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Prenatal cocaine exposure differentially affects stress responses in girls and boys: Associations with future substance use

  • Tara M. Chaplin (a1), Kari Jeanne Visconti (a1), Peter J. Molfese (a2), Elizabeth J. Susman (a3), Laura Cousino Klein (a3), Rajita Sinha (a4) and Linda C. Mayes (a4)...


Prenatal cocaine exposure may affect developing stress response systems in youth, potentially creating risk for substance use in adolescence. Further, pathways from prenatal risk to future substance use may differ for girls versus boys. The present longitudinal study examined multiple biobehavioral measures, including heart rate, blood pressure, emotion, and salivary cortisol and salivary alpha amylase (sAA), in response to a stressor in 193 low-income 14- to 17-year-olds, half of whom were prenatally cocaine exposed (PCE). Youth's lifetime substance use was assessed with self-report, interview, and urine toxicology/breathalyzer at Time 1 and at Time 2 (6–12 months later). PCE × Gender interactions were found predicting anxiety, anger, and sadness responses to the stressor, with PCE girls showing heightened responses as compared to PCE boys on these indicators. Stress Response × Gender interactions were found predicting Time 2 substance use in youth (controlling for Time 1 use) for sAA and sadness; for girls, heightened sadness responses predicted substance use, but for boys, dampened sAA responses predicted substance use. Findings suggest distinct biobehavioral stress response risk profiles for boys and girls, with heightened arousal for girls and blunted arousal for boys associated with prenatal risk and future substance use outcomes.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Tara M. Chaplin, Department of Psychology, George Mason University, 4400 University Drive, MSN 3F5, Fairfax, VA 22030; E-mail:


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Prenatal cocaine exposure differentially affects stress responses in girls and boys: Associations with future substance use

  • Tara M. Chaplin (a1), Kari Jeanne Visconti (a1), Peter J. Molfese (a2), Elizabeth J. Susman (a3), Laura Cousino Klein (a3), Rajita Sinha (a4) and Linda C. Mayes (a4)...


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