Children Born Addicted

Although there are no children born addicted, they might still be born with intoxicating substances in their systems. This is highly likely to cause them to suffer some discomfort. This is because after the supply of substances that is delivered through the umbilical cord goes away, the babies will experience withdrawal symptoms, as well as many other health related problems.

For newborns, this kind of withdrawal syndrome is also known as NAS or neonatal abstinence syndrome. The condition arises because the babies were exposed to drugs while in utero. This condition is particularly challenging when children are born to a mother who were using opioids like heroin and prescription pain relief medications.

Understanding Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

Also known as NAS, neonatal abstinence syndrome refers to the group of issues that babies experience while withdrawing from substance exposure. Some drugs have a higher likelihood to lead to the development of this condition than others. However, almost every addictive substances will have an effect on babies although there are no children born addicted.

Opioids drugs, in particular, can cause the children to suffer from withdrawal effects if they were exposed to these substances prenatally. If the mother was abusing cocaine, the babies could also suffer some withdrawal. However, some of the symptoms that these babies will display will be as a result of the toxic effects of cocaine.

Other addictive substances like barbiturates and amphetamines can also lead to the development of neonatal withdrawal syndrome. This is also true for alcohol, although this substance can also give rise to FASD - or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

Issues with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

When mothers abuse drugs and drink alcohol while pregnant, they will place their babies at risk of suffering from many issues. In particular, these mothers might not always seek prenatal care. If this happens, they could increase the risks that their babies will suffer.

Additionally, women who take addictive substances might be using more than one of these drugs. This could complicate their treatment and rehabilitation services. If they take intravenous drugs, for instance, they could also contract HIV/AIDS - and this will be transmitted to their babies.

Apart from the withdrawal difficulties that some babies are born with, these children might also experience the following drug and alcohol related issues:

  • Birth defects
  • Poor intrauterine growth
  • Premature birth
  • Seizures

However, the problems that the babies will suffer will largely depend on the intoxicating substances that their mothers were taking. Consider the following explanation:

a) Cocaine

When mothers use cocaine while expecting a child, there is a high risk that the baby will be born with poor fetal growth. They might also suffer from lower than normal IQ, learning disabilities, and developmental delays.

b) Alcohol

If the mother was drinking alcohol while pregnant, there will be significantly adverse effects for the baby. The fetal growth of the baby will be stunted, and slowed even further after their birth. They could also suffer from specific deformities of the face and head, as well as display intellectual disabilities and heart defects. The most significant problems, however, will arise if the baby is born with FASDs.

c) Tobacco Cigarettes

In case a mother smokes tobacco cigarettes while expecting a baby, it could affect the fetus. Smoking mothers tend to have smaller babies who might have a high risk of still birth and premature birth.

d) Opioids

Taking opioids like heroin and methadone has been linked to serious cases of neonatal withdrawal syndrome. Some of these babies will suffer symptoms that could last anywhere between 4 and 6 months after their birth. The babies might also suffer from seizures, especially if their mothers were addicted to methadone.

e) Marijuana

Babies who are born to mothers who smoked marijuana during their pregnancy have a high risk of being born with a low weight.

f) Amphetamines

If the mother was taking amphetamines while expecting a baby, there might be a care of premature birth and low birth weight.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Symptoms

The symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome vary widely based on the intoxicating substances that the mother was using, the last time they used these substances, and if the baby is premature or full-term.

Most of these withdrawal symptoms will start anywhere between 24 and 48 hours after the baby was born. However, they can also appear from 5 to 10 days after their birth. The most common of these symptoms that appear among babies born full-term include:

  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive crying
  • Fever
  • High-pitched crying
  • Hyperactive reflexes
  • Irritability
  • Poor feeding
  • Poor suckling
  • Seizures
  • Sleep problems
  • Sneezing
  • Stuffy nose
  • Sweating
  • Tight muscle tone
  • Trembling
  • Tremors
  • Unstable temperature
  • Vomiting
  • Yawning

If the baby was born prematurely, there will have a lowered risk of experiencing these symptoms of withdrawal. If they do, they might still recovery much faster than babies who were born full-term.

More on Neonatal Drug Withdrawal

Although there are no children born addicted, there is a high risk that babies born to substance using mothers would experience withdrawal. This condition is commonly referred to as NAS or neonatal abstinence syndrome. It is accompanied by many adverse symptoms, including but not limited to insomnia, vomiting, fever, sweating, and excessive tremors. In many cases, these children will suffer from these symptoms, the most harrowing of which are seizures and high pitched crying.

  • The exact severity of the withdrawal syndrome will largely depend on:
  • The complications arising from maternal drug use
  • The extent of maternal drug taking
  • The nature of maternal substance abuse

For instance, if the mother was taking more than one addictive substance, there is a high probability that this could either worsen or mask their child's symptoms. That said, most of the symptoms of NAS will occur between 2 and 3 days after birth although they may sometimes start several weeks later. These symptoms may also last for several weeks although there are some babies who still display them when they are a couple of months old.

In many cases, the treatment of NAS will involve the use of medications that act in similar ways to the drugs that the baby is withdrawing from. Once the baby has been stabilized, they would be weaned off of these drugs.

That said, many babies go cold turkey either because their mothers do not understand what they are experiencing or because they do not want to take their babies to a treatment center. When this happens, these babies end up suffering from the most severe of their withdrawal symptoms.

Traditionally, treatment for NAS involved minimal interaction and swaddling of the baby. Today, however, it is a bit different and breastfeeding, comfort, and touch are highly encouraged. These treatments have been found to be effective, especially because they have led to the reduction in the use of withdrawal medications.

Lifelong Issues

Apart from neonatal abstinence syndrome, there are many other problems that babies suffer at birth. These complications include but are not limited to still births, preterm delivery, and excessively low birth weight.

However, it is not yet clear if these issues occur because the babies were exposed to drugs in utero or because they were born to mothers living in poverty. They might also be as a result of the other stresses that the babies suffer after birth, which often accompany maternal substance abuse.

That said, when mothers abuse drugs, their babies are highly likely to suffer from intellectual impairment and development delays. However, most of these issues will only become apparent later on in the lives of these children.

Although some drug users have relatively stable lifestyles, many of them lead chaotic lifestyles. These means that they experience social isolation, poor self-care, crime, and risk-taking.

When children are born and raised in such an environment, they might have a high risk of suffering harm. Most of them experience emotional and physical neglect, and end up being placed in foster homes.

These children also have a high risk of struggling with broader social and health inequalities that are linked to this kind of lifestyle. As a result, they could suffer the following additional effects:

  • Poor education outcomes
  • Low employment prospects
  • Health problems
  • Low life expectancy

Further, babies born to drug addicted mothers might also be prone to developing substance use disorders of their own once they are able to acquire and use drugs and drink alcohol.

Diagnosis for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

It is important that doctors have an accurate report showing the drug and alcohol use by the mother during pregnancy. This report should show the last time that the mother took these substances.

In many cases, neonatal abstinence scoring systems are used for the grading and diagnosis of NAS. These systems are also useful in determining the true extent and severity of the syndrome.

Using such a system, doctors will assign points for certain symptoms and signs, as well as their severity. After that, they can use this scoring system to plan the baby's treatment program.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Treatment

The specific treatments used on babies who are struggling with neonatal abstinence syndrome will depend on:

  • Expectations for the progress of the condition
  • The baby's gestational age
  • The baby's state of health
  • The baby's tolerance for certain therapies, medications, and procedures
  • The extent and severity of the condition
  • The mother's preferences and opinions
  • Their medical history

When babies are suffering from withdrawal, they will mostly be irritable. Most of them will have a hard time getting comforted. However, you might be able to lull them by wrapping them up in a blanket or swaddling them.

These children will also require extra calories due to the increased activity that they engage in. Additionally, they might need higher calorie formula. At times, they may also require intravenous fluids especially if they have severe diarrhea and vomiting or they have become dehydrated.

Your doctor might also have to administer some medications to help with the more severe withdrawal symptoms that these babies suffer, such as seizures. These medications might also prove useful in relieving the discomfort and withdrawal problems that they are suffering.

Typically, doctors will use medications that are in the same class of drugs as the addictive substances that your baby is trying to withdraw from. After they have managed to control the signs and symptoms of withdrawal, they will gradually decrease the dosage of the medication to wean the baby off.

Getting Help

Luckily, studies have shown that mothers who receive timely support might be able to save their babies from suffering. This help and support can also improve the outcomes that their babies experience - and some children might even be able to be reunited with their mothers after being in foster care.

It is essential that addicted mothers start engaging with addiction support and recovery services. This could potentially prove useful both for themselves as well as for their children.

Mothers are encouraged to enroll for addiction treatment programs and start taking substitute medications to help them overcome their substance use disorders. By so doing, they could potentially free themselves from the deadly grip of alcohol and drugs.

Even so, this is often difficult for mothers. This is because many of them are ashamed and feel guilty about the harm that they are causing to their families. Some of them might also be afraid of public stigmatization and scrutiny - which is commonplace in many healthcare facilities.

However, pregnancy should be a powerful motivation for these mothers, and it should encourage them to get the help that they need. Although there are no children born addicted, the various consequences that babies born to substance using mothers should act as a motivation to these mothers to seek recovery services.

Even so, maternal addiction is like any other substance use disorder in the sense that it is a complex problem that does not have any simple solution. The only way to encourage mothers who are struggling with drug and alcohol use issues is to get them to think about the welfare and safety of their unborn children. This could potentially get them into a rehabilitation center where they can get the help that they need to overcome their addictions before their babies come into the world.


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