From Career to Stay at Home Mom, Risk for Alcohol Abuse?

The transition from high powered career woman to stay at home mom can be unexpectedly daunting for some women.

The excitement and joy of having kids are no doubt one of the most satisfying things we get to experience. However, motherhood also brings many, unexpected challenges. And the shock of going from living the life of a successful career woman to the stresses of everyday child care can create certain conditions that can lead to problematic drinking.

Education, boredom, and lack of fulfillment

It may come as a surprise to many but women who attend university tend to consume more alcohol than those who do not. Studies have shown us that women with degrees are twice as likely to drink on a daily basis. These same women are also more likely to admit they have a drinking problem. There are several proposed reasons for the association between higher education and drinking in women, including:

  • Waiting to start a family
  • Spending more time in social situations
  • Working in male-dominated environments where drinking is encouraged
  • Growing up in middle-class households and seeing parents drink regularly
  • Access to more disposable income that can be used for socializing and drinking
  • Society's greater acceptance of drinking among women

After working in an environment where once the responsibility was balancing million dollar budgets and managing large organizations, the transition to household chores (laundry, cooking, cleaning) can bring up a range of challenges. Issues as simple as boredom and not having an adult around to talk to for the entire day can cause feelings of loneliness and isolation. More complicated struggles such as redefining purpose and identity can also come up. While fulfilling, motherhood is filled with all kinds of stresses.

High stress, isolation, loneliness, and boredom can in some people increase the risk to reach for alcohol. Some have noticed a troubling trend in upper-middle-class mothers who are drinking on a daily basis. Play dates with other mothers can become a social affair where drinking is used to relieve stress and allow the adults to relax and bond with each other while the children play.

Mental health and deeper issues

Some people are more susceptible to problematic drinking than others. For many, a glass of wine is a harmless antidote to a stressful day. A drink or two after dinner can help a couple unwind and relax. But for some, an occasional glass of wine can lead to the need to have a drink every day and then over time progress to problematic drinking and addiction.

In women especially, alcohol and depression can have a bidirectional relationship. Too much alcohol affects the chemistry of the brain and can lead to sadness and anxiety. Depression can also bring on the desire to drink in order to change the emotional state. Over time a vicious cycle can develop, the brief euphoria from alcohol results in sadness and more depression. This significant relationship between women, alcohol, and depression has been shown to have a unique impact on women. A recent study that analyzed possible links between depression and alcohol use in youth. The study found in girls, the relationship between alcohol and depression was bidirectional, with alcohol use predicting depression and depression also predicting alcohol use. the same effect was not found for adolescent boys.

This is not to say that women are especially vulnerable to alcohol abuse in general, however, in the case of depression, we need to be aware of a potential increase in vulnerability. Women, in general, are more likely to become depressed in comparison to men. Additionally, having children (in some women) can increase the risk. Postpartum depression is a concern for mothers who have had prior episodes of depression or have a family history of depression. Combine these risks with staying home alone to raise young children, it is important to take care of the mother's mental health and wellbeing in order to avoid an increased risk of substance abuse or the deterioration of mental health.

Treatment options

Many people think that treatment for alcohol abuse requires attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings or refraining from drinking altogether. Understandably, many mothers may not want to do this, especially if their drinking is only problematic and not addiction. If abstinence is not for you, At Ayre counseling, we offer programs that allow for moderate and controlled drinking. We are all individuals and any treatment approach is tailored to our client's needs.

There are many options for treatment. Women only group meetings can also be highly beneficial. Group meetings offer an opportunity to connect with other women and share experiences and support. Individual counseling is also helpful as drinking does not occur in a vacuum, underlying issues such as past trauma, depression, anxiety or any other issues can be addressed and healed with the support of a therapist.

About the author

Dr. Ayre is a Board Certified Psychiatrist and the executive director of Ayre Counseling. Ayre Counseling is the leading provider of substance abuse treatment and mental health services in Northern New Jersey. If you would like to learn more, click here.

Addiction Alcoholism Parenting Pregnancy, Prenatal, Postpartum Substance Abuse
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