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Addiction and Substance Abuse

Babies born addicted



Are there any long-term affects for babies born addicted to cocaine and crack? My mother used during pregnancy and just recently I met some one else born much the same way. Low birth weight (both of us under 2 Lbs), jaundiced severely at birth, and throughout life doctors have told me I should expect problems with my liver (though none have told me why). I was also born hard of hearing and now at 28 I`m border-line deaf. Some habits we have seem to be the same are constant thirst (small sips, all day long, won`t even be somewhere no drinks allowed, that didn`t go over well in class), inability to take up drinking alcohol (body seems to repel drinking or any type of attempted drugging), and I`m sure there may be some things that would be hard for us to notice. If you have any clinical information it would be greatly appreciated. Also, I had begun to have seizures in the beginning of my 20`s.


Thank you for your question. This is a very complicated issue for the following reasons: (1) it is difficult to say which of your problems were caused exclusively by the cocaine and which of your problems may have been caused as a result of having a very low birth weight; (2) I do not know for sure what other substances your mother may have used during pregnancy, such as nicotine, or alcohol or other drugs, all of which have their own effects on a developing baby.

Certainly, cocaine increases the risk of miscarriage and the risk of premature births. As a result, cocaine-exposed babies are more likely than unexposed babies to be born with low birthweight (less than 5 and 1/2 pounds). Low-birthweight babies are 20 times more likely to die in their first month of life than normal-weight babies, and face an increased risk of lifelong disabilities such as mental retardation and cerebral palsy. Cocaine-exposed babies also tend to have smaller heads, which generally reflect smaller brains. Some studies suggest that cocaine-exposed babies are at increased risk of birth defects, including urinary-tract defects and, possibly, heart defects. Cocaine also may cause an unborn baby to have a stroke, irreversible brain damage, or a heart attack.

On the other hand, it has been found that some children born to mothers who used cocaine or crack appear normal physically. However, exposure to cocaine during fetal development may lead to subtle, yet significant, later deficits in some children, including deficits in some aspects of cognitive performance, information-processing, and attention to tasks.

For more information, I would suggest that you visit the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) website to see the following research report, Cocaine Abuse and Addiction.

Also Dr. Sonia Minnes of Case Western Reserve University is a national expert in cocaine-exposed infants and children. She may have more information to share with you and she can be contacted at 216-844-2138.

To summarize, I cannot say for certain if the things you described (liver problems, seizures, constant thirst, deafness, etc.) are specifically due to cocaine exposure, or if they are a result of having a very low birth weight. What I can say is that cocaine use can lead to premature birth, which, in turn, can lead to other medical problems.

For more information:

Go to the Addiction and Substance Abuse health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Christina M Delos Reyes, MD Christina M Delos Reyes, MD
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University