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When children are exposed to drugs at home

Posted on 04-17-16 in Children, Substance Abuse

When children are exposed to drugs at home

Dirty from head to toe, skin riddled with red bedbug bites and wandering her mother’s apartment complex grounds. When police arrived to the call of a toddler meandering alone, the 3-year-old said six shocking words: “I’m hungry … I need a beer.”

The mother was found sleeping inside their apartment – replete with cockroaches and moldy dishes in the sink – with the door ajar.

Another true story: A sober student athlete is dropped from a state university for not passing entry-level placement tests his first year. He reflects that, although smart, he grew up watching his mom’s boyfriend smoking crack at the dining room table and his mom regularly smoking weed around him. Tests were no problem before that began, but ever since, it’s hard for him to connect the dots in a test format.

These examples are less the exception than a common experience across the nation. Parental neglect by substance exposure is not pigeon-holed exclusively to low-income demographics. Consider “marijuana mom” groups in Beverly Hills and Aspen, where neighborhood progressive dinners have cannabis as the common ingredient. They say being high while parenting helps them be better moms.

When “do as I say, not as I do” crosses legal boundaries, parents’ substance abuse puts this generation’s children in peril.

Alcohol on the gums

Historically, infant mortality rates were high from six months to two years old, the same age range as cutting first teeth. Alcohol was used as an anesthetic, and putting it on gums was thought to temporarily numb them. The use evolved into an old wives’ tale.

The problem with repeated use is multifold: An infant’s delicate constitution can’t withstand regular use, proportions are unregulated, and a baby would need increasingly more for lasting relief. Notwithstanding the developmental damages, alcohol tolerance and dependence would arise. In such a case, the remedy would go beyond anesthesia to trying to subdue a screaming teether.

In spite of the harm, many new mothers still use the tactic. The fever, incessant screaming and fussiness drive some sleep-deprived parents to extremes.

In 2015, an Arkansas woman was charged with child endangerment after she bottle-fed her 10-month-old baby bourbon. The baby, found unresponsive, had a blood alcohol content level more than twice the legal limit for an adult to be considered intoxicated. The mother maintained that he was teething, nothing else helped, and the baby’s grandmother told her to rub alcohol on his gums.

Second-hand marijuana smoke danger

A few timeless truths. Parenting is one of the most stressful, hectic and underappreciated roles in nature. Not every female has a maternal instinct, and that’s OK. Still, women across the globe who may feel overwhelmed, pressured into motherhood or ill-prepared have tried many a tactic to cope and soothe themselves, or their children, through daily routines.

It’s no surprise then that some have ridden the coattails of the marijuana movement to assuage their frayed nerves and in some cases let the second-hand weed smoke slow rambunctious children as well. Parents with medical issues smoke in their downtime for pain management. Others do it while parenting, for emotional relief. Mothers in the Beverly Hills’ Marijuana Moms group say the drug makes them better parents because they are more relaxed.

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The consequences of smoking around children are scientifically researched to be physically and psychologically damaging.

The National Poison Data System uncovered the rate of marijuana exposure among children under six years old jumped one and a half times from 2003–2013. An astounding 75 percent of those exposed were younger than three. Nearly 41 percent of the children experienced at least one of the following symptoms: drowsiness or lethargy, motor coordination problems, irritability, confusion, coma, seizures and respiratory depression.

Matthew Springer, associate professor of medicine at University of California, San Francisco, studied second-hand weed smoke effects on the body using ultrasound machines. He affirms children likely experience physical damages.

“If you’re hanging out in a room where people are smoking a lot of marijuana, you may be harming your blood vessels. There’s no reason to think marijuana smoke is better than tobacco smoke.”

The irony is many parents who smoke marijuana around their children are very well causing some of the same issues that have motivated their use. Research compiled collaboratively by the National Abandoned Infants Assistance Resource Center and the University of California, Berkeley, highlight a significant effect: emotional unavailability on the part of the chronic-use parent and emotional detachment of the heavily exposed child.

The research also demonstrates nervous system dysfunction compromising a child’s development, when exposed to cannabis ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Dysfunction can manifest as:

  • Poor sleep patterns
  • Easily startled into agitation
  • Hyperactivity
  • Weakened immune system
  • Inattention
  • Impulsivity
  • Difficulty with problem solving, attention, planning and memory
  • Depressive symptoms

When children are exposed to drugs at home

Children in meth labs

If the effects of children inhaling marijuana smoke is daunting, kids within range of meth labs or meth use is downright mortifying. Methamphetamine is the most widely abused illegal drug on the West Coast. The Drug Enforcement Administration spotlights a strong link between domestic violence and meth use. A child in a home where methamphetamine production is nearby is vulnerable to:

  • Fires and explosions
  • Noxious chemical fumes
  • Abuse and neglect
  • Social problems
  • Exposure to overt sexual activity or pornographic materials
  • Living with dogs trained to be dangerous to protect illegal meth labs

The reported number of children present at seized methamphetamine labs across the United States has skyrocketed – from 950 in 1999 to about 3,000 in 2004.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse details collateral damage to meth-exposed children.

“Children who live in home-based methamphetamine labs are exposed to the toxic precursor chemicals, waste, and filth associated with methamphetamine production, as well as to the highly psychoactive stimulant itself. Psychoactive compounds can cause psychosis, seizures, and death from accidental ingestion. Consequences of exposure to the toxic precursor chemicals can include poisoning, burns, and lung irritation; damage to the liver, kidneys, heart, brain, and immune system; cancers such as lymphoma and leukemia; bone marrow suppression resulting in anemia and increased risk of infections; and developmental and growth problems.”

Information is limited because of underreporting, causing the medical, developmental and placement impacts on these children to remain unknown. Pediatrics, child welfare, law enforcement and criminal justice can all benefit from state-by-state documentation.

A chance for a brighter future

Thankfully, a child’s past influences, but does not guarantee their future. Epigenetics is a growing study of how genes evolve past hereditary traits, within an individual. It is possible – and with professional resources even probable – to redirect the course of one’s outcome beyond a family history of substance abuse.

As an example, the college student mentioned earlier used community and academic personal references and study resources. A year later, he petitioned his way back into the same university, where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degree.

The Sovereign Health Group is a nationwide leader in mental health rehabilitation offering holistic treatment for substance abuse, mental illness, eating disorders and co-occurring conditions. For more information, call our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Sovereign Health Group staff writer Kristin Currin-Sheehan is a mindful spirit swimming in metaphysical pools with faith as her compass. Her cover: a 30s-something Cinderella breadwinner of an all-sport blended family. Her repertoire includes writing poetry, lifestyle articles and TV news; editing, radio production and on-camera reporting. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author at