Heroin and pregnancy: Complications and treatments
Pregnancy and heroin use require attention
With the rising use of opiates in the U.S., heroin use in pregnancy is on the increase as well. The number of heroin users has moved upward by more than fifty percent since 2007 to an estimated 600,000, with a proportionate number of overdoses. Because the average ages for women starting to use heroin and women experiencing pregnancy are so close (23 and 25, respectively), there is an overlap in which heroin use and pregnancy converge.
So. how can women showing signs of physical addiction to heroin start to think about detoxing off heroin? Are treatments safe? Will they be uncomfortable? We review here, and invite your questions in the comments section at the end.
Effects of being pregnant on heroin
Complications for the child are inevitable, whether or not the addicted mother stops using: withdrawal symptoms affect the unborn child if the mother stops; continued use can result in giving birth to an addicted infant. Additionally, health and lifestyle issues related to drug use have a high likelihood of adverse effect on a fetus.
If the unborn child is exposed to heroin to the extent that it develops dependency, upon birth it will face withdrawal, known as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. The symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea, irritability and restlessness, seizures, sweating, sleep disturbances, and “failure to thrive,” among others. If the mother stops using heroin abruptly while still pregnant, the result can be fetal distress, preterm labor, or fetal demise. Other complications of opiate addiction and pregnancy include the statistically heightened possibility of lifestyle-related health problems such as Hepatitis and HIV, which can be passed on to an infant in-utero.
Difficult choices you have to face
Drug-addicted expectant mothers are faced with a difficult choice. Hopefully, the additional incentive of protecting an unborn child will tilt the scales in favor of getting clean. The issue for the addict then is finding a way to abstain that promotes maximum protection for the child. Her other concern, of course, will be about minimizing her own discomfort during the inevitable withdrawal episode.
How do you treat heroin dependency during pregnancy?
Professional treatment is always indicated for drug dependency, but is especially recommended when pregnancy is an issue. In fact, treatment centers exist that have special programs tailored for pregnant women. Medically supervised detox is a critical component that ensures optimum outcome for mother and child. Appropriate medication to alleviate withdrawal symptoms, hydration and nutrition, monitoring for life-threatening events, examination for and treatment of other health issues, and separating the addict from an environment where she has the opportunity to self-medicate are all primary concerns at the detox stage.
A caring and understanding environment is especially important for a newly abstinent expectant mother, as the temptation to leave treatment and resume drug use is powerful after detox. Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, or PAWS, is a condition that leaves the treatment patient vulnerable to relapse unless the subsequent treatment phase is submitted to. Counseling is necessary to prepare the addict for the responsibilities of life and motherhood after discharge. Mental and emotional issues, coping methods, and relapse triggers and their avoidance are discussed at depth. Counseling also is critical in instilling an appropriate understanding of the dynamics of addiction and the likelihood of relapse in order to motivate the addict to cooperate in an aftercare program.
There is hope!
Heroin use in pregnancy is an especially unfortunate reality in the already-bleak picture of addiction. But treatment is the best hope for troubled mothers-to-be, and the alternatives—continuing drug use or attempting to stop unsupervised—are dangerous and untenable.
Do you have questions about being pregnant and being on heroin? Please leave us your questions in the comments section at the end. We’ll do our best to respond to you personally and promptly.
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