Postpartum Addiction

Not why the addiction but why the pain.
Gabor Maté

Not all addictions are rooted in abuse or trauma, but I do believe they can all be traced to painful experience. A hurt is at the center of all addictive behaviors. It is present in the gambler, the Internet addict, the compulsive shopper and the workaholic. The wound may not be as deep and the ache not as excruciating, and it may even be entirely hidden - but it’s there. As we’ll see, the effects of early stress or adverse experiences directly shape both the psychology and the neurobiology of addiction in the brain.
Gabor Maté

Perinatal Mood Disorders & Substance Abuse 

One factor that can seriously complicate perinatal mood disorders is substance abuse. Many different situations can bring this on: perhaps the new mother had previously struggled with some type of addiction such as drugs or alcohol, Or perhaps the stress, anxiety and depression associated with perinatal mood disorders, or even the general adjustment to Parenthood, prompted the substance use.

We are all familiar with the idealized version of motherhood: A women who wears many hats, cooks, cleans, chauffeurs, always looks put together, nurtures her partner, has a successful career, and still finds time for herself. While in reality, being a mother is an extremely demanding & challenging job! Not only that, but many of us did not have a mother, or wife relationship modeled to us... so we are left groping in the dark, without a village.

Substance abuse in conjunction with perinatal mood disorders is an ongoing problem. It is used as a way of coping with a difficult period in one's life, and a route to masking emotions. Whether a woman becomes addicted before, during or after pregnancy, it is something that seriously affects the entire family unit.

It is important to recognize that most Mothers do not plan to become addicted to drugs or alcohol. Often the lack of ability to cope with everyday life, and growing reliance on substances is just too strong. As the addiction takes over, it becomes harder and harder to recognize that there is a serious problem. Addictions do not happen overnight either; It is a slow growing illness that will continue to grow, until treated.

There are many many factors that can contribute to the onset of a perinatal mood disorder, or postpartum addiction. Some are as follows:
-history of depression or other mood disorder prior to pregnancy (genetic or otherwise)
-history of addiction or substance abuse (genetic or otherwise)
-individuals who have previously suffered some type of abuse (sexual, verbal, physical)
-individuals who have previously suffered some type of trauma in their life
-individuals who are in difficult life situation

Moms can develop a perinatal mood disorder anytime during pregnancy or postpartum up until their child has reached school age. This illness can be brought on by many different factors: genetic, biochemical, environmental and otherwise. There are five main types of perinatal mood disorders: depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and psychosis. Because of the extreme variations and complexities of the illness, there is much that remains unknown. It is recommended that if you are expecting or have a baby, you become familiar with the symptoms of perinatal mood disorders, so you are able to spot something in yourself, should issues develop. Not only that, but in catching a perinatal mood disorder early on, and getting treatment, the illness is less likely to evolve into something more serious, and the individual is less likely to develop problems with things like addiction. Never-the-less, if more serious issues such as substance abuse arise out of a perinatal mood disorder, full recovery is absolutely possible with support and treatment.

The greatest gift you can give to yourself and your children is to reach out for help. It is not easy and it can be scary, but you will be stronger and happier for it. Mothers suffering from postpartum addiction often fear that their children will be taken away, or that their partner will leave them. The reality is that prolonged substance abuse can bring about many negative life situations, but reaching out for help and healing can only bring about positive results. Start slow. Begin by talking to someone whom you really trust. If there is no one in your life you trust, then do some research & become informed.

Symptoms of Addiction/Substance Abuse:

-It becomes a struggle to hide drugs or alcohol from children & other family members
-Your marriage & relationships are suffering because of drug or alcohol use
-You find yourself less interested in activities that once brought you great joy
-You have accidentally forgotten or neglected your children because of substance use
-Your children have seen you high, drunk, or “sleeping it off"
-You recognize that something is not right 
-You feel overwhelmed and afraid to talk about these feelings

Addiction treatment for Mothers:

-Psycotherapy & Counselling
-Self-help Support Groups
such as Alcoholics Anonymous & Narcotics Anonymous
-Treatment Programs
Some Mothers are very afraid to reach out and ask for help. They fear losing their children, or having to be away from their family for a prolonged period of time in order to undergo. Single mothers have bills and childcare to worry about. Some Treatment Programs involve transitional housing, where Mom's can experience recovery, and have their children live alongside them. An example of such a place is:
-Aids for Withdrawal Symptoms

Other Options that can help with the healing process:

Regular exercise, a minimum of 30 minutes per day, acts like a natural anti-depressant, increasing endorphin's and creating a natural high in the body.
-Healthy Diet
Eating regular, healthy meals, which contribute greatly to the healthy composition of the body, can speed up the healing process greatly, and create good feelings in the mind & body.
A good nights sleep every night is crucial to the healing process and general well-being.
Getting outside into nature is also a very important component of healing and feeling good. Whether it is a walk down the street, a run in the neighborhood park, or a hike in the hills, feeling the warmth of the sun, breathing fresh air, and casting your eyes on trees & plants is an important part of who we are as humans.
-Name It
A first step to making a positive change in your life & for your health is to name your current experience, and allow yourself to feel it fully - emotionally, spiritually, physically.
Another important step in healing is forgiveness. Forgiveness frees us, It heals our bodies and our lives; And it does not mean that what another person did to you was right or just. When we forgive someone who has hurt us, both people are freed. Forgiveness is the initiation of the heart, it allows us to heal; and hormone levels begin to change and normalize through the process of forgiveness as well. The act of forgiveness has been known to improve physical vitality, energy levels, appetite, sleep patterns and general well-being. Most simply put, forgiveness means that we are no longer willing to allow that experience to adversely affect our lives and ultimately our children’s. It is a gift to ourselves.
Daily feelings of gratitude create happiness. Taking a moment every day to reflect on what you are thankful for, and what is going right in your life is an important part of finding contentment & happiness.

Melissa Baker shares her personal story of Perinatal Mood Disorders & Postpartum Addiction

Interesting Article about Pregnancy and substance abuse:

Christiane Northrup, MD. 2006. “Womans Bodies Womans Wisdom”

“When Survivors Give birth”, Understanding and Healing the effects of Early Sexual Abuse on Childbearing Woman. Penny Simkin, PT. Phyllis Klaus, MFT.'s_Childbearing_-_Chart.pdf

Written & Edited By: Melissa Baker & Tascheleia Marangoni