Single Mothers And Addiction: An Overview
Because of evolving social norms and other factors, single mothers are becoming more common and more globally accepted. In fact, the number of single parent homes has doubled in the US within 50 years. Single mothers have unique challenges that accompany their lifestyle, as well as unique financial, emotional and mental conditions that can impact them. Aside from the challenges of being the sole provider for their children and themselves, single mothers can endure the stress of dating as a single parent. In addition, they can have feelings of loneliness from their single parent status, from divorce or separation, or from a lack of family support.
While these challenges can occur with both single mothers and fathers, single mothers struggle more financially and with their mental health. In response, single mothers can become anxious or depressed. In response, they may become tempted to abuse harmful chemicals, creating a cycle of addiction that can impact them and their children. Children from single parent homes who saw their mother abusing drugs can develop substance use disorders or poor mental and emotional health, according to a SAMHSA study. Single mothers with addiction can also create codependent relationships with children who can feel responsible for caretaking a neglectful parent with a substance use disorder (SUD).
Addiction Risk Factors For Single Mothers: Finances & Job Insecurity
The U.S. Census Bureau notes out of the 13.6 million single parent families with children under 18 years of age, 80% are “headed by single mothers.” Within these findings, roughly a third of single mothers lived in poverty; however, these varied according to racial background. The Census noted 35% of Black single mother families, 34% of Hispanic single mother families, 26% of White single mother families, and 22% of Asian single mother families endured poverty. Challenges like poverty, loneliness, and lack of family support can breed emotional and mental distress. These can become a risk factor for both substance abuse and mental health disorders (co-occurring disorders).
Addiction Risk Factors For Single Mothers: Mental And Emotional Challenges
Single mothers suffer more mental distress when compared to the general population and their male counterparts. A Medical Xpress article noted, “16% of mothers and 9% of single fathers suffered psychological distress.” Single mothers can face stressors from past relationships, declining mental wellbeing, and financial instability that can make life difficult. Single mothers have specific risk factors for mood disorders, stress, and feelings of judgement that can be hurtful. Being a single mother can be challenging, with the pressure to do it all, or struggling while making ends meet. Some may develop poor coping skills in response. Furthermore, some single mothers can lack social support due to their parental status, and face peer judgement. If mothers are working several jobs, they can find it hard to live a stress-free life while meeting daily demands of parenthood.
Other mental health challenges for single mothers can arise from depression and anxiety. Additional factors for stress that can be a risk factor for single mother drug abuse can be their relationship history with the child’s family. For example, if a single mother has survived an abusive relationship, she can carry wounds lending itself to poor mental health and drug abuse. Additionally, if a single mother co-parents with a spouse she has a troubled relationship with, this can create extra anxiety and stress.
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Signs Of Addiction In Single Mothers
Single mothers may or may not show signs of addiction. Much of this will depend on whether or not the addiction hides behind being high-functioning, and the amount and/or the frequency of the substance abused. In contrast, single mothers may show the following signs of an addiction that includes, but is not limited to:
- Bloodshot eyes
- Using drugs as an escape
- Rapid weight loss
- Moodiness (high or low moods)
- Sniffling or a runny nose
- Noticeable nervousness
- Slurred speech or poor coordination
- Needle tracks in arms
- Changes in financial habits (to support drugs)
- Changes in habits or attitude
- Disheveled appearance
- Spending more time drinking or using drugs
- Changes in appearance (poor dental health, picking skin, skin lesions)
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a mother who is pregnant and abusing drugs may risk a child with birth defects such as:
- Low birth weight
- Physical birth defects (smaller head)
- Sudden infant death syndrome
- Premature birth defects
Some of these conditions may be short-term, and others long-term depending on the substance and the frequency of exposure.
Treatment For Single Mothers
Fortunately single mothers have specific treatment options to consider. Some facilities provide substance abuse treatment focusing on gender-specific concerns. Gender-specific facilities for single mothers would allow women to find treatment among like-minded peer groups who can relate. Benefits of gender-based treatment for single mothers can include treatments with their needs in mind. For example, some facilities can include family-based treatment including visitation, encouraging mother and child bonds to continue. Single mothers can choose from a variety of treatment programs by contacting a treatment provider for more information.
Featured Centers Offering Treatment For Women
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Ashish Bhatt, MD, MRO
Doctor of Addiction Medicine
Learn about Dr. Ashish Bhatt
Dr. Bhatt has been Addiction Center's Medical Content Director for more than three years, providing his expertise to ensure quality and accuracy.
Doctor of Addiction Medicine
Expert in adult and child psychiatry
Over 20 years of professional experience