Alcohol and substance use in pregnancy during the COVID-19 pandemic

Preeti Kar, Lianne Tomfohr-Madsen, Gerald Giesbrecht, Mercedes Bagshawe, Catherine Lebel, Alcohol and substance use in pregnancy during the COVID-19 pandemic, Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Volume 225, 2021, 108760, ISSN 0376-8716,



The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on alcohol and substance use has been a topic of concern. Pregnant women are currently experiencing elevated anxiety and depression symptoms, which may increase risk of substance use, and potentially result in poor perinatal and neurodevelopmental outcomes for children.


Survey results were analyzed from an ongoing study of 7470 pregnant individuals in Canada: Pregnancy during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Participants were asked about current use of alcohol and substances, symptoms of depression and anxiety, and COVID-19 concerns: how much they worry about COVID-19 threatening their baby’s life, threatening their own life, care for themselves or the baby, feelings of social isolation, and financial difficulties.


The percentage of participants who reported use during pregnancy was 6.7 % for alcohol, 4.3 % for cannabis, 4.9 % for tobacco, and 0.3 % for illicit drugs; 2.6 % were using multiple substances. Higher depression symptoms and financial difficulties were associated with more cannabis and/or tobacco use as well as the co-use of substances. There were no associations between alcohol use and mental health or COVID-19 concerns.


Self-reported rates of use and co-use were lower or comparable to previous research, perhaps reflecting pandemic-related circumstances or the demographics of this sample. Depression symptoms and pandemic-related financial difficulties were associated with more tobacco use, cannabis use, and substance co-use. It remains important to maintain access to perinatal, mental health, and financial supports during the pandemic to mitigate prenatal alcohol and substance use and prevent poor perinatal and long-term neurodevelopmental outcomes for children.

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