Pandemic magnifies risks of maternal substance abuse

By Lynn Dobmeier Pullano

Immediate impacts of Covid-19 on our health and economy are obvious and insidious. Less visible are dangers to children when anxiety-ridden parents increasingly turn to alcohol and other substances for solace during the pandemic.

In addition to increases in domestic violence, there is reason for concern about substance use by expectant women. As a consultant working with national and local organizations to ensure the well-being of children, this is painfully evident to me.

Historically, substance addiction has increased during times of societal trauma like world wars and economic recessions. Coincident with Covid-19 spread, the Nielsen market research firm reports spikes in U.S. sales of alcoholic beverages.

It’s critical that pregnant women or those trying to conceive during this crisis avoid drinking or improper substance use. The toll on their unborn children could be profound.

Extensive research indicates that use of alcohol, tobacco, nicotine, cocaine, methamphetamines and opioids by expectant mothers endangers their children. Risks at delivery include stillbirth, premature birth and severe withdrawal symptoms. Lifelong consequences are cited by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder expert Ira Chasnoff, M.D., who is currently working with Chautauqua County government and stakeholders on a plan to address maternal substance use in their community. Chasnoff notes, “Children exposed to alcohol and illicit drugs in the womb are more likely to experience difficulties in long-term health, behavior, development and academic achievement.”
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The opinions expressed in this post are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the FASD Prevention Conversation Project, its stakeholders, or funders.

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