Prenatal Crystal Meth Exposure = Behavior Problems in Toddlers

Methamphetamine use worldwide is more common than the use of cocaine and opiates combined, and studies show that women have a higher first time use than their male counterparts. Since the use of methamphetamines is so pervasive, especially among the female population, it stands to reason that many unborn babies are getting exposed to the substance. A team at Brown University, headed by Linda LaGasse, PhD, decided to investigate the behavioral ramifications in children who had been exposed prenatally to methamphetamines. The results of the team’s study have been published in the journal of Pediatrics.

La Gasse’s team analyzed behavioral data collected on children, at both three and five years of age, who had experienced exposure to methamphetamines while in the womb. Not surprisingly, the researchers found a definitive difference in the behavior and mental stability of children who had been subjected to methamphetamines in utero.

Meth-Exposed Children Were More Apt to Display Negative Behaviors

The Brown researchers looked at 166 children who had prenatal methamphetamine exposure and 164 who did not. Caregivers were taught how to use a “Child Behavior Checklist” by the researchers. Researchers analyzed the information gathered on the checklist at both age three and age five to determine the behavioral and emotional problems experienced by both groups of children.

A variety of issues were experienced more often by the methamphetamine-exposed children than by the control group. By age three, a higher incidence of the following issues was found for the methamphetamine-exposed individuals:

  • Emotional reactivity
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

By age five, a substantial difference in the number of children exhibiting ADHD and externalizing behaviors was found. Externalizing behaviors cover a wide variety of possible actions. However, the term refers to directing negative energy outward towards others. These types of behaviors would include physical and verbal aggression, defiance, coercion and impulsivity.

Early Intervention for Meth-Exposed Children Can Help Prevent Future Problems

The hope LaGasse holds for her team’s research findings is that early intervention programs for meth-exposed babies may be instituted. She says, “The ability to identify specific behavioral syndromes in children as early as preschool age could lead to the development of preventive intervention programs.”

If these children are identified and given the appropriate services early enough, they may be able to avoid behavioral and emotional problems that can cause their life to go down a bad path. These interventions could provide the emotional training and resulting coping skills necessary to keep these kids on a positive track in school and buffer them from potential psychopathology in the future.

If crystal meth addiction is a problem for you or an expectant mother you care about, contact us today to start down the road to treatment as soon as possible.