Substance use before and during pregnancy: links to intimate partner violence

Sandra L Martin, Jennifer L Beaumont, Lawrence L Kupper
American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse 2003, 29 (3): 599-617
Although some research has found links between women's experiences of intimate partner violence and their use of substances, little research has examined how this potential relationship changes when women become pregnant. Furthermore, most of the past research examining women's experiences of intimate partner violence and their use of substances has focused on only one type of violence, typically, physical assault. Thus less is known concerning how other important forms of violence, such as psychological aggression and sexual coercion, may be related to women's substance use and substance abuse disorders. This research studies 85 prenatal care patients to describe the women's use of alcohol and illicit drugs, both before and during pregnancy, in relation to their experiences of various types of intimate partner violence before and during pregnancy (including psychological aggression, physical abuse, and sexual coercion). The Conflict Tactics Scales 2 was used to assess the women's experiences of intimate partner violence. The women were asked about their frequency of alcohol use, and alcohol using women were administered a short version of the Michigan Alcohol Screening Test to assess the women for symptoms of alcohol disorder. The women's use of illicit drugs was assessed by asking the women about their frequencies of various types of drug use and drug using women were administered the Drug Abuse Screening Test to assess the women for symptoms of drug disorder. The results showed that before pregnancy, women who were physically assaulted by their partners were somewhat more likely to drink alcohol and use illicit drugs compared with women who did not experience such violence, even though these differences did not reach the traditional level of statistical significance; however, among the substance using women, those who experienced each type of violence were more likely to be frequent users of substances compared with the non-victims, and they evidenced a greater number of substance disorder symptoms compared with the non-victims. After the women became pregnant, the links between women's experiences of intimate partner violence and their use of substances became stronger, with the women who experienced each type of partner violence being more likely to use both alcohol and illicit drugs. Furthermore, among the substance-using women, those who were psychologically and physically abused had somewhat elevated levels of substance disorder symptoms during pregnancy compared with women who did not suffer such victimization. These findings underscore the importance of providing routine screening for various types of violent victimization and substance use within the context of many types of women's health care settings, including substance abuse treatment programs, domestic violence programs, and prenatal care services.

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