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Drugs and sexual health

Taking drugs while having sex or during pregnancy

Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in health

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Remember: All drugs, including the misuse of prescribed medication, can pose serious health risks, up to and including possible death.

Drug use can effect your sexual health in different ways. If you feel you are dependent on drugs, check out our article on drug dependency, for support on overcoming your addiction.

Drugs and pregnancy

Drug use in pregnancy can increase the chances of having problems during pregnancy or with the new born child. This depends on what drug is being used and how much/how often. There can be some very real risks for women who use drugs during pregnancy in general, irrespective of the drug used.

Alcohol use and smoking during pregnancy can have an impact too. Learn about alcohol and pregnancy here and smoking and pregnancy here.

Opiates and pregnancy

  • The most common form of opiate is heroin.
  • Women who are dependent on opiates are likely to experience complications during pregnancy.
  • The most common medical problems include: anaemia, cardiac disease, diabetes, pneumonia, and hepatitis.
  • They also have an abnormally high rate of miscarriage, breech delivery, caesarean section and premature birth.
  • Infants born to women who take/misuse heroin are smaller than average and frequently show evidence of acute infection.
  • Most of these infants exhibit withdrawal symptoms of varying degrees and duration.
  • The mortality rate among these infants is higher than normal.

Cannabis and pregnancy

  • Some research studies suggest that the use of cannabis during pregnancy may result in premature babies and low birth weights.
  • Studies on men and women have also shown a temporary loss of fertility. These findings suggest that marijuana may be especially harmful during your teenage years, which is a period of rapid physical and sexual growth and development.

Sedatives and pregnancy

  • Sedatives are another term for sleeping pills.
  • Babies born to mothers who misuse sedatives during their pregnancy may be physically dependent on the drugs and show withdrawal symptoms shortly after they are born.
  • These symptoms may include: breathing problems, feeding difficulties, disturbed sleep, sweating, irritability and fever.

Caffeine and pregnancy

  • Caffeine has the ability to cause a variety of reproductive problems in animals, including congenital abnormalities and infertility, reduced fertility, prematurity and low birth weight.
  • Further studies on humans have shown that it can increase the risk of miscarriage and sudden infant death syndrome and that it can decrease foetal growth.
  • Many high caffeine foods also contain substances called tannins, which interfere with iron absorption. Pregnant women often have problems absorbing iron during their pregnancy anyhow, so it is important that they limit substances that could interfere with nutrient absorption.
  • The HSE and Food Safety Authority of Ireland now recommend that pregnant women consume no more than 200mg of caffeine a day. This is equivalent to two cups of tea/two cups of instant coffee/one cup of filter coffee/200g dark chocolate/400mg of milk chocolate. Caffeine is also present in fizzy drinks and chocolate.
  • Click here for comprehensive advice on caffeine intake during pregnancy.

Hallucinogens and pregnancy

  • Hallucinogens include LSD and magic mushrooms.
  • LSD use by pregnant women appears to be associated with an increased risk of miscarriage.
  • Research also suggests that it may be linked to a higher incidence of congenital abnormalities among their babies.

Drug use and Hepatitis B

Drug use, HIV and AIDS

  • The sharing of needles and syringes also increases the risk of HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) infection and the development of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). If you are injecting drugs, never share needles with anyone else. Check out Merchants Quay's safer injecting guide here.
  • HIV attacks the body's immune system and by damaging or destroying the body's ability to fight infections and disease, makes an individual vulnerable to various infections and forms of cancer that are invariably fatal.

How HIV is transmitted

  • Injecting drugs is a particularly high risk activity because the virus can be transmitted through infected needles, syringes, bowls or containers used to dissolve drugs and other injection. This is why it's so important not to share drug equipment with anyone else. 
  • It can be transmitted through unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal sex with a HIV positive person. This is why it's so important to use a condom every single time you have sex, and get tested for STIs and HIV regularly.
  • It can be transmitted from an a HIV positive mother to her baby during birth. However, with the correct treatment, this can be avoided, and HIV positive mothers can safely give birth.
  • It can be transmitted through the use of blood and blood products from a HIV positive person. However, as all blood is screened in Ireland, you will not become infected with HIV through a blood transfusion here.

Remember: The age of sexual consent in Ireland is 17. If you're over 16, you can consent to medical treatment including any treatment or tests needed.

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Published February 25th, 2013
Last updated October 28th, 2015
Tags drugs sexual health pregnancy
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