- •Prenatal cocaine exposure (PCE) may increase adolescent substance use.
- •Externalizing behavior mediated PCE effects on tobacco and substance abuse disorder.
- •Effects of PCE on marijuana use was more pronounced for boys than girls.
- •Exposure to violence was also related to increased teen substance use.
Prenatal cocaine exposure (PCE) may increase adolescent substance use through alterations of neurotransmitter systems affecting fetal brain development. The relationship between PCE and substance use at 15 and 17 years was examined. Subjects (365: 186 PCE; 179 non-cocaine exposed (NCE)) supplied biologic and self-report data using the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) and Computerized Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children (C-DISC 4) at ages 15 and 17. The relationship between PCE and substance use was assessed using General Estimating Equation (GEE) analyses controlling for confounding factors including violence exposure and preschool lead level. Teens with PCE vs. NCE teens were 2 times more likely to use tobacco (OR = 2.1; 95% CI 1.21–3.63; p < .001) and marijuana (OR = 1.85; CI 1.18–2.91; p < .001) and have a substance use disorder at age 17 (OR = 2.51; CI 1.00–6.28; p < .05). Evaluation of PCE status by gender revealed an association between PCE and marijuana use that was more pronounced for boys than girls at 17 years. Violence exposure was also a significant predictor of alcohol (p < .001), tobacco (p < .05), and marijuana (p < .0006) use and substance abuse/dependence (p < .01). Externalizing behavior at age 12 fully mediated the effects of PCE on substance use disorder at age 17 and partially mediated effects of PCE on tobacco use, but did not mediate effects on marijuana use. The percentage of substance use reported increased between 15 and 17 years, with no differences between the PCE and NCE groups. Data suggest specialized drug use prevention measures for children with PCE may benefit this high risk group.