I'm pregnant and using alcohol or drugs

Pregnancy is a different experience for everyone. Some people find it quite easy to cope, while others find it really stressful. Pregnancy can become even harder for you and the baby if you’re using alcohol or drugs. If you’re finding it hard to stop using, there is help available to keep you and your baby healthy.

The can help if:

  • You’re pregnant and using alcohol and/or drugs
  • You know someone who is pregnant and using drugs and/or alcohol
  • You are curious about how drugs and alcohol can affect a pregnancy and a baby

cigarette in ashtray

What is it like to be pregnant?

There’s no ‘normal’ way to react to pregnancy. Some people find it really comfortable and exciting; others can be irritated or anxious. And for a lot of people it’s a bit of everything. 

When a person becomes pregnant, lots of hormones are released in their body, which can often lead to really intense feelings. On top of dealing with hormonal changes, there’s plenty of other stuff to think about like money, doctors’ appointments, and all the uncomfortable changes your body is going through.

There’s no doubt that this can be a really overwhelming time. If you’re finding it tough, remember that it’s normal to feel this way. 

Why do some people use drugs or alcohol when pregnant?

Let’s be clear that we’re only talking about drugs that are not prescribed by a doctor. If you are taking prescription medications, be sure to check in with your doctor to find out if it’s safe to do so.

A few reasons a person may take drugs or alcohol during pregnancy include: 

  • Using drugs and alcohol to cope with the physical and emotional stress of pregnancy
  • Using drugs and alcohol to cope with the hormonal changes during pregnancy
  • Finding it hard to transition from regularly using drugs or alcohol to not using at all
  • Not being aware of the effects drugs and alcohol can have on a pregnancy

How alcohol and drugs affect you during pregnancy

While you may have regularly used drugs and alcohol prior to pregnancy, the effects can be very different once you’re actually pregnant. This is because there are lots of hormones and changes happening in your body. 

Unfortunately, research is showing that using alcohol or drugs while pregnant can increase the chances of having a miscarriage (the baby dying). Using drugs while pregnant is also linked with experiencing heart problems, brain problems like seizures or delusions, and trouble breathing. 

How do drugs and alcohol affect the baby? 

While you are pregnant, the foetus takes in a little bit of what you eat and drink, to help it grow and develop organs. Because the foetus is tiny, it can’t process drugs or alcohol as easily as a human can. This means that the drugs and alcohol can build up in the foetus and cause problems.

Drugs

The types of problems that occur depend on which drugs are involved, but common issues include: 

  • Baby is born with underdeveloped organs
  • Baby can be born addicted to the drug
  • Baby born too early
  • Baby born without a heartbeat (still birth)
Alcohol

Drinking alcohol increases the chances of the baby being born with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. This means that the foetus is likely to be born at a low body weight, have facial defects, intellectual issues, behavioural problems and problems with its spine. The less alcohol you drink, the less likely this syndrome is to occur. 

Where to get help

The best thing you can do is to talk to a nurse, doctor or midwife about your drug or alcohol use. It’s normal to be nervous about this, but it is really important to get the help you need to deal with the situation. Practise telling a friend or family member so you are used to explaining what is going on. There are also services that can help. Check out:

What can I do now?

  • Write down the pros and cons of changing.  
  • Check out types of help and have a think about what would suit your needs.
  • Read more about seeking help early.

Last reviewed: 03 December, 2015
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