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Bipolar Disorder and Drinking

Last night I drank.


OK. You probably don’t need to alert the media. But I do need to alert you about the horrible effects alcohol can have on a person with bipolar disorder.

Drinking Alcohol

I’m human. I’ll admit it right now; I am. And one of the things this means is that I’m subject to human cravings and desires and occasionally I like to have a drink. It’s not the biggest deal in the world but it’s something that I shouldn’t do. But then, there are a lot of things in life that I shouldn’t do and I get tired of not doing them all.

And I was feeling weak and weary and tired of my own mind and my own troubles so I drank some gin. This is something that takes place in every restaurant, in every bar, in every pub, every day.

Of course, I’m not like those people. I’m a medicated bipolar. For me, drinking is more meaningful.

CB106470One Drink Equals a Lot

And one of the things about drinking is that one drink tends to do the work of many drinks for a person on bipolar medication. For a female, one drink does not, typically, put someone over the legal limit to drive, but for a medicated person it sure should. One drink on an empty stomach tends to hit me like a whole night of drinking. I go from sober to strawberry fields in minutes. Alcohol is like that.

And drinking also destabilizes bipolar disorder. Alcohol is one of the things doctors tell you to avoid, not just because they’re doctors and they’re like that but because alcohol can induce bipolar mood swings. It’s a drug. And not a very nice one at that.

Alcohol and the Brain

And alcohol is not a simple, clear-cut drug either. It works in your brain and throughout your nervous system on GABA, dopamine and other neurotransmitters critical to mood and well-being.

Alcohol Impairs Thought

Well, duh, you’re saying – that’s why you drink it! But it doesn’t just impair unpleasant thoughts; it impairs useful trains of thought as well. Like all those great cognitive behavioral therapy skills you’ve been practicing don’t work so well after a martini. It tends to leave you both shaken and stirred.

Last Night

And so, I found myself drowning out unpleasantness only to find myself wrapped in a cloak of greater, more salty, unpleasantness. Sure, I had been tired of my usual place in the world but I had failed to take into consideration how carefully constructed that place was. How much work it takes for me to beat back all the bipolar thoughts I have every moment of the day. I take for granted that I’m doing it. Because now, beating back the thoughts that would try to kill me is like breathing.

And alcohol undid my breathing.

Which makes alcohol dangerous. Not dangerous because of what it inherently does to you, but dangerous because of the way it compromises control over your own brain. Your control. The thing that keeps you whole. The thing that reminds you that your kids matter. The thing that remembers that pain is temporary. The thing that prevents you from hurting yourself. The control that keeps you upright and in one piece.

Now I am fine, of course, no reason to panic. I just got slapped upside the head with a reminder. Drinking is bad. Drinking will get my cheeks wet. Drinking will cause me suffering. No matter how seductively it promises to take my pain away. It’s a big liar.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at the Bipolar Burble, her blog.

Author: Natasha Tracy

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86 thoughts on “Bipolar Disorder and Drinking”

  1. I have a bipolar husband and I completely agree that alcohol makes it worse.

    As well as bipolar, he’s ocd and though he’s not a physical abuser, I almost wish he was. His verbal abuse is way more harmful than being hit. You can’t take back what you say and when he adds alcohol he’s twice as bad. There is no such thing as a good drunk. My philosophy is instant asshole, just add alcohol and that fits most drunks I know to a tee. When you add a psychological to drinking the bipolar becomes more pronounced and makes for a very bad situation.

    I’m now trying to end this disaster of a marriage but he won’t leave. I don’t want to get the police involved because he might become physical. I’m going to talk to a psychologist myself and see if he has any ideas on how I can end this on a more amicable note. I don’t want to end my life, I want to end my marriage while I’ve still got some sanity. I’m losing my mind fast. Your damned if you do and you’re damed if you don’t

  2. I have an ex who used to get mean when he got drunk. Didn’t start until six months in. He did it twice. Now he’s an ex. And I’m happily married to a wonderful man. Stay strong and get out! P.S. not all bipolars are like that.

  3. Alcohol works better than any psychiatric drug !

    I’ve read your posts re: when the pain is so great that you can’t go on, have given up, don’t shower or brush my teeth … just breathe. And I agreed with you and all the comments.

    But when the pain goes on and on and on ad infinitum, alcohol relieves that pain, if only for the time being. It saves me. It give me a break.
    My mind can at last rest. No other drug can do that … can take me away into a pleasant place … can actually put a little smile on my face.

  4. Hi,
    I am struggling with alcohol dependency and bipolar I depressive/suicidal symptoms at present. I really want some inspiration as to how much better I will feel as a bipolar off alcohol. My worst problem is obsessive ruminations over past wrongs (towards me). Alcohol seems to numb the brain pain associated but does it make them worse?
    Any ideas, inspiration, resources (web,etc) much appreciated.

  5. Hi Linda,

    I can understand that alcohol numbs the pain and I can understand you wanting to do that. But that numbing is a mask and it will never truly make the pain go away. It’s only when you’re sober and can truly deal with those issues that you can rid yourself of them for good.

    I hope you’re getting therapy because they can support you and can help you get past these issues. Also, you might want to look into support groups, possibly through the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA).

    You are not alone. Many people are struggling with same issues you are. Addiction and bipolar disorder are common together. You will find people who are just like you.

    And if I can just say one more thing from personal experience: I had to watch my father, a bipolar and alcoholic, drink his life away and be sad his whole life long because he could never deal with the pain with all the alcohol piled on top. It saddens me greatly that he could never find the peace he deserved because of the alcohol. Don’t be like him. You deserve better.

    – Natasha

  6. Hi Linda,

    I was like you – a drinker. I love drinking hard drinks until I pass out. Last month, I have emotional breakdown and I bought one bottle of Vodka, but I didn’t continue it. Think about this – Not only that affects your mental,.. think about your liver also. It will kill your life. If you want to live longer, be kind to your liver.

    I don’t drink until at this very moment. My last was last April and it had proven me that drinking affected the way I’m thinking.

  7. Linda: alcohol is a terrible drug culturally and physically. it’s also really, really bad for us Type 1s. I struggle with it myself, and it does provide temporary relief, but I pay a high price for a few hours of numb. alcohol gets you to sleep, but also disrupts its quality and jacks up mania the follow day(s). I find sanity needs a solid foundation of sleep, which is not always easy to come by with a mood disorder. alcohol perpetuates and compounds manic symptoms.

    I recently read Anne M. Fletcher’s book Sober For Good, which outlines many sobriety pathways and resources. I recommend it, it’s helped me start shifting my thinking and behavior.

  8. Thanks so much to you both, your words ring very true and I am really sorry about your father, Natasha. Well done on not drinking, Lily Grace!
    Yes, i saw my therapist today and am not drinking tonight and am committing to 30 sleeps, as per an online blog, without alcohol. These obsessions have gone too far. I have been going to mindfulness lessons and it’s going to have to be the way to handle any fall-out but I am optimistic that I can do this!
    Thanks again.

  9. I was drinking pretty hard, to ease the pain and make me feel normal. I quit in december and have had a few relapses, nothing major. I am on 1800mg of lithium and 1000mg of gabopentin. I have been medicated for 3 months, it is very difficult, the changes in your life, the things that are so much different now. It is scarey and hard to understand why it has to be this way. I will keep going and hope that someday soon, i will understand what it is all about.

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