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Child Abuse Negl. 2010 May;34(5):354-68. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2009.09.012. Epub 2010 Mar 31.

Neurodevelopmental and psychological assessment of adolescents born to drug-addicted parents: effects of SES and adoption.

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Department of Medical Neurobiology, Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School and Israeli Ministry of Health, Jerusalem, Israel.



Prenatal exposure to heroin may have long-term consequences for development during early and middle childhood. The present research studied the cognitive, social, and emotional functioning of adolescents exposed to drugs prenatally, and investigated the extent to which the early adoption of children exposed prenatally to drugs would alleviate the possible effects of exposure.


The study included 191 adolescents (12-16 years of age) and their parents in Israel, who had or had not been exposed prenatally to drugs and differing in socio-economic status (SES), and in adoptive status. They were administered five subtests of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-III), and the Youth Self-Report Form for assessing behavior problems that measures problems associated with attention deficit, self-esteem and risk-taking. Parents were administered the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) for assessing behavior problems, the Conners Rating Scale (CRS) for assessing attention deficit problems in their children and the Wender Utah Rating Scale (WURS), a self-report measure of ADHD-related problems.


Adolescents exposed to at least one risk factor (exposure to drugs, low SES, or adoption) performed more poorly than those exposed to none of these risk factors on the WISC-III subtests, the CBCL and the CRS. The effects of risk factors did not cumulate. Contrary to our hypothesis, adoption did not mitigate the effects of prenatal exposure to drugs: for cognitive functioning exposure to drugs was associated with poorer performance among the exposed High SES Adopted versus non-exposed High SES non-adopted children on three of the WISC-III subtests. Exposed low SES children living with their parents performed at the same relatively low level as non-exposed low SES controls. Exposure to drugs was associated with adult ADHD-related problems assessed by the WURS. There were no direct or interaction effects of exposure on neurological functioning, self-competence, behavior problems on the CBCL or risk-taking.


Children exposed to drugs of abuse prenatally, including those adopted away, and children who grow up in low SES backgrounds, may be at risk of relatively reduced cognitive functioning (though still within the normal range) in adolescence. Children exposed to drugs, who are from low SES backgrounds, or who are adopted, may be at risk for lower cognitive or social functioning than children who have not experienced such risks.


There is a need for implementing early monitoring and long-term intervention programs featuring encouragement of cognitive and social skills for children prenatally exposed to drugs in order to alleviate the possible long-term effects of exposure to risk.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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