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Cocaine addiction in mothers

Potential effects on maternal care and infant development


  • Lane Strathearn,

    1. The Meyer Center for Developmental Pediatrics, Department of Pediatrics, Baylor College of Medicine/Texas Children's Hospital, Houston, Texas, USA.
    2. Human Neuroimaging Laboratory, Department of Neuroscience, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA.
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  • Linda C. Mayes

    1. Child Study Center, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA
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Address for correspondence: Lane Strathearn, The Meyer Center for Developmental Pediatrics, 6621 Fannin St., CC 1530, Houston TX 77030-2399. Voice: 832-822-3425; fax: 832-825-3399.


Maternal cocaine addiction is a significant public health issue particularly affecting children, with high rates of reported abuse, neglect, and foster care placement. This review examines both preclinical and clinical evidence for how cocaine abuse may affect maternal care and infant development, exploring brain, behavioral, and neuroendocrine mechanisms. There is evidence that cocaine affects infant development both directly, via in utero exposure, and indirectly via alterations in maternal care. Two neural systems known to play an important role in both maternal care and cocaine addiction are the oxytocin and dopamine systems, mediating social and reward-related behaviors and stress reactivity. These same neural mechanisms may also be involved in the infant's development of vulnerability to addiction. Understanding the neuroendocrine pathways involved in maternal behavior and addiction may help facilitate earlier, more effective interventions to help substance-abusing mothers provide adequate care for their infant and perhaps prevent the intergenerational transmission of risk.