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The Dangers of Using Opioids While Pregnant

Pregnant women face various risks, with the potential for long-term effects on both mother and child. One of these is the potential danger posed by opioids when taken during pregnancy. Opioids are potent drugs that can cause serious side effects in pregnant women and harm their unborn children. Some of the dangers of using opioids while pregnant include physical health risks, psychological concerns, and possible birth defects or developmental delays in babies born exposed to opioids in utero.

Stats of Pregnant Women Who Abuse Opioids

A recent study estimated that approximately 4% of pregnant women in the United States abuse prescription opioids. Among this population, it was found that most were between the ages of 15-24 (54%), white (66%), and had an income below the poverty level (76%). 

Additionally, 70% reported using other substances, such as alcohol or marijuana during pregnancy. Of those who abused opioids while pregnant, 33% went on to deliver preterm babies with a birth weight below 2.5 kg and 18% experienced neonatal abstinence syndrome within 48 hours of delivery. The majority – 90% – also did not receive any form of treatment for opioid abuse during their pregnancies.

The exact prevalence of pregnant women who abuse illegal opioids is difficult to assess due to varying definitions and the underreporting of opioid use among this group. However, a study in 2017 estimated that 1.1% of pregnant women used illicit opioids during their pregnancy. This figure is likely an underestimation as it does not include those using prescription opioids for non-medical purposes. 

Signs of Opioid Abuse

The signs of opioid abuse in pregnant women can vary, but some common indicators include:

  • Changes in sleeping or eating habits
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Disrupted daily routines
  • Slurred speech and lack of coordination
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Neglecting personal hygiene and health care needs
  • Avoidance of friends, family members, and other social activities/events they previously enjoyed participating in
  • Financial problems related to their drug use
  • Secretive behavior about their activities and whereabouts

Reasons Why a Mother Would Use Them

There are a variety of reasons why a mother might abuse prescription opioids while pregnant. For example, she may be self-medicating for pain or anxiety. She might be seeking relief from nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. Another reason a mother would use opioids while pregnant could be if she is trying to cope with depression or feelings of hopelessness. 

In addition, she might be attempting to self-treat an addiction to another substance, such as alcohol or marijuana, that has been made worse by the hormonal changes associated with pregnancy. Lastly, she may want to avoid the withdrawal symptoms related to opioid dependence or addiction, so she continues using them.

Dangers on Mom

The misuse of opioids can have serious consequences for both the mother and her developing baby. For the mother, opioid misuse can lead to addiction and dependence, which can cause long-term health problems such as respiratory depression, liver damage, impaired motor skills, cognitive decline, and even death

Additionally, women who use opioids during pregnancy may be at risk for preterm labor or delivery complications due to decreased oxygen supply to the fetus. Opioid use in pregnancy also increases the risk that a newborn will experience Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). 

Dangers on Unborn Baby

The use of opioids during pregnancy can have serious consequences for an unborn baby. It increases the risk of preterm labor and delivery, low birth weight, and neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). NAS is a condition where an infant experiences withdrawal symptoms upon birth due to exposure in utero. 

Symptoms associated with NAS range from mild behavioral issues such as excessive crying, feeding difficulties, or sleep disturbances to more severe medical conditions, including seizures or breathing problems. Additionally, babies born to mothers who used opioids during their pregnancies may also experience long-term health issues like cognitive delays or developmental disorders that can impact them throughout their lives. 

As such, pregnant women must understand the dangers associated with opioid misuse so they can make informed decisions about their healthcare choices throughout their pregnancies.

Benefits of Gender-Specific Rehab

Gender-specific rehabilitation treatment can be beneficial for pregnant women who misuse opioids. This type of treatment is tailored to the unique needs and experiences of pregnant women, recognizing that their recovery journey may differ from other populations due to the physical and emotional changes associated with pregnancy. 

Gender-specific treatments often focus on holistic healing and addressing underlying issues such as trauma or mental health disorders, in addition to providing education about substance use prevention strategies. Additionally, gender-specific programs are more likely to provide support services, such as prenatal care, to help ensure a successful recovery process.


The use of opioids during pregnancy poses numerous risks to both mother and child. Pregnant women need to be aware of these dangers and take steps to protect their health by avoiding opioid use or seeking help from a medical detox and rehab treatment center if they are currently using opioids. 

Customized Opioid Rehab for Pregnant Women in Columbus, OH

If you are pregnant and want help for opioid misuse, help is available at Ohio Addiction Recovery Center in Columbus, Ohio. We offer custom-tailored rehab programs to help you stop opioid use in a caring and supportive environment. Contact us today for further information.

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