Alcohol has been a part of my life even before I was even diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I started drinking because of peer pressure and it continues to be a part of my life today. The standard answer when you ask your doctor if you should drink after being diagnosed with bipolar is – NO. Even though I was told this by my doctor from day one, it’s been hard to implement a no drinking policy into my life. I’ve been unsuccessful because socially it’s like I was expected to drink alcohol and would feel left out if I didn’t. Only recently, I started to wean myself off alcohol for health reasons and my decision came after learning about how destructive it can be for someone living with bipolar disorder.
Here’s the bottom-line –
The biggest problem with bipolar disorder and alcohol is it directly interacts with your mood.
Alcohol is used as a drug to self-medicate because it can help suppress feelings of anxiety, depression, and anger. It’s a temporary escape from your problems, but long-term it will cause your bipolar to worsen. Why? because alcohol is temporary relief from everyday problems and when it wears off, you are right back in everyday life problems. The more time you spend self-medicating on alcohol, the less time you spend coping with depression and solving problems. Here’s something else –
When you drink alcohol, you feel more social and less restricted because drinking impairs our ability to self-monitor. The region in charge of keeping us organized and in control gets impaired when we drink which is why we feel loose. However, again alcohol provides temporary relief and once it wears off after an hour or two, you get knocked back down into reality.
I’ll admit, the reason I would drink so often is that I would not have to think about being bipolar. I would not have that feeling of being limited because I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I started to drink a lot more because I can avoid all the negative things happening in my life. I thought alcohol would be a permanent solution until it wears off to prove me wrong.
Doctors tend to use the word “inhibition” when talking about the connection between alcohol and bipolar. Inhibition means – feeling that makes one self-conscious and unable to act in a relaxed and natural way. So, doctors have stated how alcohol lowers inhibition making us less self-conscious in turn pushing us to take greater risks often associated with elevated moods. I’m sure we’ve all taken huge risks when in mania often spending more money, being brave and saying things we normally would avoid. During mania, I did all the above and would excessively argue, be reckless in my driving, and even acted on grandiose ideas. It’s this behavior which led to my arrest for drinking and driving (DUI).
Just being diagnosed with bipolar disorder isn’t always the case and having a dual diagnosis is possible. One argument for not drinking after being diagnosed is that you run the risk of a dual diagnosis. Studies have shown that people living with bipolar disorder have a 60% chance of developing a drinking problem. This means you can develop a drug and alcohol problem to accompany your bipolar diagnosis. Research is trying to connect why you have a higher chance of developing a dual diagnosis of bipolar and alcohol when first diagnosed with bipolar. So far, here is what we do know –
a) People living with bipolar disorder have been using alcohol during manic episodes for self-medication. They use alcohol to prolong their pleasurable state or to sedate the agitation of mania.
b) Researchers have suggested that alcohol use and withdrawal may affect the same brain chemicals (i.e., neurotransmitters) involved in bipolar illness
c) Alcohol is a powerful drug which affects several pathways in the human brain. It first causes short-term changes in brain activity and over time will cause permanent changes to the neurological pathways.
d) Alcohol withdrawal leads to lower dopamine levels in the brain. As you become more dependent on alcohol, withdrawal becomes more common leading to a higher period of dopamine decreases. Low dopamine has been linked to depression.
Explanations for comorbidity can be found here – Bipolar Disorder and Alcoholism
Doctors warn alcohol causes your medication to be ineffective because it increases your metabolism. The less effective your medication, the higher likelihood you’ll self-medicate using alcohol.
Signs You Have An Alcohol Problem
An alcohol problem can be very troubling when it’s severely interfering with your life. A dual diagnosis of bipolar disorder and alcoholism will make it hard for you to find a suitable treatment for your mental illness. It will make your condition worse so avoid alcohol at all costs.
Here are some signs that you may have an alcohol (drinking) problem –
- Drinking more or longer than intended. If your frequency is increasing over time.
- If you can’t stop or cut down your drinking when desire.
- Suffer from hangovers frequently and spending higher amounts of time recovering from the after effects.
- Strong urge to drink.
- Drinking alcohol is interring with your job, school or family responsibilities.
- Continued to drink even though it causes trouble with family or friends.
- Cut back on other activities you enjoyed so that you can drink alcohol.
- Getting into risky situations while drinking (such as driving, using machinery, or having unsafe sex)
- Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or after a memory blackout
- Needing to drink more to get the same effect
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating
Finding the Right Help
If you are trying to get a hold on your drinking and are having trouble controlling it, then know there is help available to you. For me, I had to find alternatives to occupy my mind and keep me busy. Once I started my online business, I was expected to stay home longer which meant fewer opportunities to drink. My problem would occur once I’d leave the house and get into a social gathering with friends. Keeping your mind occupied and finding alternatives to keep you busy is a great solution and/or starting point for you. However, I understand how many of you don’t have an option to work from home or are drinking at home. Here are some alternatives you can use to control your drinking problem –
Support Groups – Alcohol Anonymous or AA which is a twelve-step program based on certain principals. The principals have been created to change your way of life to enable the sufferer to become happily and usefully whole.
Family Support – if you have an open relationship with your family then they can be vital in you bettering yourself. Turning to them when you have a temptation to drink can provide alternative options for relief. Family and friends think outside the box and know what’s best for you so can provide support in times of needs. However, the people you rely on should be alcohol-free themselves so they can provide unbiased support. 🙂
Get Online – the explosion of the internet has been very beneficial in terms of support. Online communities and real-time chat are available to you when you need them. I’ll admit finding physical help for some can be hard but virtual help is available. Do a quick search for “alcohol communities” and/or “alcohol support chat” and you’ll find a handful of them. Here are some –
Talk to Your Doctor – there is medication available to curb alcohol dependency. For example, medication like – Naltrexone, Antabuse, and Disulfiram does help by preventing opiate effects (pain signals). People drink because of pain so these medications help by reducing pain signals.
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness. The mind is our base allowing us to communicate internally and externally with the world. I’ve been living with bipolar disorder for over 18+ years and have endured great pain in my life. I’ve been addicted to alcohol for several years and can say it didn’t help my bipolar…it worsens it. Let’s face it, I know bipolar disorder is caused by a chemical imbalance so I don’t need to further abuse my mind even more. I need to strengthen my mind and stay clear so I can cope with bipolar and live an enjoyable life. Alcohol didn’t help me do this because it reduced my productivity, worsen my depression during withdrawal periods, and made me feel crappy about myself.
If you truly want to beat bipolar disorder then work at making your mind stronger and doing things that help strengthen your mind. Don’t poison it by drinking alcohol because this will not help your bipolar, it will make it worse by forcing you to question things in your life. Alcohol will attract unwanted negative energy into your life. Stay positive, stay clear and don’t drink alcohol.