Springfield, IL (January 20, 2005) -- A new research review published in
Current Women’s Health Reviews highlights the growing body of evidence that abortion is
linked with increased rates of substance abuse among women.
Substance abuse has increased in the past three decades in the United States,
but author Priscilla Coleman, a researcher and professor of Human Development
and Family Studies at Bowling Green State University, notes that "awareness of
female substance abuse as an emerging public health concern is of relatively
According to the article, rates of alcohol dependence among women are now
comparable to that of men, and "drug dependence has increased steadily among
girls and women in recent years and for some drugs, the increases have exceeded
the increases among boys and men." Although smoking rates among both sexes have
decreased, the decline in smoking rates among women tapered off in the 1990's,
while it increased among adolescent girls during that same period.
Studies of substance abuse among women show that they are more inclined than
men to begin abusing drugs, alcohol, and tobacco as a way of coping with
traumatic life events, including physical or sexual abuse, illness, and family
Women who abuse substances are also less likely than men to seek treatment
and more likely to be involved in an abusive relationship; to suffer
alcohol-related diseases or death; to struggle with feelings of guilt,
self-blame, and low self-esteem over their substance abuse; and to experience
more depression, anxiety, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
"It is clear that women who abuse substances are more likely to have suffered
from multiple past and current challenging life situations and there is emerging
evidence that women use substances as a means of coping more frequently than
men," Coleman wrote.
Colman noted that several recent studies have suggested an association
between having an abortion and using or abusing drugs, alcohol and tobacco. In a
number of studies have shown women who have abortions are two to five times more
likely to be at risk of subsequent substance use compared to women who have not
had abortions. Other studies
have found that women with a history of abortion are subsequently at increased
generalized anxiety disorder,
poor bonding with
and parenting of later children,
Dr. David Reardon, a post-abortion expert and director of the Elliot
Institute research organization, said that there are at least 21 published
studies have found a link between induced abortion and substance abuse.
Reardon served as lead author on several studies on abortion and substance
abuse—including a 2004 study that was the first to compare substance abuse rates
among women with unintended first pregnancies—and also collaborated with Coleman
on two studies finding that women who had undergone an abortion were more likely
to engage in substance abuse during a subsequent pregnancy.
"Many women who have experienced abortion have unresolved emotional issues
related to their abortion," he said. "Substance abuse can provide an easily
accessible way to self-medicate their pain and numb their emotions.
Unfortunately, however, substance abuse only leads to further difficulties—both
in terms of their own well-being and problems in their families and other
relationships—and can lead to a further breakdown in mental health."
Coleman noted that risk factors may be shared both by women who abort and
those who engage in substance abuse and said that researchers need to focus on
identifying which variables are more likely to lead a woman to have an abortion.
She called for more qualitative, interview-based research with both women and
others in their lives who may have been involved in the abortion decision.
"Due to a variety of political, social, and ideological factors, the topic of
induced abortion does not seem to have received the focused research attention
it deserves. . . ." she wrote. "In the interest of the millions of women who
annually undergo one of the most common surgical procedures available in the
United States and elsewhere in the world, more substantive, well-controlled
research should be a priority."
Both Coleman and Reardon encourage greater awareness of link between
abortion and substance abuse among abortion providers, health care
professionals, substance abuse counselors, and others who work with women. They
believe substance abuse counselors should ask women
seeking treatment about their reproductive history in order to "give women
permission" to talk about unresolved abortion grief.
Coleman said that while many mental health professionals are open about
encouraging women who have suffered miscarriage to express
their emotions as a way to foster healing, abortion is often not treated the
same way. This failure to address abortion may be due to either fear of
probing a sensitive personal issue or to an assumption that women won't
experience any emotional conflicts over a medical procedure they requested.
"If treatment for substance abuse or other mental health problems fails to
address underlying factors such as abortion, the treatment may be ineffective
and women are likely to continue to turn to substances such as drugs or alcohol
to cope," Reardon said. "If mental health professionals are truly serious about
addressing this public health concern, they need to gain a greater understanding
of this issue and provide women with the resources to resolve their past