Heroin and Pregnancy

07 Feb Heroin and Pregnancy

Table of Content

Heroin and pregnancy are two things that should never go together. But, life isn’t easy and often doesn’t go how we planned.

The truth is, there are an estimated 100,000 heroin-dependent women of childbearing age in America. In addition, around 10,000 heroin-dependent babies are born every year.

But pregnant women taking heroin isn’t usually seen across every demographic of our society. In fact, the majority of heroin-dependent mothers are young, unmarried or separated from their spouses, and are disproportionately members of minority ethnic groups.

As you may already know, being pregnant and using heroin is a really bad idea. Not only will it cause tons of problems for the addicted mother, but her baby will run the risk of complication during the pregnancy and labor, and may have long-term effects for the rest of its life.

If you’re a heroin-dependent mother, please talk to one of our recovery specialists immediately.

The same is true if you know or suspect someone you know of using heroin while pregnant.

In this article we’ll cover:

  • Signs and symptoms of heroin addiction.
  • The psychiatric implications of being a pregnant mother while addicted to heroin.
  • The maternal complications a pregnant mother may experience while heroin-dependent.
  • The consequences a fetus and baby may experience when born to a heroin-dependent mother.

Again, you should never worry about seeking help for yourself or for someone you know. It may be hard to bring it up, but it could save someone’s life or save someone from a life of heroin-dependency, physical abnormalities, and other developmental issues.

Continue reading to learn more.

Signs & Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

You may be wondering, what exactly are the symptoms of heroin addiction? Well, depending on how the heroin used, the purity of the heroin (and what it’s cut with), and the user’s specific medical history, the symptoms can be wide-ranging.

But there are some common ones that you can look out for if you suspect a loved one is addicted to heroin. These include:

  • Shallow and labored breathing
  • Visible track marks, injection wounds, or needle marks
  • Distant or dreamy eyes
  • Extreme fatigue or “nodding off”
  • Slurred speech
  • Forgetfulness or trouble remembering
  • Apathy or lack of interest
  • Poor hygiene
  • Lack of motivation
  • Alienation from family and friends
  • Mood swings
  • Cramps or muscle pains

As we mentioned, these symptoms will vary from user to user depending on a number of factors, such as the severity and history of the addiction.

In addition, it’s important to keep in mind an addict may exhibit one or more of these symptoms or none at all.

Really, if you suspect a loved one is addicted to heroin (especially one who’s pregnant) you should bring it up immediately. If you’re not sure how to bring it up, call one of our recovery advisors for guidance.

Psychiatric Implications of Heroin Addiction During Pregnancy

One of the most obvious symptoms of heroin addiction is the dramatic and at times violent mood swings a user may undergo.

Generally, this symptom is related to fluctuations in the levels of the drug in the user’s system. In other words, when they have heroin in their system they experience a “high”.

When the level of heroin in their system drops, they experience a low.

This results in abrupt alterations in the steady state of the user, resulting in unsafe or violent behaviors. But these types of mood swings don’t have to necessarily be dramatic and violent for them to cause problems, especially if the addict is pregnant or a mother.

This is because to maintain a level-headed composure, an addict must spend a generous amount of energy on feeding their addiction. In other words, they have to divert energy from their day-to-day routine to find, buy, and use drugs.

This often means a user can neglect personal care, nutrition, professional and personal relationships, and other basic human necessities.

In addition, desperation and extreme cravings for heroin can result in the breach of social norms, leading to a rise in criminal behaviors and mental health problems such as depression.

This can be extremely debilitating for the normal user, but when it comes to pregnant women and heroin, it can be fatal.

This is because a huge predictor of the health of a baby is prenatal care. Prenatal care is all the care and preparation that happens before birth.

So while a non-addicted mother may spend her time and money shopping for prenatal vitamins, an addicted mother may spend that time and money buying and searching for drugs.

This can result in a whole host of problems, some of which we’ll cover in the next section. Continue reading to learn what these problems are and what causes them.

Maternal Complications of Heroin Addiction During Pregnancy

As we mentioned, a huge predictor of the health of a baby will be prenatal care. It’s estimated that 75 percent of heroin-addicted mothers give birth without any prenatal care.

Even without the added stressors of addiction and the chemical problems associated with heroin, this is a major setback for a developing fetus.

Here are just some of the problems associated with the lack of prenatal care often seen alongside heroin addiction:

  • Malnutrition: You’ve probably heard a pregnant mother say, “I’m eating for two.” This is totally true and most pregnant women have no problem eating an extra pint of ice cream to give their baby all the calcium it needs. Plus, as we mentioned, most pregnant women will take a prenatal vitamin regimen. However, heroin-addicted mothers are more likely to spend their time and money on drugs. This can result in malnutrition for the mother (including not putting on enough weight) as well as malnutrition problems for the baby. It’s fairly well documented that malnutrition during pregnancy can cause everything from maternal death during childbirth to long-lasting effects on the child- like learning disabilities or even diabetes.
  • Venereal diseases: Heroin addicts are at a higher risk of venereal diseases whether or not they’re pregnant. But if they are pregnant, a venereal disease will be a lot harder to recover from. Plus, it will cause tons of complications for their developing baby. One reason for the increased risk of venereal diseases is that heroin addicts often share contaminated needles. Another extremely sad reason is that many addicted women turn to prostitution to feed their habit.
  • Hepatitis: Hepatitis is often spread by the use of contaminated needles. In fact, nearly 80% of heroin addicts test positive for a chronic form of hepatitis. Hepatitis is extremely dangerous for a developing baby and can often result in an unplanned abortion or miscarriage.
  • Pulmonary complications: Pulmonary complications refer to problems with the lungs, and often, problems with the blood vessels in the lungs. Addicts have higher rates of pulmonary complications (such as pulmonary edemas) due to the effects of injecting heroin and some of the byproducts that are often seen in heroin.
  • Infection, preeclampsia, third-trimester bleeding, and more: There are many other complications that are associated with heroin-dependent mothers. Sadly, the list is too long to write out here. But, some other common complications include infection (which can be extremely dangerous and even fatal to a fetus), preeclampsia (which is associated with high blood pressure and the risk of seizure), and third-trimester bleeding.

While all of the above will affect the mother, many will also affect the fetus and raise its risk for complications during birth and for the rest of its life.

In the next section, we’ll get into more detail on the specifics of how heroin affects the fetus and what sorts of complications it can cause.

Fetal & Neonatal Complications of Heroin Addiction During Pregnancy

You may already know, but just to clarify, we want to give the definitions of ‘fetal’ and ‘neonatal’.

Fetal means anything related to a fetus. A fetus is an unborn mammal. In this case, an unborn human baby more than eight weeks after conception (anything before eight weeks is considered an embryo).

Neonatal, on the other hand, is the combination of ‘neo’, meaning new, and ‘natal’, which means related to birth. So, neonatal refers to a newborn baby, in this case, a newborn human.

So “fetal complications” refers to any complications that happen prior to birth, while neonatal complications are those that occur during or shortly after birth.

If you or a loved one is experiencing heroin dependence while pregnant, you probably want to know how a drug treatment center will likely treat a heroin-dependent mother. We’ll cover that in the section below.

But first, some of the most common fetal and neonatal complications for babies born to heroin-addicted mothers are:

  • Intrauterine growth retardation: Again, we’ll define these medical terms to make it easy to understand. Breaking down the word intrauterine gives us ‘intra’ and ‘uterine’. Intra means ‘on the inside, within’, while uterine refers to the uterus. So, intrauterine growth retardation is the retardation of growth while a fetus is in the uterus. This puts the baby at a huge risk for complications during pregnancy, delivery, and after birth. Intrauterine growth retardation in heroin-addicted mothers can be caused by some of the psychiatric implications we described above (such as malnutrition), but it can also be caused due to the chemical effects of heroin on a developing fetus. It can also be caused by an intrauterine infection, which heroin-addicted mothers have an increased risk of.
  • Prematurity: This is one of the leading causes of infant death during childbirth. Prematurity can be caused by a number of factors, but some of them include the added stress, lack of prenatal care, and chemical effects of heroin on a developing fetus. Prematurity (especially when experienced alongside growth retardation) also puts the fetus at an increased risk of birth trauma, cesarean section, and other delivery-room complications.
  • Withdrawal symptoms from heroin: This is one of the most heartbreaking symptoms of heroin-addicted pregnancy. This occurs when a baby comes out of the womb already dependent on heroin. This can cause a myriad of issues for the baby. The fact is that about 75 percent of babies born to heroin-addicted mothers will have withdrawal symptoms after birth.
  • Fetal or neonatal death: The most drastic outcome of being pregnant while addicted to heroin is death. It can cause death for the mother, but also for the baby during pregnancy, during delivery, or shortly after birth. In fact, neonatal death is four times higher in heroin-addicted mothers than in the general population. The leading cause of neonatal death is growth retardation and prematurity.

Treating Pregnant Heroin Addicts

Asking for help with a drug problem is never easy and confronting a loved one about it can be even more difficult. But the truth is that most addicts have an extremely difficult (and unsuccessful) time kicking their habit on their own.

This is due to the highly complex and interrelated nature of addiction. For example, a typical addict will have medical, obstetrical (related to pregnancy and childbirth), and social issues. Beyond that, these issues are generally heavily interrelated.

So, the help from a health team consisting of an obstetrician, a pediatrician, and a social worker or therapist is necessary for drug treatment in pregnant women to be successful.

The first step in a successful recovery program is to undergo a detox. A detox is the first step to take to end your dependence on heroin. It will provide the time, space, and environment you need to get over your intense cravings and begin down the road to fully eradicating the habit from your life.

Addiction care for pregnant women is extremely important, so please, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call Georgia Detox immediately. One of our recovery advisors will speak with you about the best option for you or your loved one.

You can also continue reading about Heroin Addiction Treatment in Georgia and Heroin Possession Laws in Georgia.

Get Help Before It’s Too Late

It’s important to get help before you or your loved one experiences any major complications, such as injury or death from a heroin overdose.

We at Georgia Detox have the knowledge, the compassion, and the experience to help you or your loved one no matter what stage of pregnancy or addiction they may be at.

Call us today at (678) 967-3957 and we will walk you through the entire process.

Wishing you and your loved ones a speedy recovery.


Bashore, Richard. “Heroin Addiction and Pregnancy.” NCBI. Jun. 1981. 15 Mar. 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1272838/

“How Does Heroin Use Affect Pregnant Women?” NIDA. 15 Mar. 2019. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/how-does-heroin-abuse-affect-pregnant-women

“Heroin’s Effects on Pregnancy.” Drugabuse.com. 15 Mar. 2019. https://drugabuse.com/heroin/pregnancy/

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