Doctors always warn expectant mothers not to use alcohol, drugs or tobacco during pregnancy. By now, the reasons why are common knowledge. Here’s an excerpt from WebMD.com:
“Taking drugs during pregnancy also increases the chance of birth defects, premature babies, underweight babies, and stillborn births. Exposure to drugs such as marijuana — also called weed, ganja, dope, or pot — and alcohol before birth has been proven to cause behavior problems in early childhood. These drugs can also affect the child’s memory and attentiveness. In addition, some findings show that babies born to women who use cocaine, alcohol, or tobacco when they are pregnant may have brain structure changes that persist into early adolescence.”
It’s important advice. The blood of the mother goes directly to the fetus. When these chemicals reach the still developing brain and body of the unborn baby, they can interrupt normal development. The consequences are often horrible.
Right now a young woman in our extended family is pregnant with her third child. She’s conscious of these dangers and is very careful about what she puts into her body.
All parents know that when teens abuses substances, their already limited ability to use good judgment is reduced, and, well, just about anything could happen. An accident. Unprotected sex. Breaking the law. And even if their child avoids these dangers, there may be a hangover the next day.
But what most parents don’t understand are the long-term dangers. Recalling the caution for pregnant mothers, exactly the same dangers exist when a teenager drinks alcohol or uses drugs. One area of an adolescent’s brain – the prefrontal cortex – is in a critical phase of development. So just as these chemicals can damage the developing brain of a fetus, they can derail normal development of a teenager’s prefrontal cortex. The young person could become mentally impaired for the rest of adult life — the equivalent of permanent damage to the part of the brain that handles understanding, logic, evaluation, critical judgment, decision making, creativity and planning.
In this case it’s not the mother who is using and causing the damage. It’s the adolescent. But the danger and the consequences are the same.
So add this to the bad things that can happen to teenagers. The next time you hear about high school or college kids binge drinking or getting high on marijuana, remember this. It’s not about sewing wild oats. It’s not about kids having fun while they’re still young. It’s about risking permanent brain damage.
For advice about protecting your child, check this helpful article from Steps to Recovery.