Researchers also looked at the extent of their mother's methamphetamine use, age and other environmental risk factors.
Children's caregivers filled out a checklist that researchers used to assess behavior when they were 3, and again at age 5.
At both assessments, "methamphetamine-exposed children were more emotionally reactive, that is nervous and disturbed by change, as well as anxious and depressed," LaGasse said.
By age 5, these children also showed signs of ADHD and other acting-out behaviors.
Moreover, children whose mothers were heavy methamphetamine users had both types of problems at both evaluations.
Dr. Bruce Goldman, director of substance abuse services at Zucker Hillside Hospital, part of the North Shore-LIJ Health System in Glen Oaks, N.Y., commented on the study.
"The finding is not overly surprising," he said. "It's only commonsensical that with women who are using methamphetamine through pregnancy that there would be some long-term impact on their babies."
That's true with other drugs, he said.
"We need to reach out to women of childbearing age and help educate them about the long-term consequences of the continued use of methamphetamine during pregnancy," Goldman said.
Children of drug abusers have a high lifetime risk of becoming substance abusers themselves -- as much as four times higher, he added.
"The earlier intervention can start with these children, the better chance of preventing these long-term consequences," Goldman said.
Study author LaGasse agreed.
"You have children who are already vulnerable coming into a household that may also be vulnerable and you see [that] by age 3, behavior is getting off normal," LaGasse said.
"These behaviors are worthy of addressing, especially in high-risk families," she said. "If nothing is done, these
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