Having a baby is one of the most magical things that can happen to a happy couple. However, some of the changes that come with giving birth can be hard on women. One of these changes is commonly called “the baby blues,” or feelings of fatigue and even sadness. The rollercoaster of hormones that new mothers experience is often a significant contributor to the baby blues. Thankfully the baby blues are generally temporary. However, some women experience symptoms after giving birth that exceeds a simple case of the baby blues. When normal post-pregnancy feelings tread into discernible postpartum depression, this can lead to a variety of other health complications and poor decision-making. Unfortunately, this can include the onset of substance abuse.
The Baby Blues or Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression is a subcategory of clinical depression that very few women experience. In fact, the Journal of Reproductive Medicine found that roughly 3.7% of mothers develop the condition after giving birth. But as rare as postpartum depression is, women who have a history of depression or other mental illness have a much higher chance of developing it than women who do not.
Because postpartum depression is rare, sometimes it can be hard to distinguish it from the usual baby blues. The symptoms vary greatly from case to case, but common signs of baby blues include:
- Loss of appetite
- Decreased energy
- Frequent bouts of crying
- Changes in sleep patterns
While these signs also exist in cases of postpartum depression, hormonally-driven baby blues are usually limited to these symptoms. Postpartum depression will include these symptoms but also symptoms that are far more severe.
Signs of Postpartum Depression
Typically, the baby blues fade after a few weeks, at most. So, when a mother exhibits symptoms of major depressive disorder beyond a month following the birth of the new baby, postpartum depression— which is formally considered a subtype of major depressive disorder— might be a more appropriate diagnosis than “baby blues.”
According to the APA’s diagnosis criteria, the symptoms that most identify both major depressive disorder and postpartum depression include:
- Extreme fatigue
- A significant drop in mood
- Failure to experience pleasure
- Sleeplessness or excessive sleeping
- Slower speech and thought process
- Significant weight loss or weight gain
- A loss of interest in beloved activities
- Feelings of guilt, helplessness or worthlessness
- Recurrent thoughts of self-harm, death or suicide
The Relation Between Postpartum Depression and Substance Abuse
Postpartum depression may be overwhelming, but is it enough for a woman to turn to substance abuse as a remedy? The short answer is yes. Many people turn to substance abuse as a means of self-medicating to cope with troubling things going on in their lives. New mothers that drink or do drugs after giving birth often begin abusing for similar reasons: as an attempt to deal with external stressors.
Addictive substances have been proven to stimulate the pleasure center of the brain. So, using these substances can become a self-medication method for postpartum mothers to “treat” their negative mood, feelings, and stress.
The Substances Most Likely to be Abused by Mothers with Postpartum Depression
If a mother struggling with postpartum depression does turn to substance abuse as a means of self-medicated escape, the drug of choice will usually fall into one of two categories: stimulants and depressants.
There have been cases where mothers with postpartum depression abuse certain addictive stimulants for the sole purpose of keeping up with their newly-updated responsibilities. Mothers that abuse stimulants probably do so as a misguided attempt to stay awake and energized enough for the around-the-clock care that their babies might need.
Alternatively, it’s not uncommon for new mothers with postpartum depression to turn to addictive substances like alcohol or muscle relaxers for a sense of relief. For those who struggle with restlessness and anxiety, substances like alcohol or opioid pain medications are likely candidates for misuse.
In most cases where mothers with postpartum depression turn to substance abuse to cope, they end up developing regimens around their harmful new habits. As a result, their substance abuse can quickly (and easily) become a full-fledged addiction.
Mama’s Bottle: A Shocking Statistic About Postpartum Alcoholism
Of all the potential addictive substances used by mothers with postpartum depression, alcohol seems to be the most abused. In fact, a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has determined that almost 15% of postpartum depressed women engaged in binge drinking within a year of their children’s births. Additionally, roughly 9% of this focus group admitted to abusing other drugs along with alcohol. These statistics far exceed those that were found for women who did not give birth or who did not develop postpartum depression after giving birth.
A Unique Case of Dual Diagnosis
Since many cases of substance addiction after giving birth are linked to the onset of postpartum depression, these qualify as dual diagnoses. Cases of dual diagnosis occur when a person becomes addicted to one or more substances while also struggling with one or more mental health disorders. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), a depression diagnosis— even postpartum depression— carries a stronger potential for co-occurring substance abuse than most other mental health issues.
Most of the time, the addiction and the mental health disorder have a causational connection—meaning that one has most likely contributed to the development of the other. Despite the number of postpartum dual diagnosis cases that have been studied so far, however, there is admittedly a lack of information regarding the link between substance use disorders and postpartum depression. This is one reason why cases of dual diagnosis that deal with these particular co-occurring disorders should be examined more in-depth.
Additionally, issues like potential child abuse or neglect are factors that make recognizing the signs of dual postpartum depression and substance use disorders in new mothers even more crucial. Thankfully, there are a wide variety of treatment options available that are certifiably effective in treating cases of dual diagnosis— even those that involve postpartum depression.
The Best Treatment for Postpartum Depression and Substance Abuse
Treating patients with dual diagnosis is a delicate process, especially for women with postpartum depression. Most professionals will argue that the best way to treat mothers who suffer from both postpartum depression and substance abuse disorders is with intensive, integrated methods— preferably ones that incorporate an outpatient model.
Most integrated treatment plans include all of the approaches that are most appropriate to an individual’s situation. This might include:
- individual and/or group therapy for depression and substance abuse
- supervised prescriptions for tapering if necessary
- social support group participation
- relapse prevention education
- partial hospitalization
- family counseling
Dual Diagnosis Treatment Options at TTC Outpatient Services
Postpartum depression is a situation that no mother is ever prepared for after giving birth to a baby. It can be made even worse when it leads to substance abuse and, even worse, addiction. If you are struggling with this distinctive dual diagnosis and would like to receive help without abandoning your child-rearing responsibilities, then TTC’s Outpatient Services might be the best treatment option for you. For more information about our programs and services, please call us at (844) 310-9549. All calls are confidential.