Many teenagers, especially younger teens, may not be getting the message about the risks of using alcohol and other drugs during pregnancy, according to a new study by the University of Texas at Austin.
In fact, nearly 3 in 5 pregnant teens reported having used one or more substances in the previous 12 months, a rate that is nearly two times greater than that of nonpregnant teens.
“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,” said Assistant Professor Christopher Salas-Wright, Ph.D., at UT Austin’s School of Social Work.
For the study, the researchers examined the relationship between substance use and teen pregnancy using a large, nationally representative sample (National Survey on Drug Use and Health). Their sample included 97,850 adolescent girls between the ages of 12 and 17 with a total of 810 reporting a pregnancy.
“To our knowledge, this is the largest study to date on the relationship between substance use and teen pregnancy,” said Salas-Wright. The findings showed that nearly 3 in 5 (59 percent) pregnant teens reported having used one or more substances in the previous 12 months, a rate that is nearly two times greater than that of nonpregnant teens (35 percent).
Researchers examined the prevalence of the use of a wide array of substances including alcohol, cannabis, cocaine/crack, methamphetamine and opiates among pregnant and nonpregnant youths during the previous 12 months. They also investigated the prevalence of substance use across each trimester among the pregnant teens.
The findings suggest that use of these substances continues during pregnancy for many teens, particularly younger ones. More than one-third (34 percent) of all pregnant adolescents ages 12-14 reported having used one or more substances during the previous 30 days.
The most commonly used substance was alcohol (16 percent), followed closely by cannabis (14 percent), and finally other illicit drugs (5 percent). The substance use, however, decreased dramatically for all pregnant teens as they progressed from the first into the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, according to the study.
The researchers emphasize that having parents who are involved and being engaged academically can help remedy the situation.
“We found that the odds of substance use were roughly 50 percent lower among pregnant teens reporting consistent parental support and limit-setting, as well as those who expressed strong positive feelings about going to school,” said co-author Michael G. Vaughn, Ph.D., of Saint Louis University’s School of Social Work. “This suggests that it makes sense to engage both parents and teachers in efforts to address substance use among pregnant teens.”