Marja Holmila, Kirsimarja Raitasalo and Mikko Kosola
AIMS - The study looks at the prevalence and register-based indicators of substance abuse-related harms among mothers of small children. We examined the living conditions, various health and social harms and the differences between the users of different kinds of substances (alcohol only vs. drugs only vs. alcohol and other drugs). DATA & METHODS - Population-level register data was collected of all biological mothers of three Finnish birth cohorts (1991, 1997, 2002) describing the women’s social problems, health and use of services during the period when the child was under seven years old. RESULTS - The substance-abusing mothers of small children had a higher rate of mortality and psychological disorders and increased risk of using hospital services than the comparison group. Their children had been taken into custody dramatically more often than the children of the comparison group. Also, mothers with substance abuse problems had lower education and income level, and their purchases of prescribed psychopharmacological medications were manifold compared to other mothers. Mixed use of both alcohol and illegal drugs coincided with the highest prevalence of health and social problems. CONCLUSIONS - Substance-abusing mothers of small children are in a serious risk of health and social problems ranging from poverty to poor mental health and high mortality. The study shows also that the social and health care professionals have a potentially important role in giving support to the mothers and their children, as the substance-abusing mothers have had several contacts with them. Prevention of harms to children of substance-abusing mothers should perhaps focus more on the possibilities offered by these contacts in different health and social services.