Alcohol Use and Pregnancy: A Dangerous Pair

The combination of alcohol use and pregnancy is generally frowned upon in the United States. Despite the stigma, it still happens and more frequently than one might expect. Drinking can be bad for both the mother-to-be and her unborn baby. Yet, certain obstacles arise when women want to get help, but they are pregnant. 

Understanding how and when alcohol use and pregnancy can be very dangerous is one way to help stop it from affecting the next generation. However, providing treatment options instead of shaming mothers-to-be is just as important. Fortunately, there are options to help women who are pregnant and are struggling to stop drinking. 

The Dangers Behind Alcohol Use and Pregnancy

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no safe amount to drink during pregnancy. This is because the alcohol quickly goes from a mother to her unborn child via the umbilical cord, along with any other thing she ingests. 

When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, the alcohol passes to almost every developing system and other body parts of the fetus, including the: 

Research suggests that even one drink could be dangerous for the unborn baby. Plus, the more a mother drinks the more the fetus will likely be affected negatively. Alcohol use in pregnancy can result in low birth weight, miscarriage, birth defects, premature births, and even stillbirth. If a baby survives a mother’s drinking habits, it’s likely he or she will be born with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. 

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Collective research shows that up to seven babies per 1,000 born suffer from a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in the United States. While this may seem like a low number, it’s known as the most common mental deficiency induced by a person’s actions (versus hereditary) in the western hemisphere. 

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which fetal alcohol syndrome falls under, is completely preventable. Though, it’s not just the mother that may be at fault during pregnancy. Men who drink heavily can affect fetus health upon conception. Both expecting parents should be wary of their drinking habits before and during pregnancy to avoid fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. 

Alcohol Use in Pregnancy

Signs and symptoms in a newborn of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder include: 

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is incurable and can cause more than the slew of health issues listed above (like mental health disorders). Fortunately, medication and therapy can help with the severity of this issue. Of course, it’s better to avoid it completely as it’s not guaranteed that medication and therapy will allow a fetus affected by this disorder to lead a normal and healthy life.  

How Alcohol Use During Pregnancy Endangers Mothers 

Unborn fetuses aren’t the only ones at risk when it comes to alcohol use in pregnancy. It affects mothers as well, especially if they have a severe alcohol use disorder. Women who struggle with drinking during pregnancy put an unnecessary amount of stress on their bodies. Additionally, they are likely to engage in bad habits and risky behavior. Collective research shows that pregnant women who drink excessively are more likely to have bad nutrition overall. Ultimately, this affects both mother and child. 

Alcohol Use and Pregnancy in the United States 

Mental illness, using substances before pregnancy, sexual abuse, poverty, and homelessness are all factors that predispose pregnant women in the United States to problems with drinking. Various studies show that almost 10%-15% of American women drink during pregnancy. Out of this percent, 4% of pregnant women reported binge drinking. 

Binge drinking is defined as more than three drinks in one sitting. Binge drinking can easily lead to an alcohol use disorder if it’s not monitored. Native American women have the highest rate of fetal alcohol syndrome overall. Though, certain areas of the United States have higher rates of this syndrome than others. Individuals in impoverished areas may suffer worse than others. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders affect up to 5% of school-aged children in the United States. 

Why Alcohol Use and Pregnancy Happens 

Alcohol Use and Pregnancy: A Dangerous Pair

Alcohol use during pregnancy can happen for multiple reasons, not all of which are intentional. For instance, women don’t immediately know that they are pregnant. A woman might continue to drink until she knows that she is with child. It’s not uncommon for women to feel completely normal until a few weeks or months into the pregnancy. By the time she realizes, the damage is already done. 

This can happen especially if a woman isn’t trying to conceive. She might use some form of contraception, but it still fails. In fact, the American Pregnancy Association notes that condoms have a failure rate of 18%-21%, and birth control pills have almost a 10% chance. Even sterilization still has a chance of failure. 

Alcohol Use Disorder and Pregnancy 

This issue becomes even more complicated when a woman suffers from an alcohol use disorder. There are obstacles that prevent people as a whole from getting treatment for an alcohol use disorder. Pregnancy and alcohol use adds more obstacles to the present issue. 

Since there is a stigma, an expecting woman may feel ashamed to receive help. She may want to stop, but addiction is a chronic brain disorder where people can’t control their drinking habits at times. She simply may not be able to afford it. Plus, she will have to worry about what happens when she needs to give birth. All of these factors combined to present a unique problem. 

Mental Health and Alcohol Use During Pregnancy 

People resort to alcohol use for many reasons. Alcohol use disorders and mental health issues commonly co-occur together. One study found that although pregnancy might be a joyous period for some women, up to 15% of expecting mothers will become significantly depressed during pregnancy. 

This study surveyed close to 2,000 pregnant women with a standard questionnaire to screen depression. More alarmingly, only 11% of these pregnant women that met the criteria for depression were receiving effective treatment. Women who suffer from depression may cope with the emotional pain through drinking, even if it hurts themselves and their fetus in the process. 

Can Alcohol Use in Pregnancy Be Safe? 

Many reputable sources state that drinking at any stage (and sometimes before) pregnancy can put an unborn baby at risk. More specifically, the CDC writes that drinking during the first three months of pregnancy can increase the risk for irregular facial features in newborns. Other research indicates that drinking during later stages can hurt a fetus’s newly-minted immune system. 

However, Harvard’s health blog writes that drinking a small amount during early pregnancy may not be detrimental. This blog cites a study that found that drinking a small amount of alcohol doesn’t seem to increase the risk of alcohol-related complications in newborns during pregnancy. Also, the study found that more than half of the women surveyed admitted to drinking during the first three months of pregnancy. 

Although this may be true, it’s easier and safer not to drink at all. Fetal alcohol syndrome can happen even if a woman drinks in the early stages of pregnancy. It’s not worth the risk to the mother or child. 

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Treatment For Severe Alcohol Use and Pregnancy

Pregnant women should know that it’s not too late to get help if they are suffering from an alcohol use disorder. Alcohol use during pregnancy can hurt the fetus more over time. Getting help quickly can prevent the dangers of drinking during pregnancy. 

Medical Alcohol Detox

The first stage of recovery from an alcohol use disorder involves a detox protocol. Pregnant women should expect to receive medically-supervised care that will help rid their bodies of any traces or toxins left by alcohol. This will help balance the chemistry of both the patient and her unborn baby. 

Severe alcohol use disorders may need to be treated with medication to help with an uncomfortable, or even dangerous, withdrawal. Trying to do it alone can cause more harm than good. A detox clinic or addiction treatment center can make sure both the mother-to-be and fetus are safe during detox, including what medications to take. 

Residential Treatment

After detox, it’s highly recommended to join a residential treatment program. At Coastal Detox, the average stay is around two weeks. However, each patient is different and may require more or less time. Residential treatment is a great option for pregnant women suffering from an alcohol use disorder because it removes many stressors. 

Stress can directly affect a fetus’s health. Joining a residential program allows pregnant women to live at a facility that is comfortable and typically provides them with nutritious meals. With this, they are surrounded by a competent team and peers that can help them overcome any struggles. 

Coastal Detox Provides Judgement-Free Help 

Pregnancy should be a wonderful time in a woman’s life. That experience can be marred with an alcohol or substance use disorder. At Coastal Detox, we never judge our patients for struggling with an addiction. We’re here to provide detox and addiction therapy services in sunny Stuart, Florida for those who need it—regardless of their situation. If you or a loved one needs assistance overcoming addiction, we want to help. Contact us now. 

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Real Client Testimonials

  • Before coming to coastal I was hopeless, helpless, and my family wanted nothing to do with me. It wasn’t the first detox I’d ever been to, but it was the only one who showed me so much love and compassion. They gave me hope. It’s hard to put into words the amount of gratitude I have for this facility. The employees were my family when I had none. The staff went out of their way to make sure not only were my physical needs taken care of, but my emotional needs as well. From the first phone call prior to admission, to helping me set up continuing care, they never missed a beat. Even going as far as to help me with my legal issues via Zoom court. This isn’t just a detox, they are the family I never had. All of the techs, especially Karen, are phenomenal. They will take the time to listen to you, laugh, and cry(if needed) with you. If you are reading this and you or your loved one is suffering like I was, go to Coastal Detox. The level of care is more than I could ever put into a review. It wasn’t the first detox I’d been to, but it has been my last; I owe them everything I have today, including my life.

    Travis B. Avatar
    Travis B.
    12/07/2020
  • Had a really good experience at Coastal. The staff really went above and beyond in helping me get in and gave me the respect l, space and care I needed after I first got there. As I started to fell better they encouraged me to take part in groups which helped get me out of my head and bring positivity and health to my thinking. They had a great massage therapist, who came daily and it was evident the nursing staff genuinely cared. Got to know some of the staff as well and I’m grateful for the cooks Joe and Chris. Those guys literally made us sirloins and pork chops for dinner. Also I gotta thank Chris and Chris for helping me get in and setting me up with a transition plan. Real grateful for that help, I’m not sure if it’s management intention to hire guys named Chris but they got a good thing going there. Overall, I’m clean and sober today and walking it out. Coastal gave me a base that set me up for the success that I’m walking in today

    Brandon B. Avatar
    Brandon B.
    1/16/2020
  • My family is very thankful for Coastal Detox. They have went above and beyond for my son a few times. Unfortunately he has needed their help more than once and they have ever turned their back on him, even when he was at his worst. Jeannie and Chris have been amazing and kept me informed through the entire process. They truly care about the addict and want to help them especially when it would be easy to give up on them. I had many detox facilities be rude and uncaring to me when I was searching for help for my son, but Coastal never did that to us. I don't know the names of all the team members that have helped my son but I know their are many and y'all are angels!! One day we will be able to pay it forward and help someone as you have helped us. Thank you for all you do!!

    Brenda A. Avatar
    Brenda A.
    1/01/2020
  • Can not say enough nice things about Coastal Detox & staff. Family member was there, told me five stars for the facility & all whom she interacted with. Said the facilities, ambience..., cleanliness, grounds, food, (think their chef is five stars), were all top shelf. All I interacted with personally & on the phone were patient, professional, responsive & caring. Kudos to so many: Jeannie Jones, Clinical Director whom I spent the most face to face time with: great oversight, patience & follow thru. Raquel Barker, Therapist was so understanding & on spot with her assessments/care. Kris Garrigus Admissions Director, another Coastal professional whom I cannot say enough nice things about, always so patient & responsive to my probably too frequent inquires. Not to be forgotten is Judy Tucker, Director of Operations she too so patiently "put up with me"
    I highly recommend Coastal Detox

    Susan C. Avatar
    Susan C.
    11/13/2019
  • Can not say enough nice things about Coastal Detox & staff. Family member was there, told me five stars for the facility & all whom she interacted with. Said the facilities, ambience..., cleanliness, grounds, food, (think their chef is five stars), were all top shelf. All I interacted with personally & on the phone were patient, professional, responsive & caring. Kudos to so many: Jeannie Jones, Clinical Director whom I spent the most face to face time with: great oversight, patience & follow thru. Raquel Barker, Therapist was so understanding & on spot with her assessments/care. Kris Garrigus Admissions Director, another Coastal professional whom I cannot say enough nice things about, always so patient & responsive to my probably too frequent inquires. Not to be forgotten is Judy Tucker, Director of Operations she too so patiently "put up with me"
    I highly recommend Coastal Detox

    Susan C. Avatar
    Susan C.
    11/06/2019

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