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Alcohol or Drug Use During Pregnancy

Overview

One of the most important things you can do when you're pregnant is to avoid alcohol and drugs. During pregnancy, everything you eat, drink, or take into your body affects you and your growing baby. Using alcohol or drugs while you're pregnant can cause serious problems. It can cause problems for you during your pregnancy and when it is time for your baby to be born. It can also affect your baby both before and after birth.

The best time to stop using alcohol and drugs is before you get pregnant. But sometimes pregnancy is unexpected. Drugs and alcohol can harm your baby in the first weeks of pregnancy, so the sooner you can stop, the better.

Risks of substance use during pregnancy

Substance

Possible effect on mother

Possible effect on fetus or baby

Alcohol

  • Lack of certain vitamins
  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirth
  • Low birth weight
  • Intellectual disability
  • Heart problems
  • Learning and behavior problems
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome

Cocaine

  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema)
  • Breathing problems
  • Heart problems
  • Placenta abruptio
  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirth
  • Certain birth defects
  • Low birth weight

Ecstasy

  • Effects not known

Heroin or opioids

  • High blood pressure during pregnancy (preeclampsia)
  • Bleeding in the third trimester
  • Placenta abruptio
  • Breech birth
  • Seizures
  • Withdrawal symptoms after birth
  • Breathing problems
  • Low birth weight
  • Physical and mental development problems

Inhalants

  • Life-threatening breathing problems
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Coma
  • Low birth weight
  • Problems with how bones form
  • Learning problems

Marijuana

  • Early (preterm) labor
  • Low birth weight
  • Learning and development problems

Methamphetamine

  • Stroke
  • Brain damage
  • Miscarriage
  • Placenta abruption
  • Low birth weight
  • Learning and memory problems

PCP or LSD

  • Confusion
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Risk of overdose
  • Certain birth defects

Getting help to stop using alcohol or drugs

You may already know that alcohol and drugs can harm you and your baby. But it can still be hard to stop. Changing your behaviors isn't easy. Some people need treatment to help them quit using drugs or alcohol.

Here are some things you can do.

  • Tell someone.

    If you can't stop drinking or using drugs on your own, tell someone that you need help. There are people and programs to help you.

    • Your doctor is a good place to start. Your doctor can talk with you about treatment options. If you have a history of problems with quitting drugs or alcohol, tell your doctor.
    • You might also want to tell a friend or loved one. Having someone to encourage you can help.
    • Contact the national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) help line at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or online at www.samhsa.gov/find-help to learn about treatment programs in your area.
  • Make changes to your lifestyle.

    You may need to make changes to your routine, like not being around certain people, or not going to places where you used to drink or use drugs. Ask friends and family to support your changes.

  • Consider counseling.

    Counseling helps you make changes in your life so you can stay sober. You learn to manage emotions and make good choices. You may get counseling in a group or one-on-one.

  • Join a support group.

    Groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) help members get sober and stay that way. There are also support groups for family members and friends.

Related Information

Credits

Current as of: February 23, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Sarah Marshall MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Kirtly Jones MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology