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Meth and Pregnancy

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As methamphetamine use continues to rise, so do treatment and hospital admissions. In 2012, meth ranked first in drug-related treatment admissions in Hawaii and San Diego.4 Females have also been found to start using meth at a younger age and use in larger amounts compared to men.5

With increasing numbers of methamphetamine users, meth abuse during pregnancy is a growing public health concern.6 One study of meth-related emergency room visits found that more than 400,000 reproductive-aged women reported using meth in the prior month.6 Another study found that meth was the primary substance requiring treatment during pregnancy between 1994 and 2006.6

As a stimulant, meth is extremely potent.7 When a person uses this substance, they may experience a range of feelings, such as:8

  • Euphoria.
  • Heightened alertness.
  • Increased energy levels.
  • Irritability.
  • Aggressive behavior.

The negative health effects that may occur from meth use include:1,8

  • Tachycardia (abnormally rapid heart rate).
  • Diaphoresis (sweating).
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure).
  • Hyperthermia (high body temperature).
  • Seizures.

To date, the medical community’s knowledge of meth’s effects on a child in utero is limited. Conclusive evidence about the potential effects of methamphetamine use during pregnancy is lacking. Many studies come from animal research or from studies with difficult-to-control variables such as the presence of polysubstance use in the maternal population being examined. While definite conclusions cannot be drawn about how meth affects a baby’s development, there is evidence to suggest that meth is harmful to a developing fetus.9

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Effects of Methamphetamine on Pregnant Women

Meth is a dangerous substance that can harm a woman’s body and put her at risk for maternal complications. For example, women who abuse meth tend to have a significantly lower body mass index (BMI). This can make her pregnancy riskier. One study found that lower BMI increased a woman’s chance for pregnancy complications, including more frequent hospitalizations and longer hospital stays.10 Meth can cause people to loose their appetite, which may result in poor growth of the fetus in the womb.11

Using meth during pregnancy can also reduce a woman’s placental blood flow. This can cause fetal hypoxia, an insufficient amount of oxygen to the fetus.12

Since 2003, meth has been the most common substance that women are admitted with for treatment at US federally funded health centers. To complicate matters, meth is often used in combination with other substances such as prescription painkillers, marijuana, cigarettes, and alcohol.6 These substances can have additional devastating effects on the fetus. For example, alcohol consumption can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome, which is irreversible.

Effects of Methamphetamine on a Baby

Meth use during pregnancy can harm the way a child develops in utero. Meth use can put a woman at risk for having a baby that has.1

  • A low birth weight.
  • Small size for gestational age.
  • An increased risk for neurodevelopmental problems.

There are few studies on humans that allow us to draw conclusions about the effects of meth on a fetus. However, from the handful of studies available, meth is associated with adverse health outcomes. Most of what’s known about the effects of meth on a developing fetus come from animal studies. In rats, prenatal exposure to meth caused:13

  • Increased mortality in the mother and her child.
  • Retinal defects.
  • Cleft palate.
  • Malformations of the ribs.
  • Slowed physical growth.
  • Delayed motor development.

Some studies suggest that the use of meth during pregnancy can result in fetal abnormalities.8 Other studies have reported that meth use during pregnancy can increase the risk of cleft lip in babies.8 A case control study found that mothers who used drugs during the first trimester had over 3 times the risk of having a baby with gastroschisis.8 Gastroschisis is a birth defect in which the baby’s intestines stick outside of the body from a hole near the belly button.15

When babies are exposed to meth for at least two-thirds of the pregnancy, certain brain structures were more likely to be smaller than those in non-exposed fetuses.8

It is important to note, however, that overall, exposure to meth during pregnancy is not consistently associated with birth defects. More studies are needed in order to control for confounding variables such as maternal polysubstance use, small sample sizes, and recall bias.

Quitting Meth While Pregnant

There is a common trend of women experiencing “turning points” during pregnancy. Being responsible for the life of another human may lead some women to stop their drug use.

If you are currently using meth and you are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, talk to your doctor about your options for meth addiction treatment. Your doctor may recommend entering a treatment facility.

The two main types of treatment you will encounter are outpatient and inpatient treatment.

Outpatient treatment is an option for women who have less severe addictions and who aren’t additionally contending with serious medical or mental health issues. In outpatient treatment, and depending on your level of care, you can meet with a counselor, attend group therapy, and receive a number of other services to support your recovery, while still being able to live at home.

Inpatient treatment programs offer an immersive treatment environment, with 24/7 supervision and access to medical services when needed. In inpatient treatment, you will be free of distractions and able to focus fully on your journey to recovery. As a pregnant woman, you will be monitored closely to ensure the health of you and your baby.

In treatment, you may participate in group and/or individual therapy, which may include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT can help you understand the triggers and situations that contribute to your meth use. People who struggle with addiction often have underlying issues that drive their addictions. CBT can help you address these issues in a healthy and productive way.
  • Family involvement. Family is important to the recovery process. No matter what your situation is, involving your family in your recovery may help support abstinence from meth. Family members can offer invaluable support, often providing encouragement and motivation. Note that some individuals do not have healthy relationships with members of their family, so it’s important to do whatever feels right to you and invite those who are positive forces in your life to be part of your treatment.
  • Addiction support groups. 12-step programs are available to help you receive peer support. Groups can help you create a community of people going through the same situation as you. Having this type of support can help prevent relapse. Attending support groups can help ensure a woman’s long-term success.
  • Contingency-management: This is a strategy used to enforce positive and healthy behavior change. When you meet treatment goals, your therapist may give you a tangible reward in exchange for maintaining sobriety. Incentives could include money, vouchers, or special privileges.

If you or a loved one are struggling with meth addiction and are ready to get help, treatment may be an important first step in starting recovery. American Addiction Centers is here to help. Our caring admissions navigators are available 24/7 to take your confidential call and discuss treatment options. Call us today at to learn more about available treatment programs to start your recovery journey.

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Dr. Thomas received his medical degree from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. During his medical studies, Dr. Thomas saw firsthand the multitude of lives impacted by struggles with substance abuse and addiction, motivating him to seek a clinical psychiatry preceptorship at the San Diego VA Hospital’s Inpatient Alcohol and Drug Treatment Program. In his post-graduate clinical work, Dr. Thomas later applied the tenets he learned to help guide his therapeutic approach with many patients in need of substance treatment. In his current capacity as Senior Medical Editor for American Addiction Centers, Dr. Thomas, works to provide accurate, authoritative information to those seeking help for substance abuse and behavioral health issues.
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