New Study Finds Many Pregnant Teens Drink, Use Drugs

By McCarton Ackerman 02/19/15

Nearly 60% of pregnant teens have used an illicit substance in the last 12 months.

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It’s common knowledge to most that drugs and alcohol should be avoided during pregnancy, but a new study has found that many pregnant teenagers don’t seem to be getting the message.

The findings were published in the spring 2015 issue of Addictive Behaviors, led by Assistant Professor Christopher Salas-Wright at the University of Texas-Austin’s School of Social Work. His team analyzed data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 97,850 adolescent girls between the ages of 12 and 17, 810 of whom were pregnant.

Researchers examined the use of a wide range of illegal substances among pregnant and non-pregnant youth over the previous 30 days, 12 months, and each trimester for the pregnant teens.

Nearly 60% of the pregnant teens admitted to using at least one illicit substance in the last 12 months, compared to just 35% of the non-pregnant teens. Although the substance use decreased drastically from the first trimester to 34% in the second and third trimesters, some of the teenagers continued to use throughout their pregnancy. Alcohol was the most commonly used substance at 16%, followed by marijuana at 14%.

“Mothers’ substance use during pregnancy can have important consequences for the health and development of newborn babies. Despite efforts to prevent substance use among pregnant teens, our findings suggest that we still have a lot of work to do,” wrote Salas-Wright.

His findings also noted that pregnant teens with consistent parental support and positive views towards going to school were 50% less likely to use dangerous substances.

Last October, a Journal of American Psychiatry study centered on American Indian communities in the southwest found that home visits for pregnant teenagers significantly decreased their overall drug use. The participants who received 63 in-home education sessions known as Family Spirit, which occurred weekly through the last trimester of pregnancy and then gradually tapered off until the child turned three, were less likely to use drugs than those who were not in the program.

Their children also had higher rates of meeting emotional and behavioral milestones than those in the control group, as well as better eating and sleeping patterns.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.