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Babies who are Born Addicted to Drugs

While there may be some controversy concerning whether or not babies can be born addicted to drugs (primarily because there is no psychological “craving” present), there is established proof that they can be born physically dependent upon a substance. This has serious implications for both mother and child, and the resulting complications extend far beyond the ten days to two weeks that it takes for a newborn to “detox” from a substance. Babies that are born substance-dependent are at higher risk of developing growth or learning disorders that might not be evident until the child is much older. And because children of addicted mothers are more at risk of abuse, neglect and lack of prenatal and postnatal health care, understanding the consequences of drug dependent babies is critical to developing education and awareness programs to help prevent mothers from using drugs while pregnant.

In some areas of the country there is an epidemic of babies being born to addicted mothers. According to the Orlando Sentinel;

“The number of babies treated at Florida hospitals for drug-withdrawal syndrome continued to skyrocket last year, further evidence of the far-reaching impact of the state’s prescription-drug epidemic. In 2010, 1,374 babies were born addicted to drugs because their mothers were users — a 42 percent increase from the year prior.” (1)

And while this epidemic in Florida is shocking, the Huffington Post indicates the problem is even worse in Ohio::

“Nearly one in 10 babies were born addicted to drugs last year in southern Ohio’s Scioto County.”

In most cases these babies are born dependent on opiates – especially prescription drugs. In some instances the drugs in question may be methamphetamine or cocaine, and in other cases severe addicts give birth to babies that are dependent on more than one substance. This poses a significant threat to their development.

An article by the Partnership at Drugfree.ORG quotes Head Nurse Mary Osuch of Broward General Medical Center’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit as saying;

“. . . go through withdrawal symptoms; they’re crampy, miserable. They sweat. They can have rapid breathing. Sometimes, they can even have seizures.” (2)

In addition to these problems, babies who are born to drug addicted mothers generally have a smaller head circumference, lower birth weight, and overall slower development than non-dependent children. Substance- dependent children are more likely to continue to have cognitive and learning disorders and difficulty adjusting socially later in life. And because these children are born to an addicted mother, the chances for abuse and neglect are higher, which can lead to the child eventually turning to drugs on their own as a coping mechanism. Many of these developmental problems are evident by the toddler years;

“Toddlers of opiate addicted mothers were found to be highly energetic, talkative, and easily distracted, with brief attention spans. Their goal-directedness was brief. Some studies suggested that the toddlers had immature object manipulation, especially with regard to fine motor skills. Cognitive, speech, and perceptual disturbances were noted. Sleep disturbances also occurred.” (3)

However, these problems do not have to be thrust on innocent children – addiction treatment is available, and it needs to start as soon as an addict discovers she is pregnant. The consequences are not only severe for the children involved; they are also severe for the mother. According to American Pregnancy.ORG, something as seemingly benign as smoking pot in the state of Texas is a felony that carries a sentence of up to 20 years in a federal penitentiary. (4) Other states have similar laws, which means that a separation of mother and child is likely if the infant is born addicted to drugs or the mother is caught up in a drug crime.

If you have a drug problem and you think you might be pregnant or you know you are, there are two lives that are depending on what you do next.


(1) Pavuk, Amy  Rx for Danger: Number of Florida Babies Born Addicted to Drugs Skyrockets 07/31/2011 Orlando Sentinel
(2) The Partnership at Drugfree.ORG  Rising Number of Babies Born Addicted to Drugs in Florida 07/28/2011
(3) Sheila M. Hayford, Roselyn P. Epps, and Merceline Dahl-Regis Behavior and Development Patterns in Children Born to Heroin-Addicted and Methadone-Addicted Mothers J Natl Med Assoc. 1988 November; 80(11): 1197–1200 ppg. 1198 Journal of the National Medical Association
(4) American Pregnancy.ORG Using Illegal Street Drugs During Pregnancy
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About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Recovery First is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands... Read More