Study Focuses on Maternal Cocaine Use, Infant Development

Role of alcohol, marijuana and cigarettes among other factors being examined

By Kathleen Weaver

Release Date: October 18, 2001 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- In a new study underway at the University at Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions, researchers are examining the cumulative effect of a number of risk factors associated with mothers' cocaine use on their infants' mental development.

Maternal substance use, an environment of family and community violence, negative mother-infant interactions and maternal psychological problems such as depression are being considered in the study, as well as the impact of these risk factors on infants' physiology and behavior.

Given the reality that most cocaine-using women also use substances such as alcohol, marijuana and cigarettes, the investigators are looking at the role of these other substances, in addition to cocaine use.

The five-year research project is funded by a $2 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to Rina Das Eiden, Ph.D., senior research scientist at RIA and research assistant professor of pediatrics in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Eiden has been with the institute since 1992, specializing in the impact of prenatal substance exposure and the post-natal environment on children's development.

Her co-investigators on the study are Pamela Schuetze, Ph.D., of Buffalo State College; Claire Coles, Ph.D., of Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., and Philip Zeskind of the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C.

"The focus of our study is cocaine's direct and indirect effects on infant/child behavior," Eiden explained. "We're concerned with pre- and post-natal drug use by moms, the interactions between the parent and child, and the stability of the caregiving environment in the first two years of life.

"We want to know more about how children develop self-regulation," Eiden added. "How do they learn to control impulses? Are they as able as other children to comply with controls placed on them by the caregiver? Do they learn to internalize the rules of conduct we would expect to see happening at the toddler stage?"

Eiden said the researchers will be recruiting mothers who use cocaine and, in addition, may be using alcohol, nicotine, and marijuana. A control group will be comprised of mothers who do not use cocaine, but who may be light to moderate drinkers and/or smokers."

Two hundred and fifty participants -- 125 in each group -- for the study will be recruited at area hospitals after delivery. Cocaine use will be assessed via information derived from urine toxicologies taken at birth, analyses of hair samples, and self-report. Incentives for participating in the research project will include gift certificates for groceries and toys.

"Infants will be assessed at one month, seven months, 13 months, and 24 months of age over the five years of the study," explained Schuetze. "My part of the study will look at the physiological effects of both the drug use and the environment."

"We will use spectral analysis of the infants' heart rates to tell us about how heart rate changes in response to different situations. Spectral analysis separates a signal (heart rate in this case) into different frequency components, allowing us to look at the contributions of various influences on heart rate, such as blood pressure and respiration. A variety of events experienced by children can impact the various systems that influence heart rate. Through spectrum analysis of the heart rate, we can learn more about how children respond to and cope with everyday occurrences."

Zeskind, a physiological expert who has worked extensively with the spectral analysis of heart rate, will work closely with Schuetze.

Coles, a developmental psychologist with 20 years of experience in researching maternal substance use, developed the structured clinical interview that will be used in the study to examine the quality of the caregiving environment. She will oversee the behavioral part of the study.

UB's Research Institute on Addictions has been a leader in the study of alcohol and substance abuse for more than 30 years.