Cocaine-addicted mothers change children’s environment

Researchers from the University of Buffalo discovered that aside from prenatal drug exposure, a cocaine-influenced environment can also have a negative impact on children.

Pregnant mothers’ vs. non-pregnant mothers’ cocaine drug use

The study authors examined the long-term effects of cocaine on mothers who were pregnant and in low-income environments. They compared those mothers to ones who were not addicted to cocaine, but were also in low-income situations. They discovered that children around the age of 2 who are treated harshly are more likely to have problem behavior beginning as young as kindergarten. Their poor behavior may be displayed by aggression, fighting and defiance.

The 2011 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found pregnant women and non-pregnant women between the ages of 15 and 17 did not differ significantly in their drug use. Sixteen percent of pregnant women abused illicit drugs and 13 percent of non pregnant moms reported using illicit drugs. The report also noted that it is difficult to truly gauge substance abuse among pregnant women, since they may use higher amounts during various trimesters, methods of reporting could be inaccurate or drug testings could be inconsistent. Other studies have suggested that nearly one-fifth of infants born in the United States are exposed to alcohol, illicit drugs or tobacco while in the womb. Approximately 75 to 90 percent of these cases are undetected, according to the National Abandoned Infants Assistance Resource Center at the University of California – Berkeley.

Lead researcher Rina Das Eiden, Ph.D., is currently conducting a multi-year study on the various effects of using drugs while pregnant. The study is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

A poor relationship early on

Women may be influenced by drugs when they discipline their children harshly. In previous studies with animals, the findings revealed that prenatal cocaine use can hinder the natural bond between a mother and child during childbirth and in the moments after, which can cause a poor relationship.

The researchers noted that though there are blatant detrimental effects of prenatal cocaine use on a child, his or her behavior problems may not only be caused by the womb. A child’s environment while in early development can also influence his or her behavior later on. Women who have underlying psychological issues, such as personal childhood sexual abuse, may treat their child differently as a result.

“Higher maternal harshness in cocaine-using mothers could also be due to other unmeasured variables, such as the mother’s own childhood experiences,” said Eiden.

The snowball effect

The study authors believe that mothers who abuse cocaine have more difficulty regulating their child’s poor behavior than mothers who are sober. That lack of regulation early on can spiral into bigger problems down the road.

Though cocaine use has the largest influence on a child’s behavior, the findings also indicated that factors such as hunger and living in a neighborhood prone to violence can promote negative actions.

The researchers concluded that parents or loved ones who intervene and help control the child’s behavior while he or she is still young can help correct the mother’s discipline methods and keep the child’s development under control.

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