Links between smoking mums and teenage drug use

Children born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy have a greater risk of developing behavioural problems and of using drugs later in life.

Those exposed to cigarette smoke in the womb are more likely to experiment with alcohol, cannabis and tobacco once they hit their teenage years.

University of Nottingham researchers concluded maternal smoking may effect the development of the orbitofrontal cortex - the part of the brain that regulates emotion and evaluates rewards.

They scanned 400 teenagers and found those with thinner orbitofrontal cortexes were more likely to dabble in a wider range of drugs. The most common included stimulants and psychedelic drugs.

But study author Professor Tomas Paus said the findings should be treated with caution.

He said: "We could only show an association, not a causal effect of maternal smoking on brain and behaviour."

“It is also important to note that almost half of the children of mothers smoking during pregnancy showed no differences in the brain and behaviour, suggesting that something protected them from the adverse effect of cigarette smoke.”

Separate research has led UK and US scientists to believe that smoking during pregnancy can damage the structure of a baby's brain and significantly increases the risk of behavioural problems.

Writing in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, researchers said problems can begin to surface in children as young as three-years-old.

Mothers were asked to categorise their smoking habits during pregnancy as heavy or light and then scored their three-year-old children's behaviour using a survey that focused on hyperactivity and attention deficit disorders.

Sons of light smokers were 44 per cent more likely to display behavioural problems, while that figure almost doubled for boys born to heavy smokers.

Girls born to light and heavy smokers were more at risk of conduct problems but not hyperactivity disorders.

Research leader Kate Pickett said: "Smoking in pregnancy may have direct effects on the foetal development of brain structure and functioning which has been shown in studies of rats."

"Or it may be a marker for the transmission of processes between the generations that are associated with both smoking in pregnancy and behaviour problems in children."

Source: Daily Express - 03 November 2009



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