Addiction: Recognizing and Overcoming Unhealthy Habits

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Addiction—The pressure surrounding motherhood in the 21st Century is extraordinary. Everywhere we turn there’s an expert (yes, including me) telling mothers how to do it “right” and “better.” And while this wealth of information is incredibly valuable, it also sets an impossible standard for mothers. In addition, it exposes mothers to a cancer of destructive coping mechanisms, the most common of which is drug and alcohol abuse.

Although we’ve made great strides in the field of addiction in de-stigmatizing substance abuse, there are still pervasive stereotypes and myths in our society regarding what an alcoholic/addict looks and acts like. There remains the perception that people who abuse substances live substandard lives. In my experience, working as a marriage and family therapist with high functioning and successful families at the Caron Treatment Centers in Manhattan, I’ve found nothing could be further from the truth.

The truth is that addicts are lawyers and doctors, teachers and government officials. Substance abusers exist among people who have money in the bank, well-mannered children in good schools, prestigious addresses and successful careers. And yes, addicts are working and stay-at-home moms.

The reason we don’t think of these people as substance abusers is because their trapping of success enable them to hide it. The pressure for perfection, particularly among moms, can become too much to bear. Without healthy coping mechanisms, many moms become “silent sufferers”. They put up a façade of perfection to mask the anxiety, fear and overwhelming pressures they feel, self-medicating with alcohol.

Although these “high functioning alcoholics” may not drink or use every day, they become psychologically dependent on the substances they abuse – obsessing on their next opportunity to drink or needing to drink in certain settings.

Some of the signs of high functioning alcoholism include:

  1. People who have trouble controlling their intake after they start using or swear off using again.
  2. People who think obsessively about their next drink or using opportunity.
  3. People whose personality changes after they start using.
  4. People who experience “blackouts”, meaning they are not able to fully remember what happened during a using binge.

The lesson here is that moms need to take care of themselves. It’s OK to put yourself first sometimes and it’s absolutely OK to not be perfect.

If you’re a mother who struggles with the pressure of living up to the impossible standard set for moms, please know you are not alone. There is hope. Please also know that if you do resort to drugs and alcohol to relieve the pressure of motherhood – you are not a bad person. But you may have the disease of addiction and it’s important that you seek help for yourself as soon as possible. Alcoholism and drug addiction are 100 percent treatable. While typically high functioning people may be late to the recovery game, their drive and determination enable them to quickly catch up and find lives beyond their wildest dreams in recovery.

What pressures do you experience as a mom in the 21st century? How do you deal with and overcome these pressures in a healthy way?

Read a mom’s story: I Wanted To Be the Perfect Mom

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Dr. Paul Hokemeyer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based at Caron Treatment Center’s New York City Office. In addition to holding a PhD in Psychology, Dr. Hokemeyer holds a doctorate in the law. 

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