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Drug use—preventing relapse

Pregnancy is a good motivator for women to stop using recreational drugs e.g. alcohol, tobacco, cannabis. However, some pregnant women, even with the best intentions, find it hard to break their drug using habit. This brochure explores why some women find it hard to stop and it offers some ideas on how to prevent drug relapse during pregnancy and after baby's birth.

There are many reasons why people use drugs and habits can be hard to break, particularly when the habit (or behaviour) has a positive effect, for example, it makes you feel good or helps you cope with life's stresses. Yet there are many reasons why you should stop, including having a baby. For the health and wellbeing of you and your baby, it is recommended that you stop recreational drug use in pregnancy and in preparation for parenting your baby. Here are some positive steps to help you stop.

Being pregnant is a very positive experience for most women; however, life events e.g. relationship, finances or work stresses, continue and can distract from your pregnancy experience.

Set a goal

Try stopping altogether or you can cut down on how much you use as a way of working towards abstinence. Decide what you want to do and set a timeframe e.g. stop as soon as possible or set a date. Write down your goal and put it where you can read it each day.

Reasons not to use

Write down why you use drugs. For example, you like the effect or it helps you cope, then write down the not-so-good effects of drug use – e.g. the financial or health costs, the after-effects or its affect on the pregnancy. Keep this list with your goal. (Try harder to think of a few more of the not-so-good effects.)

Stay motivated

Your motivation to stop can change. While you may be very motivated to stop while talking to your midwife, you may find that at home, your motivation and resolve can wane.

Be positive! Tell yourself 'I can do this'. Also:

  • Take time each day (one or two five-minute sessions) to relax and clear your mind of distractions.
  • Close your eyes and visualise yourself as a non-user; holding your baby and not being affected by drugs.
  • Breathe deeply, rhythmically and slowly during this visualisation.
  • Think about what you need to do to achieve your goal.
  • End each session with a gentle stretch of your limbs and a positive thought.

Learn techniques which can help you achieve a relaxed body and calm, focused mind. Start with simple strategies that work for you.

Strategies to help prevent relapse

If you need more help to stay drug-free, speak to your midwife or doctor who can refer you to an appropriate service.

Look for obstacles that may block you from achieving your goal e.g. friends dropping around or stress in your life, and find what triggers your drug cravings e.g. being lonely, bored, certain places, time of the day. Be aware of these triggers and avoid them if you can.

Dispose of any drugs, cigarettes, bottles or drug-utensils from around your house and involve yourself in new and pleasurable activities to:

  • Avoid boredom and loneliness.
  • Distract you from the cravings.
  • Divert activities away from user-friends.

Withdrawal management

You could have withdrawal symptoms if you are a regular drug user and have become physically dependent on the drugs you have been taking. This means that when trying to stop, you can have withdrawal symptoms and become unwell or have drug cravings. If you have any of these problems when you try to stop using drugs, talk to your midwife or doctor who can give you information and can refer you to an appropriate service for an assessment for withdrawal management.

Contingencies for risk of relapse

If you are unsure about how successful you will be in staying drug free either during pregnancy or after your baby is born, talk to your midwife or doctor regarding referral to a counselling and/or parenting support service for more help.

Be prepared, have a plan in place for when you find yourself confronted with the choice of using or not using drugs. This plan could be, having someone to talk to or something to distract you. After your baby's birth you may want to plan a night out with friends. Ensure you have someone you trust to care for your baby and have time to prepare for all of your baby's needs e.g. having expressed breastmilk for baby.

Activities to help prevent drug relapse during pregnancy and after baby's birth

  • Attend regular antenatal (and postnatal) check-ups and talk to your midwife or doctor about any worries you may have.
  • Remember the simple things are really important, such as, getting plenty of rest during the day, a good night's sleep and maintaining good nutrition and hydration.
  • Maintain good mental health and a positive outlook with positive self talk e.g. 'I can do this' and confidence checks–look at your past achievements.
  • Create a journal, scrap-book or photo album of your pregnancy.
  • Check your pregnancy calendar to see baby's growth.
  • Nurture positive relationships with others.
  • Re-socialise by joining a self-help group or local playgroup.
  • Join classes to learn new skills e.g. art, cooking or craft, meditation or relaxation.
  • Begin a gentle exercise program, after checking with your doctor.
  • Talk to your baby, even before baby is born, and share some of your favourite music together.
  • Prepare for baby, set up the nursery, read about parenting or enrol in a parenting program.
  • Learn the importance of touch and play for baby.
  • Set yourself achievable goals.
  • Learn ways to better manage your day but be aware that not all days run smoothly; plan, list and prioritise tasks.
  • Take time to enjoy being pregnant and allow some quiet time for you when your baby is born.
  • Develop a supportive network of family and friends and ask for help when you are tired or not coping.
  • Develop a smoke-free, drug-free and safe environment for baby.
  • Know that you are not alone. Child Health is an easily accessible, community health service that is free of charge and can provide feeding advice and parenting support.

The CHAMP® Clinic

For appointments phone 07 3163 8330 or contact the CHAMP Coordinator at Mater Mothers' Hospital on 07 3163 2417.

The CHAMP Clinic is an initiative of Mater Mothers' Hospital National Illicit Drug Strategy Program; part-funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing. March 2011

Mater acknowledges consumer consultation in the development of this patient information.
Mater Doc Num: PI-CLN-430110
Last modified 08/8/2017.
Consumers were consulted in the development of this patient information.
Last consumer engagement date: 30/11/2016
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