Substance Use

National Alcohol & Drug-Related Birth Defects Awareness Week

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A substantial percentage of children born across the U.S. are affected by prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol, including eating foods or taking medications containing alcohol. (1) This week is dedicated to spreading birth defect awareness relating to drugs and alcohol consumption. The chances of having a healthier baby are higher when you seek help for your addiction before they are born.

This article focuses on birth defect awareness. Keep reading to learn more about birth defect awareness and the causes and types of birth defects.

Zinnia Health is committed to helping newly pregnant women seek sobriety before childbirth. We understand that withdrawal and detox efforts during pregnancy require special care, and we are here to offer you the care you need. Reach out to Zinnia Health 24/7 alcohol addiction hotline at (855) 430-9439 today.

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Birth Defect Awareness – The Facts

Understanding the facts and figures related to drug and alcohol use and birth defects is key to birth defect awareness. There is a large body of research that gives us a good insight into how drugs and alcohol can affect unborn babies.

Drug and alcohol use in pregnancy is still common, although it is slowly decreasing. (2)

Alcohol use during pregnancy is the leading preventable cause of birth defects that occur in one in every 33 infants born in the United States each year. (3) These defects can be minor or severe and can occur in any pregnancy.

However, there is no safe level of alcohol use during pregnancy. (4)

With National Alcohol & Drug-Related Birth Defects Awareness Week right around the corner (May 6-12), it’s a good time to shed light on the dangers of alcohol and drug use during pregnancy and their effects on unborn babies.

What Causes Birth Defects?

Although birth defect awareness is an important issue, so is understanding the term “birth defect” itself. While “birth defect” may carry a negative connotation, it in no way downplays the many abilities and talents that individuals born with these challenges possess.

It is vital that we have a dialogue about the risks of consuming certain drugs while pregnant and what we can do to stop this epidemic.

Birth defect awareness starts with understanding the causes of birth defects. These can include:

  • Drinking alcohol. Even a very small amount – as small as one glass of wine – can adversely affect a developing fetus.
    sing alcohol can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), which involves intellectual or developmental disabilities, behavioral problems, and physical challenges. FAS is present in approximately one in every 1,000 births in the U.S. (5)
  • Smoking cigarettes. Birth defect awareness isn’t only limited to illicit drugs and alcohol. Smoking greatly increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and health problems for developing babies, such as preterm birth, low birth weight, and birth defects of the mouth and lip. E-cigarettes and any alternate forms of nicotine use are not safe during pregnancy, as nicotine can damage a developing baby’s brain and lungs. Yet, a significant number of pregnant women in the U.S. smoke. (6)
  • Using illicit drugs. Drugs like cocaine affect an unborn child’s stress response system, while other drugs can lead to behavioral problems, pregnancy loss, and stillbirth.
  • Exposure to certain medications. For example, thalidomide is used to treat certain cancers and serious complications of leprosy. It was also once considered a treatment for morning sickness before it was discovered to cause birth defects. Women who are pregnant or who might become pregnant should discuss all prescription and over-the-counter medications with their primary healthcare provider.
  • Genetics, chromosomal problems, infections, and environmental factors.

What Are the Types of Birth Defects?

A key part of birth defect awareness is understanding the types of birth defects that can result from drug or alcohol use. Birth defects are typically classified as structural or developmental.

Structural defects include:

  • Heart defects
  • Low birth weight
  • Cleft lip or palate
  • Small head circumference
  • Spina bifida 
  • Clubfoot

Developmental defects include:

  • Nervous system problems, intellectual disabilities, speech or language difficulties, and behavioral disorders, such as Down Syndrome.
  • Sensory problems, such as blindness and deafness.
  • Metabolic disorders, such as phenylketonuria and hypothyroidism, involve problems with certain chemical reactions in the body.
  • Degenerative disorders like muscular dystrophy can lead to problems in the nervous system and adrenal glands.
  • Sickle cell disease blocks blood flow and causes pain from a shortage of healthy red blood cells.
  • Cystic fibrosis affects the lungs and digestive system.
  • Poor coordination.
  • Poor concentration.
  • Symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), include distinctive facial features, learning disabilities, bone and joint deformities, and hyperactivity.

Some birth defects can lead to structural and functional problems, affecting different parts or processes in the body.

Addiction and Pregnancy

Although small amounts of drugs and alcohol can affect an unborn baby, pregnant women with addictions are at a greater risk. Addiction usually leads to increased use of a substance over time. This isn’t only harmful to the person involved, but if they are pregnant, this can significantly impact their unborn child.

Understanding addiction is part of birth defect awareness. Addiction consumes individuals and leads to them making choices that they usually wouldn’t.

Understanding the effects drugs and alcohol can have on a fetus and learning about birth defect awareness is not enough to prevent a woman with addiction from using their substance of choice.

Addiction takes hold of people, and discontinuing drug and alcohol use isn’t simply about willpower. Intervention from professionals is usually the best way to help someone beat addiction. A drug or alcohol use disorder is a complex condition that requires specialist treatment.

Often, someone with an addiction will need to complete a detox process where the traces of the substance leave their body. This process can be intense, so support and professional supervision are essential.

Medical treatment may also be needed for some people to detox safely. This often depends on the severity of the addiction and the type of substance the person uses.

Detoxification is usually the first step in treatment. Following this, other therapies are typically needed to address the psychological effects of the addiction on the individual and prevent relapse. They may also tackle mental health disorders that can develop from alcohol and drug abuse. If you are pregnant and have an addiction, admitting that you have an addiction and understanding birth defect awareness are the first steps to recovery.  

What Addiction Looks Like

It can be challenging to admit to yourself that you have an addiction. However, it is essential if you are to receive the treatment you need to recover. Addiction is a key topic in birth defect awareness.

If you’re unsure whether your drug or alcohol use has become problematic, here are some common signs:

  • Being unable to cut down the amount of alcohol or substance you are consuming.
  • Thinking about taking substances or drinking alcohol a lot of the time.
  • Spending most of your time taking, sourcing, or recovering from using a substance or alcohol.
  • Failing to meet responsibilities, such as going to work, school, or undertaking personal chores.
  • Experiencing damaged relationships with loved ones relating to your alcohol or substance consumption.
  • Making poor decisions or taking risks while under the influence of alcohol or other substances.

This is just a small selection of common addiction signs.

National Alcohol and Other Drug-Related Birth Defects Awareness Week, organized by The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), is a dedicated period aimed at raising awareness about the risks associated with substance abuse during pregnancy.

This observance highlights the importance of informed decision-making regarding substance use and its potential impact on fetal development.

Prenatal alcohol and drug exposure can lead to a range of birth defects and developmental disorders in newborns, known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) and neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), respectively.

By spreading the message and educating communities, healthcare professionals, and expectant mothers about the dangers of prenatal alcohol and substance use, this awareness week strives to prevent and reduce the incidence of substance-related birth defects and promote healthier pregnancies and births.

How Can a Newly Pregnant Woman Seek Help With Sobriety Before Childbirth?

If you have read about birth defect awareness and think you might have an addiction, it’s never too late to enter recovery. You likely want the best for your baby and for them to have a happy and successful life. By entering recovery, you can give yourself and your baby the best chances.

If you are planning on getting pregnant and you use drugs or alcohol, the time to find help for both you and your unborn child is now. If you are already pregnant, getting help as soon as possible will give you the greatest chance of recovering from your addiction and preventing birth defects.

Here at Zinnia Health, we are committed to giving mothers access to the treatment they need to live happy, fulfilling lives with their children. We offer individualized treatment for women that is designed with your well-being in mind. Our compassionate team is here to help you reclaim control over your life. Get in touch with Zinnia Health today. Call (855) 430-9439 to get help.


Call us
Ready to get help?
(855) 430-9439
Why call us? Why call us