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Firstly complicating the issue are varying laws that may mandate drug treatment for pregnant women abusing drugs or alcohol, and which some argue protect the unborn child and others opine deter women from seeking treatment. The second major obstacle is that a great many drug rehab programs deny pregnant women access to treatment on the basis that they don’t have the needed facilities to give proper pre natal care; and thus access to drug treatment for pregnant women is unfortunately not is great supply.

Tragically, during this period of limited drug treatment options, many women feel an enormous motivation to quit their substance abusing behaviors, and do what’s right for the health of the unborn child.

Governmental agencies estimate that as many as four percent of women continue to use illicit drugs while pregnant, and the number using alcohol is significantly higher.


Because the stakes of relapse are so dramatically elevated, continual inclusion in a residential facility offers the best eventual outcome to both the mother and child.

When long term admission to an inpatient facility cannot occur, the lever of aftercare support should remain intensive and comprehensive. Ideally, pregnant women will transition out of rehab into some sort of sober living environment, where they can continue intensive participation in treatment, and as well have ready access to better medical care.

Because the motivation to attain abstinence during pregnancy is high, pregnant women have an excellent opportunity to use this period as a time to get healthy, get sober, and get the best possible care for their unborn child.

The Risks of Substance Abuse During Pregnancy

The lifetime deficits on the growing child of a few months of drug or alcohol abuse by the mother are both profound and very sad.

The teratogenic effects of diverse drugs and alcohol are far too many to be listed within the scope of this article, but can include organ damage, low birth rates, an increased risk of premature delivery, infant addiction and corresponding withdrawal, physical birth defects and behavioral and learning disabilities throughout life.

Due to drug abuse, many women have irregular menstruations and may not even become aware of their pregnancy for many months. Because the first trimester is the period of greatest risk for exposure to teratogens, this is very problematic. Also, drug or alcohol abusing mothers are less likely to get appropriate and comprehensive pre natal care, take care of their body's during pregnancy, or get adequate nutrition for the growing needs of the unborn child.

Drug and alcohol abuse is uniquely devastating to both the mother and the unborn child when abuse occurs during pregnancy.

Pre-Natal Care

Because many facilities lack the expertise, facilities and funding to provide appropriate pre natal care, the options available to pregnant women are diminished.

An acceptable facility must provide comprehensive pre natal programming, including regular examinations by an obstetrician, birth and parenting classes, and appropriate nutrition for the developing fetus.

Because the period after child birth and the initial first months of neo natal care can induce great stress in all women, comprehensive drug and parenting education is a must to reduce the likelihood of relapse during this initial and difficult period.

Appropriate Treatment During Pregnancy

The needs of substance dependent mothers-to-be do not deviate much from the needs of any addict, but the programming for this group will need to expand to include prenatal care and education.

Nutrition and health promotional programming also benefits pregnant recovering addicts

Although not always possible, for the best likelihood of sobriety at least throughout pregnancy, the treatment should be lengthy and intensive, and aftercare services as comprehensive as possible.

The initial intake assessment should include an examination by medical professionals to get a better understanding of the level of abuse, and the needed physical recovery for optimal health promotion of both the mother and unborn child. Detox needs to occur as gently as possible to lessen trauma to the fetus, and all medications used for symptoms management should be first approved by an obstetrician as safe for the developing fetus.

Beneficial programming for pregnant women undergoing drug treatment include participation in peer group recovery sessions (may or may not be 12 steps based) cognitive behavioral classes, private counseling with a psychologist or addictions professional and nutritional therapy combining healthful meals with additional vitamin supplements as recommended by a physician. Health promotion should continue with moderate exercise, and physical classes such as meditation or yoga have also been shown to be quite beneficial.

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Page last updated Nov 20, 2015

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