Substance Abuse During Pregnancy: Dangers and Risks of Abusing Substances during Pregnancy

February 21, 2023

Pregnancy can be a wonderful time in a woman’s life. This is typically a time when she becomes more focused on her own health to support the health of her unborn baby. She may start to become more conscious of what she is putting into her body and how that may affect the child she’s carrying.

However, if the mother is addicted to drugs or alcohol, she may not have the same focus and possibly feel hopeless.  Help is available for pregnant women who struggle with substance abuse. Over the years, more and more rehabilitation programs have begun to incorporate services for pregnant women.

We are currently in the second part of a five-part series on Substance Abuse During Pregnancy. In this post, we will cover the topic: Dangers and Risks of Abusing Substances during Pregnancy.  If you missed the first part, click here to visit our blog page, and make sure to come back over the next few weeks as we cover the remaining topics.

So, what are the real risks of abusing substances during pregnancy?

Many factors play into the risks associated with consuming drugs or alcohol while pregnant.  These factors include the specific drug or drugs being abused, how often the substance is used, and when in the pregnancy the substance was introduced.  These risks can often be avoided with the proper addiction treatment and oversight by a reputable doctor at a reputable facility.

In general, risks to the unborn baby from substance abuse include:

  • Placental abruption
  • Miscarriage
  • Premature birth
  • Stillbirth
  • Developmental defects
  • Low birth weight
  • Small head size
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Postnatal withdrawal syndrome


In addition, some babies born to mothers who have abused substances may develop one or more of the following additional health issues:

  • Heart defects:  Drinking alcohol and taking certain drugs during pregnancy can result in heart defects, particularly a hole in the baby’s heart.
  • Infections, including Hepatitis C and HIV:  Often transmitted by people who share needles during injection drug use, these viruses can then be passed on to the unborn baby during pregnancy or at birth.
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS):  NAS is a group of conditions caused when a baby withdraws from certain drugs they’re exposed to in the womb before birth.  This syndrome occurs most commonly when a baby is born to a mother addicted to opioids.
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs):  These disorders are associated with a range of cognitive and developmental difficulties including physical problems and problems with behavior and learning, and usually last for the life of the child.


Alcohol is a known teratogen (an agent that can lead to congenital abnormalities).  Alcohol can cause developmental defects and health problems in a baby if the mother uses it at any time during her pregnancy.  Alcohol abuse during pregnancy is the leading preventable cause of developmental disabilities, learning disabilities, and birth defects in the United States, according to the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, with alcohol ranking above cocaine, heroin, and marijuana in producing serious effects in the fetus.

In addition, women who use drugs are more likely to receive delayed, limited, or no prenatal care at all, potentially leading to other complications for the growing fetus.  The sooner a woman can find help and quit using drugs, the better chance her baby has at being born full-term without complications.

A newborn baby’s life is a time for celebration, just as much as each day of sobriety.  Pregnant women can enjoy this fresh journey in life with newfound sobriety and continued recovery.  Comprehensive care, along with a nurturing and supportive environment, offers the baby and mother the best chances for a full recovery.  At Options Health, we would be happy to come alongside you and connect you with the best treatment and rehabilitation centers in our area.

For overall parenting help, we have a wonderful program to help women as they navigate motherhood.  Earn While You Learn (EWYL) is a free program that provides education, emotional support, and material resources to expectant mothers through the toddler years of their baby’s life.  Once enrolled in EWYL, you will be connected with a mentor to guide you through an amazing curriculum of parenting classes where you earn credits to be spent in our Care Closet; where you can get diapers, wipes, baby clothes, baby furniture, and more!

Are you a father?  If so, we have an awesome program for you too!  FIT (Fathers In Training) is a free program that will challenge you to be the best father you can be by walking alongside you through our skill-building fatherhood classes and mentorship.

If you are interested in either of these free programs, please contact us today!

Options Health is a safe place where you can confidentially come and discuss sexual health, pregnancy, and relationship issues with one of our patient advocates.  Feel free to contact us today to take advantage of our free services, including pregnancy testing, ultrasound, pregnancy options consultation, STD testing, and abortion aftercareCall us or text us to schedule an appointment. We are here for you and ready to listen!