Meth Use in Pregnancy Leads to Behavior Disorders in Children

The use of methamphetamine by pregnant mothers can cause behavioral and other problems among their children, according to a new study by Brown University researchers.

In a study of 330 children from 3 to 5 years of age, researchers found that children of meth users were more likely to be depressed, moody, and anxious. These markers were slightly higher than normal at age 3 and persisted through age 5. The changes in behavioral were not large, but were still significant. The sample was taken from Des Moines, Iowa; Honolulu, Hawaii; Los Angeles, California; and Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Midwest and West Coast have the highest rates of methamphetamine use in the US.

Through behavioral observation and stool samples, babies exposed to meth in utero were compared to babies whose mothers did not use the drug. The research group then had to control for co-occurring conditions. Meth using moms are also more likely to use meth after giving birth, are more likely to be single mothers, and are more likely to abuse other drugs. Even controlling for these factors, though, the researchers found their data held up.

Previous research has linked behavioral problems to other illegal substance abuse on the part of the pregnant mothers, especially among so-called "crack babies". Using cocaine while pregnant can additionally lead to lower birth weights, and increased susceptibility to stress and drowsiness. Long-term studies have been conducted that show these changes persist through childhood and into adulthood. Similar studies will now have to be conducted for meth users, since meth has a stronger impact on the developing brain even than cocaine does.

Methamphetamine is one of the most commonly abused drugs in the US, with nearly 10 million people having used it at least once and 1.9 million reported as having used it in the last 12 months. It has previously been tied to schizophrenia, with meth users being up to three times as likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia as users of other drugs like cocaine and opioids. Fewer than 1 percent of pregnant women report using meth.

Source: Pediatrics

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