Christopher Salas-Wright

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Pregnant teenagers are twice as likely to use illegal substances as non-pregnant teenagers, according to research conducted by Christopher Salas-Wright, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work. 

Salas-Wright said younger teenagers are putting themselves and their babies at risk because they do not receive adequate information from parents and schools about the risks of substance use during pregnancy.

“We found that pregnant teens were significantly more likely to report using a whole array of drugs and alcohol over the past 12 months,” Salas-Wright said. “We also found that they were more likely to meet the criteria for substance use disorder.” 

Pharmacy associate professor Michela Marinelli, who works at UT’s Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research, said substance abuse during teenage pregnancy can harm prenatal development.

“It’s very frightening if pregnant teens are taking drugs,” Marinelli said. “Their children will not be normal, and, even though the most drugs they take are during the first trimester, some drugs they are taking are affecting the development of that early stage, like alcohol. The neural tube is still forming, and it will have lots of implications for the offspring later on.” 

Older teenagers, Salas-Wright said, are less likely to use substances such as alcohol and marijuana during pregnancies than younger teenagers are.

“We found that all the adolescents who were pregnant between the ages of 15 and 17 were less likely to use substances during pregnancy, but the younger adolescents — those between the ages of 12 and 14 — were more likely than their non-pregnant peers to report using substances,” Salas-Wright said.

Parental involvement and school engagement seemed to correlate with fewer instances of substance use during teenage pregnancy, according to Salas-Wright.

“We found that kids who report very consistent parental involvement and school engagement were substantially less likely to use substances during pregnancy,” Salas-Wright said. “So that seems to indicate when you’re thinking about prevention, it might make sense to involve parents and teachers in prevention efforts.”  

Pharmacy professor Robert Messing said interventions could help reduce harmful affects from teenage pregnancy, but more research and testing need to be done before establishing the cause of substance use during teenage pregnancies. 

“Intervention programs might help,” Messing said. “Let’s assume it’s true that lack of parenting is causal, is a contributing factor … you could target those youth and prevent pregnancy just by targeting the population at risk for the drug use because you want to get the pregnancy issue nipped in the bud earlier.”

Social work assistant professor Christopher Salas-Wright’s research on discrimination was published in the August 2014 edition of “Addicive Behaviors.” The study he co-authored found that discrimination increased the risk of addictive behaviors.

Photo Credit: Mike McGraw | Daily Texan Staff

A researcher in the School of Social Work found that discrimination of multiple types experienced by African Americans and Caribbean blacks on a daily basis can increase the risk for mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety and drug and alcohol abuse.

The research — co-authored by Christopher Salas-Wright, a social work assistant professor —  was published in the August 2014 edition of “Addictive Behaviors.” The study compared the presence and severity of mental disorders in African-American, Caribbean black and non-Hispanic white populations in the United States. The research was based on the experiences of 4,400 respondents, ages 18-65, and their everyday discrimination.

The study showed 83 percent of the respondents reported experiencing discrimination over the past year. Those who encountered multiple types of prejudicial discrimination were two-and-a-half times more likely to develop addictive behaviors related to alcohol or drugs, and those who experienced it on a weekly or even monthly basis were four times more likely to develop addiction and behavioral problems.

Trenette Clark, social work assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, led the study, along with co-authors Keith Whitfield, Duke University psychology and neuroscience professor, and Michael G. Vaughn, Saint Louis University social work professor.

One of the main focuses of the study was the identification of the different categories of discrimination that can lead to depressive and anxiety disorders as well as drug and alcohol abuse.

Salas-Wright said it is the combination of disrespect and condescension discrimination, along with character-based and hostile treatment, that puts African Americans and Caribbean blacks at a greater risk for mental disorders.

“The different types of discrimination that people were experiencing translated into different health outcomes,” Salas-Wright said. “People who just experienced condescension didn’t have the same health outcome as those who had more hostile forms of discrimination.”

Noël Busch-Armendariz, School of Social Work associate dean for research, said the research is relevant to society.

“[The findings] tell us that racism is part of the everyday lives of a significant number of Americans and that this has significant negative consequences,” Busch-Armendariz said. “Perhaps more importantly, this research opens the discussion about our collective responsibility and points to the need to move forward more quickly to rectify this persistent and demoralizing social issue in our country.”

This study was introduced to history professor Leonard Moore, who related it to micro-aggression.

“Micro-aggression [is] everyday aggression African Americans feel even at a work place and school that serves to remind us of our race,” Moore said.