Studies have shown that mothers with a history of substance abuse are more likely to lose custody of their children, but a new report suggests that advancements in addiction recovery treatment can change this trend.
Research shows that mothers with substance use disorders have decreased levels of responsiveness and sensitivity to issues linked to their children. Often, these mothers have passive withdrawals, ignore their children’s needs and are over-controlling. But advancements in neuroscience could provide more information about these behaviors, which could lead to more effective approaches to addiction treatment.
The new report states that chronic abuse of illicit substances can alter the brain chemistry. Neurotransmitters, like dopamine, are meant to reward human behaviors that are essential for survival. However, chronic abuse of substances co-opts the brain’s reward system, offering mental rewards for substance consumption rather than for behaviors necessary for survival. As a result, responsibilities associated with caring for young offspring become more difficult and the mother’s motivation to care for her children may decline. Results from neuroimaging studies suggested that this phenomenon may be explained by the fact that mothers with substance use disorders experience a reduction in mental reward for taking care of their offspring.
A better understanding of a process known as mentalization may be the key. Mentalization is the process by which parents transmit secure attachment to their children — for example, when a person sees someone else crying, they unconsciously and automatically infer that the crying person is experiencing sadness, which makes the observer feel empathy. Mentalization allows parents to determine what their children want.
Successful mentalization leads to improved skills for children and increased ability to regulate emotions for parents. Mothers from vulnerable populations are prone to face more emotional difficulties and their capacity for self-mentalization becomes even more compromised in times of extreme stress.
In order to combat the deterioration of these processes, the study suggests that a technique called Mothering from the Inside Out (MIO) has shown promising results. MIO is a psychotherapeutic intervention technique that promotes… (continue reading)