By Anna Ciulla
When it comes to women's health, pregnant women struggling with drug or alcohol addiction are especially vulnerable. That's because pregnancy amplifies the stigma of a substance use disorder, which discourages women from seeking treatment and support.
Yet compassion and support—not stigmatization—are what women in this predicament need to achieve a healthy pregnancy and smooth labor and delivery. Where can a pregnant woman struggling with substance abuse turn?
Support Options for Pregnancy and Substance Abuse
First, be aware of all the support options that may be available where you live—they may encompass a broad range, including:
Detox and residential drug or alcohol treatment
Obstetric and pediatric care
Medication-assisted treatment that can reduce cravings for certain drugs, such as heroin and other opiates
Parenting education, such as classes in prenatal care, labor and delivery and breastfeeding
Peer support groups
A recovery coach
The types of support you may need will depend on the severity of your addiction and your individual circumstances, such as what you can afford.
Finding Specialized Drug or Alcohol Treatment
When substance abuse threatens your baby's health, you first priority will be finding a specialized drug or alcohol treatment program that includes medically supervised detox. This is called a continuum of care—meaning treatment and support services that range from high- to low-intensity.
Detox is never something you should attempt on your own, because of the medical complications that can arise—especially in pregnancy. The withdrawal timeline can also look different during pregnancy, so your best chances of a safe and complete detox will always be a medically supervised withdrawal.
Detox ideally should be followed by a structured residential treatment experience specifically geared to pregnant women. That's because research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has revealed that women achieve better treatment and recovery outcomes when drug or alcohol treatment is gender-specific, family-focused, includes clinical and support services, and allows the woman to keep her children with her.
Unfortunately, a relatively small proportion of treatment programs admit pregnant women, but these programs are out there. There are, for example, gender-specific residential treatment programs that will let you keep your newborn baby with you after you deliver. SAMHSA's 24/7 National Helpline is a great resource for related advice and referrals.
Other Support Services for Pregnant Women With Substance Use Disorders
If your addiction is less severe, you may benefit from the support services of an intensive outpatient program. You may also benefit from the support of a home visiting program like Healthy Start, Resource Mothers or Project LINK. (You can learn more about the home visiting programs available near you by consulting your state's Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and/or Department of Children and Family Services.)
Recovery coaches can be another good support option when you're pregnant and struggling with an addiction. A recovery coach is a professional sober life coach who can provide support and accountability. Recovery Coaches International is a helpful resource for locating and vetting female recovery coaches in your area.
Individual therapy can be yet another viable support. Never discount the value of a compassionate and nonjudgmental listening ear and a safe space. Many therapists are covered under health insurance plans. If you don't have health insurance, you may be able to find a therapist who will offer an affordable payment plan. What's key is finding a good fit: someone with whom you really click.
There are many support options available for pregnant women who are struggling with addiction. Consider your individual circumstances before choosing the route that’s right for you.
About the Author
Anna Ciulla is the Clinical Director at Beach House Center for Recovery, where she is responsible for designing, implementing and supervising the delivery of the latest evidence-based therapies for treating substance use disorders. Anna has a passion for helping clients with substance use and co-occurring disorders achieve successful long-term recovery.