Pregnancy and Drug Use

Women can have special risk factors for drug abuse. Women can become addicted quickly to certain drugs, such as crack cocaine. Therefore, by the time they seek help, their addiction may be difficult to treat. Women who use drugs often suffer from other serious health problems, sexually transmitted diseases, and mental health problems, such as depression.

Many women who use drugs have had troubled lives. Studies have found that at least 70 percent of women drug users have been sexually abused by the age of sixteen. Most of these women had at least one parent who abused alcohol or drugs.

Women who use drugs tend to have low self-esteem, little self-confidence, and feel powerless. They often feel lonely and are isolated from support networks. Women from certain cultural backgrounds or who have difficulty with the English language may not know how to find help for their addiction.

Drug use is a serious health problem for many reasons. Women who use drugs risk becoming infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The virus can be spread through needles used to inject drugs. Therefore, women who inject drugs and share needles are especially at risk.

The AIDS virus is also spread through sexual contact; women who have sex with men who inject drugs are at great risk. Today, almost 70 percent of AIDS cases in women are related to either injecting drugs or having sex with a man who injects drugs. AIDS is now the fourth leading cause of death among women.

A mother who uses drugs risks her life and her baby’s. When a pregnant woman uses drugs, she and her unborn child face serious health problems. During pregnancy, the drugs used by the mother can enter the baby’s bloodstream. The most serious effects on the baby can be HIV infection, AIDS, prematurity, low birth weight, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, small head size, stunted growth, poor motor skills, and behavior problems. A mother’s continuing drug use puts her children at risk for neglect, physical abuse, and malnutrition. Drug abusers who suddenly find themselves pregnant should stop using drugs, and seriously consider signing up for rehab and addiction recovery programs.However, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) research shows that care and treatment for the pregnant drug abuser can reduce many of the negative effects on the baby.

Health Risks Associated with Drug Abuse


  • Poor Nutrition
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Rapid Heart Beat
  • Low Weight Gain
  • Low Self Esteem
  • Preterm Labor
  • Sexually Transmitted Disease
  • Early Delivery
  • Depression
  • Physical Abuse

  • Prematurity
  • Low Birth Weight
  • Infections
  • Small Head Size
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
  • Birth Defects
  • Stunted Growth
  • Poor Motor Skills
  • Learning Disabilities
  • Neurological Problems

Many women with drug problems are afraid to seek treatment. Studies have found that more than 4 million women need treatment for drug abuse. Unfortunately, there are many important reasons why women do not seek help. Some women may not be able to find child care. Or they fear that the authorities may take away their children. Some women fear they will be punished if they admit their drug addiction. Many women fear violence from their husbands, boyfriends, or partners.

Friends and family can help relieve these fears for the woman who uses drugs. They can support her by helping her find good drug abuse treatment and by providing child care and transportation. Women can get help for their drug addiction.

It is hard to beat drug addiction. But the woman who uses drugs can get better with the right kind of treatment — even if she has tried to quit before and failed. Treatment is available, often close to home. The first step is to find out what kind of treatment a woman needs and where she can get it. For a referral to a local treatment program, call the free National Drug Information Treatment and Referral Line, at 1-800-662-HELP or 1-800-66-AYUDA. Women who get treatment can rebuild their lives.

Worried about drugs and your baby? Maybe you just need someone to talk to? Visit our online forum and talk with other new moms.

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