The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

New research finds possible correlation between drug addiction, child neglect

FILE – In this file photo, the University of Iowa Health Care building is seen on Wednesday, Oct. 1. (The Daily Iowan/Rachael Westergard)

A new study from the University of Iowa may have discovered one reason for child neglect in drug-addicted mothers.

Lane Strathearn, a UI professor of pediatrics, and Assistant Professor Sohye Kim of the Baylor College of Medicine recently collaborated on a study that produced data on the correlation between drug use and the disassociation that drug-addicted mothers may feel about their children.

The data, recently published online in the journal Human Brain Mapping, is on the second phase of a five-year study funded by the National Institute of Drug Use. It shows how drug use affects the way that new mothers respond to their infants’ facial expressions.

Researchers studied mothers who were enrolled in a treatment program for drug addiction, videotaping them with their babies smiling and crying. They then took stills from the videos and showed them to the mothers while undergoing an MRI, which picked up differences in blood flow in the brain that correlate to brain stimuli.

“Normally, when a mother sees her own baby, particularly when smiling, it produces an increase in brain response in reward areas,” Strathearn said. “We were very surprised to find that in these mothers, we actually saw a deactivation in these areas.”

These reward regions in the brain are critical in motivation and reward, which affects how the mother will bond to her child and respond to their distress or happiness.

Strathearn decided to delve into this area of research because of his experience of interacting with abused and neglected children during his pediatric training. He said it was evident that the children had very serious problems with their emotional and cognitive development, and he wanted to understand the causes of these issues.

“I really wanted to go back in time to the first establishment of this relationship between mothers and their babies and to see what went wrong,” Strathearn said. “If we try to intervene and improve this relationship, we can maybe help things later on.”

The researchers’ next step is to get a better sense of why these differences in brain reactions occur and how they translate to a difference in behavior. The next stage of the study will involve giving mothers doses of a nasal spray with oxytocin, a chemical involved in enhancing bonding and social experiences.

“We want to explore the option of giving oxytocin through nasal spray and see if using this low-cost correction could counteract or reverse some of these negative effects,” Kim said.

Additionally, Kim and Strathearn seek to understand how previous traumas affect the mothers, from psychological disorders to their own issues with attachment as a child.

“When individuals experience multiple types of adverse experiences during childhood, it can literally change the brain structure,” said Laurie Nash, an early childhood specialist at Johnson County Empowerment. “Part of what we keep in mind is that if the moms themselves have experienced multiple forms of abuse as a child, they may be more prone to drug and alcohol abuse, and that can filter down from generation to generation.”

Strathearn and his fellow researchers know that in order to move forward and create positive change in the individuals’ lives, they must pinpoint the exact reasons that cause addiction on a personal level so that they can attempt to treat these issues.

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