Depression often fuels pot, tobacco, alcohol use by pregnant women

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Women who continue to use marijuana, alcohol, or tobacco during pregnancy often do so because of depression.

According to researchers at Western University and Brescia College, their findings highlight the need for greater supports for the mental health of moms-to-be. In a study published in the Journal of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine, the researchers say they discovered that depression is the single biggest driver of pot, alcohol, and tobacco use by pregnant women.

“Pregnant women who were depressed were 2.6 times more likely to use cannabis and twice as likely to smoke cigarettes and use alcohol while pregnant,” said Jamie Seabrook, PhD, and associate professor at Brescia and Western’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, and scientist at Children’s Health Research Institute. “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.”

The researchers looked at health and geographical data gathered by the Lawson Health Research Institute from more than 25,000 pregnant women in southwestern Ontario. Their study is the first in Canada with such a large sample size that shows the link between depression and the likelihood of continued substance use during pregnancy.

“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,” said Rachel Brown, an MSc candidate and first author on the paper. “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.”