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Cocaine Use by Pregnant Mothers

The Medical Complications of Cocaine Use

There can be severe medical complications associated with cocaine use. Some of the most frequent complications are cardiovascular effects, including disturbances in heart rhythm and heart attacks; respiratory effects such as chest pain and respiratory failure; neurological effects, including strokes, seizures, and headaches; and gastrointestinal complications, including abdominal pain and nausea. Cocaine use has been linked to many types of heart disease. Cocaine has been found to trigger chaotic heart rhythms, called ventricular fibrillation; accelerate heartbeat and breathing; and increase blood pressure and body temperature. Physical symptoms may include chest pain, nausea, blurred vision, fever, muscle spasms, convulsions, coma,  and death.

Different routes of cocaine administration can produce different adverse effects. Regularly snorting cocaine, for example,can lead to loss of sense of smell, nosebleeds, problems  with swallowing, hoarseness, and an overall irritation of the nasal septum, which can lead to a chronically inflamed, runny nose. Ingested cocaine can cause severe bowel gangrene, due  to reduced blood flow. And, persons who inject cocaine have puncture marks and “tracks,” most commonly in their forearms. Intravenous cocaine users may also experience an allergic reaction, either to the drug, or to some additive in street cocaine, which can result, in severe cases, in death. Because cocaine has a tendency to decrease food intake, many chronic cocaine users lose their appetites and  can experience significant weight loss and malnourishment.

Research has revealed a potentially dangerous interaction between cocaine and alcohol. Taken in combination, the two drugs are converted by the body to cocaethylene. Cocaethylene has a longer duration of action in the brain and is more toxic than either drug alone. While more research needs to be done, it is noteworthy that the mixture of cocaine and alcohol is the most common two-drug combination hat results in drug-related death.

What are the Effects of Maternal Cocaine use?

The full extent of the effects of prenatal drug exposure on a child is not completely known, but many scientific studies have documented that babies born to mothers who abuse cocaine during pregnancy are often prematurely delivered, have low birth weights and smaller head circumferences,  and are often shorter in length.

Estimating the full extent of the consequences of cocaine use by pregnant mothers is difficult, and determining the specific hazard of a particular drug to the unborn child is problematic for many reasons. Multiple factors—such as the amount and number of all drugs abused; extent of prenatal care; possible neglect or abuse of the child; exposure to violence in the environment; socioeconomic conditions; maternal nutrition; other health conditions; and exposure to sexually-transmitted diseases—can contribute to the difficulty in determining direct impact of prenatal cocaine upon maternal, fetal, and child outcomes. Many recall that “crack babies,” or babies born to mothers who used crack cocaine while pregnant, were at one time written off by many as a lost generation.

They were predicted to suffer from severe, irreversible damage, including reduced intelligence and social skills. It was later found that this was a gross  exaggeration. However, the fact that most of these children appear normal should not be over-interpreted as indicating that there is no cause for concern. Using sophisticated technologies, scientists are now finding that 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—abilities that are important for success in school.

If you or a loved one needs help, contact Jeff at (941) 586-0929

From the Endowment for Human Development website.