Substance abuse can make it more difficult to treat postpartum depression because of the complication of having to treat multiple disorders.

People who experience postpartum depression may turn to substance abuse to self-medicate for their symptoms. Using substances to cope may increase the possibility of developing a substance use disorder.

Drug Abuse as a Hinderance to Postpartum Depression Treatment

Substance abuse can make it more difficult to treat postpartum depression because of the complication of having to treat multiple disorders. Women who develop postpartum depression and use substances may be less likely to seek treatment. If they seek treatment, they may be less likely to be honest with their provider. Some women with newborns fear being reported for child endangerment if they admit to using substances, and this fear is even stronger if the substance use occurred during the pregnancy.

Effects of Substance Abuse on Postpartum Depression Symptoms

A key feature of postpartum depression is the feeling of being an unfit parent. Self-doubt, guilt and shame become consuming, leading to a downward spiral of depression. New moms may feel ashamed that they have turned to substance abuse to cope with their feelings. These feelings may add to self-doubt and worsen the symptoms of postpartum depression.

Postpartum Depression and Alcohol

Women experiencing postpartum depression and alcohol abuse may not have much support. Some people may start to drink to cope with the feelings associated with postpartum depression, especially when postpartum depression and alcoholism symptoms co-occur. Postpartum depression and alcohol abuse may occur more frequently than postpartum depression and use of other drugs because of the general social acceptability of alcohol use.

Postpartum Depression and Marijuana

Women who experience significant anxiety may feel more compelled to use marijuana due to its anecdotal calming effects.  In addition to relieving the anxiety experienced with postpartum depression, the euphoric effect of marijuana may reduce feelings of sadness. The social acceptability of marijuana use is a leading factor in marijuana being the second most common substance used by women with postpartum depression.

Related Topic: How Does Marijuana Affect Antidepressants?

Postpartum Depression and Stimulants

Many women with postpartum depression report feelings of lethargy and fatigue. Stimulants such as crack cocaine, cocaine, illicit amphetamines, methamphetamines and prescription medications such as Adderall and Ritalin may be abused to relieve these symptoms. Women may find that they feel more in control and better able to care for their newborn when feeling energized by stimulant use. However, illicit and prescription stimulants are addictive. People who develop an addiction to these substances can face long-term health complications or overdose.

Statistics on Postpartum Depression and Drug Abuse

There is a connection between postpartum depression, alcohol and other drugs. While far more women use only alcohol during the postpartum period, women with a history of substance use disorders may be at higher risk for co-morbid drug use.

The emotional challenges of postpartum depression and the immediate relief that drugs can provide reinforce the use of substances to escape the feelings of postpartum depression. Data has shown that as many as 14.9 percent of postpartum women have engaged in binge alcohol use. Further, 8.5 percent of postpartum women have participated in illicit drug use.

Drug Abuse as a Cause of Postpartum Depression

Women with a history of substance use before pregnancy may be at a higher risk of developing postpartum depression. This is because they might not have established ways to cope with negative moods and stressful situations. While this does not necessarily cause postpartum depression, it does make women more vulnerable to developing postpartum depression.

Treatment for Postpartum Depression with Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorder

Treatment for postpartum depression with co-occurring substance use disorders should consist of coordinated treatment of both disorders. Some approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychoeducation are beneficial for both disorders. Participating in support groups for one or both disorders may help normalize these struggles while reducing guilt and shame.

If you or a loved one deal with a substance use and mental health disorder, treatment may be necessary. Some rehab centers, like The Recovery Village, offer evidence-based techniques in addiction treatment and cater treatment plans to an individual’s specific needs. To learn more about treatment, contact The Recovery Village today.

a man wearing glasses and a blue shirt.
Editor – Matt Gonzales
Matt Gonzales is an award-winning content writer. He has covered the latest drug trends, analyzed complex medical reports and shared compelling stories of people in recovery from addiction. Read more
a woman with long black hair wearing a dress.
Medically Reviewed By – Denise-Marie Griswold, LCAS
Denise-Marie Griswold is a Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist. She earned her Master's Degree in Substance Abuse and Clinical Counseling from East Carolina University in 2014. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.