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The Dangers of Drinking While Pregnant: Facts You Must Know

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Each year millions of American women become pregnant. Pregnancy can be a different experience for each woman who experiences it. For some, it is a dream come true, for others it is unintended and brings extreme amounts of stress. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2019, more than 3.7 million women in the United States became pregnant. Of these, it is estimated that 45 percent are unplanned. 

Whether or not a pregnancy is planned or unplanned, many women who are pregnant continue to drink alcohol. CDC research revealed that in 2019 one in nine pregnant women drank alcohol. What is even more alarming, is that the rate of alcohol consumption during pregnancy is on the rise—this includes dangerous binge drinking. Research revealed that binge drinking during pregnancy grew from 2.5% in 2011 to 4.0% in 2018.

However, according to research in a 2020 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report article, 10% of pregnant women report drinking alcohol. The consumption of alcohol during pregnancy is not safe no matter how much or how little is consumed. Medical professionals in the U.S. continue to suggest total abstinence from alcohol during pregnancy for a number of reasons. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy has been linked to the following: 

  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirth
  • Physical problems (for the child) 
  • Intellectual issues (for the child) 
  • Mental disabilities (for the child) 

What is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder? 

These disabilities for the child are known as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders (FASD). It is somewhat difficult to effectively diagnose all cases of FASD. However, some studies of school-aged children suggest that around six to nine children out of 1,000 have it and others suggest the rates could be as high as 1-5% of the population has FASD. 

FASD can include:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Speech and language disabilities
  • Intellectual disabilities including low IQ
  • Attention issues
  • Hyperactivity
  • Reasoning and judgment skills that are impaired
  • Facial features that are abnormal
  • Small head size
  • Low birth weight
  • Shorter height than average
  • Coordination issues
  • Vision and/or hearing issues
  • Heart, kidney, and bone problems

In order to prevent these issues from occurring, women who are pregnant should not consume any amount of alcohol. During each part of pregnancy, the baby is developing and alcohol consumption can negatively impact that crucial development leading to lifelong problems for the child. 

Getting Help for Unhealthy Alcohol Consumption During Pregnancy

If you are pregnant and are unable to stop drinking alcohol you aren’t alone. As mentioned, millions of pregnant women report continuing to consume alcohol during pregnancy—many who want to stop but just can’t. Finding a treatment center for alcohol use disorder (AUD), is the first step to stopping. 

Some treatment centers offer specialty care units for women with children or who are pregnant, however, only just over 20% offer specialized programs for pregnant women. The most important part of selecting a treatment center for alcohol addiction is to find one that utilizes evidence-based treatment programs executed through staff who are caring and compassionate. 

For many women who continue to drink during pregnancy, the need for AUD treatment has been present for a while. Research reveals that those pregnant women who engaged in binge drinking before pregnancy were more likely to continue during pregnancy than others. 

Studies also have shown that pregnant women between the ages of 35 to 44 years of age had the highest levels of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, while the age group 18-24 were more likely to binge drink during their pregnancies. 

It’s essential to get help to stop drinking if you are pregnant. The longer you continue to drink alcohol during pregnancy the higher the chance of your child suffering from any one of the issues previously discussed. 

If you or a loved one are drinking alcohol in unhealthy amounts, getting help now is vital. The sooner you seek help for a problem with alcohol or another substance, the better. Addiction, whether to alcohol or another substance, is a progressive illness. This means it becomes worse over time. It’s important to understand that it is never too early or too late to get help for a problem with alcohol or another substance. 

When it comes to other substances and consumption during pregnancy, there are a few findings worth noting. Research shows that polysubstance use (using more than one substance) during pregnancy is more common than previously believed. From opioid use and cigarettes to the consumption of marijuana, polysubstance use amongst pregnant women increases the risk of the same problems associated with alcohol consumption alone. 

An article in the American Journal of Public Health in 2017 revealed that pregnant women who reported using opioids for nonmedical reasons also reported drinking more than five drinks per day while pregnant. This is a reason for concern and highlights the importance of proper treatment options for women who are pregnant and have polysubstance use issues. 

When it comes to drinking alcohol while pregnant, it’s important to understand that alcohol was most likely used at unhealthy levels prior to pregnancy. However, for the millions of women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant, the increased amount of stress from an unplanned pregnancy may only increase the drinking while pregnant. 

Millions of women (and men) use alcohol as a means to cope or to self-medicate. From a way to ‘take the edge off’ to a full-blown way to manage mental health issues, drinking alcohol can become an addiction before the individual knows it. What often starts as ‘fun’ or a way to ‘relax’ can transform into an alcohol use disorder. 

Getting Treatment for an Alcohol Problem While Pregnant

Pregnancy and substance abuse treatment aren’t often considered to go hand in hand. However, as research shows, more and more women are drinking alcohol while pregnant at unhealthy levels. For this reason, it’s essential that any stigmas associated with getting help for alcohol abuse while pregnant are eradicated. This is essential not only for the women who are pregnant but also for the unborn children who could needlessly suffer from FASD. 

If you are pregnant and looking for treatment for alcohol issues or an issue with another substance there are few things to consider. 

First, it’s highly suggested that any pregnant woman who is addicted to alcohol or another substance detox under medical supervision. Detoxing can be a dangerous part of the recovery process and this is especially true if the woman is pregnant. Medically supervised detox during pregnancy helps to keep the woman and the baby safe. 

Next, it’s important to examine what specific type of treatment is needed. A few questions to ask are:

  • What is the substance being abused?
  • Is there any other substance also being used?
  • Are there any possible co-occurring mental health disorders?
  • Are there any other issues? (such as chronic pain, injury, etc.)

Finding a treatment center that has experience and expertise in all relevant issues is vital to recovery. Building a solid foundation in recovery starts by addressing all issues associated with addiction. Many women who are drinking while pregnant, have co-occurring mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. Others may be first responders and need a program that understands the unique concerns of this group. No matter what other issues you may or may not have, finding a treatment center that utilizes evidence-based treatment and creates a comprehensive care program is key. 

Many women who have an AUD or substance use disorder (SUD) have experienced some type of trauma. Whether sexual abuse, physical abuse, or emotional abuse, it’s essential that this trauma be addressed during treatment. Finding a treatment center that offers specialized treatment programs for victims of trauma is important. 

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), there are some criteria that should be looked for when it comes to treating pregnant women with addiction issues. These are: 

  • Staff with medical, addiction, and mental health treatment backgrounds
  • Facilities that offer both medical and psychiatric services
  • Pregnancy and parenting education resources available
  • Comprehensive treatment programs in which all staff involved coordinate care
  • Help with housing (residential treatment) and transportation

If you are pregnant and drinking or using another substance, Future Recovery Healthcare can help. Futures offers evidence-based treatment programs to help women and men begin the road to recovery. Often, when faced with an addiction to alcohol or drugs, life may seem hopeless, lonely, and painful, however, many who have been exactly where you are now have found hope and healing. It all begins with taking the first brave step and asking for help. 

Futures is here for you. Contact us today online or call 866-804-2098.

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