Children of drug addicts

Other Names:
Foetal damage from drug use
Drug threat to the young
Acquired drug addiction
Addicted babies

Babies born to crack addicts tend to suffer low birth weight, brain damage and malformation. As they grow, they do not respond to usual human signals such as eye contact and smiling, have difficulty learning and fail to understand simple problems. They ignore toys and do not play, have no concept of right and wrong, do not make friends, are easily frustrated and often violent. The data on ice babies is similar but more alarming. They tend to be asocial and incapable of bonding; such children are more likely to be sociopaths.

Damage to the foetus from cocaine exposure could include prenatal strokes and lasting brain damage, premature birth, retarded foetal growth, breathing lapses, absence of part of the gut, structural abnormalities in genital and urinary organs and seizures after birth.

Opioid-exposed babies have high-pitched, harsh cries, backs that arch when picked up, scrapes on their knees from fretfully scuffing against the mattress, ravenously hungry but not able to suck well. Any touch, even rubbing their toes, can make the infants shriek in pain and become inconsolable.

Babies that had been exposed to marijuana are likely to be smaller than normal and to show such neurological difficulties as an abnormal startle reflex, an increase in tremors and an inability to shut out disturbing stimuli. At high levels of use, alcohol can cause serious malformation and at moderate levels of use it is associated with an increased risk of mental or physical damage to the foetus.



The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the incidence of drug-exposed babies in the USA reached 6 per 1,000 hospital births in 2013, up from 1.5 in 1999.  The most common drugs are opioides, mainly from prescription painkillers, heroin and methadone.


The decades of the 1980s and 1990s experienced a highly-publicized wave of cocaine babies.  Children of crack addicts are at extreme risk of neglect and abuse. In one report 73% of all children who died of battering in New York City in 1988 had parents who used cocaine or crack.  One survey in the USA during this time showed at least 11% of women in the sample hospitals had used illegal drugs during pregnancy.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 4: Quality EducationGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 15: Life on Land
Problem Type:
E: Emanations of other problems
Date of last update
04.10.2020 – 22:48 CEST