addiction and postpartum depression

Addiction and Postpartum Depression

Last Updated: May 9th 2022

Reviewed by Laura Riley

Researchers have discovered that women who have postpartum depression are more at risk of experiencing substance abuse compared to women with postpartum without the depressive symptoms. On the contrary, women who have a history of substance abuse are more likely to show postpartum depression symptoms. Between about 19.7% and 46% of women who have a history of substance abuse develop postpartum depression. Thankfully, there is hope for women who are dealing with addiction and postpartum depression. Through therapy and treatment, individuals can find freedom and healing.

What Is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression is an extremely complex set of behavioral and emotional changes that some women experience after giving birth. Unfortunately, addiction can present to be a tragically common pairing of postpartum depression. The actual peak period of postpartum depression is anywhere from birth to about 3 months.

Who is at Risk for Addiction and Postpartum Depression?

Women who are unmarried, unemployed, or cigarette smokers are most likely to develop postpartum alcohol use disorders. After the birth of a child, a women’s body experiences severe hormone fluctuations. Progesterone and estrogen levels drop, in addition to a serious lack of sleep. 

Many mothers experience an acute lack of sleep, which causes changes in their brains that can result in mild to severe physical symptoms and mental-health-related symptoms. Furthermore, substance abuse can harm a mother’s overall ability to connect emotionally with and therefore anticipate the overall needs of the child. 

Understanding Depression as it Relates to the Postpartum Period

Every person experiences fleeting sadness occasionally with a specific distressing event. Some individuals might experience feelings of sadness and aren’t able to decipher why they are undergoing those types of feelings. For a huge variety of individuals, these periodic issues with depressed mood or sadness resolve quickly or even when the situation that was associated with it has passed. 

It’s important to note that experiencing normal variations in mood does not signify that the person has a formal psychological or psychiatric disorder. The overall clinical notion of what represents a disorder is different than the day-to-day fluctuations in a person’s mood that are generally experienced. Depression is considered a clinical syndrome that has numerous reliable symptoms and signs that can be assessed by trained healthcare professionals. 

Additionally, almost any type of psychiatric or psychological disorder will include a level of a depressed mood. Discovering whether or not a person has a formal depressive disorder, a different psychological/psychiatric disorder that includes depression aspects, or is just experiencing proportional normal mood variations in a person’s mood requires expert training. There are a variety of different medical conditions that can result in the full development of the clinical syndrome of depression. 

Some of the medical conditions might involve reactions to being ill, and others might be due to psychological effects of a medical condition, such as what will occur in individuals who undergo strokes often.

Why Do Some Mothers With Postpartum Depression Abuse Alcohol or Drugs? 

Among the common population, depression is linked strongly to initial substance use. Since a person’s brain is still developing, some studies indicate young mothers (under the age of 25) are at a greater risk for postpartum depression. The environmental factors (such as economic status or intimate partner use) might also leave young mothers to be more vulnerable to substance abuse. 

Postpartum substance abuse might be considered a continuation of alcohol or drug use that has occurred before pregnancy, during pregnancy, or even the beginning of new behavior. Some women engage in substance use following childbirth to:

  • Relieve stress and anxiety 
  • Help assist in falling asleep
  • Increase energy 
  • Elevate mood
  • Self-medicate

Some of the most common substances abused by new mothers include the following:

  • Prescription psychoactive drugs (including stimulants, benzodiazepines, and opioids) used by 3.6% of new moms 
  • Alcohol – which is used by 30% – 49% of the new moms 
  • Marijuana – is used by 6.6% of new moms 
  • Cocaine – used by 1.1% of new moms 
  • Cigarettes 

Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

There are various postpartum depression symptoms. In many cases, women experience the “baby blues”, which is a range of feelings including unhappiness, fatigue, and worry. The feelings are to be expected and normal, as caring for a newborn requires a great deal of work. 

However, once a woman’s feelings advance to the point of interference with her overall ability to take care of herself and her family, postpartum depression may be present. There are various symptoms of postpartum depression that mirror a substance use disorder. 

The symptoms of postpartum depression include:

  • Physical aches like digestive issues, muscle pain, and frequent headaches
  • Difficulties concentrating, making decisions, and remembering details 
  • Persistently doubting their ability to take care of their baby
  • Crying more regularly or for no evident reason 
  • Thinking about harming herself or her baby
  • Feeling hopeless, overwhelmed, or empty
  • Having difficulties bonding with the baby
  • Oversleeping or being unable to sleep
  • Withdrawing from family or friends 
  • Feeling overly anxious and irritable 
  • Moments of sudden rage or anger 
  • Overeating or not eating enough 
  • Losing interest in hobbies 

Since there are differences in postpartum depression experiences among women, a healthcare provider is specifically needed to differentiate postpartum depression from various other possible diagnoses. To better understand the relationship between addiction and postpartum depression, here are a few statistics. Postpartum depression affects about 14.5% of women following childbirth. 

In a study of newborn mothers, about 38.7% of women who drank alcohol experienced a rather high level of depressive symptoms. The National Survey data in the U.S. showcased that 8.5% of women experiencing postpartum depression reported the use of nonmedical or illicit drugs in the past month. 

More on the Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression symptoms are similar to the symptoms of major depressive disorder and it also includes various other symptoms, such as anger directed at one’s partner or child, resentment about becoming pregnant, or not wanting to care for one’s child. A person who has postpartum depression will generally be diagnosed with a major depressive disorder with peripartum onset.

For an individual to receive a formal diagnosis of a major depressive disorder, that individual must demonstrate consistently five or more particular diagnostic criteria such as signs or symptoms for at least two weeks. Out of the five symptoms, it must include a significant loss of one’s interests (or an inability to experience pleasure) and/or a depressed mood.

The major types of symptoms that that characterize major depressive disorder are:

  • Displaying a loss of interest in things that were previously enjoyed and interesting nearly every day 
  • Having difficulties sleeping almost every day (not being able to fall asleep or sleeping more excessively than normal)
  • Experiencing a significant amount of weight loss without even attempting to lose weight or an alternately significant amount of weight gain without a clear attempt to gain weight 
  • Issues with thinking can include problems with memory issues, concentration, slowed thought processes and speech processes, and issues making decisions that can represent a change that is outside of a normal level of functioning
  • Having recurrent thoughts about dying, self-injury, or death, including suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts
  • Displaying depressed mood most of the time and nearly every day
  • Having a significant amount of worthlessness and guilt feelings every day
  • Displaying an inability to experience pleasure every day
  • Moving slowly almost every day, or being highly restless and irritable nearly every day
  • Feeling extremely fatigued nearly every day

What are Specific Issues with Postpartum Depression?

There are numerous specific issues with postpartum depression. It’s essential to remember that postpartum depression is considered to be a manifestation of a clinical syndrome of major depressive disorder. Therefore, it would differ from what many people experience as the “baby blues” in that postpartum depression is far more intense and results in an extended period of problems with normal functioning. 

However, numerous women experience anxiety issues and undergo the baby blues, which are short and less intense periods of sadness that are associated with giving birth or being pregnant. These particular types of women are the most at risk of developing postpartum depression.

The symptoms that might be experienced are alterations between mania and depression and even psychosis which are delusions, hallucinations, and other symptoms that signal that the individual has lost contact with reality. If a person experiences postpartum episodes that have psychosis features, they’re far more likely to develop similar experiences that follow future deliveries and pregnancies. This can complicate long-term treatment suggestions and family planning for women who are wishing to have additional children. 

Figures have indicated that postpartum depression can occur in up to 15% of mothers; it occurs at equal rates across age, ethnicity, and level. It is more likely to occur in mothers who have had a history of bipolar disorder or depression. Other risk factors of postpartum depression include:

  • Stressful events before childbirth
  • The mother has mixed feelings about the pregnancy
  • The mother discerning that she lacks support from her partner or family

Addiction and Postpartum Depression 

When an individual suffers from addiction and a mental health disorder, the effects can be quite challenging. After all, the impact of addiction and the effects of mental health disorders can be difficult on their own. When the two combine, the results can be life-altering. Women who suffer from addiction and postpartum depression have what is known as a “dual diagnosis”. This means that they have two disorders that are coexisting in her life.

Some new mothers might suffer from alcoholism in addition to the symptoms of postpartum depression. Others may deal with heroin abuse or cocaine addiction. It was reported by the SAMHSA, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, that nearly 15% of women who are less than a year from the birth of their child had postpartum depression engaged in binge drinking, while nearly 9% of this same group reported abusing other drugs. The prevalence rates are much higher than women who didn’t give birth or did give birth without having postpartum depression. 

In any case, it is best for women suffering from addiction and postpartum depression to seek treatment. A dual diagnosis treatment program like ours here at North Jersey Recovery Center can help.

Treatment for Addiction and Post Postpartum Depression 

While some mothers might not be concerned about the risks that are present to their health, the majority are aware of the greater substance abuse threat can have on newborns. In numerous studies, women have reported weaning their babies off of breastmilk earlier to resume alcohol or drug use. In addition, national surveys have reported a decrease in illicit alcohol and drug use during pregnancy, usually followed by an increase in use that is similar to women abuse rates in the population. 

Healthcare providers suggest that there is a pause in substance abuse that presents an essential opportunity for an addiction intervention. Consequently, screening new mothers and pregnant women for a history of substance abuse, chronic anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues might be the most ideal chance of preventing the inception of addiction and postpartum depression. Social stigma can be a burdensome barrier for numerous women who need treatment. 

Therefore, the support of family dynamics is pivotal for the success of new mothers. Co-occurring postpartum depression and substance use disorder treatment should do the following:

  • Develop a woman’s ability to take care of herself and her family 
  • Integrate some form of early-childhood parent training 
  • Be specific to the needs of women 
  • Accomplish her own goals 
  • Include the children 

Find an Addiction Treatment Center Today

Many addiction treatment therapies can be utilized to alleviate addiction postpartum depression symptoms. Individual therapy and group therapy are methods of treating mental health disorders. If you are struggling with addiction and postpartum depression symptoms, contact North Jersey Recovery Center today.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Laura Riley

Medical Reviewer

Laura comes to NJRC with 23 years of vast clinical experience in hospital, residential, outpatient, and community outreach settings where she has worked, supervised clinical teams, and volunteered. She has provided substance abuse and mental health counseling, clinical coordination, and advocacy to individuals, families and groups, and specializes in co-occurring disorders for both adults and adolescents.