There seems to be a common connection between postpartum anxiety and substance abuse.
Many mothers suffering from postpartum anxiety are prone to addiction and substance abuse. It’s true that drugs or alcohol can work to help numb the pain and drown our worries. But it’s not a permanent, nor a safe, solution. If this is a problem that you are dealing with, know that help is always available and there are other options available for handling the crippling symptoms of postpartum anxiety.
Here’s some information for moms suffering from postpartum anxiety and substance abuse.
Who is at risk for postpartum anxiety and substance abuse?
Postpartum disorders and addiction have a dangerous relationship, and each of them often make the symptoms of the other more severe. In the first days and weeks after childbirth, a new mother will go through a variety of emotions and sources of stress. She may experience difficult feelings and struggle with sadness, constant worrying, and extreme sleep deprivation.
Postpartum anxiety is when a woman develops an anxiety disorder following the birth of her baby that causes a disruption in her life and affects her health and well-being. Studies have discovered that women with postpartum depression or anxiety are at a greater risk for substance abuse compared to postpartum women without a mood disorder. Likewise, women with a history of substance abuse are more likely to show symptoms of postpartum anxiety.
Why do some mothers with postpartum anxiety abuse drugs or alcohol?
Caring for a newborn entails a great deal of work, and it is normal for a mother to experience a range of feelings including worry, unhappiness, and fatigue. If these feelings persist or interfere with a woman’s ability to care for herself or her family, she may risk developing a mood or substance use disorder.
Environmental factors such as relationship status or economic status may also leave certain mothers at a higher risk for substance abuse. Postpartum substance abuse may be a continuation of drug or alcohol use that was prevalent before or during pregnancy, or it may be the beginning of a new behavior.
Women with postpartum anxiety may use drugs or alcohol in order to:
- Elevate their mood
- Relieve stress and anxiety
- Assist in falling asleep
- Increase Energy
Women who are prescribed opiates for postoperative pain-management or benzodiazepines for anxiety are also at an increased risk for developing a drug dependency. If you have a history of prescription drug abuse, let your health care provider so they can discuss safer alternatives during postpartum treatment. Opioids are especially addictive, making drug rehab a valuable tool for mothers struggling with dependencies after their pregnancy.
How to treat substance abuse in mothers with postpartum anxiety
Postpartum substance abuse can limit a mother’s ability to emotionally connect with her infant, adjust to their rhythms and behaviors, and anticipate or follow their development. If you or someone you love is struggling with drug or alcohol abuse and postpartum anxiety, it is important to seek treatment that will address both issues.
Many addiction treatment therapies can also be used to treat symptoms of postpartum anxiety. There are many options for rehab including inpatient or outpatient treatment and a wide variety of support groups. If you are unsure about which treatment option is best, contact a rehab specialist who can go over the options and help you find the right treatment facility.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on changing patterns of thinking and behavior. The therapist works alongside you to anticipate problems and develop healthy coping strategies. When treating anxiety in the general population, CBT has been proven to be effective with improvement rates estimated between 34% and 68%.
Common CBT exercises for treating substance abuse in women with postpartum anxiety include:
- Setting realistic goals and learning how to solve problems.
- Learning to manage stress and anxiety, especially with relaxation techniques.
- Identifying and challenging negative thoughts.
- Keeping track of feelings, thoughts, and behaviors to be more aware of symptoms and to make it easier to change thoughts and behaviors.
- Exploring the negative consequences of continued substance abuse.
- Identifying high-risk situations for substance abuse
- Developing strategies for coping with and avoiding high-risk situations and the desire to use.
Mindfulness training is the practice of awareness and attention exercises focused on accepting your present state of emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations. When mindfulness training is practiced before, during, and after childbirth, it has been shown to significantly reduce anxiety and stress.
Some of the skills taught in mindfulness training are:
- Observation: Being mindful and paying close attention to what is going on in the world around you.
- Description: Having the ability to say what happened and how it made you feel.
- Participation: Becoming involved in an activity without being self-conscious about it.
- Taking a Non-Judgmental Stance: Learning to accept things you can’t control rather than judging them.
- Focusing on what is going on in the moment without distraction from other ideas or events.
- Effectiveness: Doing what works instead of second-guessing yourself.
Mindfulness training can help you recognize when you are running on “auto pilot”(acting without thinking about what you are doing), as well as developing a better attitude towards yourself and others.
Talking about Substance Abuse and Postpartum Anxiety
Postpartum anxiety can make the experience of motherhood even more stressful than it already is. The risk of drug and alcohol abuse is greater for mothers who are dealing with other disorders and unfortunately, many are afraid to speak up. Drugs and alcohol may numb the pain and symptoms of anxiety, but it only offers temporary relief and does more harm in the long run. If you are suffering from symptoms of anxiety or drug and alcohol dependency, seek help from a qualified professional and get started with a recovery program. Talk with other moms about your experience or join a support group and know that you are not alone in this battle.
If you, or someone you love is suffering from substance abuse in the postpartum period, please check out our resources and recommendations page for some sites with important information.
Ginni Correa is a Latinx writer and mental health advocate living in Orlando, FL. Her mission is to build awareness and promote resources that can help people transform their lives. She believes in the importance of ending stigma surrounding mental health and substance abuse