There is still much to be learned about the long term side effects of prenatal drug exposure. Studies point to some common cognitive and behavioral issues across the wide spectrum of drug types. One recent study indicated that between 30 to 40 percent of drug-exposed three-year-olds demonstrated difficulties focusing, articulating needs and wants, and controlling behavior, among a myriad of other fine motor control and developmental delays seen across nearly all addiction types.
Researchers have long agreed that children born to drug-addicted parents face an uphill battle, not only from the long-term effects of drug exposure, but also to a compromised environment where drug abuse persists. This factor alone may skew slightly data surrounding cognitive and social well-being. It is this same environmental factor that makes it difficult to gauge with any certainty whether drug-exposure is the culprit of deficiencies in cognitive function or behavioral issues. If otherwise, early detection of these risk factors may be key to preventing ongoing issues.
Additionally, prenatal exposure to nearly all illicit drugs and alcohol increases that person’s likelihood for addictive behaviors into their adolescence. Parents of children with this exposure may wish to communicate this risk to their children to avoid pathways leading to addiction.
Long Term Effects Of Alcohol Addiction On Babies
Studies suggest that as many as 30 percent of pregnant women engage in consumption of alcohol at some point during their pregnancy. While an exact baseline for what amount of alcohol may be safe for consumption is not known, the heavier someone drinks during pregnancy, the more severe the potential damage to the fetus.
Children born to women who engage in moderate to severe drinking during pregnancy run the risk of their child being born with a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, a classification which includes the three main disorders relating to alcohol consumption: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE), and Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND).
With symptoms ranging from physical deformities that include a smaller than normal head circumference, to facial abnormalities like flattened cheekbones to cognitive delays and poor fine motor skills, children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome may have ongoing difficulties into adulthood with learning or memory, and poor concentration. As young adults, they might find school challenging and may have trouble maintaining friendships or a holding a job. A child born with Fetal Alcohol Effects may exhibit these same characteristics, but with lesser severity.
Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder, similar to FAS and FAE, manifests in the emotional or behavioral issues but without the physical deformities or reduced cognitive function. Studies examining the effects of binge drinking on babies indicate exposure results in poor memory and problem solving skills and a decreased attention span.
Despite the fact that alcohol is legal to drink during pregnancy, the severity of potential side effects from prenatal exposure to alcohol makes it one of the more dangerous drugs to ingest while pregnant.
Long Term Effects Of Cocaine Addiction On Babies
A 2000 study examining the long term effects of prenatal cocaine exposure on babies found that neurological changes take place in-utero due to the drug’s effect on dopamine and serotonin pathways. However, studies on laboratory animals indicate these neural pathways return to normal into adulthood. Despite this, behavioral issues remain. Researchers believe prenatal exposure to cocaine might lead to an increased risk of seizures, depression, schizophrenia, and Parkinson’s disease in adults.
Evidence also suggests an increased risk of heart disease in adults born to mothers who abused cocaine during pregnancy. Lower birth weight is common, as is the incidence of hyperactivity disorder. Cocaine may also reduce blood flow to the fetus, leading to congenital issues and depressed fetal growth.
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Long Term Effects Of Heroin Addiction On Babies
Heroin is a drug that appears to have a significant impact not only on the behaviors and cognitive development of children exposed to heroin prenatally, but also on the stability of their home environment. Epidemiological studies also reveal only a small percentage of babies born to heroin-addicted mothers still live with their biological mothers at the five year mark. A study of school-aged Heroin exposed children indicated more than 65 percent had either repeated at least one grade or required special education services.
Like other drugs, low birth weight and a smaller head circumference is attributed to heroin use. Prenatal exposure to heroin is also linked to a number of cognitive impairments, including poor spatial recognition, poor memory recall, hyperactivity, and lower IQs. However, recent studies examining the long-term effects of heroin on children exposed prenatally, found the outcomes of children who were adopted by non-addicted parents greatly improved over those children who remained in compromised environments, suggesting environment may be a far more significant risk factor than exposure to heroin prenatally with regard to cognitive and behavioral issues.
Babies born to heroin addicted mothers are often born with an addiction to heroin and are at risk for the same potentially life-threatening side effects of withdrawal, if not medically maintained and tapered at birth.
Long-Term Effects Of Caffeine, Nicotine, And Marijuana On Babies
Long-term effects of caffeine use on babies are largely unknown, though consumption of caffeine that exceeds 300 mg per day is equated with lower birth weight and a minor increase in heart defects. Drinking coffee in moderation is not specifically linked with any long-term negative impact.
As with the illicit drugs and alcohol, smoking is associated with lower birth weights and behavioral and temperament issues in prenatally-exposed babies. It has also been linked to an increase in the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Nicotine exposure during fetal development is also linked with learning disabilities, hyperactivity, and an increased expression of anxiety.
Moderate marijuana use during pregnancy is not associated with any long-term ill side effects, though heavy prenatal exposure may result, as with other drugs, in low birth weight and behavioral issues later on.
Prenatal Exposure To Drugs Has Lasting Effects
While it is difficult to know with any certainty whether behavioral or cognitive issues into adulthood relate to prenatal exposure to drugs or to compromised environments, a clear pattern of symptoms and side effects emerges in the outcomes of these drug-exposed individuals.
Common Side Effects with Prenatal Drug Exposure:
- Low birth weight
- Smaller head circumference
- Behavioral issues
- Cognitive delays
- Increase anxiety
- Difficulty holding jobs
- Difficulty maintaining relationships
- Increased risk of drug abuse
A baby born to a drug-addicted parent can become a fully functional and successful adult, though any exposure to the toxic effects of alcohol or drugs can make this process more challenging. Understanding the risks and delays associated with prenatal drug exposure is one defense against many of the issues these individuals face.
Help For Drug And Alcohol Addiction
If you are pregnant and coping with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, it is not too late to get help. DrugRehab.org not only offers online resources to help you better understand the addiction; it can also connect you with the professional services and treatment options best suited to your individual needs. Contact DrugRehab.org today and begin a life you and your baby deserve, in recovery.