Drug Addiction and Pregnancy: The Risks and Facts

Drug addiction and pregnancy is a scary combination that is not only dangerous to the mother but to the unborn baby as well. Babies born to mothers who abused drugs during pregnancy have an increased risk of birth defects, behavioral and developmental problems later in life, and are often born dependent on or addicted to the drug the mother abused.

Risks for the Mother

•    Anemia
•    Blood and heart infections
•    Skin infections
•    Hepatitis
•    Greater risk of STDs
•    Premature labor
•    Sudden bleeding
•    Inability to recognize what is or isn’t normal during pregnancy

Risks for the Fetus

•    Marijuana
Many marijuana smokers don’t believe there are health consequences for smoking marijuana, which can lead many expectant mothers to falsely believe that smoking marijuana during pregnancy won’t jeopardize their unborn child. The truth, however, is that any substance a mother takes is passed through her bloodstream and into the placenta. This includes THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Just like cigarette smoke, THC and other toxins keeps your baby from getting the proper supply of oxygen needed in order to grow properly. Marijuana use during pregnancy has been linked to miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight, and behavioral problems, developmental delays and learning problems later in the child’s life.

•    Cocaine
Cocaine abuse during pregnancy decreases blood flow to the fetus and can restrict oxygen to the baby, resulting in a greater risk of premature birth or stillbirth. During pregnancy, cocaine abuse can lead to premature detachment of the placenta, growth defects and intestinal abnormalities. After birth, infants have a greater risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), hyperactivity, tremors, feeding problems, learning problems, and dependence and addiction to cocaine. Growth defects can include smaller-than-normal heads and defects of the kidneys, brain and genitals.

•    Heroin
Heroin abuse during pregnancy leads to infections in the fetus and an increased risk of low birth weight, premature birth, stillbirth, low blood sugar, bleeding within the brain, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Fetal addiction to heroin is very common and babies born to mothers with an addiction to heroin will also be addicted to heroin and will have to be treated for withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include hyperactivity, convulsions, diarrhea, fever, sleep abnormalities, stiff joints and respiratory problems. Behavioral and development abnormalities can persist long into childhood, including poor growth, mental retardation, and impaired motor, perception and organizational skills.

•    Methamphetamines
Methamphetamine abuse (which includes crystal meth, speed and Ecstasy) during pregnancy increases the heart rate of the mother and the baby. The fetus will be exposed to dangerously low levels of oxygen, which can result in low birth weight, premature labor and miscarriage. Babies can be born addicted to methamphetamine and will experience extreme withdrawal symptoms, including tremors, sleep problems, muscle spasms and feeding difficulties. They may also have learning difficulties later in life.

•    Hallucinogens
Hallucinogen abuse (which includes PCP and LSD) during pregnancy can result in low birth weight, premature labor and miscarriage. Babies born to mothers who abused hallucinogens during pregnancy can have brain damage, poor muscle control, rigid muscles and birth defects that include facial deformities. Frequent abuse can cause the baby to become dependent and experience withdrawal symptoms such as lethargy and tremors. The child may also experience functional and behavioral problems as they grow older.

Drug Addiction Treatment for Pregnant Mothers

If you’ve used drugs during your pregnancy, all hope is not lost. Women who stop taking drugs during their first trimester increase the chances of having a healthy baby. If you’ve taken drugs later in the pregnancy it is still important to get help and stop immediately. It’s never too late to help your unborn child and any steps you take can improve the chances of a normal life for your child.

The most important thing to do is to seek professional treatment, especially if you have an addiction. Sudden detox can damage a fetus that is also addicted. A professional drug rehab that specializes in treating pregnant women can safely treat your addiction and your baby.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.