Prenatal exposure to drugsCandace Bilak Psyc3210Unit 9

Prenatal exposure to drugs

Candace Bilak


Unit 9 Assignment 1

Capella University

December 2018


Teratogenic influences on the fetal brain caused by illicit drug use can be potentially deadly. We can state that children exposed to drug usage in utero can be victims of child abuse and maltreatment. The purpose of this research paper is to describe the effects of children who are born to mothers that are heavily addicted to drugs, and study how a child's language is affected. Applying Bowlby's theory of attachment I will uncover the struggles mothers face bonding with their children due to their use of illicit narcotics.

Prenatal drug habits have been a controversial topic to tackle, far less discussed. What a mother decides to do to her body is her choice. Although mothers are in control of what they can and cannot do, if those choices affect a living being that is developing, it then becomes a major cause for concern. Medical institutions worldwide give their best efforts to promote prevention against drug and alcohol usage in mothers that are expecting.

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Despite those efforts, environmental and biological factors will always determine the path a mother chooses to take.

Maternal substance abuse provides negative outcomes for both mother and child (Parolin, M., & Simonelli, A. 2016). There are an innumerable amount of risk factors that can affect a child's development. Once conceived, a mother can unwilling be referred to child protective services. According to preclinical studies, it has been determined that neurobiological pathways can actually compromise a mothers ability to parent and understand an infant's behavioral cues and expressions (Rutherford H, Williams S, Moy S, Mayes L, Johns J.

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2011). Bowlby's main theory targets the conceptualization of early relationships between child and caregiver (Bowlby J. Attachment and Loss 1980). If those connections are severed or disrupted, a child will never experience a sense of security, positive interactions, and most importantly cohesive responsive care.

Keywords: Theory of attachment, drug usage, language development.


Attachment theories focus on early childhood development and how it reflects and play a major role later in life. Maternal substance abuse throws a wrench into that and negatively influences a child's development and speech. Recent studies show a high increase with maternal substance abuse with infants born to drug-dependent mothers, which affect 400,000 mothers annually in the United States (2008, National Survey on Drug Use and Health). In order to understand why mothers are using drugs, we have to take into consideration their environmental factors as well as their socioeconomic status. Are women in higher income household less likely to use drugs more than their counterparts, which would include lower income mothers that have the least access to medical care? Do the stress of a new child and financial situations put a strain on a mother, which then leads to her drugs usage to counter those feelings? There a multitude of reasons why any mother would choose to use illicit drugs whilst pregnant. The underlying reality is that the effects of drug use can lead to poor nutrition, small birth rate, and even more detrimental, stillbirth.

Three-Year Developmental Outcomes in Children with Prenatal Alcohol and Drug Exposure

Attitudes and behaviors of drug-abusing mothers include dysfunctional features. These features include ignoring a child after childbirth, harbor feelings of anger and disdain, threatening disciplinary methods and also lack of supervision and control (Dore MM. 1998). A Seattle study was performed in July 1991 through December 1993, which studied the performance of children whose mothers abused alcohol and drugs and examined the research using Bayley Scales of Infant Development (Kartin, 2018). Participants of this study were told that in three years they would be interviewed and evaluated to see how the children grew developmentally.

The results show that within a three-year span it took to collect information from the mothers that were enrolled, eighty-one children were available in total. Twenty-three of the children out of twenty-eight were in the HRC group which contained 82 percent. Thirty out of the thirty-four children were lumped into the CRC group, which contained 88 percent, and thirty-one children were in the control group. The HRC group contained hospital recruits that reported the use of alcohol. The CRC group was the community group, which analyzed illicit drug effects, and the control group was a substitute group that was used to indicate if they mixed both alcohol and drugs together.

What can be comprised from this study was that children which were born preterm early in their gestational age, was not different from the child that was born full term to mothers that abused both alcohol and illicit drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and marijuana (Kartin, 2018). Maternal demographics played no substantial role in mothers who abused drugs. Despite everything, developmental abilities were below par and children suffered low-performance skills when it came to motor, mental and behavioral skills (Kartin, 2018).

Attachment Theory and Maternal Drug Addiction: The Contribution to Parenting Interventions

Within this article, the main goal is to evaluate the quality of attachment to children who were born in at-risk populations. The style of childcare was closely studied to see the effects of the mother-infant bond. Addiction is perceived to be an attachment disorder. Drugs are used as a compensating factor to fill a fix for what we think we may need. Drugs can be used to manage anxiety, fear, and even regulate our emotions. We typically see in drug using mothers that the innate need for that fix that comes from drug usage result in attachment disruptions in infancy and thereafter into early childhood. Insecure model attachments discovered that parents with mental health disorders are more likely to be at risk of using and developing insecure attachments with their infants.

Attachment patterns were investigated within a group of women who abused their children and on the latter mothers who were affected by mental disorders (Schneider-Rosen K, Braunwald KG, Carlson V 1985). This longitudinal research focused on children who were at risk from parental conditions such as medical, social, and psychiatric, as well as alcoholism and substance abuse usage (Greenberg, Speltz, and DeKleyn 1993). It was found that psychopathological conditions could, in fact, impede the way a mother takes care of her infant, which then in turns severs the bond between parent and child. This research implies that regardless of mental abilities when substance and alcohol use is added to the mix, it can make it extremely difficult to execute your duties as a parent, which can also have lasting effects when a child grows. Researchers also take into account the severity of prenatal exposure to drugs in utero. Bergin and McCollough 2009), reports that insecure attachments can be predicted in cases where prenatal substance exposure in cases where mothers have a lack of health care and social assistance. With this information presented disorganized attachment is amongst groups of children within at-risk populations. Meta-analysis groups have proven to see patterns of insecurity and avoidance in children categorized in disorganized attachments. Cassibba R, Sette G, Bakermans-Kranenburg M, van IJzendoorn M, Eur Psychol (2013).

Influence of Prenatal Cocaine Exposure on Early Language Development: Longitudinal Findings from Four Months to Three Years of Age

It is evident that drug usage in pregnant mothers can have damaging effects on an infant. Speech and language are major effects a child can inherit from a mothers choice to abuse drugs. A longitudinal study was maintained by the Miami prenatal cocaine study that produced evaluations for potential influences that evaluated fetal growth within each gestational stage and suggests that it can be altered. Prenatal cocaine exposure was studied on children ranging from the ages of four months to three years of age. Research showed that children exposed to cocaine performed 15 percent on the measures of global language ability as compared to non-cocaine exposed children (Morrow, C. E., Bandstra, E. S., Anthony, J. C., Ofir, A. Y., Xue, L., & Reyes, M. B. (2003). Children requiring special education services racked up more than 180 million dollars. Unfortunately, children from cocaine mothers couldn't make the cut off to receive such services because of their eligibility as opposed to non-cocaine children with disabilities. Many of the kids were predominantly male infants, which exhibited delayed language abilities.

It is important to mention that gestational age was not related to language functionality in full-term infants rather in preterm infants. It is evident that cocaine exposure to infants born preterm had more malformations and medical conditions. A sample was taken from African American infants that lived in inner-city neighborhoods. Groups studied in these areas had many detrimental factors to where they lived environmentally and how they developed.

Within the first three years of life, there can be many deficits that can add to premature language development due to cocaine usage. Impaired neurobehavioral patterns and attention processes were significantly difficult for these children within the study. In conclusion, postnatal childrearing environments where children were raised in has a significant factor in how children language was developed. Although linguistic cues are not picked up on and fully developed, the full understanding of language development won't be established until years into their academic success to see the full effects and damage of cocaine usage from their biological parent.

Teratogenic influences take away from developing normally. Deprived of advancing through childhood into adolescence and adulthood can make everything in their lives much more difficult. Poor academic functioning, social behavior, and even emotional cues can be extremely difficult to create healthy relationships for any individuals born from unnecessary conditions. It is imperative that health care professionals and the public continue to strive to reduce the number of mothers affected by illegal drug use within this country.

Prenatal Exposure to Drugs: Personalized Survey Findings

In order to accelerate the topic forward, I have conducted research that analyzes an individual's responses to their views on prenatal exposure to drugs. In my survey findings, I found that question A which lists the answer of definitely as a response to the question of prenatal drug usage in country state and family came to be at 100 percent mean out of all of the questions. There were large differences in the mean in regards to question four which came in as 60 percent out of the five questions answered. What I can concur from my research findings was that when I worked at a pain clinic, a pregnant patient came in wanting to continue her opioid therapy. I suggested at the time to her provider that because of the high dosing of the medication subscribed, it would be best if she were titrated off of the medication to keep the health of the fetus optimal. Quitting the medication would lead to the fetus having a lower risk of heart defects, addictions issues, spina bifida, gastroschisis, and hydrocephaly. In these situations, I believe that this topic is a problem area because many mothers that are drug pushers only think of their needs and fixes. Many don't want to think about the effects of withdrawals. They would rather continue to take illicit drugs even at the cost of their unborn child's life. The fetus should have rights to not be exposed to the carcinogenic effect that can have life-altering effects.

I can conclude that the majority of the surveyors believed that prenatal drug use was not only a problem nationally, but statewide as well. There needs to be more funding available locally and federally in order to help assists in this public crisis with drug usage in general. I believe Bowlby's theory of attachment is correct in this situation because it can alter a child's behavioral and emotional attachment completely where the child won't be able to grow up with the security needed to thrive with a parent. Some flaws and inconsistencies that were found in my earlier research were that it was severely difficult to pinpoint an emerging pattern of cocaine usage because of prenatal substances that were implemented at the time. There was some help using the research from child's meconium to see the onset of cocaine use during the pregnancy but the results were inconclusive. My research, however, was broad; it allowed me to ascertain individual views on exposure, usage, and close relatives. Researchers on the other hand which I believed to overachieve on their part, by using multiple studies to follow individuals which sometimes moved away, or simply don't get the opportunity to raise their children because they were taken away due to their instability to raise their own children. There are many factors, which arise that make it difficult to obtain data and assess it.

All in all my personal values will continue to remain the same. Women sometimes become pregnant under inopportune circumstances. No way whatsoever do I believe a woman should use drugs to face life's challenges. A fetus would have a better life without complications of drug use because their organs would be healthier, and their neuro system will be developed and less prone to addiction, if given the chance.

In order to create programs that are effective, the research articles can be used substantially as the basis to create a functioning program that can benefit all women despite their socioeconomic status. All in all my research articles and survey findings have validated my understanding of how human development can be impeded because of the use of foreign substances. Bowlby's theory shows us how bonding can be hindered between mother and child and be further translated into relationship formation in adulthood. Due to society continuously advancing, I have faith that the research complied within the years would continue to grow because of the amount of public attention that is highlighted on to this topic. It is becoming a national epidemic within the United States and continuous study and research can help treat mothers in the best opportune way.


Deborah Kartin, PhD, PT, Therese M. Grant, PhD, Ann P. Streissguth, PhD, Paul D. Sampson, PhD, and Cara C. Ernst, MA Department of Rehabilitation Medicine (D.K.), Fetal Alcohol and Drug Unit, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences (T.M.G., A.P.S., C.C.E.), School of Medicine, and Department of Statistics (P.D.S.), University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.

Parolin, M., & Simonelli, A. (2016). Attachment Theory and Maternal Drug Addiction: The Contribution to Parenting Interventions. Frontiers in psychiatry, 7, 152. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2016.00152

Morrow, C. E., Bandstra, E. S., Anthony, J. C., Ofir, A. Y., Xue, L., & Reyes, M. B. (2003). Influence of prenatal cocaine exposure on early language development: longitudinal findings from four months to three years of age. Journal of developmental and behavioral pediatrics: JDBP, 24(1), 39-50.

Updated: May 19, 2021
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Prenatal exposure to drugsCandace Bilak Psyc3210Unit 9. (2019, Dec 11). Retrieved from

Prenatal exposure to drugsCandace Bilak Psyc3210Unit 9 essay
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