The use of illicit drugs, tobacco and alcohol comes with risks. Studies have shown excessive drinking can affect liver health, the immune system and lead to certain kinds of cancer. Habitual smokers are at a higher risk of cancer, heart disease and several ailments within the respiratory system. Illicit drug or prescription medication abuse can also lead to a myriad of health effects depending on the substance and degree of dependency. A person choosing to take the risk of these and so many other ill effects puts themselves in danger. However, when that person is pregnant, it’s not just one life in jeopardy.
In the United States, it’s estimated between 400,000 and 440,000 infants are affected by prenatal alcohol or illicit drug exposure each year. That’s roughly 10 to 11% of all births. Among these, roughly 13,500 babies are diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). NAS refers to a group of conditions in which the baby goes through withdrawal upon birth after being exposed while in the womb.
Often, NAS is linked to opioid use, but data has shown withdrawal symptoms are present in babies exposed to alcohol, barbiturates, benzodiazepines and caffeine as well. There are many potential harms from NAS, including low birth weight, preterm birth and fetal death. With opiates specifically, it can cause birth defects such as spina bifida and heart anomalies. With stimulants, there is an increased risk of brain and heart defects, as well as cleft lip and pallet.
There is also a group of disorders associated with alcohol use referred to as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. These include a range of conditions that are a direct result of a mother’s alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Drinking while expecting is a widespread problem, with 15% to 20% of women reporting alcohol use during their pregnancy. A specific disorder that is drastically detrimental to a baby’s wellbeing is fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Babies with FAS may suffer from malformations, growth retardation and neurodevelopmental disorders, as well as an increased risk of fetal death. FAS is present in 1 in 300 live births every year.
Tobacco abuse is also frequent, as more than 7% of women reported smoking cigarettes during their pregnancy. Smoking has been shown to be harmful to both mother and baby. For instance, there is an increase in miscarriage, infection and placental problems, such as early separation from the womb, which affects the baby’s source of oxygen and nutrition. The risk of stillbirth increases in habitual smokers by 23%.
Despite knowing the risks, why are so many women continuing to use drugs, smoke or consume alcohol while pregnant? Often, it is linked to an unexpected pregnancy, the age of the mother-to-be, family history and poor socioeconomic status. It also involves the prevalence of prescribed medications, an underestimation of the risks and an inability to quit.
For further information on the dangers of addiction during pregnancy, please see the accompanying resource.
Content Provided By Vanguard Behavioral Health – rehab Tucson