Addicted and Pregnant: How Do States Deal with Substance Abuse and Expectant Mothers?
It’s something we’ve touched on a few times before- women who suffer from substance abuse disorders and pregnancy. Rather intentional or unplanned, the prospect of new life can be exciting- or terrifying. Women are taught that pregnancy is a beautiful experience, one to be savored and enjoyed. We seldom talk about the complications that could arise and the health risks posed to women throughout pregnancy.
Slowly but surely more people in the U.S. are talking about the substance abuse epidemic ravishing the country, but just like the less enjoyable aspects of pregnancy, it still remains largely glanced over and undiscussed.
But what happens when those two things collide? It depends on what state you live in.
Reportedly 1 in 20 pregnant women actively use illicit substances, posing a significant health problem to themselves and their unborn children. While the recovery process can be complicated enough, adding the physical, mental, and emotional stresses which accompany pregnancy creates further obstacles.
The sooner pregnant women with substance abuse disorders receive treatment and help finding sobriety, the better for the woman and her child; as we both know, babies in the womb absorb everything the mother consumes, including alcohol and drugs. Since January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month it is important to recognize that drug and alcohol use and abuse during pregnancy poses a spectrum of lasting and potentially devastating effects to the unborn child.
However, expectant mothers struggling with addiction are at an impasse: admitting to the problem can spare their child from damage, but she also risks losing custody of her child and other legal ramifications.
Federal law requires doctors to administer ‘safe care’ for cases in which pregnant women exhibit signs of substance abuse, but leaves the means for such care up to interpretation to the state. Some states enforce “fetal assault” charges against women found to use drugs and alcohol during pregnancy. These charges lead to loss of child custody and potential prison time; punishment rather than help and treatment. The threat of these retribution leads only to more suffering on both the part of the child and the mother.
Tennessee introduced such a law in 2014, resulting in at least 100 women being prosecuted. While some leniency has been offered to those who enter treatment, a lack of comprehensive treatment centers for women leaves much to be desired. Additionally, this reactive response depends on symptoms being present in the child shortly after birth, which is not always the case. Needless to say this method of handling addiction in expectant mothers is less than effective.
Thankfully other states such as Connecticut, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Jersey, and the Virginias are taking a more proactive approach. Each of the the aforementioned states are taking steps to help pregnant women get treatment in order to reduce the detrimental effects on their unborn children and themselves. Through government grants they are providing state-funded care for expectant and new mothers. Not only does sobriety before birth help give babies the best chance at life, it also provides a new platform for rebuilding one’s life.
Do you think federal law should dictate how pregnancy and substance abuse should be handled? What method do you think is best? Let us know in the comments!
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About the Author
Alexandrea Holder is a South Florida native working toward double Master’s degrees in Psychology and English. She finds the psychological aspects of addiction and mental illness fascinating, as both are prevalent in her family’s history. When not researching and spreading addiction awareness, Alexandrea enjoys sparring, artistic pursuits, and admiring puppies online.