Toward an understanding of developmental and relational aspects of substance abuse and recovery in mothers

Christine Musello (1993)

This qualitative study seeks to expand the research findings regarding factors which promote and support recovery from substance abuse in mothers. Nine recovering alcoholic mothers with lengthy abstinence were interviewed and their narratives recorded and transcribed. Their statements were sorted into relational-developmental categories which evolved through a review of the literature integrated with the developmental recovery theory developed by Stephanie Brown and with self-in-relation theory. Some significant findings of the literature review are (1) the dearth of studies which examine longterm post-abstinent recovery processes of substance abusers, (2) the absence of studies which explore the interation of alcoholism and/or recovery on the mother/child relationship, (3) recent clinical recommendations made specifically for the screening of substance abuse problems in females, based upon researched physiological and psychosocial differences in female substance abusers. Pivotal findings of this study suggest the following: (1) Problems with identity formation in middle childhood, adolescence or late adolescence may contribute to the development of substance abuse problems in females. (2) During the active substance-abusing phase, the mother/child interaction is driven by maternal ambivalence reward the child which sustains the substance-abusing behavior. (3) The effects of a mother' s recovery upon the subsequent development of her children are both powerful and positive, despite the presence of residual problems in the children caused by the mother's earlier substance abusing behavior. (4) For these participants, recovery appears to have been facilitated not only by repair or healing of childhood trauma, but by the degree to which the participant was able to identify and reconstruct positive events, feelings, relationships, memories and skills acquired in childhood. Clinical implications of these findings together with a discussion of further research applications are discussed in the conclusion section.