Study considers depression the largest predictor of substance use during pregnancy

Depression is the largest predictor of substance use, like tobacco, cannabis, and alcohol, during pregnancy, a new study found. The findings were released in the Journal of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine.

A group of researchers at Western University, in collaboration with Brescia University College, examined the geographical and health data of over 25,000 women during pregnancy in Ontario, Canada — considered the largest study of its kind. The data was collected from the Lawson Health Research Institute.

According to the findings, the group found that pregnant women who exhibited depressive symptoms were 2.6 times more likely to consume cannabis and twice as likely to use alcohol or cigarettes.

“We don’t know when the substance use first began but we do know that it was continuing during pregnancy and that is a big risk factor for poor maternal and infant health outcomes,” said Jaime Seabrook, an Associate Professor at Western University.

The findings on depression as a primary risk factor for substance use among pregnant women carry more prodigious importance than other factors, such as age, income, and education, researchers say.

“The research shows that there is an effect later on in life as well with infants that are born preterm or low birth weight. To intervene or advocate for mental health programs for the mom, the idea is that it sets up the health of the infants later on in life,” said Rachel Brown, co-author of the study. “This really highlights the importance of programming for mental health, including mental health promotion strategies, psychotherapy and safe and proper medication for mental health during pregnancy.”

“If we can advocate for mental health programs like support groups, psychotherapy or putting them on safe medications, this can go a long way not only in terms of birth outcomes but potentially preventing substance use. If we can target mental health and reduce that substance use, I think it can go a long away for improving children’s health,” Seabrook stated.