Alcohol Abuse During Pregnancy: Everything You Need to Know

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An estimated 47% of pregnant women abuse alcohol. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can be harmful to both the mother and baby regardless of the amount or type of alcohol being consumed. Women who suffer from alcohol abuse and who become pregnant are putting their babies at risk for a wide range of complications if they continue drinking, such as low birth weight, learning disabilities, and mental health issues. Fortunately, many alcohol detox centers are trained to safely treat pregnant women who suffer from alcohol abuse so they can become sober and give birth to healthy babies.

Here’s everything you need to know about alcohol abuse during pregnancy, and how alcohol detox can help pregnant women safely overcome alcohol dependence.

Why is Alcohol Dangerous in Pregnancy?

Any alcohol consumed by pregnant women goes straight into their bloodstream and passes to the baby through the umbilical cord. In the body, alcohol is broken down by enzymes in the liver, where it turns into toxic compounds that can harm a developing fetus. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy increases the risk for miscarriage, stillbirth, birth defects, and lifelong physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).

Miscarriage or Stillbirth

Pregnant women who drink 4 or more drinks per week have a 2-fold increased risk for miscarriage compared with women who do not drink during pregnancy. A miscarriage is defined as an unexpected loss of pregnancy before the 20th week of pregnancy, while stillbirth is defined as an unexpected loss of pregnancy after the 20th week. If you are pregnant and drink alcohol, abstaining from alcohol can greatly reduce your risk for miscarriage and stillbirth.

Preterm Birth

Preterm or premature birth is defined as a baby being born early before 37 weeks of pregnancy have been completed. The earlier a baby is born, the higher their risk of experiencing death or serious disability. Complications of preterm birth may include one or more short- and/or long-term problems, including breathing and heart problems, immune system problems, cerebral palsy, hearing problems, and psychological problems.

Birth Defects

Babies exposed to alcohol in the womb may suffer birth defects due to the way alcohol interferes with healthy brain and body development. Spina bifida, clubfoot, cleft lip, and Down syndrome are some health conditions and birth defects that can occur as a result of alcohol use during pregnancy. Some of these defects can be effectively treated with medical interventions, while others are more difficult to treat and can affect the baby’s quality of life into adulthood.

FASDs

Approximately 1 in 10 school children have FASDs. Children with FASDs are known to suffer from impaired cognition, emotional instability, poor communication skills, and difficulty with performing everyday tasks.

Children born with FASDs may have one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Abnormal facial features, such as a smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip.
  • Small head size
  • Short height
  • Low body weight
  • Poor memory and concentration
  • Poor attention span
  • Poor coordination
  • Learning disabilities
  • Speech and language delays
  • Difficulty in school, especially with math
  • Low IQ
  • Poor reasoning and judgment skills
  • Hyperactive behavior
  • Vision and hearing problems
  • Heart, kidney, and bone problems
  • Sleeping and sucking problems as an infant

In children with FASDs, the above conditions can follow them into adulthood. These individuals often grow up to have social problems, mental illness, substance use disorders, problems with the law, and problems keeping a job and living independently.

What Are Risk Factors for Alcohol Use in Pregnancy?

Mental illness, childhood sexual abuse, and preconception substance abuse are some of the top risk factors for alcohol use during pregnancy. Between 56 and 92% of women who drink during pregnancy have a co-occurring mental health disorder, and up to 70% experienced sexual abuse during childhood. Other risk factors for alcohol use during pregnancy include the use of alcohol by the woman’s partner, poverty, and homelessness. If you or someone you know is pregnant and meet these risk factors, understand there are available programs dedicated to helping pregnant women in need who are suffering from alcohol abuse.

How Can You Tell if a Pregnant Woman is Drinking?

Many pregnant women who suffer from alcohol abuse and addiction tend to hide their drinking from others for reasons such as fear, discrimination, stigma, and legal problems. For instance, healthcare providers in Arizona and Pennsylvania are required to report to child services when they believe a newborn may be affected by alcohol or when an infant is diagnosed with FASDs. These factors can often prevent pregnant women from seeking the help they need to become sober and recover from addiction.

Here are common warning signs that may indicate a pregnant woman is suffering from alcohol abuse:

  • Refusal to seek prenatal care and attend doctor’s appointments
  • Rationalizing how small amounts of alcohol here and there won’t affect their pregnancy
  • Spending more time alone and distancing themselves from friends and family
  • Having a partner who drinks heavily or who suffers from alcohol addiction
  • Demonstrating reckless behavior or being overly aggressive
  • Having severe mood swings that seem outside of the norm of pregnancy hormone changes
  • Neglecting or forgetting important responsibilities related to home or work

What Are Safe Alcohol Detox Treatments for Pregnant Women?

While it may seem safe and logical to stop drinking “cold turkey” during pregnancy, many doctors strongly advise against this practice. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome and related high-stress levels often present a much higher risk to the fetus when quitting cold turkey compared with using medications to address symptoms. Medications used in alcohol detox do come with some risks for pregnant women; therefore, doctors use an individualized approach with each pregnant patient to compare the risks of withdrawal with those of medication use.

Pregnant women recovering from alcohol dependence can benefit greatly from nutritional supplementation, since alcohol assists in the depletion of important nutrients including folate and thiamine. Researchers recommend that pregnant women increase their intake of vitamin C, vitamin E, folate, and beta-carotene to help reverse nutritional deficits. Many times, these nutrients can be supplemented in the form of food at alcohol detox centers.

How Can Pregnant Women Benefit from Alcohol Rehab?

Alcohol detox is the first stage of treatment for alcohol use disorder at alcohol rehab. Following alcohol detox, pregnant women can receive behavioral therapy and counseling to learn important skills that help them stay sober and that change their harmful beliefs and behaviors surrounding alcohol addiction. 

Behavioral interventions for pregnant women are the same as those for anyone else recovering from alcohol use disorder. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, educational interventions, motivational enhancement, and family-focused programs are some therapies that can help pregnant women learn healthier lifestyle habits and skills that allow them to be better parents. Some alcohol rehab centers even have special treatment programs exclusive to pregnant women, as well as specialized support groups for pregnant women suffering from substance abuse.

Recovering from Alcohol Addiction at Summer House

Summer House Detox Center offers alcohol detox in Florida to help pregnant women experience a safe, comfortable recovery from alcohol dependence. Alcohol detox at Summer House takes place in a luxury setting where pregnant women can relax and prepare for labor and birth. Those who complete our alcohol detox program can be referred to an alcohol rehab center where they can receive counseling and behavioral therapy for addiction. 

Contact us today at 800-719-1090 to learn more about our available alcohol detox programs.

About Author

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LaDonna Dennis

LaDonna Dennis is the founder and creator of Mom Blog Society. She wears many hats. She is a Homemaker*Blogger*Crafter*Reader*Pinner*Friend*Animal Lover* Former writer of Frost Illustrated and, Cancer...SURVIVOR! LaDonna is happily married to the love of her life, the mother of 3 grown children and "Grams" to 3 grandchildren. She adores animals and has four furbabies: Makia ( a German Shepherd, whose mission in life is to be her attached to her hip) and Hachie, (an OCD Alaskan Malamute, and Akia (An Alaskan Malamute) who is just sweet as can be. And Sassy, a four-month-old German Shepherd who has quickly stolen her heart and become the most precious fur baby of all times. Aside from the humans in her life, LaDonna's fur babies are her world.

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