4 Important Things to Know About Addiction and Pregnancy

When you see those two lines on the pregnancy test, it’s supposed to be one of the happiest moments of your life. But what if you’re also battling a substance addiction?

The excitement of pregnancy likely gets overshadowed by worry and uncertainty about what your drug or alcohol use means for your health and the new life growing inside you.

It’s scary, no doubt. But you’re stronger than you know, and this is because you’re a woman. You were designed to be strong, self-confident, intelligent, and courageous.

You can get through this! And don’t worry about ‘how?” because with these important details you’re about to find out about addiction and pregnancy, you should be able to set yourself back on track and bring your child safely into this world.

Addiction During Pregnancy Affects Maternal & Fetal Health

You already know deep down that drinking, smoking, and using drugs while pregnant aren’t safe. But do you realize just how many health consequences these substances trigger in unborn babies’ development, not to mention your own body, too?

Let’s get honest about the impacts here so you understand what could happen if your addiction goes unchecked over the next nine months.

For starters, cigarettes restrict oxygen flow to the fetus, which can hinder your child’s growth. You may even wind up with a child with a low birth weight (LBW). According to the National Institutes of Health, a child weighing less than 2500 g (up to and including 2499 g) has a low birth weight.

In fact, according to data from the CDC, one in every five newborn babies born to mothers who smoke during pregnancy has a low birth weight.

And there’s alcohol, which literally poisons the amniotic fluid your little one swallows in the womb. It causes fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), meaning irreversible cognitive and functional defects. You don’t want this outcome for your son or daughter!

As for drug use, like prescription painkillers or heroin, the worst effects typically show up after birth. Have you ever heard of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS)? It’s when newborns endure painful withdrawal once separated from substances at delivery. We’re talking about excessive crying, fever, severe diarrhea, and tremors.

Protecting your child from entering a life like this should be enough motivation for you to tackle your addiction now.

Types of Addiction That Can Impact Pregnancy

Now, the next step is pinpointing the addiction you have so you can explore pregnancy-safe treatment options for your particular situation from here.

The main offenders impacting expecting moms include alcohol, opioids, tobacco, and sometimes marijuana. Let’s quickly review how each one causes issues during pregnancy and birth.


We have covered some major fetal alcohol effects already. But alcohol also increases the chances of miscarriage and stillbirth. There’s no known safe amount, so quitting drinking completely should be your goal.


Abuse of prescription pain meds or heroin often leads to neonatal abstinence syndrome. Medication treatment from an addiction specialist can help stabilize you.


Smoking tobacco raises the risks of premature rupture of membranes, miscarriage, and cleft lip/palate. It also causes placental problems and ectopic pregnancies.


Keep in mind that cannabis diminishes blood flow to the fetus, which can restrict your child’s growth and birth weight. THC chemicals easily reach the developing baby through you.

These are just some of the major ones: get familiar with what exactly you are addicted to, and quit it or get help from an addiction specialist.

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse in Pregnant Women

Sometimes, constantly worrying about money, kids, relationships, or work triggers addictive behaviors like drinking, drug use, or smoking cigarettes.

So, as an expecting mother, you have to regularly ask yourself, “Has substance abuse crept up on me lately without me knowing it?”

If it has, don’t feel ashamed! However, do pay attention to these red flags indicating risky use:

  • Missing lots of prenatal checkup appointments
  • Increased accidents and clumsiness causing injury
  • Unusually angry, giddy, or anxious mood swings
  • Sudden weight fluctuations up or down
  • Isolating yourself from close friends and family
  • Money troubles because you’re overspending on substances

If one or more of these signs and symptoms ring a bell, reach out to your OBGYN or midwife now about what to do.

According to The Ho Tai Way, a renowned Costa Mesa rehab for women, catching an unhealthy addiction early in pregnancy gives you a better shot at recovery and sobriety before birth. This should be your ultimate goal.

Getting Support and Treatment Resources

The good news? There are DOZENS of resources specially designed for pregnant women battling addiction. So, it’s very easy for you to overcome your addictions.

Start by having an open, non-judgmental talk with your doctor about every substance you use (no hiding details!). Ask them to connect you to rehab programs, counselors, and support groups tailored for addicts in your situation. Some even help arrange temporary childcare for your older kids during treatment.

Additionally, join online communities that allow you to share your story and find camaraderie with others determined to get clean for their unborn babies.

Wrapping Up

Use everything you’ve learned here to start working on your addiction. If you ever waiver, remember millions of healthy, happy babies are born each year to women who once battled addictions, too.

They got clean, and so can you—one hour, one day, one week at a time if needed. So, do not panic. Take your time and work with your doctor and addiction treatment center to attain sobriety.

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