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Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Long-Term Effects 

Long-Term Effects of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

Neonatal abstinence syndrome most often occurs in babies whose mothers abuse drugs like opioids, antidepressants, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines during pregnancy. Nearly anything a woman consumes while pregnant can affect the baby, and drug abuse can cause adverse effects. As a Massachusetts addiction treatment center, we’re well aware of the neonatal abstinence syndrome long-term effects and completely advise against any form of substance abuse in general, especially during pregnancy.

What Is Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome?

Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) is a group of conditions that occur in babies who experience withdrawal symptoms from certain drugs they were exposed to in the womb. Prescription painkillers, illegal substances like heroin, and pharmaceuticals used to treat opioid addiction (such as methadone or buprenorphine) are only a few examples of these drugs. It holds a number of similarities to the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome as well.

These substances have the capacity to cross the placenta when consumed by a pregnant person, which may have an impact on the growing fetus. Babies who are no longer exposed to the chemical after birth may experience withdrawal symptoms due to their dependence on it. These signs and symptoms, which can be moderate or severe, frequently develop within the first three days following birth. They might, however, take a little longer on occasion.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Scoring

Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) scoring, also known as Finnegan scoring, is a standardized method used by healthcare professionals to assess and monitor the severity of withdrawal symptoms in newborns exposed to addictive substances in utero. The different NAS signs and symptoms, such as tremors, excessive crying, and feeding issues, are given numerical values in this scoring system. The management and therapy of the affected infants are subsequently decided upon using these scores. Higher scores typically reflect more severe withdrawal symptoms, necessitating medical intervention to lessen the baby's suffering. Regular NAS scoring enables medical professionals to closely monitor the child's development and modify treatment programs as necessary, ensuring the finest care and support for these helpless newborns during their critical early years of life.

Signs of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

The signs and symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome may vary depending on the substance that was taken and the baby. Most of these signs present themselves within the first 72 hours following birth but could occur weeks later. The symptoms of NAS can last from one week to six months following birth.

Common signs of neonatal abstinence syndrome include:

  • Body shakes or tremors
  • Convulsions
  • Seizures
  • Twitching
  • Tightness in the muscles
  • Excessive, high-pitched crying
  • Rapid breathing
  • Slow weight gain or disinterest in feeding
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulties sleeping or yawning excessively
  • Stuffy nose or frequent sneezing

Pregnant women are not immune to addiction. This is a chronic disease that can occur in anyone despite their position in life. At Banyan Treatment Centers Massachusetts, we offer a variety of substance abuse programs, including opiate and prescription pill addiction treatment, to help adults who are struggling with drug abuse get sober.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome?

Prescription opioid abuse is one of the most common causes of neonatal abstinence syndrome. The opioid epidemic has not helped in lowering cases of NAS in the United States. Pregnant women are no exception to the growing drug abuse problem. Alongside opioids, the dangers of cocaine use while pregnant, as well as a variety of other substances, is also a cause for concern. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a baby in the U.S. is born with a birth defect every 4.5 minutes, totaling nearly 120,000 babies affected by birth defects per year.1 Women are also at the highest risk of developing a substance abuse disorder during their reproductive years, which may also contribute to the growing rate of dependence among pregnant women.2

Factors like the substance used, frequency of use, doses used, and whether the mother engaged in polysubstance abuse can all affect the severity of the effects of neonatal abstinence syndrome.

The most common long-term side effects of neonatal abstinence syndrome include:

  • Low birth weight, less than 5 pounds 8 ounces
  • Newborn jaundice, or the yellowing of a baby’s skin and white areas of the eyes
  • Seizures
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the unexplained death of a baby younger than 1-year-old (usually occurs during sleep)
  • Cognitive or developmental delays, which can include problems with speech, learning, and memory
  • Problems with motor movement
  • Behavioral and learning problems
  • Problems with sleep
  • Frequent ear infections
  • Problems with vision

The long-term effects of neonatal abstinence syndrome aren’t entirely clear. There may be various additional health problems that can occur as a result of using drugs while pregnant. Regardless of the situation, non-expecting and expecting men and women should abstain from drug and alcohol abuse at all costs.

Living With NAS Effects Later in Life

For people who have experienced the long-term effects of NAS, dealing with its ramifications later in life can bring special difficulties. Others might encounter developmental, behavioral, or health-related problems, while some people might not. Many of these people need continuing assistance and early intervention in order to lead fulfilling lives. To address any cognitive or behavioral issues that may have resulted from NAS, some people may require specialized educational services or counseling. Regular health examinations and monitoring can also aid in identifying and treating any potential medical issues that can develop as a result of a child's early exposure to addictive substances.

It's important to recognize that each person's experience with NAS effects will be unique and that support networks are essential to their well-being. The support and resources needed are best provided by family, educators, and medical experts. People with NAS can thrive and overcome obstacles with the correct care and support, displaying great tenacity and fortitude in their pursuit of a healthy and full life.

If you or someone you know is battling drug or alcohol abuse, call us now at 888-280-4763 to learn more about the levels of care offered at our Banyan rehab in Massachusetts.


  1. CDC - What Are Birth Defects?
  2. CDC - Substance use during pregnancy
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.