For many, Mother’s Day is all about flowers, hand-drawn cards and sparkly jewelry from the kids and Dad. Television commercials focus on the beautiful imperfections of being Mom, and advertisements are filled with gift ideas and brunch menus. But not everyone feels this tender joy when Mother’s Day comes around. For some people, Mother’s Day is a reminder of absence and loss. While we do take the time to acknowledge those that we have lost, little attention is given to the families struggling with addiction.
No one wants to imagine a young mom being a drug addict. Society has an image for what a mom should be like: loving, kind and gentle. This profile is brought more to life during Mother’s Day. Kids are given homework assignments to write what they love most about their moms. Magazines and newspapers profile moms who have juggled work, volunteer opportunities or other heroic acts. Kids come home with handmade cards with sweet poems detailing what they appreciate most.
Unfortunately, some children don’t have mothers that fit this image. According to a 2003 study, researchers estimate that as many as 15 percent of American women 15 to 44 years old abuse alcohol or drugs. Based on research collected during this study, 10 percent of children have at least one parent who is dependent on alcohol or drugs, and 6 percent have at least one parent in need of treatment for these dependencies. This data suggests that millions of children are living in environments where a maternal addiction is present.
We know from several studies that children of substance abusing parents are at a higher risk for biological, developmental and behavioral problems, including substance abuse problems of their own. Yet, we still lack concrete information regarding the postnatal environment and how it negatively affects a child’s development. This is due, in part, to the fact that parents and their children hide abuse problems for fear of breaking up their families. Chances are, you know a parent with a drug or alcohol addiction, you may just not know it.
The number of women ages 30 to 44 who report using alcohol has doubled in the last decade, while prescription drug abuse has risen by 400 percent. Many of these women are moms – they drive minivans, have good jobs, are raising families and spend their weekends scheduling play dates and being chauffeurs. Yet they hold a dark secret.
Here are a few more statistics from the federal study:
- Women are 55 percent more likely to be prescribed anti-anxiety medication than men
- 5.3 million women in the US drink in ways that threatens their health, safety and well-being
- 4.6 million women in the US are alcoholics
- 20 million people in the US abuse drugs
- Both drug and alcohol abuse is on the rise for US mothers
- Women who are under an immense amount of pressure are more at risk for abusing drugs or alcohol
- Women are more likely to hide addictions than men
- Women are less likely to seek treatment for fear of losing their children
Traditionally, women have had less access to alcohol than men, but women have been more heavily medicated. Back in the 1700s, doctors prescribed a dose of opium every morning to calm homemakers. In the 1920s, it was Coca-Cola laced with cocaine that was marketed as an afternoon pick-me-up for tired moms. Then in the 1960s, it was Valium that surfaced as a way to help nervous moms unwind. In fact, the Rolling Stones sang about “mother’s little helper,” and Valium stood as the most widely prescribed drug in the nation from 1969 to 1982.
According to this data, moms using drugs to help them get through their days isn’t exactly a new pattern of behavior. This is a real problem, and it affects many people in our own neighborhoods and communities. The trouble is that now women have many prescriptions available to them, and our growing tolerance of anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications, ADHD medications and painkillers puts more in the hands of stressed out and overburdened mothers.
If you know a mother who is struggling with an addiction, give them the best gift possible this year: recovery. And, if you know a mother who is celebrating months or years of sobriety, don’t forget to praise her for her efforts. We often place too much emphasis on the perfect mother figure during Mother’s Day, when really, we need to be remembering ALL moms.