Study: Abortion and Miscarriage Lead to Higher Risk for Drug, Alcohol Abuse

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 2, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Study: Abortion and Miscarriage Lead to Higher Risk for Drug, Alcohol Abuse

by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 2
, 2008

London, England ( — A new study conducted by researchers in Australia finds women who have an abortion or a miscarriage are three times more likely to experience a drug or alcohol problem during their lifetime. The research highlights the abortion-mental health problem link found in two other studies published this week.

In this study, researchers from the University of Queensland examined 1,123 women born between 1981 and 1984.

The women were assessed at the age of 21 to find out how many pregnancies, abortions, miscarriages and births they had experienced.

The study showed that women who had experienced pregnancy loss – whether abortion or miscarriage – were at increased risk of illicit drug and alcohol use compared with women who had never been pregnant or who gave birth.

The authors published their results in the December issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Unlike the other two studies that were published this week on the mental health problems women experience during an abortion, the Australian researchers found the mental health problems crop up as a result of miscarriages and not just abortions.

That prompted the authors to downplay the direct link between abortion and subsequent mental health concerns, even though their own research verified such a link exists.

They claim the link is only associated with pregnancy loss in general, whether the abortion is spontaneous or intended.

“The findings suggest that poor outcomes reported for women who had an induced abortion may be associated with pregnancy loss rather than simply the experience of abortion," they say. "Induced abortion and miscarriage are both stressful life events that have been shown to lead to anxiety, sadness and grief and, for some women, serious depression and substance use disorders.”

The researchers suggest that women who suffer pregnancy loss may resort to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism and that the abuse of these substances results.

But Dr. Priscilla Coleman, a professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Bowling Green State University who led one of the teams that published a study on abortion and mental health effects last week, tells the Austrialian researchers shouldn’t downplay their own results.

"Based on the methodological strengths of the Australian study, the results provide strong evidence that the risk of psychological problems associated with abortion is at least as powerful as the risk for problems post-miscarriage," she said.

"For some of the mental health outcomes measured, abortion was actually a stronger predictor of problems than miscarriage indicating that it is not simply the loss of the pregnancy that elevates risk, but other yet to be studied mechanisms such as guilt, compromised self-esteem, anger, or relationship problems may be operative," Dr. Coleman added.

While subsequent mental health problems for women from miscarriage isn’t new or controversial, Coleman says the Australian study backs up her own research showing abortion hurts women’s mental health.

"Researchers have known for some time that miscarriage is quite traumatizing to approximately 25% of women," she told "Finally abortion is getting more serious recognition as a potentially traumatizing experience."

The first of the two most recent studies was published last week and featured numerous controls and a national data set.

The Coleman-led team found induced abortions result in increased risks for a myriad of mental health problems ranging from anxiety to depression to substance abuse disorders.

The number of cases of mental health issues rose by as much as 17 percent in women having abortions compared to those who didn’t have one and the risks of each particular mental health problem rose as much as 145% for post-abortive women.

For 12 out of 15 of the mental health outcomes examined, a decision to have an abortion resulted in an elevated risk for women.

The second study, conducted by researchers at Otago University in New Zealand, found that women who had abortions had rates of mental health problems about 30% higher than other women. The conditions most associated with abortion included anxiety disorders and substance abuse disorders.

Abortions increased the risk of severe depression and anxiety by one-third.

The authors concluded that anywhere from 1.5 to 5.5 percent of all mental health disorders seen in New Zealand result from women having abortions.

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