Young mothers with a history of substance use – establishing arenas of comfort

First published: 10 May 2019 | Last updated: 20 May 2019

Based on a qualitative study of pregnant and parenting women (n=26) with a history of substance use this paper focuses on a sub-sample of younger women, aged 19 –23 at the time of pregnancy. It focuses on these women’s perception of becoming a mother and their perception of the relation to different staff members (such as social workers, visiting nurses, and addiction counsellors). Staff members, who focus on these women’s new roles as responsible parents, but also on aspects related to their history of drug (mis-)use. Usually the combination of being a young mother with a history of substance use, lacking formal education, having poor economic resources and with the prospect of becoming a single mother, is seen as rather negative conditions for making sustainable positive life-changes.

But it is our hypothesis that some of the women in the study succeed in leaving their drug-using lifestyle (which for most of the women include several years of dependency and misuse of cannabis, alcohol, amphetamine, ecstasy and heroin) because they manage to create a new arena of comfort based on their relation to their child¹.  All people take part in different social arenas. But an arena of comfort contributes with a non-judgemental and warm social context, in which the individual is accepted. Arenas of comfort can provide an experience of self-acceptance and acceptance from others and work as a buffer in relation to stressful life-experiences in other arenas. In the paper different elements of these arenas of comfort are presented and their possible contribution to maintaining a drug-free lifestyle is discussed.

¹The concept of arena of comfort was first introduced by Simmons & Blyth in 1987 and further explored and developed by Call & Mortimer in 2001(Call, K. T. & Mortimer, J. T. (2001): Arenas of comfort in adolescence. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, London)


Helle Dahl

Dr Dorte Hecksher