Pregnancy and Recovery

Pregnancy and Recovery

Using alcohol, opioids, or other addictive substances can pose serious risks before, during, and after pregnancy. Women who use drugs during pregnancy, including alcohol and tobacco, can pass these substances on to fetuses through the placenta harming unborn children.

After pregnancy, drugs can be passed on to babies through breast milk. Addiction-free parents are better able to care for themselves and their kids.

Ideally, parents should seek treatment for substance abuse before getting pregnant. Even the recovery process poses challenges for pregnant women, making it hard to stay on track. Pregnancy also creates several difficult obstacles, such as hormonal fluctuations, feelings of isolation, or prenatal depression, that can increase the risk of relapse.

Understanding the risks of substance use while pregnant and what steps you can take to support your recovery can help you on your journey to sobriety and enable you to enjoy becoming a parent.

What are the Risks of Using Substances During Pregnancy?

According to the NIH, smoking marijuana or tobacco, taking prescription pain pills, or using illegal drugs doubles or even triples the incidence of stillbirth. Other research shows that using alcohol, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, or even excess caffeine during pregnancy may also cause newborns to show withdrawal symptoms at birth.

Using opioids during pregnancy may cause a specific withdrawal syndrome in newborns known as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). NAS can result in low birth weight, respiratory and feeding issues, seizures, and death.

Infants exposed to opioids during pregnancy might also be more likely to be born preterm, show poor fetal growth, be afflicted with birth defects, experience longer hospital stays, get hospitalized again within 30 days of birth, and undergo developmental delays later in life.

Why it’s Hard to Seek Help

In a 2015 study in Health & Justice, researchers found that pregnant women use a variety of strategies to overcome barriers to their substance abuse. Around 27.3% of those interviewed adopted pro-health approaches like seeking treatment and being upfront with medical professionals.

However, most resorted to damaging strategies such as denying or hiding the pregnancy, isolating themselves from friends and family and avoiding prenatal care.

Incidence of Substance Use During Pregnancy

Pregnant women coping with substance addiction are not alone. The 2012 National Survey of Drug Use and Health found that among pregnant women aged 15 to 44, 8.5% reported current alcohol use and 2.7% reported binge drinking, while only 0.3% reported heavy drinking. Another 26.7% reported tobacco use, however, while 5.9% reported use of illegal drugs.

Recent figures point to an epidemic of opioid abuse. In 2017, over 18 million people misused opioid prescriptions, with more than 1,000 people landing in emergency rooms each day for opioid-related issues.

Support Your Recovery During Pregnancy

Women grappling with substance abuse can recover with careful planning and professional help despite the obstacles. Effective treatment can combine medications with individual, family, and group therapy and other social and environmental supports such as recovery coaches and self-help groups.

Medications for addictionMedications for addiction

For recovery from opioids, current clinical recommendations from the CDC suggest medication-assisted therapy (MAT) instead of supervised withdrawal for pregnant women because of better outcomes and reduced risk of relapse. These medications are aimed at normalizing brain chemistry, easing cravings, and in some cases, curbing withdrawal symptoms.

Methadone, available as a daily liquid, can be used solely in a certified opioid treatment program such as Right Path Addiction Centers. Methadone prescriptions are heavily monitored as they can cause some of the same risks for the fetus as opioids themselves.

Buprenorphine is another highly effective MAT treatment and is generally regarded as much safer for pregnant women; it’s available as a six-month implant under the skin, cheek film, or a dissolving tablet.

Other medications are available to help with the cessation of substances like tobacco and alcohol. Psychiatric medications can help ease mental health symptoms like anxiety and depression, although many prescribed psychiatric drugs can also be addictive.

Attend group therapy

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) notes that group therapy can be just as effective as individual therapy for the treatment of addiction disorders. According to research, those who abuse substances are more likely to remain committed to recovery when incorporating group therapy into their treatment plan because they find it a more rewarding experience.

Isolation is one of the primary relapse triggers, and group therapy can help pregnant women feel heard and understood by those who are going through the same challenges.

Group therapy also allows pregnant women to receive tips and advice for managing recovery challenges from individuals who have experienced and overcome those hurdles before.

Completing parenting classesCompleting parenting classes

For first time mothers, anxiety surrounding how to parent a child can feel like an overwhelming challenge to overcome and may make them revert to drugs to cope. They may not have a family or friend network to turn to for parenting advice or support.

Attending parenting classes may help ease the burden of caring for a newborn during your recovery. Parents learn how to feed, bathe, and interact with their newborns in classes. They learn about wellness checks and vaccinations. They may also receive access to childcare resources and develop a supportive network of other parents.

With Treatment, There’s Hope

With an effective treatment program in place, women can recover from substance abuse disorders even during pregnancy, raising their chances of giving birth to a healthy child. MAT and group therapy can help provide the support you need to stay on track during your recovery.

Using alcohol, opioids, or other addictive substances can pose serious risks before, during, and after pregnancy. Women who use drugs during pregnancy, including alcohol and tobacco, can pass these substances on to fetuses through the placenta harming unborn children.

After pregnancy, drugs can be passed on to babies through breast milk. Addiction-free parents are better able to care for themselves and their kids.

Ideally, parents should seek treatment for substance abuse before getting pregnant. Even the recovery process poses challenges for pregnant women, making it hard to stay on track. Pregnancy also creates several difficult obstacles, such as hormonal fluctuations, feelings of isolation, or prenatal depression, that can increase the risk of relapse.

Understanding the risks of substance use while pregnant and what steps you can take to support your recovery can help you on your journey to sobriety and enable you to enjoy becoming a parent.

What are the Risks of Using Substances During Pregnancy?

According to the NIH, smoking marijuana or tobacco, taking prescription pain pills, or using illegal drugs doubles or even triples the incidence of stillbirth. Other research shows that using alcohol, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, or even excess caffeine during pregnancy may also cause newborns to show withdrawal symptoms at birth.

Using opioids during pregnancy may cause a specific withdrawal syndrome in newborns known as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). NAS can result in low birth weight, respiratory and feeding issues, seizures, and death.

Infants exposed to opioids during pregnancy might also be more likely to be born preterm, show poor fetal growth, be afflicted with birth defects, experience longer hospital stays, get hospitalized again within 30 days of birth, and undergo developmental delays later in life.

Why it’s Hard to Seek Help

In a 2015 study in Health & Justice, researchers found that pregnant women use a variety of strategies to overcome barriers to their substance abuse. Around 27.3% of those interviewed adopted pro-health approaches like seeking treatment and being upfront with medical professionals.

However, most resorted to damaging strategies such as denying or hiding the pregnancy, isolating themselves from friends and family and avoiding prenatal care.

Incidence of Substance Use During Pregnancy

Pregnant women coping with substance addiction are not alone. The 2012 National Survey of Drug Use and Health found that among pregnant women aged 15 to 44, 8.5% reported current alcohol use and 2.7% reported binge drinking, while only 0.3% reported heavy drinking. Another 26.7% reported tobacco use, however, while 5.9% reported use of illegal drugs.

Recent figures point to an epidemic of opioid abuse. In 2017, over 18 million people misused opioid prescriptions, with more than 1,000 people landing in emergency rooms each day for opioid-related issues.

Support Your Recovery During Pregnancy

Women grappling with substance abuse can recover with careful planning and professional help despite the obstacles. Effective treatment can combine medications with individual, family, and group therapy and other social and environmental supports such as recovery coaches and self-help groups.

Medications for addiction

For recovery from opioids, current clinical recommendations from the CDC suggest medication-assisted therapy (MAT) instead of supervised withdrawal for pregnant women because of better outcomes and reduced risk of relapse. These medications are aimed at normalizing brain chemistry, easing cravings, and in some cases, curbing withdrawal symptoms.

Methadone, available as a daily liquid, can be used solely in a certified opioid treatment program such as Right Path Addiction Centers. Methadone prescriptions are heavily monitored as they can cause some of the same risks for the fetus as opioids themselves.

Buprenorphine is another highly effective MAT treatment and is generally regarded as much safer for pregnant women; it’s available as a six-month implant under the skin, cheek film, or a dissolving tablet.

Other medications are available to help with the cessation of substances like tobacco and alcohol. Psychiatric medications can help ease mental health symptoms like anxiety and depression, although many prescribed psychiatric drugs can also be addictive.

Attend group therapy

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) notes that group therapy can be just as effective as individual therapy for the treatment of addiction disorders. According to research, those who abuse substances are more likely to remain committed to recovery when incorporating group therapy into their treatment plan because they find it a more rewarding experience.

Isolation is one of the primary relapse triggers, and group therapy can help pregnant women feel heard and understood by those who are going through the same challenges.

Group therapy also allows pregnant women to receive tips and advice for managing recovery challenges from individuals who have experienced and overcome those hurdles before.

Completing parenting classes

For first time mothers, anxiety surrounding how to parent a child can feel like an overwhelming challenge to overcome and may make them revert to drugs to cope. They may not have a family or friend network to turn to for parenting advice or support.

Attending parenting classes may help ease the burden of caring for a newborn during your recovery. Parents learn how to feed, bathe, and interact with their newborns in classes. They learn about wellness checks and vaccinations. They may also receive access to childcare resources and develop a supportive network of other parents.

With Treatment, There’s Hope

With an effective treatment program in place, women can recover from substance abuse disorders even during pregnancy, raising their chances of giving birth to a healthy child. MAT and group therapy can help provide the support you need to stay on track during your recovery.


Written by Sergey Zhitar, MD Medical Director

Native of Moldova, Dr. Zhitar is Board Certified in Addiction Medicine as well as Internal Medicine and completed his training at UPMC Shadyside, Pittsburgh, PA in 2000.

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