An unplanned pregnancy impacts a woman’s life in unexpected and potentially stressful ways. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health (1) says that almost 50 percent of pregnancies in the United States are not planned. When a loved one is also addicted while pregnant, it raises concerns about the health of the mother and the unborn child.

Risk of Pregnancy After Abusing Drugs

According to the National Institutes on Health (2), women who abuse opiate drugs have a higher rate of pregnancy when compared to women in the general population. Almost 54 percent of opiate abusing women report four or more pregnancies in their lifetime, which compares to only 14 percent of women who do not use opiate drugs or medications.

When a woman faces an addiction and pregnancy, she is also more likely to abort the unborn child, says the National Institutes on Health (2). Almost 57 percent of unplanned pregnancies associated with opiate abuse result in an abortion, which compares to only 12 percent in the general population.

Substance abuse increases the risk of unplanned pregnancy due to risky sexual behaviors. The National Institutes on Health (3) report that young women who abuse drugs or alcohol often engage in unsafe sexual practices. As a result, they face a higher risk of unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.

Health Risks of Unplanned Pregnancy

An unplanned pregnancy raises emotional and physical health concerns among women. According to the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (4), unplanned pregnancies cause physical and economic health concerns. The problems that arise after an unplanned pregnancy include:

  • Delayed prenatal care
  • Lower rates of breast feeding
  • Higher rates of abortion
  • High rates of depression during pregnancy
  • Higher rates of violence during pregnancy

When a woman also abuses drugs or alcohol during pregnancy, it harms the development and the health of an unborn child. The American Pregnancy Association (5) reports that substance abuse during pregnancy increases the possibility of severe health risks.

The health risks of substance abuse during pregnancy include:

  • Low birth weight
  • Miscarriage, particularly in the first trimester
  • Infant death
  • The death of the mother
  • Premature birth
  • Delayed development in an infant, particularly delayed cognitive function or learning disorders

Each substance impacts pregnancy and infant health in different ways. Exposure to drugs or alcohol in the womb increases the risk of addiction at birth and causes long-term health concerns for the infant.

Encouraging Treatment When a Loved One Is Addicted While Pregnant

When a loved one gets pregnant while she abuses drugs or alcohol, encourage addiction treatment. Explain the health risks associated with continued drug abuse and help her find the right program for her goals.

Due to the possible health risks to the mother and unborn child, suggest a long-term treatment program (6). A long-term program allows women to focus on improving their overall health and the health of an unborn child. It is particularly important if a woman decides that she will give birth to the child since her behavior impacts the health of her unborn child.

An unplanned pregnancy changes a woman’s perspective on her situation. When a woman decides to keep the baby, the pregnancy helps motivate treatment and recovery. Even if a woman decides to abort the child, a drug treatment program provides a supportive environment that helps with any mental health concerns or depression associated with an abortion and drug abuse recovery.


  1. Unplanned Pregnancy, The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health, September 27, 2010,,
  2. Sarah H. Heil, Ph.D, Hendree E. Jones, Ph.D., Amelia Arria, Ph.D., Karol Kaltenbach, Ph.D., Mara Coyle, M.D., Gabriele Fischer, M.D., Susan Stine, M.D., Ph.D., Peter Selby, M.D., and Peter R. Martin, M.D., Unintended Pregnancy in Opioid-Abusing Women, The National Institutes on Health, March 1, 2012,,
  3. Staton M., Leukefeld C., Logan T.K., Zimmerman R., Lynam D., Milich R., Martin C., McClanahan K., and Clayton R., Risky Sex Behavior and Substance Use Among Young Adults, The National Institutes on Health, May 1999,,
  4. Family Planning, U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion,,
  5. Using Illegal Drugs During Pregnancy, The American Pregnancy Association, May 2014,,
  6. Our Five Phase Step-Down Model for Addiction Treatment, The Delray Recovery Center,

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