Abortion Linked to Subsequent Substance Abuse

Springfield, IL (March 13, 2000)–Women who have an abortion are five times more likely to report subsequent substance abuse compared to women who carry to term, according to a study published in the latest issue of the prestigious American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.

The study was authored by Elliot Institute director Dr. David Reardon and Dr. Philip Ney, a British Columbia psychiatrist who specializes in post-abortion counseling. According to the authors, while the connection between abortion and substance abuse has never been widely publicized, this is at least the 16th published study connecting a history of abortion to subsequent drug or alcohol abuse.

This latest study was drawn from a national reproductive history survey of a random sample of 700 women, from 24 to 44 years of age.

“Even if we assume the lowest statistical range for the relative risk, our results would indicate that each year, in the United States alone, there are at least 150,000 new cases of abortion-related substance abuse,” Reardon said. “Given the range of relative risks identified, the actual number could be as high as 500,000 cases per year.”

Ney believes these findings are especially disturbing since substance abuse is a leading cause of neonatal death and malformation in subsequent planned pregnancies.

“I have found that women with unresolved grief or trauma related to a prior abortion are more likely to feel anxiety, fear, and depression during subsequent pregnancies,” Ney said. “If they are unable to legally obtain mood-altering drugs with a prescription, many of these women resort to alcohol or illegal drugs as a means of suppressing unwanted feelings about their past abortions.”

Ney’s clinical experience treating women is confirmed by several previously published studies that have documented much higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse among pregnant women who have a history of abortion.

Substance abuse appears to be just one of several self-destructive tendencies related to abortion, said Reardon.

A recent major study of death certificates and government medical records in Finland has shown that the risk of death from suicide is six times higher for women who have had an abortion compared to women who gave birth. The researchers also found that the risk of dying from accidents and homicide was four and twelve times higher, respectively.

The increase in accidental or homicide-related deaths among post-abortive women is most likely due to risk-taking behavior that masks self-destructive or suicidal tendencies. It is still unclear whether abortion causes self-destructive behavior or whether it simply aggravates previously existing self-destructive tendencies, but the researchers believe that both of these factors are involved.

“Clearly, women with a propensity to risk-taking may be more likely to become pregnant and perhaps more likely to choose abortion,” Reardon said. “In such cases, while abortion may not be the primary cause of their problems, it may contribute to their psychological deterioration.

“On the other hand, it is also clear that some women who were not previously self-destructive have become so as a direct result of their traumatic abortion experiences. At this time, however, we have no way of knowing how many women fall into each of these two categories.”

While many proponents of abortion dispute a causal link between abortion and substance abuse, Ney insists that his own experience in successfully treating abortion trauma proves that this connection is far more than a statistical fluke.

“I have treated women with a long history of self-destructive behavior who have only made progress in overcoming these tendencies after they had completed counseling for abortion trauma,” Ney said. “Many other therapists have had the same experience. Consistently good results can only come from the right diagnosis and the right treatment.”


American Journal of Drug & Alcohol Abuse article by Reardon and Ney.

Finland Studies Regarding Suicide and Accidents:

Gissler, M., et. al., “Pregnancy-associated deaths in Finland 1987-1994–definition problems and benefits of record linkage,” Acta Obsetricia et Gynecolgica Scandinavica 76:651-657 (1997).

Gissler, M., et. al., “Suicides After Pregnancy in Finland, 1987-94: Register Linkage Study,” British Medical Journal 313:1431-4 (1996).

See also additional findings confirming Finland Study — Christopher Ll Morgan, et. al.,“Mental health may deteriorate as a direct effect of induced abortion,” letters section, BMJ 314:902, 22 March, 1997.

Fifteen Other Studies Reporting a Significant Association Between Abortion and Substance Abuse:

1. Klassen, A., & Wilsnack, S., “Sexual Experience and Drinking among Women in a U.S. National Survey,” Arch. Sex. Behav., 15(5):363 (1986).

2. Amaro, H, Zuckerman, B., & Cabral, H., “Drug Use Among Adolescent Mothers: Profile of Risk,” Pediatrics 84:144-150, July 1989.

3. Thomas, T., Tori, C.D., Wile J.R. , & Scheidt, S.D., “Psychosocial Characteristics of Psychiatric Inpatients with Reproductive Losses,” Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 7(1):15-23, 1996.

4. Frank, D. A., Zuckerman, B., Amaro, H., et Al., “Cocaine Use During Pregnancy, Prevalence and Correlates,” Pediatrics 82(6):888-895 (1988).

5. Oro, A. S., & Dixon, S. D., “Prenatal Cocaine and Methamphetamine Exposure: Maternal and Neo-natal Correlates,” Pediatrics 111:571-578 (1987).

6. Morrissey, E. & Schuckit, M., “Stressful Life Events and Alcohol Problems among Women Seen at a Detoxication Center” J. Stud. Alcohol 39(9):1559-1576 (1978).

7. Campbell, N., Franco, K., & Jurs, S., “Abortion in adolescence,” Adolescence 23(92):813-823 (1988).

8. Barnard, C., The Long-Term Psychological Effects of Abortion, Institute for Pregnancy Loss, Portsmouth, NH, 1990.

9. Plant, M. Women, Drinking and Pregnancy (London: Tavistock Publications, 1985).

10. Speckhard, A., Psychosocial Stress Following Abortion, (Kansas City, MO: Sheed & Ward, 1987).

11. Houston, H., & Jacobson, L., “Overdose and Termination of Pregnancy: an Important Association?” Br. J. General Practice 46:737-738, Dec. 1996.

12. Keith, L.G., et. al., “Substance Abuse in Pregnant Women: Recent Experience at the Perinatal Center for Chemical Dependence of Northwestern Memorial Hospital” Obstet Gynecol 73:715, 1989.

13. “Prevalence of Illicit Drugs Detected in the Urine of Women of Childbearing Age in Alabama Public Health Clinics,” Public Health Reports 109(4):530, July/Aug 1994.

14. Kuzma, J. & Kissinger, D., “Patterns of Alcohol and Cigarette Use in Pregnancy,” Neurobehavioral Toxicology and Teratology 3:211-221 (1981).

15. Drower, S.A. & Nash, E.S., “Therapeutic Abortion on Psychiatric Grounds” South Africa Medical Journal 54(2):604-608 Oct 7, 1978.

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