Opiate Abuse During Pregnancy: Should I Go “Cold Turkey” or Enter Methadone Treatment?

Opiate addiction knows no bounds, affecting people from all walks of life—from the inner city regions to rural areas—in ever-growing numbers. Pregnant women, helpless to take back control in spite of the second life growing inside them, also struggle against the lure of these drugs.

According to Reuters Investigates, an opioid-dependent baby is born every 19 minutes in the United States. During the course of pregnancy, opiate effects no doubt interfere with critical developmental stages in harmful ways.

While going “cold turkey” is possible, the withdrawal effects that result not only challenge a mother’s ability to follow-through, but also endanger the well-being of the developing fetus. Under these conditions, the benefits afforded through methadone treatment may well warrant serious consideration.

Opiate Abuse Effects During Pregnancy

Opiate drugs, such as heroin, oxycodone and codeine produce pain-relieving effects through their interactions with the brain’s chemical pathways. Neurotransmitter chemicals regulate most every major system in the body, so any changes in chemical levels interferes with the brain’s natural balance.

For a pregnant mother, these changes offset the body’s natural hormonal processes, which ultimately dictate the course of fetal development. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, opiates exert their greatest effects on dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters that control a range of bodily functions, including:

Opiate Abuse During Pregnancy

Opiate abuse can negatively alter fetal development.

  • Digestion
  • Respiration
  • Heart rate
  • Blood circulation
  • Body temperature
  • Cognition
  • Emotions
  • Hormonal system

As the health of the mother ultimately determines the health of the developing fetus, the damaging effects of opiate abuse on brain functioning can endanger this development process in any number of ways.

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Potential Dangers from Going “Cold Turkey”

The effects of opiate withdrawal on an unborn fetus can be traumatizing, to say the least. According to Emory University, possible effects of withdrawal include:

  • Premature delivery
  • Low birth weight
  • Respiratory problems for the infant
  • Neonatal withdrawal syndrome
  • Stillbirth
  • Medical complications for the mother

Methadone treatment eliminates most all of these risks. As healthy fetal development relies heavily on the health of the mother, methadone treatment’s ability to restore normal brain functions and promote normal bodily functions greatly increases the likelihood of delivering a healthy baby.

Methadone Treatment vs. Going “Cold Turkey”

Once opiate addiction sets in, the brain has undergone significant changes, both structurally and chemically. In effect, the brain’s chemical makeup has become an opiate-dependent system.

Methadone treatment works to restore a normal brain chemical balance while at the same time reducing the degree of withdrawal and drug cravings experienced. In this respect, methadone treatment acts as a replacement therapy, mimicking the effects of addictive opiates and offering the following benefits:

  • Greatly reduces withdrawal severity
  • Reduces drug cravings
  • Restores a normal chemical balance in the brain
  • Enables the body’s systems to function normally
  • Low risk of abuse or addiction

While it is possible to stop drug use altogether, a woman not only risks the health of the developing fetus, but also faces an incredibly high risk of relapse due to the brain’s dependence on opiates to function. For these reasons, methadone treatment offers the safest means for ensuring a healthy pregnancy term, while breaking addiction’s hold on the body.

If you or someone you know are considering methadone treatment and need help finding a program that meets your needs, please don’t hesitate to call our toll-free helpline at 800-994-1867Who Answers? to speak with one of our addiction specialists.

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