Postpartum Depression and Alcohol Use Disorder

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postpartum depression and alcohol

Postpartum depression and alcohol use disorder is a common dual diagnosis. Women who struggle with depression following the birth of a child may turn to alcohol to self-medicate. Continue reading to learn more about postpartum disorder and how it can lead to alcohol abuse.

What is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression, sometimes called the “baby blues,” afflicts one out of every seven new mothers. This occurs when feelings of sadness, despair, and severe fatigue fail to resolve during the early weeks after having a baby.

This serious medical condition can be brought on by the dramatic change in the female hormones, estrogen, and progesterone. New mothers may suffer from feelings of being totally overwhelmed. This, combined with a lack of quality sleep, can lead to anxiety, self-doubt, and depression.

The symptoms of postpartum disorder may include:

  • Severe mood swings.
  • Cannot concentrate.
  • Angry outbursts.
  • Feeling hopeless.
  • Thoughts of harming the baby.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty bonding with the baby.
  • Severe fatigue
  • Feeling worthless and incompetent.
  • Feelings of sadness and despair.
  • Losing interest in daily activities.
  • Crying often.
  • Avoiding friends and family.
  • Change in appetite.
  • Severe anxiety and panic attacks.
  • Thoughts of suicide.

The symptoms may appear soon after the birth of the baby or could appear months later. Postpartum depression can be a result of the added stresses of caring for a child. Other causes include financial strain, lack of support, history of depression, exhaustion, sleep deprivation, and falling hormone levels. In most cases, postpartum disorder can last for several weeks to months if not treated.

Self-Medicating Depression with Alcohol

There is no denying the calming effect a glass of wine can have on frayed nerves. Women who are dealing with postpartum depression may turn to the relaxing effects of alcohol to offer some relief.

Not all women who use alcohol to mitigate postpartum depression will develop an alcohol use disorder (AUD), but some may. With regular consumption of alcohol, there is a risk of increased tolerance. This is the result of the brain making an accommodation for the effects of alcohol on dopamine production.

When tolerance increases, it prompts the woman to drink a little more in order to feel the same calming effects. Over time, the brain’s reward system locks in the connection of drinking with the need to drink, becoming a compulsion.

Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder

When AUD develops, the woman can become dependent on alcohol, addicted to it, or both. Dependence is the body telling you that it needs the alcohol in the system to avoid feeling sick. This cluster of unpleasant symptoms is known as withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol addiction is more of a psychological effect of the substance use disorder. The woman believes she must drink in order to function. Addiction usually coexists with dependence, although you can be alcohol dependent and not addicted.

Signs of an AUD include:

  • You look forward to when you can drink again.
  • You try to quit drinking but cannot.
  • You have blackouts.
  • You lie to people about how much you drink.
  • You withdraw from friends and family so you can drink alone.
  • You lose interest in the activities you once enjoyed.
  • You drink more and more alcohol as tolerance increases.
  • You have mood swings.
  • You lose interest in personal appearance and hygiene.
  • You drink in response to stress or sadness, such as postpartum depression.
  • You are irritable.
  • You have trouble concentrating.
  • You have sleep problems.
  • You get drunk several days in a row.
  • You keep on drinking, even though it is causing hardship and problems.
  • You have alcohol cravings.
  • You have withdrawal symptoms when you quit drinking.

Unique Barriers to Treatment for Mothers

Women who are mothers have a harder time breaking free in order to get help. First, there is the stigma involved. A woman with postpartum depression and an emerging AUD may worry that her child might be taken from her. Also, she may have other children who need her at home, so she is less likely to go to rehab.

Another barrier to treatment is the cost of rehab, which can be more than the family budget can absorb. There are solutions for this, though. Most health plans cover at least a portion of the costs for mental health and addiction services. Also, many rehabs offer scholarship funds or payment plans.

Treatment for Dual Diagnosis

For a woman with both postpartum depression and an alcohol use disorder, there is a special type of rehab required. These are called dual diagnosis programs.

A dual diagnosis program provides evidence-based protocols for helping someone work through both disorders at the same time. To treat only one of these disorders will not work, as both must be addressed. Treatment involves:

  • Detox. During detox and withdrawal, the team closely monitors the symptoms and provides meds to help reduce discomfort.
  • Psychotherapy. CBT and DBT are therapies that help you make positive changes in thought and behavior patterns. This can help to break the addiction cycle. Also, the depression will also be treated through therapy.
  • Group therapy. Group sessions provide peer support while in rehab.
  • Education. Classes help you learn about how alcohol affects the brain and also how to avoid a relapse. Coping skills for the postpartum depression are also taught.
  • Holistic therapy. Learning how to relax through yoga, meditation, and other holistic actions that help reduce stress are tools you can use in recovery.
  • 12-step program. A.A. meetings are often integrated into the rehab program.

Self-Care for New Mothers

Even once you have finished the dual diagnosis program, you will need to continue with self-care actions. Enroll in a yoga class, download some meditation apps, and carve out some alone time for yourself.

Capo by the Sea Offers Luxury Treatment for Dual Diagnosis

Capo by the Sea is a premier addiction recovery center that offers treatment for both alcohol use disorder and depression. If you or a loved one is struggling with postpartum depression and alcohol use disorder, please reach out to our team today at (888) 529-2114.