This article is not meant to diagnose or provide medical advice—that responsibility lies with physicians. The author is not a licensed medical professional.
When you think about drug addicts, you probably get a certain image in your head, a junkie shuffling zombie-like down a street; a drunk, swaying on a park bench drinking cheap wine from a brown paper bag; a meth addict picking scabs, rotting teeth, a little scary.
You know who you probably don’t think of? The suburban, middle-class mom with the minivan; the 30-something woman stalking the aisles at Target, stair-step children in tow; the woman in your yoga class or your mom group or book club; your child’s friend’s mom who always seems like she’s got her shit together. But there she is. She’s strung out on Xanax or snorts her kid’s Adderall or pours whiskey in her coffee every morning.
She was the inspiration for The Rolling Stones’ “Mother Little Helper”:
“What a drag it is getting old
‘Kids are different today,;
I hear ev’ry mother say
Mother needs something today to calm her down
And though she’s not really ill
There’s a little yellow pill
She goes running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper
And it helps her on her way, gets her through her busy day”
In a country with only 5 percent of the world’s population, Americans consume more than 80 percent of the world’s opiates, and with so many drug consumers, it shouldn’t be surprising that many of them don’t fit the stereotypes.
Mothers who are not a part of the workforce, who stay home with small children, are uniquely positioned among all demographics to have secret pill addictions. It starts off innocently enough; a mom seeking treatment for anxiety or depression, both of which are extremely prevalent in SAHMs (stay-at-home moms), is prescribed an anti-anxiety drug, something like Xanax, a benzodiazepine.
She. Feels. Amazing.
Top of the world. Best mom ever. She’s more patient with her children, she’s nicer to her partner, and she can go to play dates without feeling awkward and uncomfortable. So, she takes one every day. Just to take off the edge. Then she takes another that same day because she has that PTA thing she forgot about. Oh, and then that evening, dinner with her husband’s boss. Definitely need one for that, right?
A year later, she’s going to see six different doctors to get prescriptions so she can keep up with her five or six pill a day habit.
On the flipside, with the high number of children being prescribed medications for ADHD, stimulant drugs like Ritalin and Adderall are everywhere and especially easy for moms to get. It’s not hard to imagine, when you’re looking at a mountain of laundry, a sink full of dishes and a to-do list eight miles long, how tempting it might be to take a pill that makes it easy to focus on the work you need to do. You can bulldoze through your chores and come out on the other side of the day not exhausted and devoid of energy. That’s the kind of drug that calls to SAHMs.
And everyone’s heard the jokes about mothers and their wine. Mommy juice. If you believe the internet, every mother with a child under the age of eight is a wino who’s in her cup right after the dinner plates are cleared. Or sometimes earlier. A really tough day pops up every once in awhile, and mom might pop the cork midafternoon, relax with Facebook for a bit. Maybe a little earlier a few weeks later. A little Bailey’s in the a.m. coffee to get through the morning rush. A bloody mary with the midmorning play date. Drinking all day doesn’t seem that bad after a while. It gets you through the tough days. Makes you fun. Your children love it when you’re fun, right? At least you aren’t yelling.
Oh, and let’s not forget about good, old-fashioned painkillers. The Percocet she was prescribed for her C-section, the Oxy for the herniated disc she got after years of lifting and carrying babies, the codeine for her migraines. Opioids aren’t only a problem in places like West Virginia and Tennessee—it’s not just “hillbilly heroin.” It’s the pill addiction your sister-in-law isn’t doing a good enough job of hiding anymore. It’s everywhere.
And that’s the thing, it really is everywhere. Prescriptions for Xanax and Percocet and Adderall are so easy to get that addicts don’t have to work too hard to get them. And on the off chance they can’t, another mom almost certainly has a Xanax in her diaper bag or a Percocet in her purse. She’d be happy to share. It’s like an underground, soccer mom black market of pills.
These moms, they’re looking to change what they see as their reality. They feel like they need to be better moms or less stressed moms, have a cleaner house, a more organized day. Or maybe they want to be numb, forget the fifth load of laundry and the toddler tantrum in the grocery store, the Legos she’s cleaned up four times already today, the isolation and the monotony.
The result is an entire demographic of addicts that goes basically unnoticed and unknown. And without a community of support, it’s just going to keep happening. Stay-at-home moms are frequently isolated and alone, using social media as their barometer, their measuring stick, to see how they stack up to other moms and other families and other lives. When what they see, how they measure themselves, is a carefully selected, cropped, filtered, snapshot of someone else’s day, specifically chosen because it looks good, it’s going to leave an impression on the people who see it. And for a lonely, insecure mother, that impression is going to be that she’s not doing a good enough job.
So she looks for help. Help in being better or help in just not caring so much. And she finds it in a bottle of pills or a bottle of wine.
She goes “running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper…”
”’Men just aren’t the same today’
I hear ev’ry mother say
They just don’t appreciate that you get tired
They’re so hard to satisfy
You can tranquilize your mind
So go running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper
And four help you through the night, help to minimize your plight”
Kristi is a freelance writer and mother who spends most of her time caring for people other than herself. She is frequently exhausted and compensates with an intense caffeine addiction.