Pregnancy & Fertility Substance Abuse

Methamphetamine Use During Pregnancy May Affect a Child’s Stress-Response System

The use of illegal drugs is bad for health, especially for pregnant women.

According to a new study published in the May issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, methamphetamine use during pregnancy may lead to an abnormal response to stress in children. And if the child is repeatedly exposed to serious stress at an early age, such as violence at home, the child’s stress-response system “wears down.”

The researchers studied 2-year-old children and identified more than 120 toddlers exposed to methamphetamine in the womb. In assessing the children’s reactions when briefly separated from their mothers, the researchers found that normal increases in cortisol — the stress hormone — did not occur in children who currently had strife in their lives, such as a heavy-drinking mother or one with depression or other mental health problems, HealthDay reports.

“The lack of hormonal stress response that we observed in these children has serious implications, such as a greater risk for depression, anxiety and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder,” lead researcher Namik Kirlic, of the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, said in a journal news release.

However, the researchers stressed that it isn’t meth use alone that contributes to the child’s abnormal stress response.

“It’s the combination of meth exposure and adversity after birth. We see other things coming into play — the mother’s psychological health, alcohol use, exposure to violence at home or in the community. The postnatal environment is hugely important,” explained Barry Lester, director of the Brown Center for Children at Risk at Women and Infants Hospital and Brown Medical School in Providence, R.I.

The researchers emphasized the importance of raising a child in a good environment so they can have the chance to develop normally.


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