Substance Abuse BLOG

Perinatal substance abuse continues to be a national health issue.  Pregnant women who abuse drugs, alcohol or tobacco expose themselves and their unborn children to multiple health risks.  According to a combined 2008 and 2009 data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, among pregnant women ages 15 to 44, the youngest ones reported the greatest substance use.  Likewise, pregnant women ages 15 to 17 had similar rates of illicit drug use (15.8% or 14,000 women) as women of the same age who were not pregnant (13.0% or 832,000 women).

Prenatal/perinatal drug use has been associated with potentially harmful and even long-term effects on exposed children. However, estimating the full extent of the consequences of maternal drug abuse is difficult for many reasons.  A number of drugs/substances can have negative consequences, as shown by research findings summarized below.


Nicotine is one of the most heavily used addictive drugs and the leading preventable cause of disease, disability, and death.  Smoking during pregnancy is associated with a range of adverse outcomes for the fetus, newborn, and the individual as he/she develops.  Carbon monoxide and nicotine from tobacco smoke may prevent fetal oxygen supply.  Nicotine concentrates in fetal blood, amniotic fluid, and breast milk, exposing the developing babies to toxic effects.

Adverse effects of smoking during pregnancy include the following:

Increased risk for stillbirth.

Infant mortality.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Premature birth.

Respiratory problems.

Slowed fetal growth and low birth weight.

In addition, smoking more than a pack a day during pregnancy nearly doubles the risk of the child becoming addicted to tobacco if he or she starts smoking.  Even secondhand smoke exposure from cigarettes can cause problems to pregnant women such as low birth weight and premature birth.


Alcohol is one of the most widely abused substances during pregnancy, and its effects on fetal development and infant have been well documented.  Research has shown that alcohol drinking during the first trimester of pregnancy can cause alcohol-related birth defects often referred to as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Infants with FAS characteristically have facial deformation, growth restriction, and central nervous system/developmental problems.

Cocaine, Marijuana, and Other Illicit Drugs

Infants exposed to marijuana and cocaine are found to have impaired attention, language, and learning skills, and behavioral problems, all of which can affect success in school. Methamphetamine exposure has been associated with fetal growth restriction, decreased arousal, and poor quality of movement in infants.  Similarly, use of heroin (an opiate) during pregnancy has been associated with low birth weight.  In addition, drugs tend to dramatically increase the mother’s blood pressure, which is a dangerous risk factor for fetus' stroke.

The National Perinatal Association (NPA) opposes punitive measures that deter women from seeking appropriate prenatal care. Additionally, NPA encourages the referral of all pregnant women for substance use screening for alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs during the course of their pregnancy.

An important component of preventing fetal exposure to harmful substances is educating young women. The more expectant mothers know about the impact of substance abuse and addiction to their unborn babies, the better prepared they will be to prevent drug-related disabilities.  If you suspect that your pregnant family member is exposed to illegal substances, you can help by detecting abuse.  At, you will find a wide range of high-quality home test kits that detect or screen commonly abused drugs.  They offer nicotine test kits, alcohol test kits, and drug abuse test kits that are easy to use.  Highly accurate lab-based testing kits are also available.  It is important to read the test information carefully before you buy to ensure that you have chosen the right test for your situation.