Is There a Correlation Between the Rise in Drunk Driving Moms and Postpartum Depression?

According to the article on CBS2TV titled “Investigation: The Drunk Driving Moms Epidemic,” published on November 10, 2009, across the U.S., the number of women arrested for drunk driving has spiked 29% over the past decade.   I have no doubt that the occurrence rate of depression is going up, what with the number of stressors out there at an all-time high from the economy being at an all-time low, at least in my lifetime.  Moms having to care for children without much help from their husbands, marital problems, financial woes, etc……some or all these stressors can trigger depression.  At the very least, it could trigger a mom to drink for temporary “relief.”   The occasional temporary “relief” can turn into multiple swigs a day and before you know it, you’ve got someone with a drinking problem. 

There is a correlation between depression and use of alcohol and/or drugs as a form of self medication.  Depression increases the tendency to drink heavily because people want to escape their pain, their thoughts of hopelessness.  For individuals who choose to self-medicate, alcoholism or drug addiction often results when these people rely on these substances to escape their moods on a short-term basis without realizing that, over the long term, they only serve to worsen depression and/or anxiety, impair memory, and not to mention, cause addiction.     Drinking may be a natural thing to do for someone who has grown up in a household in which one or both parents drank a lot.  Or it may be because they know it’s one way to feel good, if only temporarily, and then before they realize it, they’re drinking more and more and addiction kicks in.  Some drink to escape reality..again, if only temporarily.   All too many individuals are depressed and don’t realize it.  

When it comes to PPD, if a new mom is experiencing insomnia, blues and/or anxiety and have no clue that what they’re experiencing is PPD, it is natural for her to try to alleviate the symptoms herself, with various sleep remedies–and in some cases even alcohol– before realizing she’s got a real problem that requires professional help.   This, of course, comes from not knowing about the risk for and symptoms of PPD.   There are so many moms who have PPD but fail to get treatment.  These moms keep their experiences to themselves, hide their pain behind fake smiles, and unnecessarily tough it out by self medicating with alcohol or other substances.    But why wouldn’t they get the help that you need to get better and enjoy motherhood sooner?  Why suffer longer than you have to?   There are many possible reasons, though high up at the top of the list would be mistakenly thinking that this is just the way it is with being a first-time mother who is trying to cope but just going through a rough patch (because they don’t know they have a postpartum mood disorder due to lack of education about PPD and their doctors’ misdiagnosis as blues) and/or fear from the stigma associated with mental illnesses and what others would think/say and unwilling to let others know they are having any difficulties transitioning into motherhood.   

When I saw in yesterday’s news another case of a mother driving while intoxicated with her 2 children (one of whom is a 1 year old) and a friend’s child on board, I couldn’t help but think that there is a correlation between the rise in moms driving while intoxicated (DWI) or driving under the influence (DUI) with postpartum depression (PPD).   Georgette Massi from Mahwah, NJ, had been swerving on the road, allegedly driving drunk with a blood-alcohol level of 0.39, just under 5x the legal limit.   She was arrested on DWI charges and for endangering minors.  Her husband believes she has been suffering from PPD.  He is aware that she has been drinking, just not this much.  He indicated she hid very well both the extent of her problems and her drinking.    But now she faces numerous charges,  including endangering the welfare of children, which is a third degree crime in New Jersey.  If found guilty, she could spend up to a year in prison. 

If in fact she was suffering from PPD and her husband knew it, that would probably mean that other loved ones knew it too.  If he knew she had PPD and knew she was drinking, I can’t help but wonder whether he or another loved one encouraged her to seek help from a healthcare professional.   If she’d been drinking, she never should have loaded up her car with her kids and a friend’s kid and driven anywhere with them…not even down the street.   The outcome of this particular situation could have been so much worse.  Thank goodness it wasn’t!

I did a search on the Internet for key words “postpartum depression,” “alcohol,” and “drunk driving.”  Interestingly enough, the only direct reference that connects PPD with a mom driving drunk was this latest Mahwah, NJ case.  There was only the one sentence in the article that indicated that Massi’s husband told CBS2TV he believes his wife’s problem stemmed from postpartum depression.  Personally, I think there should be more people taking a closer look at this in terms of research and statistics.  This is yet another reason why with the Mother’s Act now in place, I hope to see more awareness campaigns–including public service announcements and literature–that helps educate the public on the risk factors for and signs/symptoms of PPD, how to minimize your risk, and how to get help. 

The very least that should come out of the rise in drunk driving moms is the need for family members and friends to be able to recognize when something is not quite right with someone they love–including if  she is drinking more (quantity and frequency) than usual.  Pay particular attention to the mom who just had a baby sometime in the past year, as rates of PPD are as high as one in every eight moms.  Listen to her, talk to her, spend time with her.  Be aware of the risk factors and symptoms of depression and PPD.  REALLY look into her eyes when you ask her how she is doing.  Though you might find it hard to believe, it is pretty easy to hide pain behind smiles.   After all, it isn’t unusual for the loved ones of suicide victims to be completely unaware of the extent of suffering experienced by these individuals.  Examples would include Crystal Raso and the unfortunate rise in teen bullying incidents leading to suicides, including an 11 year old girl named Celina Okwuone.  There are so many more preventable tragedies like these. 

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2 thoughts on “Is There a Correlation Between the Rise in Drunk Driving Moms and Postpartum Depression?

  1. Hi Ivy, I drove while on xanax during treatment for PPD because I was told by psychiatrist that it was safe to take. I was having hot flashes so the psychiatrist I was seeing attributed thses symptoms to anxiety and prescribed xanax 3x per day. She also inisted that I needed to take them, even when I questioned it, and assured me they were safe to take. Despite the fog I was in, I had to get on with my everyday life, driving my kids to and from school, running errands which sometimes including driving with my baby in the car. Looking back I’m so lucky that nothing happened. God was looking out for me and my children. While on xanax I was in a zombie like state and hated it so much that after about a month of regular xanax and ambien use I quit cold turkey which led to very bad withdrawal symptoms. The second psychiatrist I went to told me that xanax is very addictive bc it is short acting and she doesn’t prescribe it for mothers, only to help wean existing users. OMG!! Wake up call. Although I was under the care of a doctor for PPD and I wasn’t self medicating I still drove while under the influence of a very potent sedative. I wonder how many mothers have driven while under the influence of prescription medications (i.e., sedatives) while being treated for perinatal mood disorders.

    • Hi Ann,
      Though I can’t say how many moms have driven while taking prescription meds like Xanax, I can tell you that I had to do that on occasion while I was on Xanax. I was only on it for a couple of weeks before my Paxil kicked in, fortunately. The doctor (and the medication instructions) will advise users to try to avoid driving while on the medication, and to try to get someone to drive them if possible. Of course, this applies to sedative users that aren’t necessarily new moms, as there are a lot of people out there–more than we will ever know–that take meds for depression, panic attacks and other mood disorders.

      I would like to see more attention devoted to new moms who might be drinking rather than getting the help they need…..there are too many moms out there who still don’t know what PPD really is and don’t seek treatment, or if they do seek treatment, are misdiagnosed. Moms shouldn’t have to suffer like that…and look at the disastrous consequences. Moms driving drunk with a carload of children.
      – Ivy

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