Doing drugs while pregnant is not a good idea. I think that’s a statement most people can agree with. An acquaintance of mine adopted a child a long time ago when they found out that they couldn’t have children, and they eventually decided to adopt a special needs child. The child they adopted was a boy who was meth affected and born addicted to the drug. Meth is similar to cocaine use, though they do differ a bit. For children affected by either drug, it’s been found that their brain structure remains intact. However, their brain development takes a hit.
What this means is that they may be perfectly healthy structurally, but they may have problems with cognition as well as mood issues and even mental health issues. Their child was about as lucky as you get in his type of situation and he was perfectly fine except for developing ADHD and not having what my cousin calls a “filter.” Unfortunately, not all children are as lucky.
Researchers from the Yale University School of Medicine, led by Dr. Rajita Sinha, conducted a study to assess the gray matter differences and likelihood of substance use in adolescents who were cocaine-affected prenatally compared to those who were not. The study included 42 adolescent prenatally cocaine-affected participants between the ages of 14 and 17 as well as a control group of 21 non-exposed adolescents.
All of the participants went through structural neuroimaging scans and they also answered questions about their use of any illegal drugs in addition to submitting samples of urine for a toxicology analysis. The researchers found that cocaine-affected children weren’t more likely to do drugs, but they did have lower grey matters in areas of the brain that involved emotions, reward, memory, and executive function when compared with the control group.
"This study may have an important message for pregnant women who use cocaine. It appears that we need to take a long-term perspective on the risks associated with prenatal exposure to cocaine: people whose brains may appear structurally typical at birth may develop abnormally," said Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. "While the significance of these structural changes is not clear, they merit further study."
I believe this goes the same for children affected by various different types of drugs as well. Though the study focused on cocaine-affected children, there are other drugs that don’t necessarily mess around with a child’s structural function, but their developmental processes. With enough research and investigation, new teaching and learning techniques might be found for these children that will enable them to cope with cognitive and memory problems as well as social and attention issues as well.
Source: Elsevier (2013, September 25). Cocaine exposure in the womb: The brain structure is intact, development is off track. ScienceDaily.