Whether you are a man or woman, or anything in between, there are risks and consequences to using drugs. From procuring them to using them, there are risks at every step. But what are the differences?
Is the impact of substance abuse different between men and women?
How do Narcotics Impact a Menstrual Cycle
Some drugs can directly impact or stop the menstrual cycle and cause infertility, or the disordered cycle may increase pregnancy risk. If you are used to a disordered cycle, you may not even realise you're expecting.
Most of us know that if a woman uses drugs, these substances can be passed to the unborn baby, which then causes further complications.
Accessing support whilst pregnant may also be challenging – hard enough when you are looking for help for yourself, but when a child is involved, there is the fear of involvement of social services and the legal issues that would come with it.
How Cocaine Effects a Woman's Period
Cocaine is a vasoconstrictor - it affects and restricts the blood flow within the body. Regular cocaine use can interfere with hormone levels, disrupt the menstrual cycle and ultimately stop ovulation altogether. As a frequent cocaine user, you could go several months without having a period or not having one.
Another risk of regular cocaine use is that it could damage the fallopian tubes, making it more difficult to conceive a child in later life. Interestingly, a study conducted by the McLean Hospital in the USA by Marc Kaufman found that oestrogen counteracts the effect of cocaine. The study found that during the first half of their menstrual cycle, when oestrogen levels are high, the brain is protected from the damaging effects of cocaine use.
Other studies have suggested that women who are ovulating crave cocaine more than when they are not ovulating. This may make it more difficult if you are withdrawing or detoxing from cocaine and increases the risk of relapse. Though the research was conducted on rats, similar studies show human response is identical. Cocaine seeking was higher in female rats than male rats, "in female rats, the magnitude of cocaine craving was critically dependent on the phase of the oestrous cycle, demonstrating a novel role of ovarian hormones in the incubation of cocaine craving.
How Cocaine Effects Pregnancy
The primary function of the placenta is to transfer nutrients from the mother to the foetus. As with any nutrient or substance a pregnant woman takes, cocaine crosses the placenta barrier.
Cocaine use is a risk if pregnant or not, but a pregnant woman who uses cocaine dramatically increases her risk of high blood pressure. This, in turn, can cause fluid in the lungs, bleeding in the brain or heart failure. And that's only the start of it.
Cocaine use whilst pregnant can cause changes in the placenta and can cause death for both mother and baby. One study found that 38% of pregnant women who used cocaine lost their babies.
The placenta blood flow supplies the unborn baby with the oxygen it needs. Cocaine constricts the blood vessels, and after using cocaine, both the mother's and the unborn baby's heart rate and blood pressure increase. The constriction of blood vessels can affect the placenta and lead to a lack of oxygen supplied to the unborn baby. This can cause organ failure, placental abruption (separating the placenta from the uterus), premature birth and spontaneous abortion (miscarriage). One study has shown that pregnant cocaine users had a 1 in 3 chance of premature birth compared to a non-cocaine user with a 1 in 8 risk of premature birth.
Eclampsia (and pre-eclampsia) are severe complications of pregnancy that can result in maternal and foetal death if untreated. A little under 5% of pregnancies will be affected by pre-eclampsia, which increases significantly when the mother uses cocaine. Typical signs of eclampsia are headaches, seizures, blurred vision and seizures.
How Cocaine Effects New Borns
When conducting trials, they use medical-grade cocaine. They don't have to go to the neighbourhood dealer and get street cocaine, where the likelihood is that a bunch of cutting agents have been thrown in to make more money. The cocaine you're sniffing on your nights out is probably only 50-60% pure. So, if pure cocaine can do this to your unborn baby, imagine what the cutting and bulking agents can do to you and your unborn baby.
If you have been sniffing, smoking, or injecting cocaine throughout your pregnancy and are now about to deliver, you might ask, "How will it affect the baby?"
Unfortunately, your new baby will likely go through withdrawal. This is not a pleasant process in adults, and a new baby can include sleeplessness, tremors, muscle spasms and difficulty feeding.
Signs of prolonged cocaine use through pregnancy to your new baby can include a smaller head and an overall smaller baby. Your new baby's brain may be smaller at birth and will remain smaller than usual. Other issues can include brain, kidneys, genitals and heart defects.
Fear not, though! If you stop taking cocaine during pregnancy, you can dramatically reduce the risks. I always write about minimising harm and how to do drugs more safely, but there is no harm minimisation when it comes to pregnancy. Your cocaine use is not only putting you at risk.
Get help to stop. Get help to reduce the risk to you both. My only advice in minimising the risk is to stop! I know this is difficult and sometime may feel impossible, but reach out and ask for help.