Background: Prenatal substance use is a major public health problem and a social morbidity, with consequences on the drug user and the offspring.
Objective: This review focuses on the child and adolescent outcomes following in utero drug exposure.
Methods: Studies on the effects of specific substances, legal and illegal; i.e., tobacco or nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, opiates, and methamphetamine were evaluated and analyzed.
Results: In general, manifestations of prenatal exposure to legal and illegal substances include varying deficits in birth anthropometric measurements, mild-to-moderate transient neurobehavioral alterations in infancy and long-term behavioral problems noted from early childhood to adolescence. Severity of expression of behavioral problems is influenced by environmental factors. Further, behavioral alterations following in utero drug exposure often exist with mental health co-morbidities.
Conclusion: Because of the long-term consequences of prenatal drug exposure on child and adolescent mental health, health providers need to promote substance use prevention, screen for exposure effects and provide or refer affected youths for intervention services. Preventive measures and treatment should consider other factors that may further increase the risk of psychopathology in the exposed children.