One of the most fundamental components of a healthy childhood is a child’s attachment to their parents. But children whose moms struggle with prescription drug addiction get a less than idyllic start. They learn that Mommy’s too sick to drive or too tired to play. Or Mommy goes through long periods when she’s “just not herself.”
Growing up in a home where fighting and instability are the norm can be devastating for children. Studies show that children of addicts are more likely to be neglected, abused or placed in foster care. The children are also at high risk of addiction later in life, and are more often exposed to dangers like riding in the car with a parent who is driving under the influence.
The Secret Life of Super Mom
Although it can be hard to imagine being both a loving mother and a drug addict, the woman who seems to have it all may be in the fight of her life. She may care deeply about her job, her marriage and especially her kids, but she can’t get through the day without a little help from the pharmacist.
Prescription drugs have been marketed to moms as far back as the 1700s, but have never been used in such epidemic proportions as they are today. Here are some of the most popular drugs of choice among stressed out moms:
Since the 1960s, the “little yellow pill” (anti-anxiety drug Valium) has been popular among moms, even rising to pop-culture fame courtesy of the Rolling Stones’ song “Mother’s Little Helper.” The drug used to be marketed as a way for worry-ridden moms to unwind, which may explain its status as the most widely prescribed drug for the following decade. Today, moms continue to rely on anti-anxiety medications for relief. In the past 10 years, hospitals and treatment centers have seen a 300 percent increase in benzodiazepine-related admissions.
In a 2007 study by the National Sleep Foundation, nearly three in 10 American women admitted to using a sleep aid at least a few nights a week. Millions of women wake up in the middle of the night with an endless to-do list running through their minds. Some even get up at ungodly hours to tackle some of their goals or get a few moments of peace. The result is persistent sleep deprivation, which puts women at risk of dependence on prescription sleep aids.
When coffee just doesn’t cut it, some moms start using their child’s ADHD medications, such as Adderall and Ritalin, to boost their mood, focus and productivity. In the past decade, the number of prescriptions written for Adderall has surged among women over 26 (from about 800,000 in 2002 to 5.4 million in 2010). These medications are highly addictive and can have serious side effects including aggression, paranoia and seizures.
In the past decade, there has been a 400 percent increase in the number of Americans treated for prescription painkiller abuse. Among the most popular prescription narcotics are OxyContin, Vicodin, Norco, Percocet, Percodan and Lortab. Moms are not immune to this trend. Recent studies show that the number of newborns in opiate withdrawal has tripled in the past decade. Without professional help, addicted moms are not likely to stop abusing opiates as their children grow.
What’s Happening to Mom?
Prescription drug abuse is not a new phenomenon among hard-working, overextended moms, but it is a growing problem. Why? For one, many women feel inordinate pressure to be Super Mom. Given their dual roles as breadwinner and primary caregiver, some women are literally killing themselves to do it all, often with little family or community support.
The way we view prescription drugs themselves also contributes to the problem. Prescription medications are readily available and can be legitimately prescribed by a physician. As such, there is a widespread misconception that prescription drugs are safer than illicit drugs. There is also less stigma attachedto prescription drug abuse as a result of a growing acceptance in American culture of popping pills for every ailment. People expect to walk into their doctor’s office and come out with a prescription that quickly solves their problem with minimal effort.
What many people fail to realize is that prescription drugs are often powerfully addictive and contain many of the same active ingredients as harder drugs like heroin or cocaine. Prolonged use leads to tolerance and, when stopped abruptly, harsh withdrawal symptoms including sweating, vomiting and violent shaking.
To combat these symptoms, many people continue the cycle of abuse and addiction. People who never could’ve imagined breaking the law may find themselves visiting multiple doctors and pharmacies for prescriptions, buying drugs from online pharmacies, or stealing pills from family or friends.
Most moms don’t set out to become drug addicts. Addiction is something that happens in the course of trying to cope with an unmanageably stressful life. With so many people depending on them, including their employers, spouses and children, moms are often reluctant to take the time they need to get help. Although you never know what it’ll take to help mom realize she has a problem, once her mind clears enough to see that she may break apart her family or lose her kids, she’s likely to be highly motivated to get well.