Alcohol and Drug Abuse During Pregnancy


Is alcohol and drug abuse during pregnancy "safe" for the unborn child?

Regarding the health of her unborn child, should a pregnant woman be able to drink whatever she wants in whatever quantities?

100 Percent Avoidable Alcohol-Related Birth Defects

Even though it seems to be common knowledge that it is unsafe to abuse any kind of drugs during pregnancy, many individuals wonder, however, if it is safe to drink alcohol during pregnancy.


The short and simple answer is this: "no." Why? Because drinking during pregnancy can lead to a variety of damaging effects to the baby.

For example, drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause mental retardation and/or learning and behavioral problems that can last a lifetime.

While the exact amount of alcohol that is consumed that will cause these problems is not known, what is known, however, is that these alcohol-related birth defects are 100%avoidable simply by abstaining from drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

In sum, the safest course of action for women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant is abstaining from drinking alcohol.

The Recommendation From the March of Dimes

Since no level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy has been proven safe, the March of Dimes strongly urges pregnant women to abstain from all alcohol, including wine, beer, wine coolers, and hard liquor during their entire pregnancy AND also while nursing.

Moreover, due to the fact that some women remain unaware of their pregnancy, sometimes for 2 or more months, women who are pregnant or those who are trying to become pregnant should abstain from alcoholic beverages, according to the March of Dimes.

To make the case for alcohol abstention and pregnancy even stronger, according to recent studies, women who continue to drink even small amounts of alcohol while trying to become pregnant, might reduce their chances of conceiving.

When a pregnant woman drinks, alcohol passes quickly through the placenta to her unborn baby.

Because the unborn baby's body is immature and underdeveloped, the baby's body breaks down alcohol significantly more slowly than in an adult's body.

Consequently, the alcohol level in the baby's blood can be significantly higher and remain elevated significantly longer than the alcohol level in the mother's blood.

This unhealthy situation can lead to lifelong damage to the baby.

Alcohol-Related Impairment

As stated above, drinking alcohol during pregnancy can lead to mental and physical birth defects.

Unfortunately, every year in the United States, more than 40,000 babies are born with some degree of alcohol-related impairment.

Even though many, if not most, women understand that excessive drinking during pregnancy can lead to birth defects, many woman, however, are apparently unaware or do not understand that moderate or even light drinking can seriously impair or damage the unborn fetus.

The Hazards of Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy: FAS

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year in the United States, between 1,300 and 8,000 babies are born with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a combination of mental and physical birth defects that affects approximately 6% of the babies born to women who are alcoholics or alcohol abusers.

These women either have repeated episodes of binge drinking or drink heavily throughout pregnancy.

FAS is one of the most common known causes of infant mental retardation, and is the only cause of this deformity that is preventable.

Babies with classic FAS are born abnormally small and typically do not manifest normal growth as they get older.

Babies with FAS may be born with small eyes, small, flat cheeks, and a short or upturned nose.

The organs, especially the heart of the babies with FAS may not develop properly.

In addition, numerous babies with FAS also have underdeveloped brains that are small and abnormally formed.

Most babies with FAS have some degree of mental disability, a short attention span, behavioral problems, and poor coordination.

Unfortunately, even if they are not mentally retarded, adolescents and adults with FAS typically have different degrees of emotional and behavioral problems and frequently find it difficult to live independently and to maintain a job.

Is it Safe to Drink Alcohol While Breastfeeding?

According to one study, it was found that the breastfed babies of women who had one or more drinks a day were slightly slower in acquiring motor skills (such as walking and crawling than babies who had not been exposed to alcohol.

Since small amounts of alcohol from the mother can get into breast milk and passed on to the baby, and since excessive amounts of alcohol may impede the flow of milk from the breast, the March of Dimes strongly urges women to refrain from drinking alcohol while they are nursing.

Where Can a Woman Get Help to Stop Drinking?

Some women find it difficult to stop drinking. The following organizations can help:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
    Local chapters are listed in the white pages of local phone books

  • 1-800-ALCOHOL (1-800-252-6465)
    A national help and referral line for people affected by alcohol and drug abuse

  • The National Council on Alcoholism
    1-800-NCA-CALL (1-800-622-2255)

  • 888-565-2282 (a drug and alcohol treatment facility)

Drug Abuse and Pregnancy

Studies have shown that consumption of illegal drugs (such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, PCP and BSD, and methamphetamines) during pregnancy can result in miscarriage, premature labor, fetal death, low birth-weight, placental abruption, and maternal death.

Since alcohol and drug abuse during pregnancy can lead to debilitating mental, physical, and social problems that can last a lifetime (not to mention the death of the baby and or the mother), it is critical that women who are pregnant, those who want to become pregnant, and women who are nursing their babies totally abstain from drinking alcohol and from taking illegal drugs.

How You Can Get Drug Abuse Help

You can get drug and alcohol abuse help from support groups, treatment programs, and from counseling.

Popular groups include the 12- step program with Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Numbers that can help you locate a treatment center include the following:

  • National Drug Help Hotline 1-800-662-4357

  • National Alcohol and Drug Dependence Hopeline 1-800-622-2255

Conclusion: Alcohol and Drug Abuse During Pregnancy

All teenagers and adults need to learn that alcohol and drug abuse during pregnancy not only lead to damaging and harmful effects to the baby, but they can also be fatal.


While it is not known precisely how much alcohol can be ingested or how much a pregnant woman can abuse drugs before serious birth defects result, this much is known: alcohol-related and drug-related birth defects are 100% avoidable simply by abstaining from drinking alcohol or abusing drugs during pregnancy.

The Bottom Line

If you are pregnant and cannot stop drinking and/or taking drugs, consider making it a priority to talk with a drug and alcohol abuse professional about getting rehab as soon as possible.