Post-Abortion Women Four Times More Likely to Abuse Drugs, Alcohol

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Post-Abortion Women Four Times More Likely to Abuse Drugs, Alcohol

A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Manitoba finds women who have had abortions are about four times more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol as those who carried their pregnancy to term. The authors confirmed a link between abortion and the substance abuse issues.
This study adds to the risks that we now know occur in women who have previously had an abortion (as opposed to a miscarriage), including mental health issues (especially depression) and, possibly, breast cancer. Before I share the details of this new study, I want to say something very important.
If you are one of the many women who has a secret abortion in your past, in no way do I intend to judge or condemn that choice. But, rather, I want you to overcome any risks that may come from the abortion. To that end, if you are a woman who has had an abortion, this information means that you need to consider a couple of actions:

  • Learn everything you can about how your can significantly lower your risk of breast cancer and depression by proper diet, exercise, and sleep,
  • Be sure to discuss breast cancer and depression screening with your primary care physician, and
  • Strongly consider seeing a post-abortion counselor. You can find one through your nearest Crisis Pregnancy Center or by contacting CareNet here.

Now, here are the details on this study from
Natalie Mota, a PhD student in the U of M’s clinical psychology department, co-wrote the study with authors Margaret Burnett and Jitender Sareen.
The study appeared in the well-respected Canadian Journal of Psychiatry and it showed women having abortions were 3.8 times more likely to have substance abuse disorders.
That was the case even when other factors such as exposure to violence were included that could have raised the risk outside of abortion.
The Canadian study also found abortion associated with other mental health conditions such as mood disorders, but substance abuse proved to be the strongest link when it comes to post-abortion problems for women.
“These are associations only,” Mota told the Toronto Sun newspaper. “Further research needs to look at the different factors that might be playing a part.”
Still, the study provides more evidence that abortions hurt women as Mota told the newspaper hers was larger than many prior studies showing adverse mental health issues for women following an abortion compared with keeping the baby.
Mota and her colleagues told the Sun they also suggest abortion centers pre-screen women for substance abuse problems prior to abortions. Women who already have struggles with drug and alcohol abuse may see those problems exacerbated by the abortion. Currently, abortion centers typically don’t provide such screening or encourage women who struggle with those mental health issues to carry to term.
Priscilla Coleman, an Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Bowling Green State University, has already conducted multiple studies on the link between abortion and mental health problems for women.
Coleman analyzed the study further and found that, when compared to women without a history of abortion, those who had an abortion had a 61% increased risk for mood disorders. Social Phobia was linked with a 61% increased risk and suicide ideation with a 59% increased risk.
“In the area of substance abuse the increased risk for alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, drug abuse, drug dependence, and any substance use disorder were equal to 261%, 142%, 313%, 287%, and 280% respectively,” she told “Between 5.8% and 24.7% of the national prevalence of all the above disorders was determined to be related to abortion.”
Coleman told the Canadian study affirms “results of many previous studies on abortion and mental health” and are generally consistent with our results using an earlier version of the National Co-morbidity Survey (NCS) data.”
The Canadian researchers used the NCS replication data collected between 2001 and 2003.
“A large nationally representative U.S. sample was examined for associations between abortion and life-time prevalence of numerous mental disorders and suicidal behavior,” she said.
Coleman said researchers who support legal abortions “frequently claim the associations between abortion and mental health problems in the literature are due to an unmeasured history of violence exposure being related to both the choice to abort and to mental health problems.”
“Mota and colleagues tested this assumption by controlling for violence in all the analyses conducted. They also controlled for age, education, marital status, household income, and ethno-racial background,” she said. “The results revealed statistically significant associations between abortion history and a wide range of mental health problems after controlling for the experience of interpersonal violence and demographic variables.”
Coleman says the new study provides more evidence for the American Psychological Association in a challenge to its position that abortion presents no mental health problems for women.
“This report represents the latest in a series of articles from across the globe (U.S., New Zealand, Australia, Norway, and South Africa) published in recent years directly contradicting the findings of the American Psychological Association Task Force report released in 2008. Large scale, well-controlled studies using sophisticated data analysis methodologies consistently confirm a relationship between abortion and psychological distress that the national professional organization has dismissed,” the professor said.
“Standing above the political controversies regarding the legality of abortion, several contemporary researchers have demonstrated a willingness to publish data that contradicts many well-ingrained socio-cultural beliefs regarding psychology as a benign psychological experience. This is good news for science, the healing professions, and for women,” she concluded.


  1. bear says:

    The study clearly states that this conclusion is not definitive; that while some studies show a correlation, some do not. There is also the consideration that the mental illness diagnosis in this study was done by lay people – NOT psychiatrists or even psychotherapists. And there is also the issue of how many of these problems predate the abortion and in fact influenced the decision to have one. I believe you are misrepresenting the facts here.

    • Dr. Walt says:

      Bear, thanks for your note. Population based studies can only demonstrate associations and not causation. However, the conclusion of an association between a previous abortion and these mental health outcomes is pretty definitive. My main point in the blog is to warn women who have had abortions of these POSSIBILITIES. Why? Because, whether the risk is possible breast cancer, depression, or substance abuse, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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