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Jacob Hajjar

Child and Adolescent Development (9:30 Section)


Dr. Cristina Davy
29 October 2013
The Effects of Drug Use During Pregnancy
Drug use during pregnancy is something that can cause many different
complications to arise during pregnancy and the life of the child. The use of drugs and
alcohol have been proven to negatively impact the health of the child, and should be
avoided at all costs during pregnancy. The three primary classifications of drug abuse in
this context are nicotine, alcohol, and illicit drugs (Topics in Brief).
Negative consequences of drug abuse during pregnancy can affect both the mother
and fetus. Smoking tobacco during pregnancy can cause stillbirth, infant mortality, Sudden
Infant Death Syndrome, preterm birth, respiratory problems, slowed growth, and low birth
weight. Many of these symptoms can be found even when the mother was only exposed to
secondhand smoke (Topics in Brief). The most commonly abuse drug during pregnancy is
alcohol. Consuming alcohol during pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol syndrome, which
causes low birth weight, facial and heart defects, learning problems, and mental
retardation. Alcohol can also lead to stillbirth, miscarriage, and newborn death (Substance
Use During Pregnancy). Other illicit drugs have had less research done on them, and so
the effects on the fetus are not completely clear. The most obvious effect that can occur is
the baby being born with an addiction to the abused drug. These babies go through a
withdrawal period in the hospital, and can be hard to comfort or unable to respond to their

mothers (Substance Abuse During Pregnancy).


Though these severe drug abuse problems cause the most serious problems with
the pregnancy, there are other substances that are common and thought of as safe but can
actually lead to problems as well. Prescription drugs and even over-the-counter medicines
can cause problems with the pregnancy, and even large doses of daily vitamins can lead to
adverse effects. There has also been some research done on the effects of caffeine during
pregnancy. Some studies have shown that caffeine can cause increased risk of
miscarriage, early delivery, or lower birth weight. However, there have also been studies
done that show now harmful effects from caffeine. This had led to a controversy amongst
health professionals as to whether it is safe to consume caffeinated beverages during
pregnancy, but it is commonly advised to drink as little as possible just to be safe
(Substance Abuse During Pregnancy).
Drug abuse during pregnancy has been linked to the age of the mother, and
mothers who are aged 15 to 17 abuse drugs more commonly during pregnancy (with the
exception of cigarettes, in which women aged 18 to 25 abuse more commonly.)

It is interesting to note that of all women aged 15 to 17, about 13% engage in illicit
substance abuse, whereas a slightly elevated 15.8% of pregnant women aged 15 to 17
engage in illicit substance abuse, which may show some small correlation between
teenage pregnancy and drug abuse (Topics in Brief). The percentage of pregnant women
who engage in illicit substance abuse aged 15 to 17 (~16%) is greater than the percentage
of women aged 18 to 44 (~10%), showing that illicit substance abuse during pregnancy is
less likely as a woman grows older.
In my opinion, the best way to prevent this problem is to provide expectant mothers
who are struggling with options for support to break their addiction. Group therapy could be
highly effective, and the mother should absolutely inform her doctor about the abuse
problem so that adequate medical support and care can be provided. Treatment options
for expectant mothers with drug abuse include both medications and behavioral
treatments. Methadone maintenance can improve many of the adverse affects on the child
due to untreated heroin abuse in the mother, although usually the child will require
methadone withdrawal treatment upon delivery. More recently, buprenorphine has been
shown to also alleviate adverse effects on the child, but with less withdrawal symptoms and
shorter hospital stays. Behavioral treatments can be effective in curing the problem at its
source by stopping the drug abuse by the mother. Contingency management can be used
to stop addiction by offering incentives to women for maintaining drug abstinence. Treating
mood and anxiety disorders has also been found to reduce the risk of a drug abuse
problem beginning in the first place (Topics in Brief).

Works Cited
"Substance Use During Pregnancy." Patient Education. UCSF Medical Center, n.d. Web.
30 Oct. 2013.
"Topics in Brief: Prenatal Exposure to Drugs of Abuse." The Science of Drug Abuse and
Addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse, May 2011. Web. 30 Oct. 2013.