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Teen pregnancy and substance abuse: a ‘winnable’ battle

02-09 | By CSAA Team

Teen pregnancy and substance abuse: a ‘winnable’ battle

Teen substance misuse is a major problem in the United States resulting in the rise of pregnancies in teenage girls. Underage drinking and substance use plays a pertinent role in engaging in unprotected and unintended sexual activity, often resulting in untimely pregnancies.

Teen pregnancies create negative impacts on the nation’s economy, education, and productivity; these pregnancies combined with substance abusing behavior are more likely to result in premature births, lower birth weight, miscarriage, birth defects, neonatal withdrawal symptoms, and developmental and behavioral complications in newborns.

The Trust for America’s Health’s Reducing Teen Substance Misuse: What Really Works 2015 report states that there are around 305,000 births to 15 to 19 year-olds annually. So, when the time is to focus on educational and career oriented goals, teens already have the responsibility of being a mother. The report also states that by the age of 25, nearly half of the U.S. women give birth to a child.

The numbers stated in the report is a matter of grave concern. Pregnant teens were most likely to use alcohol (16 percent), followed by marijuana (14 percent) and other illicit drugs (5 percent).  Around 400,000 babies in the U.S. are diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder (FASD), which is the leading risk of mental retardation and preventable cause of birth defects. FASD is one of the prime reasons for a baby to be underweight and also have lifelong physical and behavioral health complications.

The report also highlighted that approximately 11 percent of pregnant teens, aged between 15 and 19, and more than 13 percent of pregnant 20 to 24 year-olds reported smoking while being pregnant. Smoking is extremely dangerous during pregnancy and causes around 1,015 deaths annually as well as results in increased risk for low birth weight, ADHD and other health risks.

Reducing teen pregnancy and substance abuse

Evidence-based teen pregnancy and substance abuse prevention programs typically address specific protective factors on the basis of knowledge, skills, beliefs, or attitudes related to teen pregnancy and their affinity towards indulging in drugs, alcohol etc. Some of the strategies that can be applied are:

  • Schools, families and clinicians can strategically engage the teens in conversations about sensitive topical content in order to optimally talk about risks related to teen pregnancy and the use of substances prior, during and post pregnancy.
  • Teaching the teens that using alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs is not the norm among teenagers, even if students believe that “everyone is doing it.”
  • Teen treatment programs should consider ethnicity and gender when designing services. Norms, values, and health beliefs may differ across cultures, and these factors can have a significant impact on treatment.
  • It is also important to elicit the teen’s perceptions of risk and cite real-time examples of the effect of teen pregnancy and consequent substance abuse behaviors.
  • It is important to screen those teens who are most likely to need treatment, such as teens who exhibit warning signs of abuse, including substantial behavioral changes, significant changes in academic performance, trauma injuries, and contact with the juvenile justice or child welfare systems.

It is extremely important for a teen to understand the consequences of indulging in unwarranted pregnancies and substance abuse altogether. It is imperative for the teenagers to have knowledge of sexual issues, HIV, other sexually transmitted diseases, and pregnancy (including methods of prevention). They should be capacitated to enhance their individual ability to refuse sex and to use condoms. The teens should also be advised to avoid places and situations that might lead to sex and substance use. The teen should be able to understand that during pregnancy, their health is at the biggest risk of succumbing due to continual use of alcohol cigarettes and related drugs.

In fact, according to the 1997 report of the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health, close relationships with parents and teachers are powerful protective factors for teens. The closer teens are to their parents and the more connected they feel to school, the less likely they are to smoke, drink, or use other drugs. Parents and other trusted adults play an important role in helping teens make healthy choices about relationships, sex, birth control and substance abuse.

If you have a teen at home who is undergoing such circumstances, seek medical help immediately. You can contact the Colorado Substance Abuse Advisors helpline at 866-300-5857 to talk to a specialist and be rest assured that help is around the corner for your child.


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