Addicted Moms: Helping Women with Children Who Want Treatment
It is safe to say that nearly everyone in America is affected by addiction in some way. You may not know your friend or co-worker is struggling, or maybe someone in their life is struggling, but addiction is more prevalent than ever. So it is no surprise that some of those people just might happen to be mothers. Women face some very unique challenges when it comes to addiction, especially addicted moms.
19,447 women died in 2015 due to drug overdose according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Out of all those women, there were thousands of mothers.
According to the NIDA, approximately 25% of American children under 18-years-old grow up in households where they are exposed to family substance abuse or dependence. Data from late 2017 shows that women age 40-59 actually had the highest death rates from opioids among women. Just looking through the data and connecting the dots, it becomes easier to imagine that there are a lot of addicted moms in our world today.
Addicted moms deserve support and compassion, and their children deserve the opportunity to have their mothers in their lives. So how do we help addicted moms who want treatment?
Understanding the Challenges for Addicted Moms
Approximately 70% of women entering substance use disorder treatment services have children. In light of that fact, there need to be effective and comprehensive treatment options for addicted moms. Meanwhile, we should acknowledge the unique challenges these mothers face. Two of the most difficult adversities mothers with addiction face include:
Separation from Family
Addicted moms may feel torn between getting the treatment they need and caring for children. Many women who are mothers, or women in caregiving roles, often don’t complete treatment because they are unable to manage their caregiving responsibilities and participate in treatment programs at the same time. Even worse, some don’t even seek treatment for the same reasons. Sometimes, if a mother or caregiver can do both, the compounded responsibilities and pressures can feel overwhelming. Sadly, many addicted moms may also fear that their children will be removed from their custody. In order to help addicted moms, more treatment programs need to provide support to address this barrier.
Having a treatment model that understands the importance of family in the recovery process is extremely important. This kind of program will also educate individuals and their loved ones about the role of the family in the treatment process. In addition to clinical treatment, a comprehensive family program includes opportunities for family-based clinical and community support services that address many factors for addicted moms and their families.
Women often place a high value on their families and personal relationships. Therefore, treatment for addicted moms should focus on promoting and supporting healthy relationships, particularly between parents and their children. A family program should also work to help loved ones better understand the adversities that a mother with substance use disorder faces, and how they can best support each other during the recovery process.
While the number of facilities treating pregnant women has grown, experts and addiction recovery advocates say there are not enough services for pregnant women to meet the demand in the depths of an opioid epidemic. One primary concern for many treatment programs is medications that they can offer to help treat pregnant women. This is due to the concern of how these drugs may affect an unborn fetus.
Another barrier of addiction treatment for pregnant women is that some laws require that babies going through withdrawal be taken from their mother’s care. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research and advocacy organization, 24 states and the District of Columbia consider drug use during pregnancy to be child abuse under civil child-welfare statutes. Many argue that these kinds of attempts at ‘deterrent’ laws actually just keep addicted moms from getting the help they need.
While it is understandable to want to avoid children being born addicted, or to have babies suffering withdrawal symptoms, many believe that pregnant mothers not having the resources available to get help without fear of losing their child is actually far more dangerous. Not only does it keep the mother from getting help, but it takes the same medical support away from the child. Advocates say that supporting pregnant women with addiction and having doctors that will treat them through that process can make all the difference for the health of both the addicted mom and the child.
Addressing the Unique Needs of Women with Addictions
When we consider the unique difficulties addicted moms face, it is heartbreaking to know that there are such limited resources for them. According to the 2014 National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:
- Only 44% of treatment programs provided special programs or groups for adult women
- Only 20% offered programs or groups for pregnant or postpartum women
Data from over 50,000 participants in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that among prescription opioid users:
- 11% of men reported to utilizing treatment options in their lifetime
- 5% of men utilized treatment options in the last year
That is significantly higher rates of treatment utilization than for women.
- Only 6% of women reported to utilizing treatment options in their lifetime
- Only 3% of women utilized treatment options in the last year
While there is a limit to the understanding of that disparity, research suggests a lack of services for women may play a big role in the lack of more women from getting help. When women do receive substance use disorder treatment, they typically do so with problems that are generally more severe than for men, including issues that are:
Experts believe this demonstrates a glaring need for gender-specific treatment approaches.
Getting Gender Specific
To increase the effectiveness of treatment for addicted moms, services need to be both comprehensive and woman-focused. Gender-specific treatment options can make all the difference with mothers who are facing such unique adversities. SAMHSA has offered guidance about the types of services that should be part of addiction treatment for women, such as:
- Special groups to address specific problems of pregnant women
- Education and discussion groups on parenting and childcare
- Available treatments for women addicted to opioids, including pharmacotherapies
- Special services for children and other family members
- Case management and assistance in locating safe, affordable housing
- Couples counseling
Gender-specific treatment is extremely beneficial for addicted moms for many reasons. For example, women have a greater tendency to develop an addiction as a means of coping with trauma and emotional pain. Women also face a range of social and cultural pressures and issues that men often do not experience. With a gender-specific treatment program, women may feel safer and more supported to explore and heal the more intimate issues.
Accounts of physical, sexual and emotional trauma are more common among women, and gender-specific treatment programs should offer addicted moms with resources designed to help address trauma.
Many addicted moms also struggle with co-occurring mental health disorders, such as:
These co-occurring disorders can inhibit an individual’s ability to fully recover from their addiction if left unaddressed. If treatment ignores a co-occurring condition, it can lead to self-medicating and relapse. A gender-specific treatment program should also offer dual diagnosis treatment, to ensure that both conditions are effectively treated at the same time.
Gender-specific treatment also allows addicted moms to recover within a supportive community of other women who may share similar experiences.