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Describe the key issue from the cognitive approach and apply key concepts and
The cognitive key issue attempts to answer the question `does taking drugs during
pregnancy have a harmful effect?' This question covers both recreational drugs, such as
alcohol and nicotine, and other drugs, such as heroin.
It is generally accepted that drugs, even those prescribed, are harmful as they affect
biological functioning in ways that can be dangerous. When a woman is pregnant there is a
need to consider the harmful effects to both the woman and the child. Some drugs are
damaging at certain times during pregnancy, others are harmful throughout. Many of a
baby's organs and systems are formed during the first 10 weeks, so those first weeks are
particularly important, especially where alcohol is concerned, because malfunction can
occur. After 10 weeks organs are still developing, as is the nervous system and also,
continued drug use may increase the risk of miscarriage. Most drugs carry a warning on the
packaging that anyone who is pregnant should consult a doctor before taking medication.
Alcohol is particularly harmful. It breaks down to a celldamaging compound that the foetus
will absorb. Foetal alcohol syndrome can include abnormal facial features and heart defects,
as well as impeded growth and learning difficulties.
Nicotine consumption can also affect growth as it may slow the appetite of the woman,
causing her to not gain weight, and it might effect the ability of the developing baby's lungs to
Cocaine and methamphetamine also suppress a mother's appetite. These drugs are
stimulants of the central nervous system that can also cause blood vessels to constrict and
the heart to beat faster. This increases the risk of miscarriage and premature labour, and of
problems. If the mother uses these drugs the baby may be born dependent, and may suffer
withdrawal symptoms when born. They may also have learning difficulties in later life.
Drugs prescribed by doctors can also cause problems. For example, medications to prevent
epileptic seizures are associated with heart defects and learning difficulties. Some drugs that
work at the synapses and mimic neurotransmitters, that either block messages or enhance
the message by passing it on, can inhibit the production of hormones that start off labour and
this delay can be dangerous. This shows how drugs not only relate to the central nervous
system and synaptic transmission but also to hormone production.