The Effects of Substance Abuse on Unborn Children
Substance abuse is a problem that many pregnant women in the United States struggle with. Substance abuse is defined as the overindulgence in and the dependence on an addictive substance, especially alcohol or a narcotic drug. Generally, pregnant addicts abuse multiple substances, using a combination of drugs to self medicate themselves. In addition, women are usually addicted to drugs or have issues with alcoholism before they become pregnant. Substance abusing women have also been shown to have histories of physical and sexual abuse dating back to childhood (Gale, 2003). Many of these women are in abusive relationships in which they tend to stay in throughout their addiction. In this case, the use of drugs helps to numb the addict’s pain of such abuse. Most of these women feel distrustful of people in general and therefore, have very little support from their peers. Drug dependence is a disease. Drug dependence is the habituation or addiction to the use of a drug or chemical substance, with or without physical dependence. It is extremely difficult for a woman to abstain, even if she does become pregnant. In addition, if a woman decides to seek treatment she may face many barriers. This paper will address the prenatal effects of drug dependence, barriers to treatment, social policy, and what a comprehensive treatment program provides to women who are addicted to drugs and who are also pregnant. Prenatal substance abuse is wrong because there is no question that it poses serious health risks to the fetus, but also poses problems for mother. The prenatal effects of drug addiction vary among the type of drugs that are used by the mother. These drugs include the licit drugs of alcohol and tobacco. Alcohol may produce Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS); a condition characterized by abnormal facial features, intrauterine growth retardation, and central nervous system problems (CDC, 2003). This can occur if a woman drinks during her pregnancy. Children with FAS may have physical disabilities and problems with learning, memory, attention, problem solving, and social/behavioral problems. Research has also shown that boys born to mothers who consumed alcohol during their pregnancies are more likely to develop attention deficit disorders and delinquent behavior (Rothman, 2000). Smoking also has many negative effects to the reproductive process; including impaired fertility, earlier menopause, increased risk of ectopic pregnancy, as well as placenta previa, abruption placenta, and premature rupture of the membranes (CDC, 2003). In severe cases, newborn children may die of acute intoxication. According to Dr. Mark Willenbring, the director of treatment and recovery research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, recovering from this disease can be a long road. After a year of completing a treatment program, about a third of alcoholics are sober or can have a drink occasionally without problems. An additional forty percent show substantial improvement but still drink heavily on occasion; and twenty five percent have experienced a complete relapse (Bock). Tobacco use during pregnancy can be particularly harmful to the baby as well. Studies have shown that smoking a single pack of cigarettes during pregnancy can elevate the risks of nicotine dependency in children (Buka, Shenassa, & Niaura, 2003). Research has also shown that a physiological link between maternal smoking during pregnancy and smoking among offspring is plausible because nicotine and other substances in cigarette smoke cross the placental barrier and may have direct and long-term effects on the neurological development of the fetus. The nicotine that passes from mother to fetus stimulates nicotinic receptors, which are present from the early stages of fetal development. This activity may cause permanent abnormalities in the brain's dopaminergic regulation. These effects, which may...
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