Till recently, alcohol, smoking and substance abuse were believed to be a predominantly male phenomenon. It is only since the last 20 -30 years that our attention has shifted to female drug use and its repercussions on women and our future generation. Current data show that amongst 41.5 million drug users – 42% were women, suggesting a 1.4:1 male to female ratio! and the rate of drug abuses is higher in women who have been sexually assaulted.
Many pregnant women ask me “Doctor how much coffee I can have in a day? “Can I drink a glass of wine, it’s my wedding anniversary” “Can I smoke one cigarette a day”?
It is so difficult to answer these questions, because it is not one particular substance and the amount consumed which causes harm to the baby, it’s the long term use of various substances which causes a problem to the future generation. I tell a woman that by taking 100 mg of caffeine (one cup of coffee), or 30 ml of alcohol, or Nicotine equivalent to 2 cigarettes may not be harmful, but the same amount for 9 months of pregnancy could cause harm, hence it is best to avoid them and give them up completely during pregnancy. These substances may vary from alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, marijuana, opium, morphine, LSD, tranquillizers, hypnotics like Mandrax etc.
It is a well-known fact that alcohol and smoking can increase the risk of severe health problems for the woman herself. These include liver disease, menstrual disturbances, infertility and breast cancer, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and sometimes hemorrhage in the brain leading to paralysis. Alcohol may also lead to high risk sexual behavior increasing the risk of sexually transmitted infections, HIV, unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions. Women who consume drugs during pregnancy have an increased risk of miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, placental abruption, pre-eclampsia and seizures. While the babies born to them are basically low birth weight, may have congenital malformations and may even be still-born.
Adolescents who consume drugs have both health effects and social effects. The social effects include poor interpersonal relationships, Absenteism from work, imparment of educational and occupational level performance, violence, child abuse, unemployment, marital tension antisocial behaviour and criminal tendencies, and even homicide.
When these kids grow up to be adults, studies have shown that 50% of drug abusers had mothers who were drug abusers themselves. Besides the behavioral problems in these adults it has been found that some amount of abnormal changes are seen on the Functional MRI of their brains.
There is lack of information about the long term outcomes of adults with a history of drug exposure within their mothers’ wombs. Studies are confounded with the many problems associated with drug abuse, lifestyle, and social adversities. There is limited data but we do know that drug abuse in pregnancy can have subtle effects on the fetus and can be detrimental to the future of exposed babies. Whether these problems will be carried over to the next generation, is yet to be determined. Considering the rapidly escalating magnitude of drug abuse, we must focus on educating our children not only for themselves as adults, but for future generations of children to come.
The “TooshytoAsk App” created by medical and mental health experts has a great potential in educating our current generation !