Identifying the physical and mental health problems of adolescents exposed to methamphetamine before birth

A/Prof Trecia Wouldes

People who have more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) – such as maltreatment, parental substance abuse, poverty and/or parental mental illness – tend to have more physical and mental health problems as adults than those who report no ACEs. They also run a higher risk of underage sex, teen pregnancy, problematic alcohol and substance use, and suicidal behaviour. Ultimately, they are more likely to die prematurely.

USA/NZ study confirms prenatal exposure to methamphetamine is a big problem

The longitudinal Infant Development, Environment and Lifestyle (IDEAL) study of PME (prenatal exposure to methamphetamine) from birth to 36 months was conducted in the USA and NZ. It shows that children exposed prenatally to ME experience more ACEs between birth and age 6, including higher rates of poverty, maternal mental illness, ongoing problematic alcohol and illegal drug use, and more Child, Youth and Family involvement.

Unknown is the impact these ACEs have for ME-exposed children during adolescence or whether there are protective factors in their environments.

Looking closely at ME-exposed adolescents

Using longitudinal data from the NZ IDEAL Study, Associate Professor Trecia Wouldes and her team from the University of Auckland are investigating whether ME-exposed adolescents have more health, mental health and behavioural problems than un-exposed adolescents. They are also looking at whether these problems are the result of prenatal exposure to ME and/or adverse home environments. Identifying both ACEs and protective factors for these adolescents will enable the design of targeted interventions to minimise the effects of prenatal exposure.

Cure Kids are funding this important research

Funding from Cure Kids is supporting Associate Professor Wouldes’ ongoing research, which is expected to take a number of years.