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Babies of “Meth Moms” Prone to ADHD, Depression, and Anxiety

Posted on April 3, 2012 in Research & News

Children whose mothers used methamphetamine when they were pregnant with them are more depressed and anxious, and have more symptoms of attention deficit disorder/hyperactivity (ADHD) than children without such exposure, according to a new study from Brown University School of Medicine. The children in the study were tested when they were three and five years old. Although their behavioral and psychiatric problems were not insurmountable, the authors of the study called them “troublesome.”

Methamphetamine, sometimes called speed, math, crystal, or glass, is a powerful addictive stimulant that comes as a white powder that people swallow, smoke, snort or inject. Although the most recent study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration indicates that the use of this illegal drug is declining, over 350,000 Americans use it regularly.

For the new study, Dr. Linda LaGasse and her colleagues tested 160 children of mothers who used methamphetamine during their pregnancies and compared them to 164 children from similar backgrounds who were not exposed to the drug. The researchers factored in environmental risk factors, mothers’ ages, and their use of tobacco, alcohol or marijuana in order to isolate the effects of methamphetamine. When the children were three years old, the ones exposed to the drug prenatally were “more emotionally reactive, that is nervous and disturbed by change, and more anxious and depressed,” according to the study. By the time the children were five years old, the group showed signs of ADHD and other acting out behaviors.

Previous studies have found that children exposed to cocaine during their mother’s pregnancies are born smaller in size, and are prone to drowsiness and stress. So far researchers have not been able to determine whether “crack babies” have long-term problems lasting into adulthood.

Dr. LaGasse said that the effects of methamphetamine on babies may be long-lasting because the drug has such a strong effect on the brain.

“These data suggests that exposure to methamphetamine in utero might lead to behavioral problems in children, and this is something that needs to be noted and considered for future research,” said Dr. James Garbutt, medical director of the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program at the University of North Carolina. “Of course there are many reasons not to use methamphetamine, including its serious consequences for physical and mental health and its overall destructive power for individuals and their families.”

Children of drug users have four times the risk of developing substance abuse problems themselves.

“These behaviors are worthy of addressing, especially in high-risk families,” said Dr. LaGasse. “If nothing is done, these are some of the kids who end up taking drugs as adolescents and having other problems. Parents and teachers need to pay attention to these kids.”

The study appears in the journal Pediatrics.

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