The Effects of Prenatal Drug Use on Toddler's Behavior

By Taylor DiVico
Toddlers exposed to prenatal drugs might have strained adult and peer relationships.
Toddlers exposed to prenatal drugs might have strained adult and peer relationships.

No matter the depth or type of drug use during pregnancy, the effects can afflict a child's growth and development throughout his life. Substance abuse during pregnancy becomes evident in toddlers through symptoms that indicate behavioral and personality disorders. Such traits, common to drug-exposed children, disrupt social interaction, emotional growth, academic function and self-esteem.

Isolating Behaviors

Secure attachment begins in the womb -- a fetus has the ability to recognize and respond to the sound of her mother's voice, according to the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, intrauterine drug exposure can lead to neonatal intoxication and withdrawal. Such problems require post-birth intensive neonatal care away from the mother, further straining the physical and emotional bond. A lack of attachment can cause symptoms of reactive attachment disorder, which includes avoidance of physical and eye contact, showing apathy or little interest in others, withdrawing from social situations such as playing with toys and other children, and not engaging in group activities or conversations. A toddler might resist being held, touched or comforted by adults and peers, choosing to sit or play alone.

Attention Deficit/Inattention Behaviors

According to the Mayo Clinic, maternal smoking, alcohol consumption and drug use increase the chances of a child developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Attention problems manifest as a general difficulty in focusing and completing tasks.Toddler conduct associated with attention deficits include a lack of ability to complete tasks and be organized, inattention during lessons or play time, losing toys or belongings, shying away from activities that include cognitive efforts, trouble with listening and following directions, and becoming easily distracted.

Hyperactive/Impulsive Behaviors

Prenatally drug-exposed toddlers can exhibit several hyperactive and impulsive behaviors because of their difficulty in distinguishing between relevant and irrelevant stimuli, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Symptoms of hyperactivity or ADHD such as limited self-control and an inability to stay still or quiet can appear as disruptive. A toddler with hyperactivity might get out of his seat often, talk at a fast pace and loud volume level, and move around often tapping, fidgeting, squirming, climbing, jumping and running. A toddler's altered awareness of others leads to impulsive conduct exemplified by grabbing toys that others are playing with, an inability to wait his or her turn, calling out questions or answers and butting into group conversations or activities.

Aggressive Behaviors

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, children exposed to prenatal drugs might suffer from psychiatric disorders, anxiety, depression and behavior problems.Toddlers can develop conduct disorders such as oppositional defiant disorder, categorized by aggressive actions and irritability. Young children might intimidate or bully peers by biting, kicking, pushing, hitting and taking belongings. Aggressive acts can extend to severe temper tantrums in toddlers. Toddlers can also show symptoms of anxiety and depression such as being clingy and irritable or by exhibiting separation anxiety, social isolation, low energy, sadness and excessive crying or tearfulness, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

About the Author

Taylor DiVico is a professional songwriter, content writer, fiction novelist and poet with more than 15 years of experience. DiVico holds a B.A. in philosophy from the University of Rhode Island and an M.S. from Syracuse University.