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Methamphetamine Abuse And Treatment During Pregnancy

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

February 20, 2019

Methamphetamine use is dangerous for everyone, but especially so for women who are pregnant. These women should seek treatment right away in order to ensure the health of themselves and their baby.

Despite the ready availability of modern substance abuse treatment, methamphetamine abuse has continued to increase in the United States in recent decades, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). In fact, methamphetamine is the third most-abused drug in the U.S. Unfortunately, the drug may have dangerous side effects, and is highly addictive. Women who are pregnant are especially at risk of the dangers of methamphetamine abuse. As stated by the ACOG, “methamphetamine use in pregnancy endangers the health of the woman and increases the risk of low birth weight and small for gestational age babies, and such use may increase the risk of neurodevelopmental problems in children.”

To ensure the health of the woman and fetus, close monitoring is very important for treatment. Fortunately, many treatment methods are available. To understand how to treat methamphetamine abuse, one should be aware what the drug is, and of the side effects and health risks associated with it.

Methamphetamine Use

Methamphetamine is a stimulant drug, and a potent version of the compound from which it is derived, amphetamine. People who engage in recreational use of the drug seek the immediate high it produces—a feeling of intense euphoria. Meth can be administered orally or anally, injected, snorted, or smoked. Injecting or smoking produces a faster, though shorter-lasting, high.

Meth works in the brain by blocking dopamine from re-entering, disrupting the recycling process. Ultimately this results in an excess of dopamine, which causes the high. Prolonged use of methamphetamine may be dangerous, though, as this increased buildup may be toxic to nerve-endings.

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Effects Of Methamphetamine Abuse On The Body

Short-term effects of abuse include a surge of energy, or wakefulness, and lack of appetite. However, some people experience health complications, such as heart arrhythmias, hyperthermia (increased body temperature), hypertension, and seizures.

Long-term use can foster addiction (abuse), and with it may come a whole host of adverse, long-term effects, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Change in behavior, including violent urges
  • Dental issues, including a condition known as “meth mouth”
  • Depression
  • State of confusion
  • Inability to sleep
  • Memory loss
  • Weight loss

In addition, people who fall victim to long-term abuse may eventually undergo psychosis, experiencing such symptoms as hallucinations, paranoia, becoming delusional, and the notion of a skin-crawling sensation. These psychotic symptoms may be the most troubling, as they can occur for months or even years after stopping abuse.

Effects Of Methamphetamine On Pregnancy Health

The effects of methamphetamine abuse on pregnancy is not as well-studied as the effects of other drugs on pregnancy. Further, many women who abuse methamphetamine during pregnancy may also abuse other substances (alcohol, tobacco, etc.), so the results of women studied would be skewed in those cases. However, the ACOG explains that, “case reports and retrospective analyses have suggested that maternal methamphetamine use may be associated with a possible increase of defects of the fetal central nervous system, cardiovascular system, gastrointestinal system, as well as oral cleft and limb defects.” This suggestion is not confirmed, but highly suspected from reports.

What is confirmed in pregnancies affected by methamphetamine abuse is small for gestational age babies (SGA) and low birth weight babies—two problems which are consistently linked to pregnancies affected by amphetamine abuse. Other studies strongly suggest other fetal complications, including increased stress to the fetus, decreased movement, and low arousal. Overall, the ACOG states that while methamphetamine cannot be proven to increase the risk of birth defects in pregnancies, it “is consistently associated with SGA infants and appears to be associated with neonatal and childhood neurodevelopmental abnormalities.”

How To End Methamphetamine Abuse For Beginning Treatment

As with most forms of substance abuse treatment, methamphetamine recovery begins with the grueling process of detoxification. This helps to rid the body of the toxic chemicals acquired through abuse. Withdrawal is often a harsh process, though, and should rarely be attempted alone. Professional monitoring and, in some cases, medication may help best ensure safety during this difficult time.

Meth withdrawal may be characterized by anxiety, extreme cravings for the drug, depression, and fatigue. Overcoming this stage of recovery may be extremely difficult, but once a person does, he or she can move on to treatment methods. According to the National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA), the most effective method for treating amphetamine abuse is behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on abstinence by way of building a life without substance abuse and teaching a person to overcome urges through the power of will. Other types of treatment include family, individual, or group counseling, awareness of the addiction, support groups for continued care, and monitored drug use (testing).

Treatment of pregnant women who are affected by substance abuse may involve these treatments, as well as close medical monitoring of the women and fetuses. Proper prenatal care and stopping abuse as soon as possible is the best defense for pregnancies affected by meth abuse.

Get The Help And Treatment You Need

Methamphetamine is a highly addictive substance, and stopping use is a treacherous feat. For pregnant women, though, this could be a decision that is detrimental to their health, and the health of the unborn fetus. If you are struggling with abuse, and don’t know where to start, we can help. Contact us today at to learn more about your treatment options, availability of resources, and to find a place to start.

American College Of Obstetricians And Gynecologists - Methamphetamine Abuse In Women Of Reproductive Age

National Institute On Drug Abuse - Methamphetamine

New York Office Of Alcoholism And Substance Abuse Services - Treatment Of The Pregnant Woman With A Substance Use Disorder

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