Get a free, confidential consultation.   Austin: 512-729-7757   Scottsdale: 480-210-0248

drug detoxing while pregnant

Drug Detox During Pregnancy

Abusing drugs during pregnancy can significantly impact the health of your baby. There is a wealth of research that shows the negative effects of alcohol, prescription drugs and illicit street drugs on infants. While the extent of the problems will depend on the substance abused, pregnant women who continue to use drugs while pregnant put their babies at risk for a range of issues.

Drug detoxing while pregnant can be difficult. But with the right kind of support and care, expectant mothers can recover from addiction and have a healthier pregnancy. For safety, expectant mothers with alcohol and drug abuse problems need to detox in a well-planned way.

Statistics on Substance Abuse During Pregnancy

In the 2013 U.S. National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 5.4% of all pregnant women reported using illicit drugs, and 9.4% reported alcohol use. According to some surveys, 20% of all women said they consumed at least some alcohol during pregnancy.

Fortunately, the number of pregnant women using drugs while pregnant appears to have fallen over the past couple of decades. This is partly due to increased public education and awareness about the harmful effects of substance abuse on developing babies.

The actual number of pregnant women who have substance use disorders may be underreported. Many women may fear being judged by others or facing legal consequences, such as losing their babies to child protective services.

Opioid addiction is the most common reason pregnant women seek treatment (38%) today. However, studies show that pregnant women start on the path of recovery for many other types of drugs as well:

  • Marijuana (20%)
  • Methamphetamine (15.6%)
  • Cocaine (7.4%)
  • Tranquilizers and sedatives (1.2%)
  • Hallucinogens and PCP (0.6%)

The Risks of Drug Use During Pregnancy

Pregnant women who abuse drugs or alcohol can affect the baby in both the short term and long term. The biggest risks of abusing drugs while pregnant are either a miscarriage or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Some complications that a baby may experience as a result of in-utero drug exposure include:

  • Birth defects
  • Low birth weight
  • Preterm birth
  • Growth problems
  • Addiction and withdrawal
  • Brain changes (both short-term and long-term)
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Stillbirth

Meanwhile, the risks of alcohol and drug abuse for the expectant mother include:

  • Increased risk of injury
  • Drug addiction
  • Mental health problems
  • Issues with sleep
  • Hormonal changes
  • Poor decision-making

Drug detoxing as soon as possible gives you the best chance of protecting both your own and your baby’s health.

Drug Detoxing While Pregnant Is Possible

With targeted treatment and a supportive drug rehab team, medical detox while pregnant can be safe and hugely beneficial. Drug detoxing while pregnant should take place under the care and direction of a drug rehab team with specialized skills. This is because detoxing while pregnant can pose risks to you and your child. The benefits of a healthy baby and mother are worth the potential discomfort of withdrawal.

Detoxing While Pregnant: How It Works

Most physicians recommend gradually tapering off illicit drugs, prescription drugs and alcohol. Tapering off substances and alcohol should be combined with a comprehensive addiction treatment plan.

The process of drug detoxing while pregnant differs depending on the substance you’re using. Detoxing can be easier for some illicit substances than others.


Treatments that support detoxing from marijuana while pregnant are in short supply. Substance abuse experts believe that regular screenings (to identify problematic marijuana use) and the promotion of abstinence can help reduce the number of pregnant women who abuse marijuana.


At the moment, research hasn’t established an approach that is proven to treat prenatal cocaine use during pregnancy. However, many drug addiction specialists believe that gradually tapering off cocaine and undergoing medical detox offer the best chances of recovery.


For other stimulants, such as methamphetamine, there is also limited research on how to best help pregnant women recover. Some research suggests that reinforcement-based therapy (RBT) paired with woman-focused intervention can be effective at helping pregnant meth users.

RBT involves reinforcing positive behavior in an expectant mother trying to quit meth. When a favorable outcome or event follows a positive action, such as reducing or quitting meth use, this helps to reinforce that behavior. This sort of approach can reduce meth use over time. More extensive research is needed to figure out exactly how beneficial this treatment option is.


The Maternal Opioid Treatment: Human Experimental Research (MOTHER) trial is a study that looked at the various issues involved in treating pregnant women struggling with opioid dependency. The trial focused on the safety and impact of medications used for women detoxing while pregnant.

Researchers analyzed 131 pregnant women who were addicted to opioids, such as heroin and prescription pain medication. These pregnant women used other substances at low rates. The 2010 MOTHER study found that the drug buprenorphine was superior to methadone in helping these pregnant women overcome their opioid dependency. For example, the use of buprenorphine resulted in less severe cases of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) compared to methadone.

Drug Detoxing While Pregnant: What You Can Expect

It’s important to detox under medical supervision for the safety of your baby and yourself. For this reason, visiting a treatment facility is ideal. When you drug detox during pregnancy, a drug rehab team will first sit down with you and talk about your substance abuse problems in depth. Your addiction treatment team will then create a plan that caters to your unique needs and situation. This is key to helping you achieve long-term recovery from drugs.

Drug detoxing while pregnant may also involve:

  • Medications that are designed to safely ease withdrawal symptoms
  • A specialized team providing 24-hour care
  • Staying in a peaceful, comfortable setting

After medically supervised drug detox, your drug rehab team will create a comprehensive drug treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:

  • Mental health treatment – This includes treating underlying conditions like depression, anxiety or PTSD.
  • Family therapy – This is especially useful for spouses/partners who want to know how to best support their pregnant partner.
  • Alternative treatments – These may include activities such as meditation, yoga, fitness classes, as well as arts and music therapy.
  • Aftercare program – This is to help you maintain sobriety after leaving the addiction treatment facility. Aftercare treatments may include one-on-one therapy, support groups and 12-step programs.

If you’re struggling with substance abuse while pregnant, there are people who can help. Drug detoxing will give your baby his or her best chance of being a healthy weight and size when born. Treatment while pregnant can also allow your baby to develop without any short-term or long-term complications.

For any expectant mother, putting the health of your child at increased risk can be extremely stressful. With the caring support of a drug rehab team, you can start your recovery process, protect your baby and maintain your emotional health during pregnancy.

Posted on June 5, 2019 and modified on June 8, 2019

Krisi Herron

Medically Reviewed by

Krisi Herron, LCDC

We Work With Multiple Insurance Providers

Learn More About Using Insurance to Pay for Treatment

Get a free, confidential consultation.
Call 844-876-5568 or fill out the form below.