Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health

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Correlates of substance use in pregnant women under community supervision after conviction for a criminal offence: The role of psychological distress

Abstract Background Being pregnant while under community supervision after conviction for a criminal offence can be a highly stressful experience, and pregnant women under community supervision are at an elevated risk for substance use. Aims/Hypotheses To test for relationships between psychological distress and use of tobacco, alcohol, or marijuana during the month prior to a research assessment among pregnant women under community supervision, controlling for demographic characteristics. Methods Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health were aggregated for the years 2008–2016, inclusive. Logistic regression analyses were conducted to examine correlates of past‐month use of each substance. Results Of all 505,796 people in the survey, 6,974 were pregnant women of whom 280 reported being under community supervision for a criminal offence; relevant data were available for 271 of these cases. The pregnant women under community supervision reported higher rates of past‐month substance use of each kind and of psychological distress than pregnant women not under community supervision. Past‐month serious psychological distress, but not remitted psychological distress, corresponded strongly with past‐month alcohol use even when controlling for demographic characteristics and other substance use. Conclusions Our findings add to the very sparse literature about a group of women likely to be exceptionally vulnerable during pregnancy and underscore the importance of screening for symptoms of substance use and of psychological distress amongst them. Among women under community supervision, alcohol use was less likely in the second or third trimester than the first, but as those using alcohol were more likely to report past month psychological distress, it may be important to provide additional resources and treatment services for these women.

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