Inhalant abuse in pregnancy

H. E. Jones, R. L. Balster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


Information from a variety of sources suggests the possibility of adverse effects of maternal inhalant abuse, although a well-controlled, prospective study in this area has not been conducted. One source of this concern is the data from occupational exposure to some of the abused solvents, specifically toluene and TCE, with numerous reports suggesting increased spontaneous abortion and fetal malformations. There are also data suggesting decreased fertility and an increased risk for spontaneous abortion in health care workers exposed to nitrous oxide. The relevance of these studies to problems of inhalant abuse is not clear. Although the chemicals involved are the same, there are many differences in the exposure parameters, the populations exposed, and the types of associated risk factors. Nonetheless, there are more than 100 cases reported in the literature of children born to solvent-abusing mothers. Many of these children were small at birth, and some have craniofacial abnormalities not unlike that seen in children with FAS. In the few studies reporting the findings of follow-up in these children, some evidence has been obtained for retardation in growth and development and for residual deficits in cognitive, speech, and motor skills. Clearly, more research is needed to rule out the concomitant risk factors and to identify specific chemicals and patterns of use associated with adverse effects. Animal studies provide more direct evidence that prenatal exposure to toluene or TCE can produce reduced birth weights, occasional skeletal abnormalities, and delayed neurobehavioral development, even under conditions designed to mimic inhalant abuse patterns. Additional research is needed to identify other chemicals with adverse effects, critical periods of exposure, effects of combinations of inhalants, or interactions with drugs of abuse. The research literature seems sufficient to alert clinicians to possible problems in patients who abuse inhalants while pregnant. Diagnosis and good prenatal care for these women are important. The evidence for neonatal withdrawal is limited at this time; however, infants born to women who have recently used inhalants should be observed carefully for an alcohol-like withdrawal syndrome. Although it is not possible to link a specific birth defect or developmental problem in the child of an inhalant abuser to prenatal exposure to a specific chemical, it is clear that inhalant abuse and its associated lifestyle place children at increased risk. A wider appreciation of this is needed among health care professionals and the general public.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)153-167
Number of pages15
JournalObstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1998
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


Dive into the research topics of 'Inhalant abuse in pregnancy'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this