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Shouldn’t a woman just stop using alcohol or drugs as soon as she knows she is pregnant?

Well, yes and no. If a woman can stop using drugs or alcohol on her own, few people would think that was dangerous. We want everyone, especially pregnant women, to take care of themselves. We’ll cover pregnancy and methamphetamine or cocaine use in another article.

Alcohol is a known teratogen, meaning that it causes birth defects. There is no safe level of drinking in pregnancy. Alcohol exposure in pregnancy is the leading preventable cause of neurobehavioral problems and mental retardation, including fetal alcohol syndrome. Abruptly stopping high alcohol intake can lead to serious medical conditions such as hallucinations, seizures, and DT’s (delirium tremens). The immature liver of the fetus cannot metabolize the alcohol well. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a permanent problem, involving growth retardation of the fetus/infant, and characteristic facial features. Central nervous system problems such as developmental delays, neurological abnormalities, behavioral abnormalities, intellectual abnormalities, and significant brain malformations are all possible. Even if the newborn or child doesn’t meet all the criteria for FAS, s/he may have learning and behavioral problems, and be at increased risk themselves for substance abuse.

Many drugs will cause the mother to go into severe withdrawal if stopped suddenly. She needs to get expert medical advice and support to be able to do so safely, even if she is very motivated to do so. With opiate addiction, sudden withdrawal can cause fetal death, especially at particular points in the pregnancy. Methadone is a safe alternative to continued addictive opiate (narcotic) use during pregnancy. Methadone maintenance prevents the dangerous cycle of use/withdrawal that goes with unsupervised opiate use.
By Federal law, pregnant women have priority entering the methadone maintenance program. Other opiate medication assisted recovery is sometimes used for pregnant women without access to methadone. The woman is put on Subutex rather than on Suboxone if she is pregnant. Learn more now by watching related WYNK flash videos.

by: Lois Cochrane Schlutter, Ph.D. L.P.

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