An alarming number of pregnant teenagers continue to use drugs or alcohol. Sadly, substance abuse and a life-changing event (such as teen pregnancy) are also risk factors for suicide.
According to a recent study, published in the Journal of Addictive Behaviors, 16% of expectant teenage girls drink alcohol throughout their pregnancy. Another 14% admit to smoking Marijuana while pregnant, and an additional 5% even used other illicit substances, such as Cocaine. This harmful practice is concerning for the physical and mental health of mother and baby. Both major life changes (such as an unexpected pregnancy) and substance abuse are risk factors for suicide. As such, when these factors combine, suicide becomes a true concern.
Teen Pregnancy and Suicide
A study published in the British Medical Journal stated that, “the myth that suicide does not occur during pregnancy must be dismissed.” In fact, any major life changing event, especially those seen as negative, can lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Common examples typically include loss of a loved one or break up of a relationship. Such experiences can lead to depression (including feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness) and eventually contemplation of suicide.
Teenage pregnancy, especially when unexpected or unwanted, can lead to a plethora of emotions and negative mental states. This could be derived from:
- Contemplation of abortion, especially if against her beliefs;
- Contemplation of adoption;
- Lack of familial or societal support;
- Denial or lack of support from the father;
- Confusion about resources;
- Pressure to marry the father;
- Feelings of shame or stigma;
- Financial strain;
- Poor experiences with her own parents;
- Fluctuation of hormones during pregnancy;
- Feelings of concern for the future; or
- Concern for the health or safety of herself or her baby.
Any of these factors can lead to feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or helplessness. These emotions are all associated with depression, which may lead to suicide. If you or a loved one are pregnant and experiencing these feelings, reach out to:
- A doctor or nurse;
- A guidance counselor or teacher;
- A religious mentor (such as a pastor or Rabi);
- Supportive friends or family; or
- A mental health professional.
These individuals can get you the help you need throughout your pregnancy, especially if you are dealing with complicated emotions.
Teen Pregnancy and Substance Abuse
Teen pregnancy alone creates complex physical and emotional issues, especially when compared to pregnancy of older women. Pregnant teens are at higher risk of:
- General pregnancy complications;
- Early delivery; and
- Having children with developmental issues.
When pregnant teens abuse (or even occasionally use) drugs or alcohol, the risks and dangers are even worse. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can lead to:
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome;
- Premature birth;
- Damage to the baby’s organs
- Growth and developmental delays;
- Low birth weight; and
- Miscarriage or stillbirth.
Smoking Marijuana during pregnancy can lead to:
- Birth defects;
- Low birth weight;
- Gastroschisis (a disorder where intestines protrude from abdomen); and
- Behavioral issues.
If you are a teen struggling with substance abuse, especially during a pregnancy, it is important that you reach out for help to a trusted friend, family member, or mentor.
Teen Substance Abuse and Suicide
The risk of using any drugs or alcohol during pregnancy can be detrimental to the health of the baby, as well as the mother. Often, a pregnant teenager uses drugs and alcohol to self-medicate for feelings associated with depression. Additionally, since teenage brains are still developing, she may not fully understand the ramifications. As such, all pregnant teenagers should be educated on the dangers and continually screened for depression. Any and all mental health issues should be treated promptly. Untreated substance abuse issues (especially when the underlying cause is not addressed) can lead to suicidal thoughts or attempts.
Furthermore, substance abuse can actually change the way the brain functions. This is especially true for teenagers whose brains have not developed enough to properly handle the effects of alcohol. This change in brain function can also lead to depression or suicidal ideations.
In sum, while these two factors both increase the risk of suicide, when substance abuse and teen pregnancy are combined, the risk may increase dramatically. For more information on teens and suicide, please feel free reach out to help a loved one get the help and support they need.
Steve Johnson co-created PublicHealthLibrary.org with a fellow pre-med student.The availability of accurate health facts, advice, and general answers is something Steve wants for all people, not just those in the health and medical field. He continues to spread trustworthy information and resources through the website, but also enjoys tennis and adding to his record collection in his spare time.