Methamphetamine (meth, crystal, chalk and ice) is an extremely addictive stimulant drug with chemical properties similar to amphetamine. Anyone who uses it runs a high risk of becoming dependent on it. A white, odorless, bitter-tasting crystalline powder, meth is taken orally, smoked, snorted or dissolved in liquid (water or alcohol) and injected. Regardless of the method used, long-term meth use is associated with cravings, risky behavior, brain dysfunction and deficits in regulating self-control. People who smoke or inject it experience an immediate, intense euphoria. While the resulting high is longer than that produced by cocaine, the desire for continuous pleasure leads to repeated use and a “binge-and-crash” pattern.1,2
For pregnant women addicted to meth, the stakes are especially high. The highly addictive nature of meth can make it extremely challenging to quit, despite obvious risks to the fetus and mother.
Pregnancy and Meth Facts and Stats
Recent research indicates that 15.6% of all pregnant women who seek substance use treatment do so for meth.3
A study analyzing meth-related emergency room visits found that more than 400,000 reproductive-aged women reported using meth in the prior month.4
Women who use meth tend to have a significantly lower body mass index (BMI). One study found that a lower BMI increased the risk of pregnancy complications, including more frequent hospitalizations and longer hospital stays.4
Meth use during pregnancy can reduce a woman’s placental blood flow, increasing the risk of fetal hypoxia, an insufficient amount of oxygen to the fetus.4
How Drug Abuse Affects Families
Drug abuse affects everyone in the family. Addicts often use the excuse that they are only hurting themselves, but their families know this isn’t true. Meth addiction can cause children to be neglected or abused, partners to shoulder more responsibility and relationships to fall apart.
The negative impact of meth use on the family is even greater when a meth addict is pregnant. The mother is putting her unborn infant at risk and placing a huge amount of stress on the rest of the family. When the baby is born, the consequences of meth addiction can have negative repercussions on the child and family for decades to come. If the mother did not seek help before giving birth, it is essential that she do so afterward or the family and new baby will suffer.
The Effects of Meth on Infants
A functioning meth addict may be able to carry on with her pregnancy, behaving as if nothing is wrong. The harsh reality is that meth use results in major repercussions for the unborn baby. Meth use during pregnancy has been shown be a risk factor for premature birth, eclampsia, placental abruption (separation of the placental lining from the uterus), small birth weight, lethargy and heart and brain abnormalities.5
The effects of meth use during pregnancy also impact the child long after birth. As the child grows, he or she may suffer from developmental, cognitive, behavioral and physical dexterity issues. These may include excessive stress, decreased arousal and difficulty paying attention (symptoms similar to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder).4
Meth Addiction Treatment
It’s not always easy to ask for help with addiction, especially when pregnant, due to the associated shame and stigma. It is the only way, however, for a woman to get clean and protect her baby. This not only provides the baby with a healthier start in life, but can also prevent potentially dangerous drug-related maternal health complications.
Motherhood presents many challenges, but also great joy. Abusing drugs during pregnancy and after giving birth is unhealthy for everyone. Living drug-free enables women to be better prepared for personal and parental success. Research suggests the longer clients stay in a structured rehabilitation program and remain drug free, the more likely they will recover important brain functions lost during meth abuse.6 When a new mother has support and is able to keep up with treatment, she stands a better chance of conquering meth addiction and staying on the path of recovery long term. If you are pregnant and struggling with meth addiction, talk about it with your physician and make the decision sooner rather than later to undergo treatment.