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The Impact of Heroin Addiction on Mothers and Children

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What is Heroin?

Heroin is an opioid drug. Opioids drugs are usually made from seeds from poppy plants. Opioids are basically prescription and legal drugs that are prescribed by your doctor to help with pain relief. This is how it often stems into an addiction and affects babies born to heroin addicted mothers

Opioids are a form of drug that has a highly addictive nature. Opioid abuse has unfortunately become a national crisis in the United States. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has reported that more than 2 million Americans abuse opioids and that more than 90 Americans die by opioid overdose every single day on average. These statistics highlight the severity of opioid epidemic, but opioid abuse is not something that comes without treatment and it is never too late to admit that you need help and get back on the track of making your life better and brighter for yourself, or if you are about to have a child.

However, heroin is a street drug made from the opioid morphine. Heroin can either be injected, smoked, snorted, or sniffed.

Drug addiction is a brain disorder that makes you crave drugs, even when you know that they’re harmful to you. Addiction affects your self-control first and with time, your ability to stop taking a drug also gets blurry, and then before you know, you are completely addicted to the drug. When a person becomes addicted to prescription opioids, they may try to buy them illegally. People often start using heroin after becoming addicted to prescription opioids as mentioned before. In some cases, heroin is also mixed with other illegal drugs to give it a stronger effect.


Babies Born to Heroin-Addicted Mothers

Whenever we think of a person abusing drugs or alcohol, we try to always think it is a very singular way, we always note how this addiction has caused their lives to turn for the worst. Substance abuse disorder is so much more than just a bad time in life, and oftentimes than it, it disrupts so many lives, especially innocent lives, which can include their kids, or kids who are not even born yet. Addiction not only aids in ruining the addict’s life, but it completely destroys the child’s life as well.

If we talk about a specific type of drug addiction, then babies born addicted not only have a tough life in which they have to fend for themselves, but they are also born with mental or even physical restrictions aiding their life for the worse. Prenatal exposure to cocaine is associated with some impacts on infant neurobehavior and long-term effects on behavior, executive function, and language.

If we talk about heroin use in pregnancy, it can cause a lot of serious problems for the unborn baby. Babies born to heroin-dependent mothers have complications that include premature birth, neonatal abstinence syndrome, birth defects, and even stillbirth. Babies exposed to drugs in utero may experience developmental consequences including impaired growth, behavioral disorders, birth defects, brain developmental disorders.

Taking action immediately and quitting the drug can cause more harm than good. If you’re pregnant and a heroin abuser, it is not recommended to stop taking the drug without getting professional treatment from your health care provider first or it can cause further complications.

Babies that are born to heroin or any other drug have the possibility of having “neonatal abstinence syndrome”.


Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)

Neonatal abstinence syndrome is a large cluster of multiple problems or complications that occur in a newborn baby who was exposed to opioid drugs or heroin for a length of time while the fetus was still inside the mother’s womb before birth. Prenatal drug exposure may impact the child’s behavior, language, cognition, and achievement long term. Mothers who take drugs during pregnancy give birth to babies who are physically dependent on those same drugs. 

Prenatal exposure to heroin has long-term effects on fetal development. When these drugs pass through the placenta that connects the baby to its mother in the womb, the baby also becomes dependent on the drug usage along with the mother who was already an addict. 

When the drug-addicted mothers continue to use illicit drugs within a week or two before conception, the infant may still be addicted to the drug at birth. When the umbilical cord is cut at birth, the baby immediately starts to go “cold turkey.”

Babies can then go through drug withdrawal after birth. Withdrawal from heroin or other opioids from any addictive drug, for that matter is hard on the body. Some babies may even need medicines to treat severe withdrawal symptoms days after birth. Once the signs of withdrawal are controlled, the amount of the medicine is slowly decreased. In all cases, it needs close medical supervision.

Symptoms of drug withdrawal in full-term babies may include:

  • Trembling
  • Too much crying or high-pitched crying
  • Sleep problems
  • Tight muscle tone
  • Overactive reflexes
  • Seizures
  • Yawning, stuffy nose, and sneezing
  • Poor feeding and sucking
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Fever or unstable temperature 


Opioid withdrawal symptoms also may occur in babies exposed to alcohol and certain antidepressants while in the womb.

Development of children exposed to opioids and other addictive substances (nicotine, amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, alcohol) can have long-term issues. Although there is no strong proof of NAS for other medications, they may contribute to the severity of NAS symptoms for a child. Evidence also suggests an increased risk of heart defects in adults born to mothers who abused cocaine during pregnancy. 

If a woman is pregnant or planning to be pregnant, she should avoid using addictive drugs or alcohol to help keep her baby safe and avoid putting children at risk of exposure to drugs. Women with substance abuse disorder also may be less likely to get prenatal care. 

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