Drugs & Health Blog

Are Some Babies Born Addicted?

©Shutterstock/Susan Schmitz

The NIDA Blog Team

No. Babies born to mothers who have problems with drugs aren’t born addicted, but the babies can be born with drugs in their system. This can cause them a great deal of discomfort. Once the supply of drugs (delivered through the mother’s umbilical cord) goes away, babies can experience painful withdrawal symptoms and other health problems.

In newborns, this type of withdrawal is called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). NAS can be caused by exposure to many different drugs. It’s especially challenging for babies born to mothers who use opioids, including prescription pain relievers or heroin.

How many babies are born with NAS?

Unfortunately, the number of babies born with NAS has increased in recent decades because opioid misuse has increased. Between 1999 and 2013, the number of cases of NAS tripled; in 2013, it affected six out of every 1,000 newborns.

What does NAS look like?

A baby’s withdrawal symptoms can include tremors, diarrhea, fever, irritability, seizures, and difficulty breathing and feeding. Babies with NAS usually require an extended hospital stay to help them get better.

Can pregnant women with an opioid addiction get treated?

Pregnant women with an opioid addiction can get help for their drug problem in ways that are safe for their unborn baby. For instance, buprenorphine and methadone, two types of medicine used to treat opioid addiction, have been shown to be safe and effective treatments in this situation. Not only will treatment help the mother get healthy, it’s also better for the baby.

How are babies with NAS treated?

Babies with NAS can be given medication to relieve their discomfort. It’s important to remember that babies are not addicted. Part of the definition of being addicted means that a person seeks out drugs and continues to use them despite negative consequences. Babies, however, rely completely on caring hospital staff for relief.

How can NAS be prevented?

NAS can be prevented if women discuss any medicine or illegal drug use with their doctors before they get pregnant. Doctors can help guide women to treatment, which can also protect their babies. If a pregnant woman needs treatment for pain, her doctor can advise her on how to safely take medicines.

You can learn more about pregnancy and drugs from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initiative, Treating for Two: Medicine and Pregnancy.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


I understand NAS, however, how does NAS affect the baby once grown to an age where they can access addictive substances? Are they more likely to experience addiction than a non-NAS infant? if so to what percentage?

These are all great questions! We’re still learning about NAS and its effects on people in the long-term. If you’d like to learn more about what we currently know about NAS, listed below are two of our webpages on this topic:



Hi i look after a child who went through withdrawl from herion and i did this natraly he cryed constant for nerly a year now hes 8and is going through lotts of learning and prossesing dificulties is ther any info or help information about a child development after ther birth and withdrawl and effects in any child thanks

It sounds like you care deeply for this child. We recommend that you speak honestly with the child’s pediatrician or primary care doctor for specific advice regarding your and his specific situation.

If the mother doesn’t use a month prior, would the baby still come out addicted?

Drug use anytime during pregnancy can be risky for the mom and for the baby. We recommend that if you or someone you know has questions about drug use during pregnancy, you talk with a trusted medical professional for advice specific to the situation.

Why are babies who are born to drug addicted mothers, who have drugs in their system and who experience withdrawal when removed from the source of the drug considered to be “not addicted”?

Great question! Babies who are born with drugs in their system are dependent on those drugs, but not addicted. Dependence means that when a person stops using drugs, they go through withdrawal symptoms. (In babies, this is known as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or NAS). Addiction is a disease and happens when a person keeps using a drug and can’t stop, despite the negative consequences.

For more information about tolerance, dependence, and addiction, please see https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/tolerance-dependence-addiction-wha....

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