Giving birth is undoubtedly a life-changing experience, but fluctuating hormone levels combined with sleep deprivation can put new mothers at risk of postpartum depression. In some cases, postpartum depression can lead to struggles with substance abuse.
Addiction, like postpartum depression, is a serious illness—not a character flaw. Women who are struggling with their mental health after childbirth deserve access to care that will help them manage their condition and provide ongoing support as they adjust to the demands of parenthood.
What Is Postpartum Depression?
The “baby blues” are a temporary period of transition after a woman gives birth. As her body’s hormone levels fluctuate and she adjusts to life with a newborn, she may feel moody and anxious. This is completely normal and typically lasts for less than two weeks.
Postpartum depression is a serious mental health disorder. Symptoms usually develop within the first few weeks after giving birth but can develop up to a year after giving birth. Without treatment, postpartum depression can last for several months.
Any woman who has recently given birth should be monitored for postpartum depression. However, the condition is most common in women with a previous history of depression, a lack of support from family and friends, and/or an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy. Exact figures are difficult to come by, but experts estimate that as many as one in seven women will struggle with postpartum depression after giving birth.
Common symptoms of postpartum depression include:
- Trouble bonding with the baby
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Lack of interest in activities that used to be a source of pleasure
- Severe mood swings
- Excessive crying
- Irritability and anger
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Severe anxiety and panic attacks
- Fatigue, sleep difficulties, and loss of energy
- Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
- Difficulty thinking clearly and making decisions
In the most severe cases, women with postpartum depression may have thoughts of harming themselves and/or their babies. If postpartum depression is accompanied by thoughts of violence as well as hallucinations and delusions, a woman may be suffering from postpartum psychosis.
Postpartum depression is typically treated with a combination of medication, therapy, and lifestyle modifications. However, women who have thoughts of harming themselves and/or their babies need immediate intervention and may require more intensive psychiatric care.
How Can Postpartum Depression Lead to Addiction?
New moms often feel that they must be “perfect” at all times in order to live up to the standards of motherhood that they see in pop culture. Unfortunately, postpartum depression still carries a great deal of stigma. Moms who are struggling may not feel comfortable talking to others about what they are going through or fear that their depressed mood should be a source of shame.
It can lead to addiction when a new mother tries to self-medicate her symptoms with drugs and alcohol. Being under the influence may provide temporary relief but does nothing to address the underlying condition. In fact, drug and alcohol use can lead to additional problems that exacerbate the symptoms of postpartum depression—and put the newborn child at risk if substance use is occurring when no other caretaker is present.
Please note that addiction doesn’t discriminate. Postpartum depression can lead to a substance use disorder when a woman has a previous history of addiction, but it’s also possible for a new addiction to develop at this time. For example, someone who was previously a gray area drinker might progress to developing the signs of an alcohol use disorder.
To some extent, societal influences can also play a role in determining if postpartum depression leads to addiction. “Wine Mom” culture is particularly problematic for new mothers. It makes drinking to cope with the challenges of motherhood seem socially acceptable and can make it easier for women to rationalize drinking to excess.
What Are the Signs of Addiction?
It’s not always easy to spot the signs of a substance use disorder, but here are some indications that a new mom’s behavior deserves a closer look:
- Increased tolerance for the abused substance
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms if unable to use
- Planning the day around substance use
- Hiding the evidence of substance use
- Making excuses to attempt to justify substance abuse
- Becoming angry or defensive when others express concern about substance abuse
How Can Waypoint Recovery Center Help?
At Waypoint Recovery Center, we provide a full continuum of care for clients with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions such as postpartum depression. Our treatment services include a personalized assessment, detox, individual therapy, group counseling, family services, holistic support, and continuing care to ease the transition back to independent living. Contact us today to learn more about how our South Carolina addiction treatment center can help you or your loved one take the first steps towards a brighter future.