Studies - General Research

Another Study Finds Higher Substance Use Rates Among Women After Abortion (BJHP,5/2005)


British Journal of Health Psychology (2005), 10, 255–268

Substance Use Among Pregnant Women in the Context of Previous Reproductive Loss and Desire for Current Pregnancy

Women with a history of induced abortion are three times more likely to use illegal drugs during a subsequent pregnancy… 

The study supports a growing body of evidence which suggests that later pregnancies may arouse unresolved grief over prior abortions which women may seek to suppress by increased reliance on drugs and alcohol…At least 21 previous studies have linked abortion with increased rates of subsequent drug and alcohol abuse.

Researchers [Bowling State Univ, Univ of Texas, and the Elliot Institute] examined data from a study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) & the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The data included 1,020 women who gave birth in one of 8 Washington, D.C.-area hospitals during 1992.

Analyses of the data revealed that while women who had induced abortions were significantly more likely to engage in substance use during subsequent pregnancies, women who had experienced miscarriages or stillbirths were not.

Previous studies have found that women with a history of abortion are subsequently at increased risk for depression, generalized anxiety disorder, suicidal tendencies and psychiatric hospitalization. At least 21 previous studies have linked abortion with increased rates of subsequent drug and alcohol abuse.

“Most women have deeply conflicted feelings about their past abortions,” said Elliot Institute director Dr. David Reardon, one of the authors of the new study. “Later pregnancies may arouse or aggravate unsettled emotions. Some women will experience increased anxiety, perhaps about the health of their unborn baby. Others are so awed by the life within them that they begin to question their past choice and feel drowned in self-blame. Still others may find that they have a lot of unmourned grief related to a past abortion that is interfering with their ability to enjoy and bond with their new baby.

“Whatever the individual experience, it is clear that pregnant women with a history of abortion are at greater risk of trying to suppress their turbulent emotions by relying on more alcohol, cigarettes, or illegal drugs.”

Substance use during pregnancy is an increasing public health concern. Alcohol and drug use has been linked to numerous problems in infants such as congenital birth defects, low birth weight, developmental and learning problems, and death.

This new study confirms a study recently published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology that also revealed higher rates of substance use during later pregnancies among women with a history of induced abortion.

Medical professionals should be aware of these issues so they can more easily identify which pregnant women are at greater risk of substance use,” Reardon said. “Referral to post-abortion counseling and substance abuse programs may not only help protect the unborn child from exposure to dangerous substances, it may also help the mother to resolve issues related to the traumas of a past abortion.”

Study Citation:

Priscilla K. Coleman, D. Reardon, Jesse Cougle, “Substance use among pregnant women in the context of previous reproductive loss and desire for current pregnancy,” British Journal of Health Psychology (2005), 10:255-268. [;, Elliot Institute, 12Jul05]


Substance use among pregnant women in the context of previous reproductive loss and desire for current pregnancy
Authors: Coleman, Priscilla K.1; Reardon, David C.2; Cougle, Jesse R.3
British Journal of Health Psychology, May 2005, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 255-268(14)

Publisher: British Psychological Society

The primary objectives of this study were to explore maternal history of perinatal loss and pregnancy wantedness as correlates of substance use during pregnancy.

Method: The research design involved interviewing women who gave birth in Washington DC hospitals during 1992. Interview data included pregnancy history (prior births, induced abortions, miscarriages, and stillbirths), desire for the pregnancy (wanted, not wanted, mistimed), socio-demographic information, timing of onset of prenatal care, and substance use (cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs) during pregnancy.

Results: A history of induced abortion was associated with elevated risk for maternal substance use of various forms; whereas other forms of perinatal loss (miscarriage and stillbirth) were not related to substance use. Unwanted pregnancy was associated with cigarette smoking during pregnancy, but not with any other forms of substance use.

Conclusions: Reproductive history information may offer insight to professionals pertaining to the likelihood of women using substances in a later pregnancy.

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Received 19 May 2003; revised version received 18 March 2004


Priscilla K. Coleman1*, David C. Reardon2 and Jesse R. Cougle3
1Bowling Green State University, USA
2Elliot Institute, USA
3University of Texas, USA

DOI: 10.1348/135910705X25499