Denial is a psychological defense mechanism that, in healthy doses, can help people cope with trauma, difficult circumstances or upsetting events. Addicts, however, suffer from excessive and unhealthy levels of denial that keep them from recognizing the severity of their substance abuse issues.

Drugs and alcohol directly harm the body, but they also indirectly harm the body because of the way they affect the addict’s eating habits. People who struggle with chemical dependency tend to eat irregularly and make poor food choices when they do eat. Heavy substance abuse can also hamper the body’s ability to absorb and process nutrients from food.

Over the past decade, levels of alcohol abuse among women aged 30 to 44 have doubled, and levels of prescription drug abuse have skyrocketed by 400 percent. Substance abuse devolves into addiction for many of these women, some of whom are the mothers of young children.

Addicted women are less likely than men to seek help for their addictions. They may feel that seeking treatment will interfere with their ability to keep their households running smoothly. They may fear the consequences of asking for help more than the consequences of addiction. As a result, these women are adept at hiding their addictions, sometimes to the point where no one is the wiser until tragedy strikes.

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Alcoholism affects not just the alcoholic, but that person’s whole family. Mothers who struggle with alcoholism put themselves as well as their young children, at risk for a number of social, emotional and psychological problems.

Mothers laboring under the burden of untreated alcoholism may neglect their children’s needs, withdraw emotionally, or lash out violently, all of which can cause lasting emotional trauma for the kids. Children of an alcoholic mother are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem and mental illness and may have trouble forming healthy adult relationships due to trust, abandonment and other issues they developed as a result of their mother’s alcoholism.

Scientific research has now proven that the human brain can make new neural connections throughout life; however, this does not cancel out the importance of safeguarding healthy brain development during the childhood and teenage years. Adolescents and teens who take in substances — including alcohol, prescription or street drugs — can negatively affect neural development and brain function throughout their life. In fact, use of substances can artificially alter which brain areas are over- or under-utilized. This is especially true in the adolescent brain. Today’s best practices in adolescent and teen drug treatment protocols have developed out of this understanding of these years as critical for brain health and development.