What Is Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome?

What Is Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome?Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) occurs as a result of a pregnant woman using drugs or alcohol. Any substance a pregnant woman consumes is passed to her baby, who also experiences its effects. If a pregnant woman uses a drug that produces physical dependence, the baby will become physically dependent on the drug as well. Physical dependence produces withdrawal symptoms when the person stops using the drug, so after the baby is born and is no longer exposed to the drug in utero, the baby will experience withdrawal symptoms.

Drugs that Can Produce Dependence in Babies

A wide range of substances produce physical dependence of one degree or another and will induce withdrawal symptoms when the substance is no longer in the body. Substances that can produce addiction or dependence in unborn and newborn babies include the following:

  • Alcohol
  • Opiates, such as heroin and morphine
  • Opioid pain medications, such as codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone and hydromorphone
  • Benzodiazepine sedatives, such as Ativan, Valium and Xanax
  • Stimulants, such as cocaine, amphetamines and methamphetamines
  • Barbiturates
  • Marijuana
  • Nicotine
  • Caffeine

Naturally, some substances produce stronger dependence and more severe withdrawal symptoms than others. Sedatives, including alcohol and benzodiazepines, are notorious for producing the worst withdrawal symptoms of all the drug classes; sedative withdrawal is miserable and can be quite dangerous and even life threatening. Opiates and opioids also produce severe withdrawal symptoms although the health risks are not as great and the withdrawal process is generally not as long lasting as with sedatives. Stimulants do not produce such significant physical withdrawal symptoms, but the psychological withdrawal symptoms can be very significant and distressing.

Symptoms of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

Depending on the substance involved, neonatal abstinence syndrome can lead to problems ranging from mild difficulties to serious health risks. Symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome include the following:

  • Excessive crying
  • High-pitched crying
  • Blotchy, mottled skin
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Irritability
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Vomiting
  • Problems feeding
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Respiratory difficulties
  • Seizures

In the worst cases, a baby can start life with problems that can follow him or her for life and lead to chronic health problems and developmental retardation. Alcohol use in particular by pregnant mothers can lead not only to withdrawal symptoms in the infant, but also to fetal alcohol syndrome.

Seek Addiction Treatment Immediately

Life is hard enough as it is, and unborn and newborn babies deserve every advantage they can get. If you are pregnant and have substance abuse and addiction issues, get treatment immediately for your sake and the sake of your child. It is never too early or too late to quit using drugs and hopefully avoid the risk of neonatal abstinence syndrome or fetal alcohol syndrome. You can at least minimize the damage that may already have been done.

Remember that addiction is not a moral failing; it is a disease that is powerful. If you are in the grip of addiction, you will have a very hard time quitting no matter how much you love your unborn child. Seek professional help now. Treatment professionals will not blame you or judge you; they simply want to help you do what is best for yourself and your child. For help finding treatment, please call our toll-free, 24 hour helpline today.