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Pregnant and Parenting Substance Using Women and their Families

Why Screen Pregnant Women?

Almost 50% of all pregnancies in the United States are not planned and only about 40% of women know that they are pregnant in their 4 week of pregnancy. Unaware they are pregnant, many women drink alcohol or use medications or illicit substances early in their pregnancy.

Approximately 11% of pregnant women in the United States use alcohol, tobacco and/or other mood altering substances during pregnancy. Pregnant substance using women are present in all socioeconomic, ethnic, racial and religious groups and cannot be identified on sight. Most women want to do what is best for their babies. Pregnancy is a time when women are most open to changing risky behaviors and will attempt to stop or change unhealthy behaviors. The majority of women stop any substance use and other risky behaviors as soon as they learn they are pregnant. A woman who continues to use may not realize that her use may harm her unborn child or she may be addicted and unable to stop her use without additional support and treatment.

In many cases screening and education may be sufficient to help a woman interrupt her use. In other situations women may require additional assessment, referral and treatment services. Pregnant women are also at greater risk to experience depression and/or domestic violence than non-pregnant women. As a treatment provider you are in a unique position to identify possible concerns and refer women for appropriate treatment. Routine, universal screening for substance use, depression and domestic violence is the best way to ensure that all women are screened. The screening tools and guidance information provided in this section are appropriate for pregnant women and all woman of childbearing age.

Screening pregnant women enables medical and other service providers to identify those individuals who would benefit from an in-depth assessment by a qualified substance abuse professional.  A thorough substance use assessment can help identify:

Screening Tools for Women of Childbearing Age

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Additional Information

For additional information see:

  1. Substance Use During Pregnancy: The Facts
  2. Providing Screening and Brief Intervention Services: "The Five A's"
  3. High Risk Screening: The Importance of Screening for Problems with Substance Use, Mental Health - including Perinatal Depression - and Intimate Partner Violence
  4. The Five Stages of Change
  5. Enhancing a Womanís Motivation to Change
  6. Tips for Screening Pregnant Women
  7. Create Your Own Referral Network
  8. Gender Specific Substance Abuse Treatment Services in Virginia
  9. Virginia Legislation Related to Substance Use and Pregnancy
  10. Perinatal Substance Use: Promoting Healthy Outcomes - Virginia Legal Requirements and Health Care Practice Implications for Hospitals and Health Care Providers (brochure)
  11. Medicaid Coverage for Tobacco Cessation Services
  12. Public Policy Statement on: Women, Alcohol and Other Drugs and Pregnancy American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM)
  13. Additional Information and Resources

If you have questions about these or other topics concerning screening for pregnant women, please contact Martha Kurgans at

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