Mothering with Addictions: Examining the Interplay Among Substance Misuse, Parenting, and Environmental Processes

Sunday, January 18, 2015: 10:00 AM-11:45 AM
Balconies J, Fourth Floor (New Orleans Marriott)
Cluster: Substance Misuse and Addictive Behaviors
Symposium Organizer:
Ruth Paris, PhD, Boston University
The intersection of addiction and parenting remains a highly complicated juncture (Levy, Truman, & Mayes, 2001), frequently addressed in social work research and practice from the particular perspective of children’s entry into the child welfare system (Walsh, et al., 2003). Evidence has shown that the parenting process is likely compromised due to altered dopaminergic pathways from substance misuse, making the typical gratification experienced in parent-child interactions less attainable (Rutherford, et al., 2013).  Although neurobiological data are more available, we still lack information about the nuances of lived experiences and perspectives for mothers with substance use disorders (SUDs). Specifically, we would benefit from a deeper understanding of the complex relationship between parenting and addiction and the ways in which mothers’ sense of themselves as addicts and as mothers may impact parenting capacities, connections with children, and treatment seeking and recovery. This symposium brings together social work scholars from three different universities who are actively engaged in investigating the links between parenting and addiction for mothers with SUDs to inform innovative, evidence-based interventions.

The symposium begins with a qualitative study assessing experiences and treatment needs of pregnant and postpartum women with SUDs to inform the development of a perinatal intervention for mothers and infants. Findings identified issues (e.g. shame, fear, desire to mother) that both restricted and enhanced the women’s use of substance abuse treatment and highlighted important problems to address in a parent-child intervention.  The second study utilized quantitative data to examine perceived parenting efficacy and satisfaction of mothers in SUD treatment along with focus group data to understand the role of children.  With parenting efficacy rated highly and satisfaction low, mothers appeared different from normative samples. Additionally, children motivated women’s recovery as they served as emotional and sobriety supports, suggesting that relationships with children may facilitate recovery. The final study used the Working Model of the Child Interview (WMCI, Zeanah, et al., 1986) to examine opioid dependent mothers’ internal representations of their child. The WMCI examines the mother’s experience with, perceptions of, and emotional responses to her child.  Findings showed that participants were at high-risk for problematic representations of their children, suggesting that mothers with SUDs would benefit from parenting interventions that improve their connection with and characterizations of their child rather than ones just focused on reducing negative parenting behaviors.   

The studies presented in this symposium highlight the importance of social work parenting interventions that address the true complexity of the person in environment by attending to addictive disorders, familial relationships, and societal processes.  The interplay of these domains and their contribution to feelings of shame, isolation, maternal competence and satisfaction, and maternal representations of the child emerge as essential in the collective findings of these studies.  Taken together, we better understand the disservice of a narrow focus of treatment for mothers with SUDs.  More importantly, revealing the nuances involved in mothering in the context of addiction necessitates an examination of current parenting interventions, as well as thoughtful consideration of the development of future treatments.

* noted as presenting author
Shame, Stigma, and Maternal Concern: Understanding Motivation for Treatment in Substance Abusing Pregnant and Postpartum Women
Ruth Paris, PhD, Boston University; Anna Herriott, MSW, Boston University; Kristina Linden, Boston University
Parenting Competence and the Role of Children for Mothers Recovering from Substance Dependence
Suzanne Brown, PhD, Wayne State University; Elizabeth M. Tracy, PhD, Case Western Reserve University
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