Just read another study that reports on another problem for children of meth users. Like we needed another study to tell us that using Meth is bad for both parents and their children. We know Meth use is bad, just we may not yet know how bad and in what ways. Still this study caught my eye for several reasons.
This study looked not at Newborns but at toddler age children of Meth users. It found parental Meth use affected these toddlers in some ways we had not looked for before.
These kids show an abnormal stress response. This will have an impact on these kids for the rest of their lives.
We have long known that the mothers drug use during pregnancy can and does affect the child.
Alcohol is the easiest case in which to see this. We started out thinking that above a certain point alcohol could damage the fetus. For a long time we talked about safe levels of alcohol use and how much alcohol consumption did it take to result in “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.”
This concept, that some was safe and you had to drink a lot to harm the fetus, has been modified as we found problems in children whose mothers drank smaller amounts of alcohol and still those children showed long-term problems. We now referred to these problems as “Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder” in recognition that any alcohol can affect the unborn child. We also now believe that high blood concentrations of alcohol on any one drinking occasion, known as binge drinking, can result in damage even if the pregnant woman drinks moderately or not at all. Binge drinking harms both the mother and the unborn child.
So what does this have to do with children of Meth users?
For one thing we believe that the brain of the unborn child is heavily influenced by the chemicals in the mother’s blood stream. What damage is done depends on which of the various structures in the brain and nervous system are being formed when the mother drinks or uses.
The fetus is experiencing a higher dose of the drug than the mother because the liver of the fetus is not well developed. The drug passes through the placenta to the fetus and then has to return to the mother to circulate through her blood stream and eventual be removed by the mother’s liver.
My experience clinically and there seems to be research that bears this out, is that mothers who used Meth during pregnancy have more children with long-term learning disabilities than women who abstain from drugs during pregnancy.
This brings into question if Meth and possible Cocaine affects the unborn what effects could other drugs have?
Mothers who use depressants like Heroin appear to have children with one set of learning and behavioral problems. Children of stimulant abusers have a different set of problems.
This makes me wonder what the risks are for the children of women who consume these highly caffeinated energy drinks.
We also know that many of these drugs have larger more amplified effects on the unborn if there is alcohol in the mother’s blood stream. This is a case of 2 plus 2 being 6 or 7 when it comes to creating harm for the unborn.
Where this new study expanded our knowledge of the effects of parent drug use on children was the evaluation of continuing stress on the children who had been exposed to Meth.
What they found was that this combination of pre-birth exposure to Meth and ongoing stress in the family resulted in toddlers who had greatly exaggerated or changed responses to stress even when outside the home.
The implication here is that the cumulative effects of Maternal drug use and then stress in the mother or family’s life after the birth magnifies the problems for the child.
All this argues for the critical need for more drug abuse prevention and treatment for women during their child producing years and for treatment to help parents of young children cope with stress and provide a less stressful environment for the child.
We can help the mother at this critical time or we can plan on building more special education class rooms, jails, prison and mental hospitals for these kids later down the road.
I know what I think the better and more cost effective path would be, but I doubt that the people who pay the bills for treatment will see it that way.
Getting tough on sick people is a lot easier to sell than dollars for prevention.
Here is wishing for a better and happier future for all of us and the children who come after us.
David Joel Miller, LMFT, LPCC
For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page . For information about my other writing work beyond this blog there is also a Facebook authors page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com .