Most people don’t imagine that a pregnant woman would end up in a rehabilitative treatment center or sober living home. However, it happens frequently, particularly when the patterns of addiction are passed down from mother to child generation after generation. When a pregnant woman is in recovery, the road to sober living becomes a journey for both mother and child. In these cases, then, treatment must address various important needs that might not otherwise be a part of the recovery process.
Although it may not sound like it’s a common occurrence, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported in 2003 that 4.3% of pregnant women aged 15 to 44 used illicit drugs during the past month, 4.1% reported binge alcohol use, and 18% reported smoking cigarettes. Also, statistics indicate that young women are more prone to use illicit drugs while pregnant than older women. For example, pregnant women aged 15 to 25 were more likely to use illicit drugs and smoke cigarettes during the past month than pregnant women aged 26 to 44.
When a pregnant woman enters treatment there are some important factors to consider. For instance, obviously pregnant women are going to experience physical symptoms such as swollen ankles, nausea, fatigue, and pain that might get in the way of their treatment program. Facilities are often flexible by having group therapy in the women’s room, for example, or allowing them to miss a lecture and then bringing her up to date later. Other facilities might allow a woman to lie down during a group therapy session or arrange for individual counseling to take place in her own room where she can also lie down.
Furthermore, some institutions might find that pregnant women need more time in the program, particularly if there are psychological issues. “It’s not unusual,” said Priscilla Wilson, Clinical Services Supervisor at The Phoenix Center, “to keep a resident for more than six months to ensure that all needed services are in place before discharge.” Some of the psychological and emotional issues that pregnant women might face include guilt, remorse, shame, embarrassment, denial, anger, and loneliness. Often, there is also great fear. Some fears include whether or not the child will be born addicted to drugs, whether there will be mental health challenges for the newborn, and whether the child is born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome if the mother was drinking during pregnancy. Other fears include having to face any legal issues, financial concerns, and how to start over, such as becoming employed and finding a home, especially with a newborn child.
One of the benefits for women in recovery, especially if they are in a gender-specific treatment program, is that they can form relationships with other women who likely have similar psychological concerns. In fact, addressing emotional and psychological issues are often the most essential for recovery, whether a woman is pregnant or not. For instance, women often use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate or to help regulate intense or uncomfortable emotions that stem from a distorted and unhealthy sense of self. Some women, particularly those that are sexually active, might have body image distortions, eating disorders, and issues surrounding self-esteem. They might be unconsciously attempting to manage intense feelings, such as powerlessness, that frequently accompany unresolved trauma. A woman might find escape in drinking or drug use from feelings such as shame, anger, resentment, hurt, or unworthiness.
Another significant concern for pregnant women in recovery is her resistance. With the physical discomfort and the emotional intensity, having the energy and commitment to go through treatment can be difficult. Added to this are challenges such as co-dependency, enabling, and powerlessness, which are common among those who are prone to addiction. These are patterns that addicted women might know well from patterns in family relationships. Healing from an addiction is really also healing from dysfunctional relationships which might require a kind of surrender that a woman might not be willing to do when also experiencing the challenges of being pregnant.
The challenges discussed above are those that gender-specific treatment centers must address with pregnant women in recovery. Interestingly, the 12-step model was designed to keep addicts focused on their recovery and avoid engaging in relationships. However, for women, the opposite is true. Developing healthy, supportive, and nourishing relationships is essential. In fact, many rehabilitative centers and sober living homes that that treat pregnant women make sure that those women have a wide network of support. That support network is going to provide the foundation upon which a woman can find sobriety.
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