The Relationship Between Alcohol And Postpartum Depression

As is the case with many mental conditions, alcohol and postpartum depression are closely linked. Until recently, tragically little attention was paid to this relationship. This is especially true because many mothers are embarrassed or ashamed to admit that they are suffering from either alcohol abuse or postpartum depression. Luckily, this is beginning to change as there is now greater awareness and understanding of these conditions and greater social acceptance that they are not the sufferer’s “fault.”

What Is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a disorder accompanied by fatigue, anxiety, and depression or sadness which typically occurs within a year after a woman gives birth. Postpartum depression includes a variety of symptoms and plagues 121 million women globally every year. At some point in their lives, 13% of women have a mental disorder linked to postnatal depression, and 10-15% of American women are impacted by postpartum depression specifically. The number of new mothers who experience postpartum depression outnumber women suffering other health concerns like breast cancer, cervical cancer, and strokes.

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Although there is much discussion surrounding the rate of postpartum depression among new mothers, the condition is marked by specific symptoms which affect her ability to nurture herself and her family and tend to important life commitments. The mother experiences a host of intense emotions like joy, along with anxiety because a change of hormones and new stressors of motherhood. While postpartum depression is expected to be a brief experience, some women suffer from the condition for weeks or months.

Alcohol And Postpartum Depression Risk Factors

Mothers with postpartum depression may turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate their symptoms. Individuals with mental and emotional disorders such as postpartum depression are more likely to consume alcohol to encourage feelings of relief from anxiety and sadness. While only 4.1% of women were binge drinkers while pregnant, nearly 15% of mothers became binge drinkers while suffering postpartum depression. Sadly, studies suggest that 40% of mothers with postpartum depression are undiagnosed.

The focus on physical health for the mother and baby distracts from considering the mother’s emotional wellbeing. Many do not consider the stressors of motherhood and their risk for depression. 10-13% of American mothers become depressed within a year of childbirth as they experience PPD, and may use alcohol in an attempt to soothe:

  • Insomnia
  • Stress/Anxiety
  • Low energy levels
  • Irritability
  • Nervousness

Younger mothers such as teens, women who have a past history of depression, women who lack support in parenthood, lower-income mothers, and women who have a history of alcohol abuse have a higher risk of postpartum depression. These are also those mothers who are more likely to be binge drinkers or abuse alcohol.

Binge drinking and alcohol abuse have different characteristics, though both are destructive to the mother and her wellbeing. Binge drinking for women in general is consuming over 4 or more alcoholic beverages in 2 hours or less. Heavy drinking is defined as consuming more drinks per timeframe compared to binge drinking. Alcohol abuse is the psychological dependency on alcohol to eliminate one’s emotional, spiritual, or mental dissatisfaction.

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Symptoms Of Postpartum Depression

Mothers who feel they may have PPD or postpartum anxiety would have to be diagnosed by a medical health professional, as symptoms of PPD can mimic other conditions. Common signs of postpartum depression include, but are not limited to:

  • Feelings of sadness
  • Appetite loss or gain
  • Feelings of anger
  • Feelings of anxiety
  • Feelings of restlessness
  • Complications with emotional bonds
  • Exhaustion/Fatigue
  • Hopelessness
  • Feeling withdrawn
  • Feeling numb
  • Insomnia
  • Confusion
  • Panic attacks

Mothers do not have to experience all of the above symptoms to have PPD.

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Risk Of Postpartum Alcoholism

Women battling postpartum depression who drink to cope have a high risk of exposing their children to alcohol. As a mother drinks, alcohol gets into her bloodstream, which can transfer to the baby during breastfeeding. Depending on the amount of alcohol the mother consumes, her alcohol consumption can have lasting effects on the baby such as:

  • Depression in later years
  • Behavioral problems
  • An increased risk of alcohol abuse

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Getting help for addiction to alcohol and postpartum depression may seem difficult. Motherhood brings in a variety of challenges which could impact both the mother and her family. Contact a treatment provider today to start exploring available treatment options.

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