The Alcoholic Mother: On Self-Medicating PPD and Anxiety

I was never a normal drinker, I just didn’t know that until I knew that. Before I had kids, whenever I drank, I drank a lot. Having just one or two never made sense to me. It wasn’t enough, because the one or two brought on the ease—a “click” that released me—and I wanted more, more, more.

I see now that my drinking increased after my first son was born. Of course, this wasn’t about him but rather, it was about the way I handled motherhood. I did not handle it well, and for years, I blamed myself for that. In reality, depression and anxiety coupled with a healthy dose of alcoholic genes muddied my coping skills. And I now know there were hormonal and biochemical reasons that were invisible and mysterious but proved themselves to me on a daily basis.

In a way, becoming a mother pushed all the buttons that would bring me to my knees, and hindsight tells me that despite the pain, I needed to be there.

I was bonding with my firstborn, but I was constantly terrified. There was a heavy weight behind my eyes and in my chest, at the pit of my stomach, down to my toes. I felt incapable and alone. I feared every horrible fear. I was sleep-deprived, martyring, begging to be seen, exhausted and empty.

I did not drink through my pregnancies, but I picked it up as soon as I possibly could postpartum. I pumped and dumped a lot. I fantasized about the days when I wouldn’t have to even consider it, and when the last day of breastfeeding arrived, I celebrated it with a lot of wine, and then slowly, carefully, and sneakily, my drinking grew and grew like my children. Fast and slow all at once. By this time, I had two beautiful boys and I loved them deeply. I spent my days with them and continued to feel depressed and anxious. I didn’t talk about it, I just moved through the hours that felt like quicksand, and I drank too much every night, to escape.

Had I known that my mind and body were experiencing something that has a name, that it had started with PPD and severe anxiety, perhaps my drinking would not have spiraled. I can’t say for sure, but I know now that getting help would have certainly been a better course of action than the road I chose, or that chose me. Or both. I have always held the propensity for alcoholism and it lived itself out, triggered by a condition, or conditions.

I got help over five years ago, between my second and third babies. I am sober, and was sober throughout the postpartum period after my third baby, a girl, was born. Unfortunately, I had the most severe depression and anxiety during this time. But what I did not do was drink. What I knew then was that drinking only exacerbated my symptoms, made them so much worse. This time, I got help. I went to more meetings for support. I called on my sponsor. I saw my doctor and started medications. I kept talking. I had learned that talking about the darkness of my mind stole the power from The Big Scary Things.

I was not perfectly fine, but I was free of the gripping snare of addiction. I was free of that shame and guilt. I was no longer a drinking mother, I was simply a struggling mother, as so many of us are, together.


Motherhood brings with it incredible joys and sorrows. Our children are certainly worth every good and bad thing that arises within us as we learn to handle the stress and fears that come with parenting. There is grace in letting go of the fear of help. Speaking our truths takes the power from even the grasp of addiction. If you are struggling with addiction, please know you are not alone. Talk to someone you trust. Get help. There is freedom and peace on the other side.


Heather King writes at The Extraordinary Ordinary.