When a teen uses drugs, it’s clear that their life is danger. However, when a pregnant teen female drinks or uses substances, it is not only her life that is at risk, the life of her child is in danger as well. For this reason, teen pregnancy as well as pregnant teens who use substances are major public health issues.
According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than half of pregnant teens admitted using drugs or alcohol in the month prior to entering treatment for substance abuse. Medical research shows that females who use drugs while pregnant contribute to their unborn child developing an addiction as well as having physical and psychological concerns throughout their development. Health problems both before and after birth are compounded for both the mother and child when a female teen uses substances.
Furthermore, pregnant teens were three times more likely than non-pregnant teens to admitting receiving public assistance as a primary source of income. Certainly, teens who give birth are typically not properly equipped to handle the large task of parenting. They lack the financial, psychological, and emotional stability. Teens tend to experiment with risky behavior and don’t fully recognize the consequences of their choices. Add to this the presence of a mental illness. A female teen might have the odds against her, particularly if she has already experienced some form of abuse, sexual or physical.
A recent study, published in the March issue of Pediatrics, shows that female adolescents who already have a mental illness are more likely to become pregnant than teenage girls without a mental health diagnosis. Also, although the number of teenage pregnancies has significantly decreased in recent years, they have not gone down with those adolescents who have a diagnosis. Although the study researched teens in Canada, the lead researcher in the study indicated that these trends are likely to be very similar in the United States.
Research indicates that one in every seven female teens will have a child before the age of 20. In general, the birth rate for girls between the ages of 15-19 is 29 per every 1000. In comparison, the birth rate among adolescents with a mental illness is approximately 45 for every 1000.
Of course, there are relationships between mental illness and pregnancy that are obvious. If a young girl has experienced childhood sexual abuse, for example, she might be more prone to be sexually active, and in turn, get pregnant. Also, those teens who have a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder and who experience periods of depression and mania might be more sexually active during their manic periods. Also, teens who have a mental illness might be more prone to drug use, which also increases the likelihood of sexual activity.
Treatment for substance abuse in female teens is crucial in order to save not just one life, but two. Depending on how early a teen begins her treatment, physical damage to the unborn child can be prevented. However, a teen must be willing to participate in treatment. And because of her young age, she may not be willing to entirely let go of a substance use habit, which may lead to relapse. Certainly, teens have obstacles to sober living that adults who have matured do not. However, this shouldn’t deter parents from getting the support their child needs. Even if drinking and drug use only ends during pregnancy, at least a child’s life might be saved.
Ideally, teen treatment for substance abuse is effective for both mother and child, leading to a long, healthy, and drug-free life for them both.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (May 9, 2013). The TEDS Report: Characteristics of Pregnant Teen Substance Abuse Treatment Admissions. Rockville, MD. Retrieved on June 16, 2014 from: http://www.samhsa.gov/data/2K13/TEDS121/SR121-pregnant-teen-treatment.htm
By Robert Hunt
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