3.28.2014

Children exposed to methamphetamine before birth have increased cognitive problems




Based on previous working experiences with individuals that were using psychoactive/stimulant drugs, like methamphetamine, it is not hard to see how their psychological and physical degeneration would cause their babies maleficent consequences.

What struck me the most about the use of meth, oxy's and benzo's, although in different categories, was its impact when used for prolonged periods of time. The states of confusion tended to become frequent and the cognitive functions impaired. Among the cognitive aspects, the process of decision making becomes blurred, the speech becomes equally confusing - language is though put in words, right? -, attention and concentration are severely reduced, and self-other patterns gravitated towards conflicts and attrition. For delusions this is fertile ground to flourish.

If you take these scenarios and imagine them as consequences of drug induced brain damage and physiological craving for failed homeostasis, then the consequences to the fetus would make sense. That seems to be the case.


Methamphetamine use among women of reproductive age is a continuing concern, with 5% of pregnant women aged 15-44 reporting current illicit drug use. Methamphetamine usage during pregnancy can cause a restriction of nutrients and oxygen to the developing fetus, as well as potential long-term problems because the drug can cross the placenta and enter the fetus's bloodstream.

This in turn has a very significant impact in the harmonious development of children.

"These problems include learning slower than their classmates, having difficulty organizing their work and completing tasks and struggling to stay focused on their work,"

Strategies to intervene with these students have to make sense of different aspects:
  • it's not only about the drugs; it is also about the rituals and the alterations of the dynamics in the family setting, which, more often than not, with couples or single mothers that are users, becomes something like a roller coaster between isolation (fear, anxiety) and the life of the pack (the you's like me). This leads to patterns of self-organisation based on insecurity, fear/anxiety, suspicion, paranoia, poor decision making, reduced attention to other parts of the self outside of the equation of craving vs self-preservation, and a striking inability to understand the world of others and their place in it. 
  • The early context of self-development is experienced by the child in very specific contexts and it surely depends on the impact and self-other regulation processes that significant others had during infancy.
  • The baby that became child that became adolescent is an ontological unique identity. As such, he has to be listen to, understood, empathically embraced as someone that can change.
  • Anger and sadness, with pervasive signs of depression are very common among adolescents - adults tend to experience more sadness than anger or rage. Emotional intersects with psychological and cognitive. 
  • Continuous use of drugs should be checked in the family, as well as abuse and violent patterns. I always think about one 18 year-old that had so much anger towards his father that his words and non-verbal screamed for (self)destruction. 
  • Resources in the child, the family, the community and social agencies have to be made clear. 
  • Do not reify drug type entities and stigma in the child or the family. Most of the times, these individuals would like to change their lives but to initiate that process is tremendously hard. Imagine changing your life and self completely is nothing short of a big challenge. 

These are just some notes about the pre-stage for strategy design and subsequent implementation. I believe this stage is of crucial importance, as it will determine if the child and the family become open to be authors or mere spectators of a failed intervention. 

Specific measures of intervention in specific areas should then be designed according the areas of impairment or in need of development, solidly anchored on an holistic view of the child. 

"By identifying deficits early in the child's life, we can intervene sooner and help them overcome these deficits to help them have greater success in school and in life," said Dr. Smith. "Through the IDEAL Study, we are able to track these children and better understand the long-term effects of prenatal methamphetamine exposure."

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