Foster Parent Corner

Fostering children addicted to methamphetamines/opiates/alcohol

Caring for drug-addicted babies can often be frustrating. Once you understand some of what these babies are experiencing, however, you’ll be better equipped to meet their needs.


Effects of Drug Abuse

It’s no secret that pregnant women risk harm to their child when they abuse drugs. How much harm depends on the type of drug the severity of the drug abuse, and the period of the fetus development during gestation. While there are of course some prescription drugs that a woman may have to take during a pregnancy, even certain prescription drugs can be dangerous to a developing infant. Alcohol can be just as devastating, if not more so, with infants often suffering fetal alcohol syndrome.

The illegal drugs of today include cocaine, crack, and meth, with cocaine being one of the most common. Babies exposed to these and other drugs often spend longer amounts of time in the hospital immediately after birth, and many experience lifelong health problems.


Drug addicted babies can exhibit a variety of symptoms. Because of this, many adoptive and foster families hesitate to take on the care of a drug addicted baby. Sadly, this means that many babies are sent to orphanages or left for extended periods of time in hospitals. While of course their basic needs are taken care of, that special one-on-one bonding that a child should receive from a parent is often lacking. Not only do these children have to endure physical problems that may be associated with their birth mothers’ drug abuse, but they may also be slow to develop socially and emotionally.

Babies who have lived the first several months with a parent who is a drug abuser may be even more difficult to bond with once they are adopted or sent to foster care. Toddlers who have lived in this environment have often been left for long periods on their own, virtually taking care of themselves any way they could. These children may have trust issues, and they shun any physical contact as well.
Other symptoms of drug-addicted babies include the following:

  • Low birth weight
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Hyperactive
  • Low frustration tolerance
  • Easily startled
  • Easily woken
  • Irritable
  • Poor feeding habits
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Excessive sudden movements
  • Urinary tract defects
  • Impaired motor skills
  • Delayed social skills


Behavior problems

Taking Care of Drug Addicted Babies

Babies who are drug addicted may have difficulty bonding with a foster or adoptive parent initially. In many cases, these parents don’t know how to respond to a baby’s rejection or irritability. They perceive an infant who won’t make eye contact or who seems to become more distressed when held as one who needs more alone time, but this can often exasperate the situation.

Patience is the key to taking care of these children. Once parents realize that these behaviors are essentially normal for children who have been exposed to drugs during pregnancy, they can begin to overlook their babies’ reactions and continue to provide lots of love and affection. Slowly and surely, a baby will become more acclimated to this loving treatment. How should you care for a baby who has been exposed to drugs?


  • Try to remain calm. Even though your baby may have numerous melt-downs throughout the day, react in a calm, soothing manner. If you have to have your own melt-down occasionally, do it behind closed doors away from the baby.
  • Try to head off trouble. You’ll soon learn the signs that your infant is about to lose it. Common signs to watch for may be agitated movements, eye aversion, and skin color changes. Begin to soothe your baby before things get out of hand.
  • Try swaddling. This works for healthy infants, and it can do wonders for a baby suffering the effects of withdrawal.
  • Try rocking. If one type of movement doesn’t work, such as side to side, try another movement, like up and down.
  • Don’t over-stimulate. Watch for signs that your infant is becoming over-stimulated, and calm him or her down quietly.
  • Try infant massage. This is great to do when you want to settle your baby down, or you simply want to spend more time bonding with her.

Finally, talk to other parents who are dealing with the same issues, attend support group meetings, and keep in close contact with your pediatrician.


Effects Of Meth On Children

Methamphetamine is an illicit drug that boosts dopamine levels in the brain. This extra dopamine leads to sensations of pleasure. Meth can lead to adverse health impacts for the user such as high blood pressure, insomnia and heart damage. This drug is very addictive and women who get pregnant while using meth and continue to use it through pregnancy, it can affect the growth and development of the baby. The drug readily crosses the placenta getting to the child and affecting it directly. The child’s exposure to this drug can have long-term impacts on the child. Here is a look at the effects of meth on children.


Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities is a common effect of meth on children. Children who are born with a meth addiction suffer various learning disorders. These children perform poorly in class and they tend to have behavioral problems as they grow. Time frame for these learning disabilities can differ, but in most cases it is a long-term issue. The reason behind this poor performance is the fact that meth use affects brain development of the baby. Prenatal exposure to meth causes structural changes in the brain of the baby. Meth-exposed children have a problem in the part of the brain that is associated with learning, memory, motor control and motivation.


Intestinal Problems

Children who are exposed to meth also have intestinal problems. A child who gets exposed to meth before birth might develop a condition in which the intestines protrude through the abdominal wall. This condition is known as gastroschisis. The child will have issues with digestion and to treat this condition, a surgical procedure is required, in which the hole found in the abdominal wall is repaired. These children might also suffer from other intestinal problems.


Sleep Disturbances

Sleep disturbances are also common among children who are exposed to meth. Meth can distress the neurotransmitters, which transport signals from one neuron to another in the brain. Children with a meth addiction might have issues with sleeping due to the effect on neurotransmitters. This problem might last for up to six months.

Meth also makes children very irritable. Excessive crying and irritability are common symptoms experienced by infants and newborns who are exposed to meth. These babies scare easily and they have a heartbreaking, piercing cry that appears to come out of nowhere, and can even happen when the baby is in deep sleep. Caretaking becomes challenging because usual methods of providing comfort often fail. In most cases, this behavior starts at birth and goes on through the child’s first birthday. Many meth addicted children develop irritability symptoms during their preschool or toddler years. These usually manifest as aggressive behavior or temper tantrums.


Sensory Integration Problems

Another effect of meth on children is that it causes sensory integration problems. Children who are exposed to meth during their mother’s pregnancy regularly experience sensory integration issues. These children respond negatively to various forms of affection including hugging, touching or cuddling. These sensory integration problems can include a dislike for certain clothing fabrics, food textures and even new sensations and environments. When a child with intense sensory integration problems enters school, these challenges can grow into serious social maladjustment problems.


Skeletal and Spinal Abnormalities

Skeletal and spinal abnormalities are also effects of meth on children. Some babies who are exposed to meth might have long-term developmental and skeletal abnormalities. These babies might be born with club foot, where the foot has a twisted shape, or spina bifida. These effects might require surgical intervention, but since some abnormalities might be irreparable, these might be long-term harmful effects of meth addiction. Generally, children who are exposed to meth are likely to have birth defects, which include heart defects, cleft palates and limb-reduction deformities, in which a child has missing fingers and toes.


Delayed Speech

Meth also leads to delayed speech in children. Some meth-exposed children have speech delays due to changes and damage in the brain. The child’s speech might not be clear or in some cases, the child might not have the right size language for his age. Such cases might need speech therapy to correct and this therapy might take some years to complete. There are some speech delays that might be long-term. Meth use might make children to have a small head and weigh less than the expected. Children who are born with low weight commonly suffer from complications, which include hypothermia, respiratory distress, feeding problems and jaundice.