Use of Other Substances is Common Among Pregnant Women Who Report Alcohol Use

Pregnant woman at doctor office

In a 2020 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report article, CDC scientists found that about 10% of pregnant women reported current alcohol use. The use of other substances was common among pregnant women who reported alcohol use—about 40% reported current use of one or more other substances. Alcohol use during pregnancy can cause birth defects and developmental problems known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Less is known about the use of other substances among women who report alcohol use during pregnancy. Increased screening and interventions for alcohol and other substance use in pregnancy could improve the health of women and their children.

Read the full scientific article.

About This Study

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  • Researchers used 2015–2018 data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). NSDUH is administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It is a nationwide survey that provides information on tobacco, alcohol, drug use, mental health, and other health-related issues among individuals in the United States ages 12 years and older.
  • This report looks at alcohol use among pregnant women during the past 12 months, current alcohol use (at least one alcoholic drink during the past 30 days), and binge drinking (four or more drinks on at least one occasion during the past 30 days). The report also provides estimates of the use of other substances among women who use alcohol during pregnancy.

Main Findings

  • The estimates of current alcohol use (9.8%) and binge drinking (4.5%) among pregnant women in this report are similar to reports that use data from another national survey.
  • Alcohol use during pregnancy was highest among women who were in the first trimester of pregnancy.
    • About 1 in 5 (19.6%) who were in their first trimester reported current alcohol use, compared to about 1 in 20 (4.7%) who were in their second and third trimesters.
    • About 1 in 10 (10.5%) who were in their first trimester of pregnancy reported binge drinking, compared to about 1 in 100 (1.4%) who were in their second and third trimesters.
  • Current alcohol use during pregnancy overall and in combination with one or more other substances were both substantially lower than alcohol use in the past 12 months. This suggests that women decrease their use once they know they are pregnant.
  • Among pregnant women who reported current alcohol use, about 40% also reported current use of one or more other substances. Substances most commonly used with alcohol were tobacco and marijuana.

Our Work

CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) works to address substance use during pregnancy. NCBDDD also works to improve care for affected individuals and their families. CDC does this work through

  • collecting and analyzing data on
    • substance exposure during pregnancy,
    • the impact of evidence-based programs, and
    • the occurrence of negative infant outcomes;
  • implementing programs to inform policies for practice and systems change;
  • working with partners to develop and implement evidence-based interventions and clinical guidelines for the care of mothers and babies; and
  • conducting communication activities to increase awareness and sharing new findings in a timely manner.

More Information

Scientific Reference

England LJ, Bennett C, Denny CH, Honein MA, Gilboa SM, Kim SY, Guy GP, Tran EL, Rose CE, Bohm MK, Boyle CA. Alcohol Use and Co-use of Other Substances Among Pregnant Females Aged 12–44 Years – United States, 2015–2018. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020; 69(31): 1009-1014