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Coping with Pregnancy and Alcoholism

In general, it’s not a good idea to drink when you’re pregnant. While a drink or two during the early days of conception before you know you are pregnant is likely not going to cause any harm, drinking regularly or heavily during pregnancy can cause miscarriage or serious health risks to the fetus and possibly result in a fetal alcohol syndrome disorder (FASD) or birth defects. 

This article will explore the risks of drinking alcohol during pregnancy and how to cope with pregnancy and alcoholism. If you have an alcohol use disorder (AUD) and you are pregnant, you may be wondering if it is possible to get treatment while you are pregnant. Read more below for further information on how to get help with an AUD during pregnancy and the dangers of alcohol withdrawal.

Dangers of Alcohol During Pregnancy

You may be wondering, is alcohol ever safe to use during pregnancy? Or, are different levels safer? In general, it’s wise to avoid alcohol altogether while you are pregnant. It appears that drinking during pregnancy likely causes the most damage during the first three months of pregnancy. However, because the baby’s brain is developing throughout the pregnancy, there is no safe amount or safe time to drink during pregnancy. 

Keep in mind that drinking during pregnancy, in general, can cause harm. This includes drinking heavily even one time during pregnancy, even if you don’t drink very often. For example, binge-drinking, which means drinking four or more drinks on one occasion, can result in fetal damage. 

Moderate drinking during pregnancy may lead to miscarriage. Heavy drinking, which means drinking more than two alcoholic drinks a day, can lead to a greater risk of a baby born with fetal alcohol syndrome. The bottom line is that the more alcohol you drink, the greater the risk to your unborn child.

Among the dangers of drinking alcohol during pregnancy are:

  • Miscarriage
  • Premature delivery
  • Stillbirth
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Birth defects
  • Learning disabilities
  • Speech and cognitive difficulties
  • Behavioral problems 
  • Cerebral palsy

Drinking alcohol is ingrained in American culture, and often, there are expectations to drink socially and also to drink heavily. In fact, a recent survey shows that more than 86 percent of Americans have tried alcohol at some time.

Alcoholism, or AUD, is often the result of a combination of genetic predisposition and social or environmental influences. If you are not sure if you have an addiction to alcohol, one way to evaluate yourself is to use the CAGE method. CAGE is an acronym that means:

C: Cutting down. If you feel like you may need to cut back on how much or how often you drink alcohol, this could indicate that you have developed an AUD.

A: Annoyed. If you feel annoyed or irritated when someone confronts you or questions you about your drinking.

G: Guilt. If you find that you feel guilty about your drinking, you may have an AUD.

E. Eye-opener. If you feel the need to drink in the morning, this is very likely a sign that you have a dependence on alcohol.

Dangers of Alcohol Withdrawal and Getting Treatment

Quitting alcohol suddenly, known as going “cold turkey,” may seem like a good idea, but it’s not. Alcohol withdrawal can cause serious side effects including seizures and what’s known as delirium tremens or “DTs.”

DTs happens because the body’s central nervous system is no longer receiving alcohol, which it has come to rely upon. Symptoms of DTs can include confusion, hallucinations, high blood pressure, nightmares, catatonia, increased heart rate, and even death. 

For these reasons, if you have an AUD, it’s imperative that you get professional help so that you can be clinically monitored while undergoing a medical detox program. During a medical detox, you will be clinically monitored around the clock. You will also receive counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy to help you cope with the emotional and psychological challenges of detox and recovery. You will also learn new life skills to help you manage recovery and avoid relapse. 

Finding an addiction treatment program that can also help monitor your pregnancy and your specific health needs during this time is important. Most programs are designed to address co-occurring conditions. While this usually refers to other substance use disorders or physical or mental health conditions, it can also apply to pregnancy. You may also want to find a program that treats women only. 

Other steps you can take during pregnancy (and otherwise) to help you manage drinking and have a healthy pregnancy include:

  • Avoid being around others who drink if at all possible
  • Talk to a doctor or substance abuse therapist
  • Joining a 12-step program
  • Tapering (slowly drinking fewer drinks and drinking less often) can be dangerous without detox
  • Enjoying nonalcoholic versions of your favorite alcoholic beverages
  • If you usually drink to relax, find other ways to unwind including taking a walk, getting a massage, listening to music you enjoy, socializing with friends in ways that do not include drinking

This list is designed to provide ideas to help you cope during your pregnancy, but it’s not intended as a substitute for getting professional help with managing alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Also, please note that while tapering your drinking is the healthy direction to move in, it’s still best to stop drinking altogether. However, you will need to go through a medical detox program to withdraw safely. Do not attempt to detox at home.

Conclusion

Drinking during pregnancy can expose the fetus to potentially serious health risks. If you have an alcohol use disorder and you’re pregnant, you can still get help for your addiction. It’s important to seek out a medical detox program that will help you cope during withdrawal as alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous or even deadly. If you drink regularly and heavily, don’t stop cold turkey as this could result in serious health risks to you and your unborn baby. There is help available to support you on your journey to recovery.

Sources

U.S. Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus.. Alcohol and Pregnancy. (January 14, 2018) from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007454.htm

National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDS). Alcohol Use in Pregnancy. (March 27, 2018). from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/alcohol-use.html

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Drinking and Your Pregnancy. When You Are Pregnant… (2012) from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/drinking-and-your-pregnancy

Mayo Clinic. Alcohol use disorder. (July 11, 2018) from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-use-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20369243

Healthline. ‘Cold Turkey’ Alcohol Withdrawal Can Cause Serious Health Issues. Mammoser, G. (July 20, 2017) from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/cold-turkey-alcohol-withdrawal-can-cause-serious-health-issues

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