There is a high correlation between depression and substance abuse. Because of this, new mothers with postpartum depression have a higher risk for abusing substances.
Research indicates that women who experience depressive symptoms during their postpartum phase are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.
Inversely, women who have a history of substance abuse are also more likely to experience depressive symptoms during their postpartum phase.
Find out more about co-occurring depression and substance abuse
What Is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum means after childbirth. The body and mind go through many changes during and after pregnancy. During this time, some women may feel sad or empty.
If these feelings of sadness and emptiness last more than two weeks, it is considered postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression (PPD) is a severe mental illness involving behavioral and physical health symptoms.
What Causes PPD?
Hormonal changes can trigger PPD symptoms. When women become pregnant, levels of estrogen and progesterone are the highest they will ever be.
Within the first 24 hours after childbirth, hormone levels may lead to depression.
This is similar to hormone changes experienced before menstruation but involves more extreme swings in hormone levels. Thyroid hormone levels can also drop after birth.
The thyroid is a small gland in the neck that regulates how the body uses and stores energy from food. Low thyroid levels can cause symptoms of depression.
Other factors that may contribute to PPD symptoms include feelings of:
- tiredness after labor and delivery
- exhaustion from lack of sleep
- being overwhelmed with a new baby
- doubts about their ability to mother
- an unrealistic need to be a perfect mom
- grief about the loss of who they were before having the baby
- feeling less attractive
- lack of free time
These feelings are common among new mothers. But PPD is a serious condition and can be treated. Postpartum depression is not a regular or expected part of being a new mom.
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What’s The Difference Between Baby Blues And PPD?
Because the symptoms of postpartum depression are so similar to baby blues, it is easy to confuse the two, however, they are not the same.
Baby blues usually only last three to five days after giving birth. Women who experience baby blues are also more likely to experience postpartum depression.
Generally, postpartum depression begins within a month after childbirth and can continue for up to a year after birth. The symptoms of postpartum depression last longer and are more severe.
Signs And Symptoms Of Postpartum Depression
There are many indications someone is experiencing PPD, including:
- crying a lot more than usual
- having thoughts of hurting the baby
- having thoughts of hurting yourself
- lack of interest in the baby
- not feeling connected to the baby
- feeling like your baby is someone else’s
- lack of energy and motivation
- eating too little or too much
- sleeping too much or too little
- trouble focusing or making decisions
- feeling worthless, guilty, or like a bad mother
- losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- withdrawing from friends and family
- aches and pains
- stomach problems that won’t go away
It’s also possible that some women won’t talk about their symptoms to anyone.
New mothers often feel ashamed and embarrassed, or guilty about feeling depressed when society tells them they should be happy.
Anyone can become depressed during and after pregnancy. It doesn’t mean they are bad mothers.
Signs Of Substance Use Disorder
There are a lot of possible indications that someone may be abusing drugs or alcohol.
Here are some possible signs of substance abuse in women who recently had a baby:
- feeling guilty about the amount of alcohol they consume
- taking medications without a medical reason
- using drugs or drinking alcohol is causing problems at home
- family and friends complain about their drug and alcohol use
- getting into fights or breaking the law as a result of substance abuse
- continuing to take drugs and drink even though they know it’s harmful
If any of these situations apply to you or your loved one, it could suggest a possible problem. Talking to a mental health professional as soon as possible is the best course of action.
Risk Factors For Co-Occurring Postpartum Depression And Addiction
Because having depressive symptoms increases the chances of substance abuse, it is also highly likely for new moms to experience a substance use disorder (SUD).
Here are some shared risk factors for postpartum and addiction:
- personal history of depression or bipolar disorder
- family history of depression of bipolar disorder
- lack of support from friends and family
- experienced depression during pregnancy
- had problems with a previous pregnancy or birth
- relationship and money issues
- being younger than 20 years old
- using illegal drugs, alcohol, or have some problem with drugs
- having a baby with special needs
- trouble breastfeeding
- an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy
Experiencing one or more of the above can put someone at an increased risk for co-occurring disorders.
What Are The Chances Of Experiencing Postpartum Depression And Addiction?
Depression after giving birth is common. One in nine new mothers is diagnosed with PPD.
Research shows that rates of postpartum alcohol and drug use were lower than use among pregnant women.
Studies also indicate that single women experiencing unemployment, and who smoke cigarettes, were more likely to develop a substance use disorder after giving birth.
Consider the following statistics:
- Roughly 15 percent of postpartum women ages 15 to 44 reported binge alcohol use.
- A little more than eight percent of postpartum women reported using illicit or nonmedical drugs in the past month.
- About four percent of pregnant women ages 15 to 44 reported drinking or using drugs.
These show us that it is more likely for women to misuse substances after birth than during pregnancy, which can increase the chances of developing a substance use disorder.
The Most Effective Treatment For Co-Occurring Disorders
The most effective treatment for co-occurring postpartum depression and addiction is dual diagnosis treatment.
Dual diagnosis treatments work best because they take into account both conditions during treatment.
Common types of treatment used during dual diagnosis programs include:
- behavioral health therapy: during these sessions women learn strategies to change how depression makes them think, feel, and act.
- medication: there are many different types of medications for postpartum depression and addiction. Depending on the substance of abuse and the severity of the depressive symptoms, these medications will vary case by case.
- other holistic therapies: this can include activities such as art therapy, yoga, or other recreational therapies.
When these treatments are combined, they can be very powerful.
Exploring Treatment Options For Addiction And Postpartum Depression
Having depression can affect your baby. Getting treatment can help you and your baby. Asking for help doesn’t make you a bad mom. In fact, asking for help is a sign of strength.
Call our treatment helpline for more information on how to enroll in treatment for co-occurring disorders today. We are here to help.
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) — Postpartum Substance Use and Depressive Symptoms: A Review
- National Institute on Drug Abuse — Substance Use in Women DrugFacts
- Office on Women’s Health (OASH) — Postpartum depression
- Office on Women’s Health (OASH) — Alcohol use disorder, substance use disorder, and addiction