According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “in the United States, women aged 15 to 49 years with no prior births, about 1 in 5 (19%) are unable to get pregnant after one year of trying (infertility). Also, about 1 in 4 (26%) women in this group have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term (impaired fecundity).”
Many women grow up expecting and hoping to be a mother one day. While some women don’t dream of being a mother—and that’s okay—the hurt and disappointment that comes with finding out you’re infertile is like no other. Infertility takes a toll on a woman’s identity, which stirs up many negative emotions. The feelings that come with infertility can cause many women to struggle with depression, anxiety, grief, loss, and self-doubt. Emotional distress can often lead to alcohol abuse and drug addiction.
Infertility and Substance Abuse
Drugs and alcohol are most used to escape reality—temporarily forget and not feel the pain we’re experiencing. Addiction is formed when we crave this temporary high and regard it as much as possible. When encountering those feelings of hopelessness and loss with infertility, it can be challenging to see the positives in the situation while having something taken away from you.
A study on the emotional and psychological effects of infertility mentions that “While infertility is not a disease, it and its treatment can affect all aspects of people’s lives, which can cause various psychological-emotional disorders or consequences including turmoil, frustration, depression, anxiety, hopelessness, guilt, and feelings of worthlessness in life.”
Women and couples will look to find ways to cope with their emotional distress—sometimes healthy, sometimes not. Alcohol and drug abuse are dangerous ways to cope. One taste can quickly turn into five; before you know it, you’ve lost sight of many you’ve had. While infertility may not be a disease, addiction most definitely is, and it’s not a healthy or sustainable way to cope.
Signs of Drug or Alcohol Addiction
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol or drug abuse, here are some common signs and symptoms of addiction to look out for:
- Frequent intoxication
- Lack of energy and motivation
- Spends most of their money on alcohol or drug(s)
- Poor performance at work or school
- Lying, stealing, and sneaking around
- Can’t go without a drink or a hit
- Experiences withdrawals when they don’t take it
- Has a high tolerance for alcohol or drugs
- Neglecting their physical appearance and mental state
Addiction impacts every area of our lives—the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical. Infertility can affect all those areas just the same.
How Infertility Affects Mental Health
When a woman discovers her infertility, it affects her mental health and her spouse’s. While infertility is widely discussed as a woman’s problem, it is also commonly found in the male reproductive system. According to World Health Organization (WHO), approximately “48 million couples and 186 million individuals have infertility globally…environmental and lifestyle factors such as smoking, excessive alcohol intake, obesity and exposure to environmental pollutants have been associated with lower fertility rates.”
Infertility treatments are not always promising, which makes the process even more stressful and disappointing. Many women and couples will continue different treatments hoping that something might work, and unfortunately, it’s not always successful. The inability to reproduce and bear your child is a loss. It feels like a part of your womanhood has been stripped away from you—a piece of your identity.
A woman’s emotions can range from anger, confusion, sadness, and disassociation. Recurrent Pregnancy Loss (RPL) is when a woman has two or more failed pregnancies, often leading to her developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
As the stress of infertility begins to take a toll on your mental and physical well-being, you must create your coping strategies and practice them whenever you’re feeling down. Finding a means to cope can turn your situation around for the better. While you may never come to terms with being infertile, you can find other ways to help you manage.
How to Cope with Infertility
Establishing healthy coping methods when dealing with the stress of infertility can help reduce emotional distress. Here are some suggestions to assist in the process of coping:
- Focus on the present
- Practice self-care
- Prioritize your mental and physical health
- Practice self-reassurance and daily affirmations
- Surround yourself with positive people
- Focus on your hobbies and interests
Infertility is a physical aspect that you have no control over. You have control over how you choose to react and cope with emotional distress. Your thoughts affect your actions which affect how you feel—take control of your mind and shift your thoughts in a positive direction.
Mental Health and Addiction Resources
Dual diagnosis, also known as a co-occurring disorder, is when someone simultaneously battles more than one disorder—specifically a mental health disorder and substance use disorder. Battling anxiety, depression, or PTSD due to the emotional stress of infertility is problematic in and of itself.
Here are a few resources for those struggling with mental health and/or alcohol abuse and drug addiction:
If you begin to abuse drugs and alcohol and potentially develop an addiction, you can get the help you need today. Make yourself and your emotional well-being a priority, and seek the support and guidance you deserve.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022. Infertility FAQs.
National Library of Medicine, 2014. The emotional-psychological consequences of infertility among infertile women seeking treatment: Results of a qualitative study.
World Health Organization. Infertility.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Repeated Miscarriages.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2023. Co-Occurring Disorders and Other Health Conditions.
Alcoholics Anonymous. https://www.aa.org/
Narcotics Anonymous. https://na.org/
988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. https://988lifeline.org/
National Institute of Mental Health, 2023. Psychotherapies.