Alcohol or Drug Use During Pregnancy


One of the most important things you can do when you're pregnant is to avoid alcohol and drugs. During pregnancy, everything you eat, drink, or take into your body affects you and your growing baby. Using alcohol or drugs while you're pregnant can cause serious problems. It can cause problems for you during your pregnancy and when it is time for your baby to be born. It can also affect your baby both before and after birth.

The best time to stop using alcohol and drugs is before you get pregnant. But sometimes pregnancy is unexpected. Drugs and alcohol can harm your baby in the first weeks of pregnancy, so the sooner you can stop, the better.

Risks of substance use during pregnancy


Possible effect on mother

Possible effect on fetus or baby


  • Lack of certain vitamins
  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirth
  • Low birth weight
  • Intellectual disability
  • Heart problems
  • Learning and behavior problems
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome


  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema)
  • Breathing problems
  • Heart problems
  • Placenta abruptio
  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirth
  • Certain birth defects
  • Low birth weight


  • Effects not known

Heroin or opioids

  • High blood pressure during pregnancy (preeclampsia)
  • Bleeding in the third trimester
  • Placenta abruptio
  • Breech birth
  • Seizures
  • Withdrawal symptoms after birth
  • Breathing problems
  • Low birth weight
  • Physical and mental development problems


  • Life-threatening breathing problems
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Coma
  • Low birth weight
  • Problems with how bones form
  • Learning problems


  • Early (preterm) labor
  • Low birth weight
  • Learning and development problems


  • Stroke
  • Brain damage
  • Miscarriage
  • Placenta abruption
  • Low birth weight
  • Learning and memory problems


  • Confusion
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Risk of overdose
  • Certain birth defects

Getting help to stop using alcohol or drugs

If you use alcohol or drugs, quit or cut back as much as you can. It's safest not to use them at all. If you have a hard time quitting or cutting back on your own, treatment can help.

Here are some things you can do.

  • Tell someone.

    If you can't quit or cut back on your own, consider telling someone you trust that you need help. There are people and programs to help you.

    • Your doctor or midwife is a good place to start. They can talk with you about treatment options.
    • You might also want to tell others close to you, such as a friend or family member. Having someone to encourage you can help.
    • Contact the national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) help line at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or online at to learn about treatment programs in your area.
  • Make changes to your lifestyle.

    You may decide to avoid places where you used to drink or use drugs. You may also choose to avoid certain people. Talk to those close to you, like your friends or family, about supporting your changes.

  • Think about counseling.

    Counseling helps you make changes in your life. You learn to manage emotions and make good choices. You may get counseling in a group or one-on-one.

  • Join a support group.

    Look for a group that is kind and helpful about substance use and pregnancy. Groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) may work for you. There are also support groups for family members and friends.

If you or someone you know uses opioids, cocaine, meth, or other drugs, keep a naloxone (Narcan) kit with you at all times. Make sure that your family and friends know you have a kit. Tell them how and when to use it.


Current as of: July 10, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
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