Should Substance Abuse During Pregnancy be Considered Child Abuse?


According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), tobacco, alcohol, and prescription or illegal drugs can have severe health consequences for infants. Research states that when a pregnant mother uses these substances, they pass through the placenta, reaching the baby, to some degree. Studies also state that abusing substances during pregnancy increases the risk of stillbirth by double or triple times. A popular debate is whether or not pregnant women who abuse substance should be approached from a criminal perspective or from an addiction/treatment perspective.

Several health effects on a baby from pregnancy substance abuse include:

  • Low birth weight
  • Birth defects
  • Small head circumference
  • Premature birth
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

The Guttmacher Institute, a leading research and policy organization committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights in the United States and globally, states that currently there are 24 states in addition to the District of Columbia that “consider substance abuse during pregnancy to be child abuse under civil child-welfare status, and 3 consider it grounds for civil commitment.” Some states are required to test a mother if they suspect drug use, while others are required to both test and report it.

While some view this as appropriate, many others are dismayed by this approach. For example, the Center for Reproductive Rights states that mothers should not be treated as criminals but should be viewed as people with an addiction – people who need help. By taking a more compassionate approach, the perspective is that many women will be able to get the support they need to overcome their addiction without being legally punished for something they have already lost control over. The organization also noted that this approach could lead to many women getting abortions in order to avoid being arrested.

There are many implications that go along with this heated topic. While there are various viewpoints that one can take, the underlying concern is that both the mother and baby are living as healthy as possible. If you are struggling with substance abuse, make the decision to seek help today. Recovery is possible – don’t wait any longer to take back control over your life.

Located in Orange County, CA, Simple Recovery is a world-renowned drug and alcohol treatment center that believes that recovery is a process, not a destination. Our Simple Recovery programs include a variety of resources such as relapse prevention and support, group and individual therapy, vocational and educational programming, and more. If you’re in search of freedom from addiction, call us today at 888-743-0490. Recovery is possible.