Long-term impact of maternal substance use during pregnancy and extrauterine environmental adversity: stress hormone levels of preadolescent children

Pediatr Res. 2011 Aug;70(2):213-9. doi: 10.1203/PDR.0b013e3182291b13.


Prenatal cocaine exposure (PCE) is associated with blunted stress responsivity within the extrauterine environment. This study investigated the association between PCE and diurnal salivary cortisol levels in preadolescent children characterized by high biological and/or social risk (n = 725). Saliva samples were collected at their home. Analyses revealed no group differences in basal evening or morning cortisol levels; however, children with higher degrees of PCE exhibited blunted overnight increases in cortisol, controlling for additional risk factors. Race and caregiver depression were also associated with diurnal cortisol patterns. Although repeated PCE may contribute to alterations in the normal or expected stress response later in life, sociodemographic and environmental factors are likewise important in understanding hormone physiology, especially as more time elapses from the PCE. Anticipating the potential long-term medical, developmental, or behavioral effects of an altered ability to mount a normal protective cortisol stress response is essential in optimizing the outcomes of children with PCE.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • Child
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / complications*
  • Female
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Immunoassay
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Meconium / chemistry
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / etiology
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / metabolism*
  • Racial Groups
  • Risk Factors
  • Salivary Glands / metabolism*
  • Social Environment*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology*


  • Hydrocortisone