Addicted Mothers and their Babies: Part Two
What Happens to Drug and Alcohol Addicted Mothers?
An attractive young woman in her late 20’s who appeared to be near the end of her pregnancy, suddenly sat down cross-legged in the grocery store checkout line awaiting her turn. Then she took a can of whipped cream from her hand basket and started spraying it into her mouth. The people before and after her in line were a little confused, but didn’t say anything – just exchanged glances, wondering why this mom-to-be was behaving this way. Some even smiled, looking amused and muttered something about “cravings”.
When she was next, she happily stood, and placed her whip cream cans on the conveyer belt. The cashier scanned them, but before she could move them along the counter to the bagger, the peculiar customer said the first 2 cans could just be tossed in the trash. She didn’t need them anymore.
The cashier was perplexed because the cans felt full, and asked if she was sure about throwing them away since she was paying for them. Without hesitation, the pregnant woman explained she already used the “gas” from them that she needed. She knew she shouldn’t because “the state” was probably going to take this baby away just like her first one two years before. But she just wanted to pay and be on her way.
Lori got caught buying heroin and was charged with possession and being under the influence of a controlled substance. But in San Mateo County, she was offered the chance to participate in the Drug Court Program in which she would commit to the 18-month program, seek treatment for addiction, and comply with drug testing as ordered instead of serve jail time. Lori was also 6 months pregnant.
When she met her caseworker, she explained how she was actually happy that she “got busted” because this was going to force her to stay clean, and if she did so, she was hopeful that the court would allow her to keep her baby this time. She had given birth to a baby a few years prior who was taken away, and since she lost all parental rights, she never saw him again. Part of her conditions for release from custody, was mandatory supervised urine testing. She was in her 30’s, blonde shoulder length hair, of average height and build. She had a pretty smile and clear blue eyes. You could tell that not all that long ago, she was very beautiful, probably “model” beautiful, but years of continued drug use wore away at her face, dulled and aged her skin.
Even more appalling was what she had done to her body. As she lifted her skirt to provide her urine sample, she revealed scars covering both of her legs, leading her caseworker to wonder how many needles she so desperately mutilated herself with in order to feed her addiction, and it didn’t stop there. As she rolled up her sleeves to wash her hands, she exposed more evidence of years of heroin abuse. Her reality was shocking to witness.
But even more tragic than to learn of this woman’s serious addiction, was the reality that she was full-blown “using” when she got pregnant and for those first 6 months before she was arrested. Besides the drugs she shared with her baby, she lacked good nutrition. Her focus had been on her next high, not on caring for the second child she was going to bring into the world. She was fortunate to discover that thus far, other than being slightly underweight, the fetus appeared to be developing normally. But the potential brain damage or effects on his development after his birth were still unknown.
Drug Addicted Mothers
So what happens to mothers, pregnant women, who are addicted to drugs or alcohol at the time of their baby’s birth?
Much depends on:
- The laws of the state she lives in
- Her level of addiction
- The treatment resources available to her and her child
- The environment in which she has to live and raise the baby, and
- Whether or not she accepts help if it is offered.
In most states, hospitals are required to report babies born positive for drugs or alcohol, or exhibiting signs of addiction. If this occurs, the mother could be arrested and jailed, arrested and allowed to seek treatment, not criminally charged but connected with social worker to receive help, OR, not have her drug abuse addressed at all. In actuality, not all hospitals report the cases of babies born addicted, and therefore some babies go home with their addicted mothers.
This is extremely dangerous for the child if his/her mother begins using again. Her ability to properly care for her child is inhibited, despite even the best intentions. If the baby suffers from medical issues resulting from the drugs or alcohol, the mom may be unable to handle the responsibility of managing the needs of her baby. Research shows that a considerable number of infants die or are harmed after they are sent home with their mother who is suffering from addiction. Some of these deaths are not due to the initial withdrawal symptoms the baby endured, but from suffocation while the mother, in a drug induced state, fell asleep on her child. Others died from neglect, or abuse because for an addict, the drug comes first.
Ultimately, the drug abusing mother, can end up serving jail time for child endangerment, neglect, abuse, or homicide. Once in jail, she’ll get clean again, and then will be faced with the guilt and sorrow of losing her baby, and losing custody of any other children she may already have. When she is of clear mind, she’ll have to deal with the devastation her addiction has caused in her life and for those she brought into the world and failed to keep safe. The psychological effects on the mother once she is sober are also of concern. If she does not receive proper guidance, she may fall into depression, or self-destructive behavior. Once released from incarceration, without support on the outside, she is in danger of relapse, and the vicious cycle can start again.
Don’t let this happen to you, or someone you love.
If you have concerns about drug or alcohol abuse, and would like to ask questions or receive more information, please complete this request for a complementary consultation with one of our counselors at Moffitt Wellness Retreat or call us now at 1.713.907.5632.