Prenatal cocaine exposure doubles teenage drug abuse risk

New York: Children born to mothers who took cocaine during pregnancy are twice as likely to use tobacco and marijuana and develop substance abuse by their teenage years, a study has showed.

Cocaine is toxic to a foetal brain as it restricts blood flow and alters the expression of genes, which can affect executive functioning, language and other types of development.

The findings showed that in utero exposure to cocaine doubles the risk of tobacco and marijuana use as early as age 15 and substance abuse by 17.

They are also more likely to handle stress in negative ways, especially if mistreated as a child, using fewer problem-solving skills and having less control over their emotions as well as more likely to become distracted or disengaged.

“Children exposed to cocaine in the womb are more susceptible to addiction themselves because they are more likely to have trouble controlling their behaviours and emotions, which can lead to using substances more often and at earlier ages,” said Sonia Minnes, Associate Professor at the Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, US.

In the study, appearing in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, such children exhibited poor coping strategies such as breaking rules, fighting, showing aggression, stealing and using drugs, tobacco and alcohol.

At 15, more than 36 per cent of these teenagers were likely to have used a drug within the past month; at 17, it was 43 per cent — significantly higher than their peers who were not exposed to cocaine in utero.

“Prenatal cocaine exposure may predispose children to a lower threshold for activating ‘stress circuits’ and may increase their vulnerability to the harmful effects of environmental stress such as childhood maltreatment,” added Meeyoung O. Min, a research Associate Professor at the Case Western Reserve University.