Background: Many stigmas exist regarding people with substance use disorder especially among pregnant women, preventing optimal accessibility and quality of care. In this survey, we investigated attitudes of medical students regarding substance use during pregnancy and identified the factors that influence these attitudes.
Methods: This cross-sectional study was conducted in 2019 and 2020 in Belgium using the short version of the "Substance Abuse Attitude Survey" questionnaire. We focused on two items regarding punishment of substance use during pregnancy. We analysed the concordance between these two, their correlation with other items (e.g stereotyping, morality, forced withdrawal, low treatment optimism) and the association between respondents’ agreement on punishment and their sociodemographic data.
Results: The response rate was 65.2 % (370/567 online and face-to face questionnaires). 19.2% of respondents were in favour of punishment for alcohol use (n=353) and 15.1% for drug use (n=356) during pregnancy. The agreement analysis between the two items showed that14.3% of students were in favour of punishing both pregnant women who use drugs and those using alcohol. Respondents tended to be more in favour of punishment if they were male students, older, if they had a lower mother's education level or had no personal or family history of substance use. Attitudes appeared to be more punitive among students with limited contact with people with substance use disorder (i.e. none or limited to hospital). Students intending to specialise in internal medicine were more in favour of punishment of women whereas none of those intending to specialise in psychiatry were in favour.
Conclusion: Our study shows that about 20% of surveyed medical students favoured punishing substance-using pregnant women. Awareness and training work seems to be necessary to ensure adequate care and support for this already vulnerable population.