Infant addiction is one of the most disastrous and shocking consequences of the current drug abuse epidemic. Pregnant mothers who consume drugs or alcohol pass those substances along to their children, who are even more prone to habit formation than adults. Fortunately, effective drug rehab can help parents and babies alike to manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings. To prevent hardship, disease, and even death among newborns, every addict needs to understand the consequences and treatments of infant addiction.
Can Infants be Addicted?
The disease of addiction has both psychological and physiological components. Psychologically, it refers to the compulsive repetition of an obviously detrimental behavior. In that sense, infants cannot be “addicts,” since they lack the cognitive abilities to choose their actions.
However, that psychological component is only a symptom of the underlying physiological condition. Through repeated use of a particular substance, addicts develop uncontrollable cravings. Their brains come to rely on drugs for normal functioning, and they suffer terrible withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to quit. In this sense, babies can absolutely be addicted to drugs and alcohol.
How Babies Become Addicts
Just as pregnant women pass nutrients along to their babies, they can also give them caffeine, alcohol, and even narcotics. This is why doctors constantly advise expectant mothers to avoid smoking, drinking, and even the consumption of coffee. When a pregnant addict continues to abuse drugs, those substances also enter her baby’s bloodstream. If this continues during most of the pregnancy, the child will be born already hooked on drugs.
Like adult addicts, infants born with chemical dependencies can suffer from a wide array of withdrawal symptoms. These effects can actually be even more harmful to babies, since their undeveloped bodies aren’t able to cope with intense physical stress. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of neonatal withdrawal include:
- Muscular problems: Addicted infants may exhibit muscle spasms, convulsions, and locked joints. This is especially common when their mothers abused meth or other stimulants.
- Learning Disabilities: Babies of severely addicted mothers often suffer from lifelong cognitive impairment. They usually have slowed development early in life, and they learn to crawl, walk, and speak more slowly than other children. Later, they may exhibit social problems, attention disorders, and mental retardation.
- Sudden Death: Infants who are born addicted to heroin or other opiates are five times as likely as other babies to die in the hospital. They also have lower birth weights, poor oxygen circulation, and seizures.
Treatment for Mothers and Children
Ideally, addicts who become pregnant will drug rehab as soon as possible. Undergoing detox at a medical facility allows them access to doctors and life-saving medications, and they can prevent further harm to themselves and their babies. Also, quitting drugs early in the pregnancy can prevent unborn children from becoming chemically dependent themselves.
Opiate-addicted mothers have also had success with certain harm reduction programs. Methadone maintenance treatment helps them to gradually reduce their opiate dependencies, though their babies may become addicted to methadone itself. Recent studies have shown that buprenorphrine – another opiate – may do a better job of reducing dependency without harming unborn children.
Similar treatments are sometimes administered to babies born already in withdrawal. Although methadone can be dangerously addictive, it is often necessary to stave off the full-blown effects of heroin detox. Also, drug-addicted babies often need additional stimulation and nurturing to avoid social development problems later in life.
No matter how dire your situation has become, there is still help available. Call the number above for a free consultation, and speak with our dedicated addiction specialists about starting a drug rehab program. Don’t let drug or alcohol rule your life any longer.