More than 62 million Americans used illicit drugs in the past year. Substance abuse is a serious public health issue and one that has the potential to destroy the lives of individuals.
The good news is that there are proven methods for achieving recovery. These include intensive drug rehab programs. These can take different forms, but they almost always start with detoxification.
Many people wonder, “Can you detox while pregnant?” The short answer is yes, but what that looks like depends on the type of addiction and your unique circumstances. In general, the risks associated with withdrawal are usually far less than those related to continued drug abuse.
This article covers the specifics of detoxification during pregnancy, including the variables to consider. Keep reading to find out how it can help you reclaim health for yourself and your baby.
What Is Detox?
With continued drug abuse, the body becomes reliant on the substance for different functions. Illicit drugs can be either psychologically or physically addictive, or both.
For instance, substances like marijuana do not bring about physical addiction, but the user can come to rely on the euphoric high. Cocaine, a much more powerful drug, can have the same impact.
Physical addiction is usually more pronounced. This is where chemical changes in the brain result in reliance on the substance for specific functions. When the drug is not present, cravings and physical withdrawal symptoms arise.
For example, substances like alcohol, heroin, and opioids flood the brain’s “reward center” with dopamine. This produces intoxication, and the brain then wishes to recreate this experience. To compound matters, this also damages the body’s ability to produce dopamine on its own, which diminishes pleasure derived from everyday experiences.
Detox is the first step toward recovery. It is a general word used to describe a period of abstinence during which substances can vacate the body. More specifically, it is the management of withdrawal symptoms that result when someone stops taking a substance.
Can You Detox While Pregnant?
The short answer to the question “Can you detox while pregnant” is yes. In fact, detoxification can be a vital step to recovery and optimizing your own health and the well-being of your baby.
The dilemma is that abrupt detox can be difficult, even dangerous. For a habitual drug user who unexpectedly becomes pregnant, going cold turkey can carry its own adverse health impacts. Depending on the substance, these can include:
- Muscle aches and pain
- Agitation and irritability
- Elevated heart rate or blood pressure
- Loss of appetite
Other withdrawal symptoms could be present during detox as well. It is easy to see how any of these effects can be detrimental to the health of the mother and the baby.
Why Is Detox During Pregnancy Important?
Pregnancy is a wonderful yet strenuous time. It alone places demands on the body. Abstaining from drugs and alcohol ensures that your body can do what it is intended to do.
More importantly, the presence of drugs and alcohol is very dangerous to the fetus. Using substances while pregnant can increase the chances of myriad health defects, including:
- Premature birth
- Low birth weight
- Fetal alcohol syndrome
- Congenital disabilities
- Neurological defects
It also increases the chances of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). This is a group of conditions triggered when a baby withdraws from the substances taken by the mother during pregnancy.
NAS is especially prevalent in cases involving opioids, but can also involve antidepressants, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and other drugs. Much like anyone with addiction, the baby experiences withdrawal symptoms, which can be much more dangerous for a newborn infant than for an adult.
What Does Detox Entail?
Going through detox on your own can be quite difficult and even life-threatening. For this reason, it is vital to work with professional medical and rehabilitation staff to ensure detox is done in a safe manner. This has the added benefit of giving you tools to manage withdrawal symptoms, which increases the likelihood of success.
Staff also will be able to prescribe certain medications that can aid in the process as well. This can be an essential part of detox, especially for people with severe physical addiction to substances.
For instance, if you are addicted to benzodiazepines, there are safer, milder medications that can help you taper. This is better for your baby and may help you avoid severe withdrawal symptoms and relapse.
For heroin or opioid addiction, staff may prescribe methadone or buprenorphine. These are both FDA-approved medications that curb withdrawal symptoms and are safe for pregnant women to take.
Note that medically-assisted rehab does not reverse the effects of drugs that you have already taken. However, they can be an invaluable tool for ensuring that you do not start using again, which is far more dangerous to your unborn child.
Non-Medical Advantages of Detoxing While Pregnant
There are some basic objectives of detoxing while pregnant beyond medical interventions. Rehabilitation staff can help you stay hydrated and focus on eating a balanced diet full of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. They can ensure you avoid caffeine and processed foods.
Many programs will include light exercise, which can facilitate detoxification in addition to yielding other health benefits. Things like walking and prenatal yoga can also alleviate stress and anxiety associated with withdrawal.
Detox programs also will focus on helping you get adequate rest and sleep. This can be difficult if insomnia or disrupted sleep is a withdrawal symptom you experience. Rehabilitation staff may be able to recommend herbal remedies and other treatments to help with these challenges.
What Is the Structure of Detox Programs for Pregnant Women?
A detox program can be either inpatient or outpatient. The advantage of inpatient programs is that they provide separation from environments where individuals may be tempted to start using again. They also promote absolute focus on recovery, including dealing with withdrawal symptoms.
Outpatient care may be suitable for people with less severe levels of addiction. It also is a more economical option.
This usually entails checking in with program staff as well as therapy sessions several times a week. It also can include medically assisted treatment.
If you have or anticipate health difficulties that are beyond the scope of out or in-patient care, you might consider partial hospitalization programs. This affords a more intensive clinical environment where medical staff can more closely monitor vitals and administer medication and other treatments to limit withdrawal symptoms.
What About Therapy?
While the focus of detox is to get through withdrawal symptoms, most programs will begin various types of therapy. This almost always includes cognitive-behavioral therapy.
The goal of this is to address co-occurring mental health issues that can cause addiction. It also helps implement coping skills for things like depression and anxiety and can help prevent relapse. These skills can be vital to expectant mothers looking to maintain sobriety during and beyond pregnancy.
Finally, in addition to individual therapy, detox might involve beginning family or group therapy. These two are important for addressing the underlying causes of addiction. The latter also can be useful for learning skills from people who have experienced the same challenges with addiction that you have.
How Long Does Detox Last?
The length of detox needed to eliminate or significantly reduce symptoms varies depending on the individual and the type of drugs that were abused. In most cases, this can span from a few days to several weeks or months. For instance, drugs like heroin, opioids, benzodiazepines, and methamphetamine can have much harsher withdrawal symptoms and take longer to clear from the body than others.
The duration of use can impact how long detox takes as well. For instance, drugs like crystal meth can build up in the system. This can make it harder for someone who has used for a long time to rid their body of the substance.
Finally, requisite detox times can vary among individuals. People who are younger and in better health may detox much faster than older individuals or those who have co-occurring conditions.
Note that this does not mean that cravings or other side effects cannot persist after detox has concluded. Many people in recovery must manage the propensity for relapse for the rest of their lives.
In this way, detox can be characterized as the period when intense physiological symptoms have stopped or have significantly diminished. It is not the end but the beginning of the road to recovery.
Find Addiction Detox Near You
Now that you have an answer to “Can you detox while pregnant?” you can look for a program that fits your health needs and goals, as well as your lifestyle and budget. Experienced rehabilitation staff can further advise you on the best treatment regimen for you.
At Purpose Healing Center, we have programs available at both our Scottsdale and Phoenix campuses. Our goal is to provide comprehensive yet customized addiction support plans for each person, including in- and out-patient options. Reach out to us today to discuss pregnancy and addiction or to explore drug detoxification programs and services.