What is the link between postpartum depression and substance abuse?
Postpartum depression is heart-breaking. Instead of enjoying the life the new mom’s just brought into the world, she is overwhelmed with fear, anxiety, guilt, and sadness. As a result of severe physical and emotional pain, mothers can turn to drugs or relapse. Women often hide their problems as society is judgmental. However, professional help is crucial, so always seek help.
Postpartum Depression & Substance Abuse: A Taboo Topic
Bringing a new life into the world is enjoyable and challenging at the same time. Planned or not, pregnancy is exciting for both parents: the little bundle of joy proves how perfect nature and love are. However, in the Western world where career has pushed something so natural as motherhood behind, there’s a false image of the perfect mother: she must be happy, good-looking, working, having a tidy home, and much more. All this is surreal: sometimes the new mom is still in pain, she’s tired, and she’s scared – in the end making a person out of a fragile baby is harder than anything else people have done during their lives.
Thus – as a result of social pressure – one of the most severe problems that new parents (mainly mothers) experience is hidden as a taboo: postpartum depression (PPD) and substance abuse.
Depression, both prenatal and postnatal, is common among mothers. In fact, more than 40% of mothers in the U.S. suffer from postnatal or postpartum depression (after giving birth). In many cases, this condition is not isolated, but it is accompanied by another health problem – substance abuse.
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Postpartum Depression And Substance Abuse: Why Does That Happen?
Nobody wants to become addicted. We all think that this can’t occur to us. Unfortunately, it can…, and it does. Many factors contribute to substance abuse:
- Individual differences
- History of abuse
- Family issues
- Physical or emotional pain
While our society has started to accept that addicts are not to blame as they are ill – not guilty, some people still say they are criminals: mothers who use drugs. Social services are there to take their kids, newspapers make money by blaming single moms but not fathers, and magazines show us, great homemakers. In a world where a woman has to be a mom, a CEO and a sexy individual at the same time, moms are afraid to admit their problems.
It’s even worse when it comes to new mothers who struggle with depression and substance abuse at the same time. There will always be someone who will blame you. How can you be unhappy when you have a kid? How can you smoke? Questions that will make you feel upset and guilty. You’re already ashamed that you don’t feel that angelic connection with your baby as presented in films, right?
Why is postpartum depression happening? You’ve done something great that’s physically challenging and emotionally overwhelming: you’ve given birth, and you have a healthy baby. You have a loving family and a job. You have social support and your hobbies. In fact, others think that your life is perfect. So why are experiencing this devastating pain? Although depression can hit anytime, here are some of the main reasons why PPD happens:
- Recent research shows that pain during labor is related to postpartum depression. Therefore, pain relief during birth and monitoring after labor should be a primary goal in medicine. Mothers are individuals – not only bodies that deliver babies.
- Inadequate medical treatment can lead to depression. In fact, 6% of mothers who suffer from PPD meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder. Respect is a must.
- Lack of social support can cause depression. Why? Because many times non-parents don’t understand parenthood, while other parents always compare and give unnecessary advice.
- Ruined intimacy can be challenging. Intercourse after birth can be painful, and parents are often tired, which makes orgasms hard to reach. All this can lead to frustration.
- Life changes contribute to depression. Being on a maternity leave and having so much unknowns while raising a baby is demanding. Stress, tiredness and body changes are common.
- Getting used to the new member of the family is not always easy, and it takes time.
Also, individual factors and genetic predispositions can worsen the depressive thoughts that a new mom can experience.
Postpartum Depression And Substance Abuse: The Chicken or the Egg
Postpartum depression and substance abuse often go hand in hand. Experts can’t say if substance abuse causes depression or if depression leads to substance abuse because many individual factors, previous traumatic experience and any history of abuse make things complicated. Not everyone fits in one model, but the truth is that substance abuse and depression are correlated: that’s why we should treat all comorbid disorders.
Many women who suffer from postnatal depression report abusing drugs, such as:
- Prescription medicines
- Illicit drugs like heroin
As alcohol is easy to obtain, many moms who are struggling to get by and cope with all the social changes in their life get involved in binge or solitary drinking. Unfortunately, many other psychoactive substances are available.
Let’s not forget about another group of new moms: women who had drug problems before birth but managed to quit and gave birth to a healthy baby. They can also become a victim of all the hormones and stress and get back to their drug of choice.
Postpartum Depression And Substance Abuse: Why Is Treatment Crucial?
Postpartum depression and substance abuse affect not only the mother but the family as a unit, which can lead to divorce, financial issues and risky behavior. As a consequence, all that becomes a social problem. The mother can experience suicidal thoughts or become dangerous to her baby. Neglection, over-protection or abuse are some of the scary consequences. Some mothers can even try to take the life of their child. In the long-term, kids with depressed parents often experience behavioral problems.
There are few main classifications of perinatal mood disorders:
- Depression (long-lasting sadness, hopelessness, and disconnection)
- Anxiety and panic attacks (fear of death, chest pain, shortness of breath)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (rituals, unwanted thoughts, hectic behavior)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance)
- Psychosis (delusions, hallucinations, loss of touch with reality)
Do not worry, though. Some baby blues are normal. Up to 80% of all new moms can experience anger, insomnia, sadness, and fear. However, if these symptoms continue after the first two weeks after birth, then this might be a sign of a serious problem.
Also, being aware of the first signs of addiction is crucial:
- You continue taking drugs despite health risks and consequences
- You hide your feelings and drug intake from family and friends
- Your kids have seen you drunk, high and passing out
- You are less interested in your family, social responsibilities and work
- Your drug use affects your financial situation
However, you are not alone. Many women abuse drugs and experience:
- Doubts about their value as a mother and a person
- Mood swings and suicidal thoughts
- Health issues, problems with appetite and disturbed sleeping patterns
- Physical and emotional pain
- Social isolation and apathy
- Insecurity and guilt that they are not good mothers
So if you find yourself crying and constantly drinking or being unable to get up and take care of your baby, don’t blame yourself. All you have to do is ask for help.
Also, if you are still pregnant and you are using drugs or feeling depressed, seek help now.
Postpartum Depression And Substance Abuse: Treatment
There’s always hope. The first – and the hardest thing – to do is to admit that you have a problem and seek help. Do not fear that other people might judge you. A real stimulus is the well-being of your little one. Counseling, therapy, support groups and treatment programs can help you.
Aftercare is also a must because some symptoms of PPD and cravings can last up to years. Also, consider changing your diet and exercising regularly. It’s been proven that yoga is beneficial for recovery. Many rehabs offer a variety of holistic approaches.