Drug Misuse May Lead to Mental Health Problems After Childbirth

Women who previously misused drugs may have an increased risk of stress and anxiety after childbirth.

Previous incidences of drug misuse could predict the likelihood of mental health problems experienced after childbirth, according to a study published by Archives of Women's Mental Health. These findings may lead to increased mental health screening of pregnant patients to ensure they are receiving the proper treatment.

"There's been a lot of attention recently on the need to incorporate mental health screening into prenatal care, and it has largely focused on identifying women who are at risk of postpartum depression," said study co-author Sarah Desmarais, PhD.

The investigators found that patients with a history of alcohol and drug misuse had an increased risk of postpartum mental health problems, such as stress and anxiety.

"Our study has 2 important findings that are relevant to that discussion," Dr Desmarais said. "First, we found that women are at risk of significant postpartum mental health problems other than depression -- stress and anxiety are serious issues that merit attention. Second, by incorporating questions about a woman's history of drug use, we can help health-care providers more accurately identify women who are at risk of postpartum stress and anxiety -- and take steps to provide the necessary care."

The study was not focused on drug misuse, since it could have caused bias and incorrect results. Instead, the authors aimed to determine whether previous alcohol and drug use predicted mental health outcomes postpartum.

"Historically, a lot of research focused on women's substance use during pregnancy," Dr Desmarais said. "We thought that may not be a reliable way of capturing women's substance use, because women are likely less willing to admit to substance use during pregnancy -- they're concerned about losing parental custody, dealing with social stigma, or biasing their treatment and care. What's more, pregnancy is not when women begin using drugs or alcohol; that's something that carries over from a woman's behavior before pregnancy."

Included in the study were data gathered from interviews with 100 women living in British Columbia, Canada. All women included gave birth within the previous 3 months, were of higher socioeconomic status, and typically are not considered at high-risk of postpartum mental health problems, according to the study.

These women were recruited to join a comprehensive health and wellness study, rather than one focused solely on substance use. In the interviews, the women disclosed their history of alcohol use and substance misuse.

Investigators found that previous drug misuse was associated with increased stress and anxiety after childbirth, but there was no link found between previous drug misuse and postpartum depression, according to the study.

The researchers also did not find an association between previous alcohol use and an increase in postpartum mental health problems.

"The key finding is that asking about lifetime drug use really helped us predict whether a woman would experience postpartum mental health problems," Dr Desmarais concluded. "The best predictor of postpartum mental health problems is still whether a woman has a history of mental health problems. But when you include a history of drug use, the likelihood increases significantly."