, from opioids specifically, is the use of buprenorphine and naloxone (i.e., Suboxone) under a physician’s care. This combination is one of the most used to treat pregnant women with opioid use disorders. Naloxone is only minimally absorbed when prescriptions are taken as prescribed.4

It is important to note that, in addition to active opioid misuse during pregnancy, that medication-assisted treatment involving opioid agonist medications can be expected to elicit some degree of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) in a percentage of newborns.3 Concern about avoiding NAS should not deter medical professionals from initiating MAT treatment to those who need it. As part of coordinated treatment efforts, babies born to mothers undergoing treatment for opioid use disorder will be closely monitored for NAS and treated appropriately.3

At American Addiction Centers’ facilities, patients are treated by licensed physicians in an environment equipped to manage a variety of needs from medical detox, to treatment, and even aftercare.

Risk Factors of Substance Abuse in Pregnancy

Drugs and alcohol can not only affect the health of the individual but, in the cases of pregnant women, continued, compulsive substance use can impact the fetus as well.5

Problematic substance use may be associated with risky behaviors like exchanging sex for money, intercourse without condoms, using drugs, or even risking having sex with multiple partners.6-9 Women of a child-bearing age who indulge in such behaviors are also at risk for getting pregnant.

This lifestyle can create a dangerous situation for both the woman and her fetus. Not only is she having to work through her substance use disorder and a pregnancy, but she is putting herself at risk for contracting HIV or other sexually- or injection-transmitted viruses.10

The health effects of babies born to women who abuse drugs during pregnancy may include potentially lasting physical, emotional, and mental health issues that arise during childhood.5

Specific childhood effects include:5

  • Developmental delays with language abilities.
  • Curbed or stunted physical growth.
  • Behavioral issues (e.g. delinquency, attention deficit)
  • Cognitive deficits or intellectual disability.

The substance of abuse determines the potential effects on the individual. However, many of these effects can be the result of abusing prescriptions, illicit drugs, nicotine, or alcohol across the board.5

Nearly all drugs, whether legal or illegal, have the capability to pass through the placenta, and therefore have some impact on the developing fetus.5

The placenta is an organ that develops within the uterus when a woman gets pregnant. Its purpose is to remove waste from the fetus’ blood and to provide the baby with nutrients and oxygen. The placenta, coupled with the umbilical cord, is the fetus’ lifeline to their mother, which is why misusing dangerous substances while pregnant can directly harm the baby.11

Barriers to Treatment for Pregnant Women

The decision to get treatment is one of many emotional obstacles for a pregnant woman battling a substance use disorder or alcohol use disorder must face. One significant barrier to treatment is the stigma associated with using drugs (prescription, illicit, nicotine, or alcohol) while pregnant.12

Although there are many barriers, pregnant women with addiction who go to emergency rooms or clinics for help may feel judged and shunned. It’s important that women feel like they will be supported and helped in order for them to be able to seek treatment in the first place.12

One way of contributing to the success of this is to properly train physicians to work with these particular patients that require specific and unique treatment needs. For example, women who struggle with addiction may also be more likely to develop certain substance-related health conditions such as hypertension, circulatory health issues, and liver disease than their male counterparts.12

Taking factors like these into consideration, as well as approaching all patients with compassion, would create an opportunity for more women to come forward to receive the help they need. 

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