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Article Summary

Mother's Value Systems Can be Hijacked by Cocaine and Heroin

Because drug abuse is believed to affect pathways in the brain involved in an adult's capacity to invest in the care of their children, a pilot program aimed at mothers and toddlers hopes to put mothers with substance abuse problems more in sync emotionally with the needs of their children.

Nancy Suchman, Ph.D., a Counseling Psychologist and an Assistant Professor at the Yale School of Medicine in the Department of Psychiatry, has been working with Linda Mayes, MD at Yale Child Study Center, to develop individual parenting therapy for substance abusing mothers of young children that is based on attachment theory.

Their pilot program, which has been under development for the past five years, aims to improve the emotional quality of the mother-child relationship in cases where the mother has a substance abuse problem.{P} In a news release about the program, Suchman and Mayes explain that many abused substances, such as cocaine and heroin, can affect pathways in the brain that initiate behavior, reward and motivation.

These same pathways are also involved in a parent's capacity to invest in the care of their children.
The authors believe that continued drug abuse can "hijack" that value system to the extent that it creates a "competition" in the brain between caring for children and using drugs.

Their Mothers' and Toddlers' Program is aimed at improving the mothers' capacity to recognize and respond sensitively to their children's emotional cues, which will increase the mothers' emotional investment in the relationship and decrease her preoccupation with drug use.

Resetting the Reward System

"We expect that, if this intervention helps mothers become more emotionally 'in sync' with their children, it will improve the emotional quality of their relationship and possibly 'reset' the focus of the reward system" the authors wrote.
Their pilot program, for 25 New Haven, Connecticut mothers caring for children from birth to 16 years of age, has shown preliminary results in helping drug abusing mothers recognize their own and their children's emotional states,

Source: The article about The Mothers' and Toddlers' Program was published in the March 2005 issue of Family Relations.

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