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Detoxing While Pregnant: Is It Possible?

4 minute read

Stigma and shame keep some pregnant women from entering an addiction treatment program. Please know that getting help for drug or alcohol addiction is courageous and can help you and your child live a healthy, fulfilling life. If you’re pregnant and struggling with substance abuse, getting treatment is the best move you can make for you and your unborn baby. In a treatment setting, medical professionals trained to safely detox expecting mothers can help you begin your recovery the best way possible.

Is Detox Safe for Pregnant Women?

When medically supervised, alcohol detox and drug detox for pregnant women can be effective and safe. Never attempt to quit using drugs and alcohol cold turkey on your own. This puts you and your baby at risk for dangerous and sometimes deadly consequences.

Detoxing while pregnant is typically safer for your baby than the withdrawal symptoms they’ll have once they’re born if you continue to use alcohol and drugs. There is only one type of safe detox for pregnant women, and that is medical detox overseen by physicians.

What is Medical Detox Like for Pregnant Women?

Clinicians have set specific protocols for detoxing pregnant women that health organizations like The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommend. Only medical professionals can implement these protocols safely and effectively.

#1 Medical Examination

Detox from any type of substance abuse when you’re pregnant can be risky for both you and your unborn child. A thorough medical exam is necessary to understand your physical health and the benefits and risks of detox drugs that ease withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol detox and sedative/hypnotic drug detoxes can be deadly if you have a physical dependency on these substances. Your physician can determine the best medical interventions to keep you and your baby safe during detox based on your individual situation.

#2 Management of Withdrawal Symptoms

There are special considerations for managing withdrawal symptoms in pregnant women with alcohol and drug addictions. For instance, sometimes medications are prescribed to help discomfort that can accompany drug or alcohol withdrawal. A physician knows:

  • Which detox medications are safe for pregnant women.
  • What doses are safest.
  • The safest drug taper schedules for pregnant women.
  • Alternative approaches to pain management that can be safer than some medications.

#3 Prenatal Care

If you’re pregnant, medical detox and addiction treatment should always include obstetrical care. Regular obstetric exams can prevent potential problems and are important for monitoring your baby’s growth and development. Some addiction treatment centers have team members that provide this specialized care at the addiction rehab center, while others will connect you with outside providers during your time with them.

#4 Addiction Education

Keeping you and your baby safe from the effects of drugs and alcohol doesn’t end with a detox program. Without treatment, you won’t develop an understanding of why you use substances or the healthy coping skills you need to stay sober. Your detox team can help you choose an addiction treatment program that fits your needs and connect you with services that keep you and your baby healthy.

Substance Abuse Treatment for Pregnant Women

The real work of recovery takes place in addiction treatment. There are reasons why you’re abusing drugs and alcohol, and those reasons don’t go away after you eliminate substances from your body. You may have been using substances to self-soothe past trauma, co-occurring mental health disorders, or other emotional pain. Alcohol and drug use has become a way to cope and it has also changed your brain’s reward system, making it very difficult to quit without professional help. A dual diagnosis treatment center helps you address the mental, physical, and emotional aspects of addiction simultaneously.

Substance use disorder treatment may include components like:

  • Individual counseling, group therapy, and family therapy.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and other treatments proven to reduce substance use.
  • Trauma-focused treatments like eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Aftercare programs and alumni programs where you can find support following  treatment and stay engaged in the recovery community.
  • “Step-down” levels of care where you spend decreasing amounts of time in treatment as you ease back into everyday life. The progression after residential treatment is typically a partial hospitalization program followed by an intensive outpatient program and then outpatient treatment that only meets 1 to 3 hours a week.
  • Psychiatric appointments and medication for co-occurring mental health disorders.
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) in cases of opioid addiction. Methadone and buprenorphine are currently the standard MATs approved by the CDC for opioid addicted pregnant women. However, babies may still experience neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) with these medications. NAS is withdrawal symptoms that occur after birth.
  • Life skills and relapse prevention training where you’ll re-learn everyday tasks as well as healthy practices that support long-term sobriety.
  • Education and connection to resources that can help you after your baby is born.

If you’re pregnant and using drugs or alcohol, there is help available. Get the treatment you need to make a better life for you and your family.


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