Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Substance Abuse In Infants

Drug Addiction in Babies

According to the March of Dimes, about four percent of pregnant women use illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines and heroin, all of which pose serious risks for mothers and their babies. Babies born to mothers who regularly use drugs during pregnancy are usually dependent on the drug too, and they experience various forms of withdrawal-like symptoms. Although it is traumatic and unpleasant for the baby and caregivers, withdrawal usually only lasts a few days or weeks, whereas birth defects caused by drugs last a lifetime.

Marijuana, Methamphetamine, and Hallucinogens

When a mother injects, inhales or consumes any drug (or food or drink, for that matter), it crosses the placenta and enters the baby's circulation system. The March of Dimes reports that babies who are regularly exposed to marijuana before birth exhibit withdrawal in the form of excessive crying and trembling. Those exposed to amphetamines or methamphetamines, such as crystal meth, speed, Ecstasy and crank, often experience jitteriness, drowsiness, tremors, feeding difficulties and breathing problems. Hallucinogens, like PCP and LSD, cause newborns to experience withdrawal symptoms including lethargy and tremors, according to the American Pregnancy Association.


Because heroin and cocaine are so addictive, unborn babies easily become dependent on them when their mothers use them frequently during pregnancy. According to the March of Dimes, babies of heroin users suffer withdrawal symptoms including fever, sneezing, trembling, irritability, diarrhea, vomiting, continual crying and sometimes seizures. Babies who are born addicted to heroin can be treated in the hospital safely with methadone to stabilize withdrawal symptoms.


According to the APA, babies whose mothers regularly use cocaine during gestation suffer from sleeplessness, tremors, muscle spasms and feeding difficulties. Also, the elimination of cocaine is slower in a fetus than in an adult, so the drug remains in the baby's body much longer than it does in the mother's.

Other Dangers of Drug Use During Pregnancy

Using drugs while pregnant can lead to miscarriage, premature birth and low birth weight. According to the March of Dimes, babies who are born too early or too small are at an increased risk for health problems during the newborn period as well as lasting disabilities such as mental retardation, cerebral palsy and even death. Babies who are exposed to cocaine and heroin have an increased risk of dying from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Frequent drug use during pregnancy can also cause mental, learning and behavioral problems in the baby. The APA reports that prenatal drug use can also cause defects of the genitals, kidneys, brain, lungs and muscles.

Prenatal Substance Abuse Laws

To combat the lasting effects of drug use during pregnancy, including newborn dependence and birth defects, several states have enacted laws that address prenatal drug abuse, according to the APA. In South Carolina, mothers who are convicted of using drugs during pregnancy are charged with abuse and neglect. In Iowa, Minnesota and North Dakota, doctors are required to test for and report prenatal drug use. In many states, prenatal drug exposure can be grounds for termination of parental rights, and some states require admission to an inpatient treatment program for pregnant women who use drugs.

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