Magazine article USA TODAY

Mother's Little Helpers

Magazine article USA TODAY

Mother's Little Helpers

Article excerpt

FOLLOWING THE recent surge in media attention on moms and substance abuse, questions are being raised as to the reasons behind this alarming phenomenon--and how to prevent similar incidents from occurring. Starting news stories of mothers abusing drugs or alcohol while caring for children and driving them to activities, or neglecting them while under the influence are becoming more and more frequent. Much of this media attention has put the spotlight on suburban moms and celebrities whose drug and alcohol use have made headline news.

Diane Schuler, a suburban mom from New York. was driving on the wrong side of the road with her children and three nieces while under the influence of alcohol and marijuana, resulting in a head-on collision that killed seven people in July 2009. Her youngest son was the only survivor.

Deborah Bradley, the Kansas City mother of a missing 10-month-old baby, admitted that she was drunk--having polished off a box of wine-on the October night of her daughter's disappearance. Authorities note that on the evening in question, Bradley indicates she did not hear the baby monitor or dog barking, which would have alerted her to a possible intruder in her home.

Other prominent examples in the media include pop star Britney Spears, the mother of two young children, involved in a custody battle in pall because of her alleged prescription drug and alcohol abuse. Actress Melissa Gilbert includes in her memoir that she was drinking up to three bottles of wine a night, until her eight-year-old son begged her to stop. These and many more tragic stories are being reported at an alarming rate.

American life has become fully infiltrated by addiction, as an increasing number of women-especially moms--turn to alcohol, pills, and other substances for stress relief. According to studies, the number of women aged 30-44 years abusing alcohol has doubled over the last 10 years. Specialists are looking into the physical and psychological factors affecting these women, and what this means for more American moms facing similar issues. In my professional experience, physical and psychological "overload" seems to be what most are enduring. Mothers' overly busy schedules sometimes result in them turning to stimulants to keep them going throughout the day. Stimulants also are being used to address the pressures of "keeping their figures," by artificially curbing appetites--at great cost to women's nervous systems and overall health.

On an emotional level, moms often build internal resentment for putting their own activities aside, yet also experience feelings of guilt when they do not sacrifice their own needs for those of their family. Other times, lack of adult company leaves some mothers feeling lonely and depressed. All of these stressors lead to the temptation to use substances to numb these ill feelings. There are many expectations on mothers to address everyone's needs, including their kids, husband, community, and work. Often they do not have any time or energy for themselves.

Another aspect specifically affecting women is the chemical imbalances that occur within their bodies during substance abuse, which often are magnified by the female's natural hormonal fluctuations.

One treatment is to measure neurotransmitter levels, which have a profound effect on how a woman feels, and thus play a critical role in influencing how she behaves. Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers that allow nerves to talk to each other. They are necessary for the body's organs, muscles, and brain to function effectively.

Estrogen and progesterone levels plummet when a woman is premenstrual, post-partum, or approaching menopause, which decreases transmission of the calming, or inhibitory, chemical messages--and removes a mom's natural buffers to stress. This may be another trigger for her to reach for alcohol or drugs to self-medicate.

Inside the body, drugs and alcohol resemble our natural neurotransmitters (NTs), and they trigger the body to release more NTs artificially. …

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