There are countless studies examining the effects of maternal drug use and how it affects their children in utero and after birth. Research consistently shows there is no safe amount of alcohol or drug use during pregnancy.
However, research examining paternal drug use is far more limited. That said, studies show that fathers using cocaine at conception may adversely affect their children. Let’s dive in.
How Drug Use at Conception Affects Children
Approximately 750,000 babies are born to cocaine-exposed pregnancies each year. However, this number may be skewed, as many people are afraid or ashamed to report such drug use.
Some women who abuse cocaine during pregnancy do not know they are pregnant. Others might know they’re pregnant, but their addiction is so strong that they can’t stop using.
Women who use cocaine during pregnancy are at a heightened risk for health complications, such as seizures, seizures, premature membrane rupture, and separation of the placental lining. They may be more likely to conceive their children prematurely, and these children tend to have higher rates of lower birth weights and smaller head circumferences. These dangers become more exacerbated if the woman uses other substances, such as alcohol, opioids, or benzodiazepines.
When examining pregnant mothers, infant health consequences range depending on the type of drug, frequency of drug use, and when during pregnancy the drugs were consumed. That said, cocaine effects on the fetus can be particularly damaging.
Cocaine exposure is associated explicitly with intelligence problems and impairments with executive functions and attention. It may also contribute to emotional and behavioral issues. These problems may emerge as early as infant or toddlerhood, but they may not manifest until the child is older.
Cocaine Use and Genes: Examining The Father’s Role
Fathers who use cocaine during conception may increase the risk of their child developing memory loss or learning disabilities. One study found this issue to be far more prominent in sons than daughters.
In examining rats, the sons of male rats (but not the daughters) struggled to make new memories. These male rats found it challenging to locate specific objects and recall the locations of such objects.
Further examination also found that these rats showed hippocampus impairments. The hippocampus is the part of the brain associated with learning and memory. Impairments may contribute to lifelong learning problems and neurological issues.
Although this research is limited, it suggests that epigenetics might be a fundamental variable in childhood development. Paternal cocaine use may cause epigenetic changes in their child’s brains, which changes the gene expression needed for specific memory formation. Therefore, even if the child is never directly exposed to cocaine, they still may be vulnerable to its damaging effects.
It’s safe to assume that more research will likely focus on this phenomenon. While it’s important to focus on maternal health, understanding the father’s role may be vital in preventing certain childhood issues.
Risks of Cocaine Use While Parenting
Parents who use cocaine place their children at significant safety risks. Cocaine alters judgment and impulse control, and it can trigger both mood swings and paranoia.
If a parent is addicted to cocaine, they might inadvertently neglect their children. For example, they might leave them alone for several hours or days at a time to pursue their habit. Or, they may sacrifice food or safe shelter to continue purchasing the drug. In addition, some parents may expose their children to dangerous situations, like drug deals or crack houses.
In some cases, cocaine may trigger extreme agitation and violence. A parent may lash out at their children when they’re under the influence. Afterward, they might beg and plead with their child to forgive them. Unfortunately, this cycle can be confusing and devastating for children. They known that home life feels dysfunctional, but they also feel trapped by their own circumstances.
Cocaine use is undoubtedly dangerous, and it can be even more detrimental for men and women hoping to conceive. Quitting cocaine may be challenging, and that’s why it’s imperative to seek support and reach out for help. If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction, please contact one of our addiction specialists and call (866) 578-7471.