Can Babies Be Born Addicted to Drugs? A Breakdown

There are several questions that often come up with regard to drug addiction and genetics, some involving the possibility of addiction passing down through generations. Can babies be born addicted to drugs? The answer is somewhat nuanced, but in essence amounts to a yes – and this is often a major factor for those who struggle with substance abuse in seeking help.

At Moonlight Mountain Recovery, we’re proud to offer a wide range of inpatient and outpatient drug and alcohol rehab services around Boise, Pocatello and nearby parts of Idaho, including prescription drug rehab and more. Here are some basics on the technical factors surrounding drug addiction being passed on to babies genetically, plus some of the serious symptoms that can result in babies and why this concept often serves as a major motivator to seek treatment for substance abuse.

Dependence, Not Addiction

From the most technical standpoint possible, medical professionals will tell you that it’s not actually possible for babies to be born “addicted” to drugs, at least in the way the term is defined medically. This is because the definition includes things like compulsive behavior and other chosen actions that babies are simply not capable of.

Endorphins, the brain’s natural pleasure chemicals, don’t reach babies until after they’re born. This means they can’t develop an actual addiction like those who abuse drugs do. However, this does not mean that babies cannot be affected by drug use during pregnancy.

In fact, exposure to certain substances before birth can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms in newborns. There are a few conditions that can arise here, such as neonatal opioid withdrawal symptom (NOWS) or neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), both of which involve dependence on drugs due to exposure in the womb.

How This Happens

While still a fetus in the womb, babies receive everything their mother does – including drugs that are used. When a pregnant woman takes drugs, those substances pass through the placenta and into the baby’s bloodstream, eventually causing them to become dependent on those substances as well.

Over time, this dependence causes changes in the baby’s developing brain and body. When they’re born, they no longer have access to these substances that they were receiving regularly while in utero. This sudden change can lead to severe symptoms of withdrawal.

Symptoms of Drug Dependence in Babies

The specific symptoms that a newborn may experience depend on several factors, including the type of drug used. However, some common examples include:

  • Preterm birth: Drug use during pregnancy can lead to a baby being born before the full 40 weeks of gestation, which can cause numerous complications and health risks.
  • Low birth weight: Babies who are exposed to drugs in the womb are more likely to be born with a low birth weight, which can also lead to numerous health issues and developmental delays.
  • Irritability: Many babies who experience drug dependence will be easily agitated and irritable, often crying excessively or displaying other signs of discomfort.
  • Respiratory issues: Some drugs can affect a baby’s respiratory system, leading to breathing difficulties or even respiratory distress syndrome, which can be life-threatening.
  • Seizures: In some cases, drug exposure in the womb can cause seizures in newborns. These can range from mild to severe and may require immediate medical attention.
  • Growth and development issues: Drug use during pregnancy can also have long-term effects on a baby’s growth and development, potentially leading to delays in physical, cognitive, and emotional development.

Helpful Actions

While the primary goal with babies should be to avoid issues of drug dependency altogether, there are some possible actions that can be helpful for babies who are already experiencing these issues:

  • Breastfeeding: In many cases, breastfeeding can help alleviate some of the symptoms of drug dependence in babies. Breast milk provides essential nutrients and can also help soothe a fussy baby.
  • Medication-assisted treatment: Some infants may require medication to manage severe withdrawal symptoms or other health complications related to drug exposure in the womb. This should always be done under the supervision of a medical professional.
  • Cuddling and holding: Skin-to-skin contact, or “kangaroo care,” can also help soothe a baby and promote bonding between mother and child. This can be especially beneficial for babies who are experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

Ultimately, the best way to prevent drug dependence in babies is for women to avoid using drugs during pregnancy.

Seeking Treatment for Substance Abuse

When it comes to the possibility of passing on drug addiction to babies, many individuals who are struggling with substance abuse find this concept to be a major motivating factor in seeking treatment. The thought of potentially causing harm or suffering to their child is often enough to push them towards getting help.

At Moonlight Mountain Recovery, we understand the importance of addressing all aspects of drug addiction and providing holistic care that addresses not just physical dependence but also mental and emotional factors. Our team of experienced addiction specialists will work with you to develop a personalized treatment plan that meets your unique needs and helps you achieve lasting recovery. Contact us for help with any drug or alcohol addiction recovery need around Boise, Pocatello or nearby parts of Idaho.

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