Drug-Abusing Mothers Place Their Children at Risk
By Julie McDowell
born and raised by addicted mothers face a high risk of developing
significant physical, academic, and emotional problems, according
to a recent study looking at families during intake to residential
substance abuse treatment programs.
The study, published earlier this year in The American Journal
of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, examined data from the Residential
Women and Children/Pregnant and Postpartum Women programs, funded
by SAMHSA's Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) between
1996 and 2000.
"Children of Mothers with Serious Substance Abuse Problems:
An Accumulation of Risks" was written by seven authors. These
authors are Nicola A. Conners, Ph.D., Robert H. Bradley, Ph.D.,
Leanne Whiteside Mansell, Ed.D., Jeffrey Y. Liu, M.P.A., Tracy J.
Roberts, M.P.A., Ken Burgdorf, Ph.D., and also James M. Herrell,
Ph.D., M.P.H., of CSAT.
The 4,084 children age 17 and younger analyzed in the study were
identified as vulnerable to a wide range of risk factors from conception
A majority of the children experienced prenatal exposure to alcohol,
drugs, and cigarette smoke. Nearly a quarter of the children had
health problems—asthma and problems with vision and hearing
were two to seven times more common than among children in general.
During early childhood, these children faced numerous roadblocks
to success, including maternal mental illness, caregiver instability,
child abuse and neglect, and little involvement with fathers.
Of the 2,746 mothers surveyed, a majority were chronic drug users
who had been using alcohol or other drugs for an average of 15.9
years before entering a treatment program. Most of the women—85.9
percent—had been in treatment before. Crack/cocaine was the
most common (50.4 percent), followed by alcohol (13 percent), amphetamines
(11.1 percent), and heroin (8.8 percent).
A majority of the women were unemployed (88.9 percent), lacked
a high school degree or GED (51.7 percent), and relied on public
financial assistance (70.6 percent). In addition, 32 percent of
these women had been homeless in the 2 years prior to entering treatment.
"There is some evidence to suggest that most women lacked
social support from non-drug-involved family, friends, or partners,"
the authors state in the article. ". . . Three-fourths of women
(79.3 percent) reported that their family members were involved
in alcohol or drug-related activities, and 42.9 percent reported
having fewer than two friends that did not use drugs."
For the complete article, see Conners NA, Bradley RH, Mansell
LW, Liu JY, Roberts TJ, Burgdorf K, Herrell JM. Children of mothers
with serious substance abuse problems: an accumulation of risks.
Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2004;30(1):85-100.
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